Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Author Archive

Show-offs and dunces

del.icio.us TRACK TOP
Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 by Marko Phiri

“More begets the urge towards even more. At least Hollywood stars affect learning by having mansions filled with bookshelves and art. The palaces and mansions of Borrowdale Brook are all marble staircases and obviously homes to show-offs and dunces. All this in the name of a liberation ideology, so that self-conceit blends with self-deceit – as the ideologues liberate the economy for themselves.” Stephen Chan, Conversations with Morgan Tsvangirai (2010)

Seventh Street Alchemy

del.icio.us TRACK TOP
Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 by Marko Phiri

I am re-reading Zimbabwean short story anthologies and one of them is Brian Chikwava’s Seventh Street Alchemy.

An excerpt:

Sue has no birth certificate because her mother does not have one. Officially they were never born so will never die. For how do authorities issue a birth certificate when there is no birth certificate?

“If your mother and father  are dead and you do not have their birth certificate, then there is nothing I can do,” the man in office number 28 had said, his fist thumping the desk. He wore a blue and yellow tie that dug into his neck, accentuating the degradation of his torn collar.

“But what am I supposed to do?” Fiso asked, exasperated.

“Woman just do as I say. I need one of your parent’s birth or death certificates to process your application. You are wasting my time. You never listen. What’s wrong with you people?”

“Aaaah you are useless! Every morning you tell your wife that you are going to work when all you do is frustrate people!”

We have a new constitution that gave people false hope and it’s still more of the same!

Me a tribalist?

del.icio.us TRACK TOP
Tuesday, October 1st, 2013 by Marko Phiri

Zimbabwe’s politics, history has recorded, is mapped by ethnic and tribal loyalties, and it’s just something that refuses to be ignored despite all pretense by some that this is fomented by architects of anti-statehood.

Even Mugabe has over the years lashed out at perceived tribalists despite himself being fingered for criticism by some historians who contend he did not hide his leanings even before the Gukurahundi was unleashed.

The perceptive have observed that Zanu PF officials from Matabeleland address supporters in Shona when in Mashonaland but party officials from Mashonaland “insist” on addressing supporters in Shona during their Matabeleland rallies.

You only have to read through online bulletin boards to get a pulse of the rabid tribalism Zimbabweans harbour, never mind the usual “I’m not tribalist, some of my friends are Shona/Ndebele” casuistry.

There is so much anger out there you even wonder whether its posted in jest or not, yet if you have met folks who claim they have been aggrieved by one tribe or another, you get the sense that indeed these posts are the real deal.

That is why I found it the apex of hypocrisy when Thokozani Khuphe was accused of blocking a Shona-speaking fellow from being elevated to the post of Bulawayo deputy mayor.

Anyone who is a native of Zimbabwe’s second city is aware of the ages-old complaint about how Zanu PF abandoned Matabeleland to the periphery of economic development solely on tribal and ethnic considerations.

That is exactly why the region has over the decades seen a proliferation of political outfits and pressure groups dedicating their cause to devolution and even cessation.

Amid all the militancy, it would be strange then to have a Shona-speaking senior city official when the people from the region know damn well there are capable locals to fill that post.

That is precisely why many have accused Zanu PF of unbridled arrogance, recalling of course that there have been sentiments from senior party officials that no Ndebele will ever rule this country.

Zimbabwe is for all Zimbabweans some are fond of saying, yet take a walk around the city of Bulawayo and eavesdrop on conversations and the anger of exclusion is just too palpable.

I hear all the time complaints about how government offices in Bulawayo now have Shona as the language of business where Ndebele speaking folks have trouble getting assistance in their own region!

Try speaking Ndebele in Harare government offices!

No one is addressing these issues, yet you have the Herald jumping to point accusatory fingers at Thokozani Khuphe as if what she allegedly said is something new.

It is the same Herald that hauled Tendai Biti over the coals for his “de-Zezuruisation of the state” sentiments where he pointed to the domination of the state by one group of people.

Obviously the argument would be that sentiments like that are not expected from a person of Khuphe’s status – whatever it is now that she is no longer deputy PM – yet her comments, if true, only expose her own frustration about how the people of Matabeleland find themselves pushed out of public office and apparently have no say in the running of their own affairs.

We heard the same accusation levelled at political parties who pushed the Matabeleland agenda during the July 31 where these parties were accused of tribalism simply because their manifesto made the development of Matabeleland their rallying cry.

People who complain about marginalisation obviously know what they are talking about and merely dismissing them as tribalist fucks does not solve matters.

Someone in fact commented that is it even imaginable to have a Ndebele-speaking Harare mayor.

That is the country we live in where we have seen that issues of the territorial integrity rhetoric so loved by Zanu PF find even louder resonance in Matabeleland.

It was only a few years ago that former Bulawayo Joshua Malinga got into trouble with the law after not taking too kindly to being addressed in Shona by a cop in Bulawayo.

While Malinga raised what he felt was necessary noise, it was easy for some to dismiss him as a tribalist, yet no one cared to look into what has essentially become a decades-old problem where civil servants are deployed to regions where they have no grasp of the local languages.

Many a time we read of cops addressing Tonga-speaking villagers deep in Binga in Shona, and the fact that these cops see nothing wrong with that is exactly what feeds the anti-Shona sentiment, and that’s a fact that must be accepted if relations are to improve.

It is public knowledge for example that for a long time the Bulawayo municipality and even the local opaque beer manufacturers never hired people from outside the “region,” whether this is or was official policy is neither here nor there, what remains indisputable is that as long as that existed “policy” it pointed to efforts to maintain some kind of identity and claim something as their own.

There is also a strong anti-Shona sentiment concerning the National University of Science and Technology that goes back to former governor the late Welshman Mabhena who did not see any sense why “outsiders” were offered places ahead of local students.

From as far back as the 1970s – and even further during the nascent years of nationalism fervor if you read Terrance Ranger -  (Wilfred Mhanda writes in his memoirs about “Shona-speaking” Zapu fighters defecting to Zanu. If tribal/ethnic considerations were not at play, why would Mhanda prefix the Zapu members with “Shona-speaking”? ) when manifestos were allegedly written about the systematic dilution of the Ndebele presence in Matabeleland, locals remember these things and to pretend otherwise is just another political expediency ploy that has made sure tribalist sentiments do not go away.

In any case, one only has to attend a soccer match pitting Highlanders and Dynamos at BF to get out of their one-big-happy-family reverie.

One way ticket outta here!

del.icio.us TRACK TOP
Monday, September 2nd, 2013 by Marko Phiri

I have a friend of mine, a very sensible man who loves his country Zimbabwe very much.

A few years ago he left the country to pursue further studies abroad, made frequent visits back home and always talked about returning to work here, explaining that living in a foreign land was just too much for him.

Not an unusual story for many Zimbabweans scattered across the globe.

So this buddy of mine made that visit back home again in time for the July 31 elections which he says this was an opportunity for him to contribute towards voting for something that would give him the hope of returning to his motherland so long yearned for.

We met again after the “official” results were announced and his dejection was palpable.

“I’m buying a one way ticket back to Europe,” he said to me.

“I do not see any reason to come here anyone,” he said, expressing what he said was a common sentiment from Zimbabwean colleagues abroad who had kept in touch with him to follow the July 31 poll.

The colleagues keeping a pulse on developments back home were just as dejected.

It was nothing new really: the same reasons that had made them leave the country were only being extended now, they figured, deflating all the verve they ever had about very voluntary repatriation of the kind preached by Marcus Garvery.

Imagine anyone vowing they will never return to their homeland as long as so-and-so is alive?

Even in villages as we know them this said a lot about the individual so despised, but the that’s what this country has become.

It’s heart-rending stuff because these are folks who have mothers and fathers still alive in Zimbabwe, siblings, nieces, nephews they will only see on the day they have to fly in for a relative’s funeral.

Nothing new there, yet the fact that they had expected a homecoming of sorts only serves to re-ignite and re-imagine the misery of Zimbabwe’s Diaspora.

Some guy left for South Africa in the late 1980s only to return back to Bulawayo more than a decade later, and when he saw a teenager who was always hanging around in the house excitedly shadowing him he asked: “Who is this guy?” He was told: “He is your younger brother, you left when he was four!”

These are stories that have shaped the narratives of many families in the past 15 or so years, and while the anecdote above is based on a chap who left long before the chaos of post-2000, it is a story that has poignant resonance for many, including the “educated” guy who years for that return home but asks himself: “if I got back to Zimbabwe, am I going to be able to purchase a descent home, a descent car, is there anything called mortgage in my country,” yet he is part of millions who have been told that no one forced them out of the country, that they are always free to come back.

It is then understandable within that context at least why Zimbabweans living outside the country will never in their lifetimes be “allowed” to vote because as the friend based in Europe illustrated, they are eager to come back home and settle, work for their country but only when there are clear signs that there is a government that is equally interested in improving people’s lives.

These are apparently simple requests made even by those who have remained in the country amid all the chaos and deeply are concerned about, yet find denied the most basic of human rights: food, clothes and shelter despite all the rhetoric of creating a better life for all. Only the ALL in this regard has firmly remained THEM.

I found myself musing about these things recalling about what has happened in my life in the past few months.

One of those moments was when I got an opportunity to travel across the globe, and when I returned an in-law said to me: “Ah why did you return, given half the chance I would never come back.”

So it is that as I reflect about the future, the guy who said to me he is buying a one-way ticket back to Europe is not alone after all: ordinary struggling Zimbabweans would leave given the opportunity.

Me? Well I’m sure sticking around.

It’s a tough life.

“Life Through My Eyes”

del.icio.us TRACK TOP
Thursday, August 29th, 2013 by Marko Phiri

There are many issues that happen around us but which we remain clueless about as we get on with our lives.

It is already a hectic world, we often say, for anyone to take notice of the man standing next to you, but it is only when you hear narratives that weave personal stories that you count your blessings; wonder how unfair life can be; wonder why there are no social safety nets as once known; wonder why there is no functioning social services sector; wonder you hear often some countries being described as “welfare states.”

Indeed all this came pouring like a deluge when I attended the launch of a documentary produced by the Disability HIV and Aids Trust (DHAT) with support from the US Embassy in Harare and the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR).

The documentary tells the story of visually impaired people living with HIV/Aids, and these very personal stories depict what remains a terrain not understood from local level right up to policy making echelons.

The documentary was shot in Harare where, like in many cities across the country, the visually impaired and disabled surviving as mendicants have become permanent features whose circumstances are not interrogated, whose lives are seen as not intersecting with those of able-bodied people.

One visually impaired couple living with HIV/Aids says even in health institutions, the personnel actually are puzzled how a blind person can contract HIV “as if we blind people are asexual beings.”

This itself was noted by the DHAT country coordinator Hamida Ismail-Mauto who said: “There is general misconception amongst health personnel that people with disabilities do not have sex and therefore do not require health services.”

That testimony is most telling in that it has implications on how disabled people’s health care needs are adequately addressed when prejudice can be found among professionals expected to attend to their needs and expected to know better.

It is no wonder then when the disabled decide not to visit health care centres because of the kind of treatment that awaits them.

A DHAT board member said while able-bodied people have abundant access to sexual health care knowledge where such things as condom use are even demonstrated to them, there remain no such thing for the visually impaired, placing them at the high-end risk of HIV/Aids.

Until someone says it, this is stuff you never think of, or imagine, yet it does open our eyes to daily realities of people with disabilities in this country live with.

It’s already a tough life for the able-bodied, imagine then an HIV+ disabled couple living in the streets and with no access to health care.

As the US Ambassador Bruce Wharton said in his remarks, more resources are needed for people living with disabilities and more interest required in the work being done by people living with different abilities.

Indeed we take some of these issues for granted and only until we see these experiences up close will we realise there is more to this country than clinging to office.

Not an easy road for local musicians

del.icio.us TRACK TOP
Thursday, August 29th, 2013 by Marko Phiri

Zimbabwean musicians are steeped in the very eager desire to earn a living out of their craft, and rightfully so.

The sprouting of all sorts of backyard recording studios over the past few years points to a shift from music being a craft plied “by others” to something which you and I can do and can actually can put bread on the table.

Yet that approach could just be what has caused them to be ignored: that anyone can make music, never mind good.

The question then is have they succeeded in turning their microphones into money-spinning enterprises? And have they produced music which local listeners and buyers will take seriously beyond patriotism’s sake?

These are some of the questions that emerged from a discussion organized by DefZeem as part of the weekly Food for Thought series at the US Public Affairs section.

On the panel sat Amara Brown, Pauline from the group MaFriq, Tsungi Zvobgo, who manages musicians that include Amara Brown, and then there was a chap who is manager of such successful acts as Knox of “Ndinonyara” fame.

What emerged was a tale of mixed fortunes, as well as mixed interpretation of what “ought to be” and I got the sense that there is no one-size-fits all for local musicians in the context of that while some take the art as a fulltime occupation, some however see it as a diversion from their “chosen careers.”

A few weeks ago, a @263Chat discussion dwelt on Zimbabwean musicians and why they apparently are being ignored by locals, and why Zimbabweans are ever ready consumers of “foreign” music.

It was obviously informed by the same concerns that brought together the musicians who gathered for the Food For Thought discussion under the theme “Making Music, Making Money.”

It was one of those issues about local music where optimistic young artists imagine they can be the next Oliver Mtukudzi, conveniently forgetting the hours and years Tuku put into his craft.

After all, Tuku is the same man who has been panned for such farcical musical offerings (I remember someone pointing and laughing at Chimbambayira chirimpoto) that he himself would rather forget he ever made recalling the gems he now churns out.

Like Tsungi Zvobgo said, for any serious pretender, music is a fulltime career and there are no short cuts to money and fame.

Hard work never killed anybody, but musicians got to take that chance, I would add, recalling that famous Ronald Reagan quip.

After all the young artists are the same folks who will readily recite American hip hop superstar 50 Cent’s “Get rich or Die Trying” but still imagine that there are easy pickings in music.

It was also refreshing to hear Amara Brown say that her dad insisted that she study music, adding that for her, music is a fulltime gig.

Of course not all artists can, or must enroll at some ethnomusicology school or take up music at some prestigious varsity, yet this has indeed helped some navigate that heartbreaking terrain and define their approaches to the trade.

For Jacqueline from MaFriq her approach to music has meant learning more, working more and keeping herself relevant. She has learnt to play the mbira for example, an instrument she says very few young Zimbabweans choose to play (perhaps because they still view it as a “sacred” instrument).

Obviously this means music for her being more than just standing before the mic be it in the booth or on stage, but actually mastering part of the art that defines one as a proper musician.

Of course it has become acceptable that you don’t necessarily have to play any instrument to pass for a musician, but it certainly helps.

Yet because local music is now very much based on one having a PC, iMac and ProTools, the speed with which “music” is being created is astounding.

But the question is who is buying it? Or are they like those  connoisseurs of sorts who make music just for the sake it because they
want to keep some folk traditions alive?

As Jacqueline said, while new artists welcomed the 75-percent local content when it was introduced back in the days of the madness of the Ministry of Information, it brought with it a down side; in her words “there was no quality control.”

Anything that could be produced bearing the local production sticker was lekker but obviously for the wrong reasons.

Standards fell and it is no wonder there was an outcry to do away with local nonsense dressed music.

It is of concern – morbidly interesting in fact – that there are masters of the art who died paupers despite selling hundreds of thousands of copies of records in what were then Zimbabwe dollars, and some young artists while not gifted with the same flair, imagine there are easy pickings in music, never mind they cannot strum a clumsy tune on a banjo.

While in the past the masters made great music, they also existed during a time of organized bureaucracies with distribution agreements with big and influential music industry companies.

As an aside perhaps, these are the same industry players many times accused of fleecing these same musicians who broke record sales – literally.

And now because there is a shift where artists imagine making music in their backyards can result in instant riches, no such distribution networks now exists, with Knox’s manager warning against the naivety of imagining that these emerging artists can distribute their own stuff “from the boots of their cars” (not his words mine!).

It was therefore inevitable perhaps that the issue of piracy and why local music is so cheap would come up in such a discussion.

There are no easy solutions, says Tsungi Zvobgo.

What she says she has done with artists under her management is to concentrate on making good music, getting it out to the people for not only a pittance but for free even, giving it out to pirates who fill CBD pavements whom we already know sell CDs for a dollar never mind the quality.

From there, the music is with the people, people know it, and when live shows are held, well, the crowd is not being introduced to something that was made years ago but are hearing it for the first time!

What remains undisputed is that, like Buju Banton sang, “it’s not an easy road,” and anyone who picks up a microphone expecting instant fame could be in for cardiac arrest.