A Classic case of failed despotism 

Africa, Governance, Human Rights, Peace, Politics

This is the cardinal rule of African politics (per most African politicians):

An incumbent does not lose an election!

 Unless:

  1. The incumbent is a normal human being i.e. to say, s/he concedes defeat (like a Goodluck Jonathan or a John Dramani Mahama) and vacates office. As a normal human being, the incumbent is not power hungry, and does not envision life-long rule. S/he recognises that leadership is not entrenched in holding political power but in the ability to serve and influence positively; real leaders know they do not need to be called Mr. President or Madame President to lead.
  1. The margin of loss, against the incumbent, is so irredeemable that, not even “meticulous verification” over a six week period assisted by “clever” judges can make the process malleable to manipulation in the incumbent’s favour.
  1. In his/her entrenched, but misplaced, sense of arrogance and assurance, the incumbent falsely believes that, by giving the chief of the elections body unsolicited perks, victory will be guaranteed.
  1. The incumbent lives in a country where rules are made to be obeyed e.g. Ghana, Namibia, Tanzania; where saying no to the people’s will is inconceivable.

It seems one man missed the memo:

His (former but never really excellent) Excellency

 Sheikh

           Professor

                       Alhaji

                                 Dr. (who claims to cure AIDS)

                                             Yahya

                                                          AbdulAzziz

                                                                       Jemus

                                                                                    Junkung

                                                                                               Jammeh

                                                                                                           Babili Mansa

jameh

Like a bwauss: Yahya Jammeh: Credit BellaNaija.com

Jammeh made three tactical errors:

  1. He assumed he would win the battle, did not build a strong fortress to protect his interests (also known as rigging machinery) and went to war without the necessary armoury breaking every rule of The Guide on Despotism by African Rulers,2016, 50th Edition.
  1. He publicly conceded defeat, abandoned the No Retreat No Surrender rule, as explained in The Guidebook to Stealthy Electoral Theft authored by R.G. Mugabe and A. Bongo, 2012, 1st Edition. Did the cabal forget to tell him never to openly admit to losing an election?
  1. He publicly congratulated his opponent for his win and wished him well: Blasphemy 101 according to The Book of Political Eels: A slippery way to hang on to power!3rd Edition with contributors from Cameroon, Angola, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt and Zimbabwe.
  1. He publicly professed that the election was free and fair and that the result reflected the legitimate free will of The Gambian people: Another blasphemous act as expounded in Chapter 1 of the Book: Never Say Die, 2008, Eds R.G. Mugabe, P. Biya and Y.K. Museveni

Verse 2: And then Jammeh changed his mind after a few days. Wrong move, the birds were already out to catch the eel!

eeels

Picture Credit: The Daily Mail UK

He not only shot himself in the foot but also in the balls!

As things stand the world  is witnessing a battle of wills:

  1. Jammeh vs the people of The Gambia who vehemently rejected him as their leader and are waiting for their new elected leader to step into his leadership roleon January 19.
  1. Jammeh vs Adama Barrow who has sworn to be sworn inon January 19.
  1. Jammeh vs ECOWAS which has threatened military action to remove him from power if, on January 19 , he refuses to vacate office- threats he has laughed off  .
  1. Jammeh vs AU which, in its Communique declared that it will no longer recognize him as the legitimate leader of The Gambian peoplefrom January 19. The second paragraph of the Communique is key to comprehending the enormity of the claustrofuck that is Jammeh’s back-pedalling on the election result. The AU Peace and Security Council said:

[The PSC] Recalls Article 23 (4) of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. Council further recalls communiqué PSC/PR/COMM. (DCXLIV) adopted at its 644th meeting held on 12 December 2016, in which Council strongly rejected any attempt to circumvent or reverse the outcome of the presidential election held in The Gambia on 1 December 2016, which is a clear expression of the popular will and choice of the Gambian people,  and called upon outgoing President Yahya Jammeh to keep to the letter and spirit of the speech he delivered on 2 December 2016, in which he welcomed the maturity of democracy in The Gambia and congratulated the presidentelect, Adama Barrow.

Where was Robert when Yahya needed him?

But on to more serious business: what does the AU’s nonrecognition of Yahya mean?

The recognition of a government and its leadership is the hallmark of its legitimacy. Recognition of leadership is hard ball diplomacy and the distinction between the practice and the rhetoric of democracy. Recognised leaders, presumably, carry a legitimate mandate while those not recognised do not. A leader’s recognition makes him/her an integral member of the international system in which his/her state is represented. In the case of the AU, recognition of leadership includes:

  • the right to attend AU summits and represent one’s country through the Assembly of Heads of State and Government;
  • the chance to be elected chairperson of the African Union;
  • the mandate to appoint recognised ambassadors representing the state’s interests in key political organs of the AU such as the Permanent Representatives Committee, the Executive Council and the Peace and Security Council.

Non-recognition of leadership is one of the key strategies of the AU to deal with unconstitutional changes of government i.e. where individuals take over power through unconstitutional means including coups, rebellions, insurgencies, amendments to constitutions.

Effectively the AU’s position means from January 19 Jammeh:

  1. Will become a rogue.
  2. Will no longer be welcome at AU summits.
  3. Will no longer be the legitimate representative of The Gambian people’s political will.

 This bold step by the AU is commendable; and hopefully will be carried through to effect.

Admittedly, the AU has, recently failed to take decisive action to address specific unconstitutional changes of government. In the DRC, the incumbent, Joseph Kabila attempted to entrench his power by amending the constitution so he could extend his mandate. This has cost lives, with the AU taking on soft diplomacy to resolve the crisis. In Gabon, – the incumbent Mr. Ali Bongo Ondimba “won” the election by a narrow margin of 5,594 votes, securing 49.8% of the vote to the opposition leader Mr. Jean Ping’s 48.2%.  To secure this win, one of the incumbent’s stronghold, Haut Ogoogue, recorded an unbelievable 99.9% votes cast, a disparate figure from the national average of 59%. The AU did not query nor act in the face of this blatant thievery.

Similarly, on 29 March 2008, Zimbabwe held its parliamentary and presidential elections. The parliamentary results were announced within a week but the elections body, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), took six weeks to announce presidential election results, in what is arguably, one of the most brazen acts of undermining a vote in the history of the continent. When ZEC eventually announced the results, on 2 May the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had won 47.9% of the vote and Robert Mugabe, the incumbent 43.2%, necessitating a presidential election run-off set for 27 June 2008. The AU did not question the so called “meticulous verification” of results in the face of parallel vote counts that claimed Morgan Tsvangirai had won the election with a clear majority.

Clearly, the African Union (AU) has grappled with boldly condemning election theft and constitutional amendments; two forms of unconstitutional changes of government that are insidiously undermining efforts to democratise Africa. As the AU seeks to re-brand and set itself apart from its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU); moving away from the OAU principle of non-interference and preaching non-indifference, the extent to which the continental body can interfere in the internal affairs of a member state without violating fundamental principles of statehood; namely sovereignty and territorial integrity, remains unclear.  The uncertainty is steeped in the history of the AU itself, given member states’ past struggle for independence from the shackles of colonialism and their current struggle for full sovereignty and integrity from neo-colonialism.

The idea that the AU could possibly err, by choosing the wrong side in an internal electoral or constitutional dispute, and damage its credibility, has seen the AU adopting an overcautious approach, urging peace and calm and almost always without exception, taking incumbents’ botched results as the final, official and credible outcome of the election. Where incumbents have not conceded defeat and like the true despots they are; clung to power by manipulating electoral systems and declaring themselves winners, quickly swearing themselves in and continuing business as usual, the AU has remained cautious.

The failure to always act decisively in the face of such treachery has been detrimental to the AU; leading to its loss of credibility as a strong institution capable of resolving Africa’s political problems. To gain credibility, the AU must be prepared to boldly take concrete action against incumbents; even when they do admit or accept that they have lost.

Unfortunately for Jammeh, he forgot to read paragraph 2/12/2016 of The Book of Political Eels: A slippery way to hang on to power which states, “You snooze, you lose”. The rules by which the AU has failed to act in the past do not exist in his case. He may have thought he could get away with his actions, but his public admission of loss as an incumbent is a loss that the AU cannot ignore; as much as his knee-jerk attempt to reject that loss as an afterthought comes at a cost that the AU cannot afford. Inaction by the AU would reverse all efforts to democratise the continent; for, what worse thing could an incumbent do than lose an election, admit to the loss and still refuse to leave office?

January 19 could not come sooner; it feels like Game of Thrones Season 7!

 

Au Revoir 2016!!!

Gender, Women

Goodbye 2016

The year I didn’t write
The year I didn’t create
The year I didn’t nurture my creations
The year that drained all my energy in work I didn’t love
The year my creative juices were dried up by the demands of bureaucracy
The year I matured and accepted that I desire a fulfilling career more than  the money a drag of a job could get me

Goodbye 2016
The year I got myself a home
The year I became an interior decor expert
The year I became a natural gardener; an avid student at taking hard earth and making things bloom
The year I became a plumber, an electrician, a fixer of everything
Nurturing my own home, my sanctuary

Goodbye 2016
The year I became my own woman; caring less about what people think or say about my chosen state of existence and caring more about what makes my happiness
The year I did not step my foot in a church:
-tired of being told I’m possessed by demons because I do not yearn for marriage
-tired of being the subject of alter calls so the ‘blessed’ pastor could lay his ‘holy’ hands on me to attract the heavens’ blessing and whip my average looking self into a glorious mass of ‘marriageable’ meat
-tired of being the subject of special sermons that assume single=sex positive=sinful; and so what if these are individual choices

Yet the very same pastor who constantly preached about ‘sinful’ existence went on holiday paid for by a man he knew very well to have a wife and 2 small houses; seems being single is more ‘sinful’ than adultery because that man never got his special sermon, his ‘special sins’ forgotten or maybe prayed for by the pastor while snorkeling in Durban? 😂
I could not and would not and never will; again, subject myself  to the wiles of patriarchy; ringing its bells loudly in my ears every Sunday and telling me I am not enough because my choices do not subscribe to the ‘norm’!

Goodbye 2016
The year I embraced the word ‘Fuck’; a vocabulary on its own, a multipurpose expression
Of joy: Fuuuuuuck, I got the job!
Of anger: Fuck! That driver just cut me off!
Of surprise: What the fuck! Did he just say I can’t get the service here when I have been waiting in queue for the past hour?
Of concern: Oh fuck; are you alright?
Of love: I fucking love you ❤️!
My friend Clara, with whom I spent my 2015 Christmas in Barcelona, topped it off with this post:img_6337

Goodbye  2016
The year I witnessed the extent to which the world despises women leaders:
I had always known women’s leadership was suppressed and feared but the extent wasn’t always clear to me
Dilma Roussef got impeached for ‘alleged’ corruption by a bunch of corrupt males
Hillary Clinton, with all her flaws, but with enormous experience as a global leader, was rejected and America chose a narcissistic, sexist, homophobic, islamophobic, self absorbed and immature caricature of a man as its President
The UN continued in its trend of thinking that women are good enough as as deputies but not good enough to lead, rejecting the idea of a woman as Secretary General despite there being several qualified candidates.

I welcome 2017 and all it’s surprises, joys, triumphs, defeats, pains & whatever else it has.

After 2016, this bad-ass woman is ready for anything! Sounds like self-praise? Well yeah! A famous Nigerian proverb-thank you Chinua Achebe 🙏🏾- says “the little lizard that jumped from the high Iroko tree said if no one praises me then I will do it myself” and so is this little lizard praising herself!

When I was nominated for an Award

Activism, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Transitional Justice, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

I HAVE NOT WRITTEN IN A WHILE…

A lot has been going on in my life. You must be thinking that I have been too busy to write. Although you are right in thinking so, you are probably wrong in why you think I have been busy. Of course, I meant no disrespect to you and your appreciation of my writing. I just had to devote my time to my new project, The Law Hub. When you pay the site a visit, I hope you will forgive me for my long absence.

While I was away, I was nominated for an Award. I was to be voted “Humanitarian of the Year.” At first, I was excited to have been nominated so I shared with my friends, asked colleagues and family to vote for me, ran around like a headless chicken to ensure every person who could vote for me voted. I even took the banner that the organisers of the Award Ceremony created and made it my Facebook Cover photo and profile Picture on Twitter and Linked in. Vote! Vote! Vote! I urged.

Then I sat back and reflected a bit more. It was and still is a tremendous honour to have my passion awarded the recognition that it has received through this nomination. It is even more exciting to see women creating an initiative to recognise the hard work that other women are doing. However, when I reflected on the reason I had been nominated, I felt like a fraud. I became wary of what actually winning such an award would mean. Do I really deserve an award? Should I even be the one nominated for this award, any award for that matter for the work that I do?

I thought of the several women I interviewed, documenting their horrific stories of gang rape for merely exercising their choice via the ballot. Yes I may have built dossiers for criminal prosecution and yes some of the perpetrators will face prosecution, but I still wonder how these women, the victims would feel about my nomination.

I pictured the many child brides I talked to, and whose stories I documented, whose stolen innocence will never be recovered and whose future is as bleak now as it was when the choice to marry was foisted on them. Yes I may have tried very hard to push for new legislation that criminalises child marriage, but even then the fact that the big red-eyed monster that made them vulnerable –that monster called patriarchy-is still alive and strong makes me feel like I haven’t helped them much.

I remembered Mai Mpenyu (not her real name).  I remembered the scars on her back, the fear in her eyes, the hopelessness and dejection as she talked about those who assaulted her, burnt her home and destroyed her barn of tobacco. I remembered Abby, and her tale of loss-she will never be able to hold a baby in her arms because someone decided to step on her stomach when she was pregnant, caused her miscarriage and damaged her beyond repair. The reason for all this; she was fighting for a new constitution. Doesn’t she deserve the award?

I thought of the poor woman I met in Pretoria; a refugee, driven from her home and comfort, rendered an orphan, forced to be a mother to a child whose father she knows not, rendered stateless and an outcast in one blow. I wrote about her many years ago, and I said,

A woman came to the hotel where I stayed. She had heard about the survey and wanted to tell her story. The hotel would not let her onto their premises so I had to meet her on the street. The sight of her broke my heart. Her clothes were tattered. Her skin was a black-grey colour- a sign that she had not bathed in days. The baby on her back was crying incessantly. “She is hungry,” she explained, “She has not had anything to eat for days.” As she spoke I found myself struggling to hold back my tears.

I could not interview her in the hotel. “She will cause discomfort for the other guests,” the hotel manager informed me. The street was not an option either, with the baby incessantly crying and the car horns blaring. She insisted she wanted her story to be heard. We walked together and at the sight of a fruit stall I stopped to buy her a few bananas and oranges so she could feed her baby. The child quieted down and the woman began her story.

Several young men had come to her home at night in one of the rural towns of Zimbabwe. Her father was perceived to belong to the wrong political party. These men tied up her mother and father and set their hut ablaze, burning them alive. They dragged her into the forest where they raped her, one after the other then left her for dead. She had no idea which one of them was the father of her baby. She had run away from home, walked miles on foot, and begged for passage aboard any vehicle heading for South Africa. She was smuggled across the border because she did not possess valid travel documents. With no money the only thing she could give was her body; more abuse. She had believed she would be safe but in South Africa all she found was more victimisation, hunger, poverty, loneliness and pain; “I had a home. I had a family. I am educated, you know. I wanted to be a nurse.”

All I could give her were a few bananas and contacts of organisations that might help her. I wish I could have done more.

Her name and her story sits in a pile of documents, created to be used at a time when there is political will to address the past injustices committed against my people. I still remember her today. I do not know if she is still alive. Maybe the cold winter nights, or the windy rainy days had their toll on her frail frame and she gave in. I wondered about her and asked myself if she would think I deserve this nomination.

I recalled the woman in Gweru. Her child was gone. They put the baby in a sack and hit it to the ground. “This one goes with your vote,” they said. “When you vote right, the right child will come.” The baby cried until her voice got hoarse, until her cries died out, until she cried no more. They took her from her mother’s arms, a bubbly bundle of joy and returned her cold as stone, blood and froth around her mouth. I remembered the grief, in that mother’s eyes. I told her, transitional justice would take care of it. When a figment of transitional justice came, those in charge only wanted to reconcile and smoke pipe (kuputidzana fodya). She never got her justice, her baby is gone. Someday, her story shall be told but for now grief and pain, loss and despair reign. How would she feel to hear I am up for an award?

Nowadays, I sit and adjudicate-case upon case. Each one different from the previous one, but ultimately the same. Governments turning on their own people. Africans against Africans. Displaced people, tortured people, assaulted people, unlawfully arrested people, detained people, jailed for demanding their rights, some disappeared, never to be seen again. All of them denied dignity- human dignity. Faceless names, drops in an ocean of never-ending injustice. How will my contribution end their suffering, if at all it succeeds in abating it.

I have seen horror, pain, loss, dejection. I have tried to empathise. I have made promises to myself that justice will be done for all these victims, yet so much more remains to be done. I want justice done, the justice that each and every one of these victims desires and deserves. Should I consider myself a humanitarian? I only did what I could do, and continue to do as much as I can- what my circumstances enable me to although I still feel I should do more. I am pretty sure I do not deserve an award; for what is my humanity if I do not seek to have the human-ness in those around me recognised, respected and protected. Surely working to see that happen should not be outstanding; it must be the norm.

Njengoba ubaba njalo wangitshela , umuntu ungumuntu ngenxa abantu!

As my father always told me, a person is a person because of people!

Why #Tomana ‘s Comments Are not Surprising

Activism, Gender, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Zimbabwe

Tomana’s sentiments

Prosecutor General, Johannes Tomana is on record for telling the Chronicle that 12 year olds can consent to sex, that it is right that the law permits them to consent because without such consent, they would not have the option to marry. He is also reported to have said that 12 year olds’ ability to marry is important because it gives them an option out of poverty or being idle once they drop out of school.

In one breath Tomana gave paedophiles a pat on the back and justified child marriages.

As much as I am troubled by his comments, I am not surprised. A man’s desire to have sex with a 12 year old girl, or the reasoning of a parent who would marry off a 12 or 16 year old daughter to a man-whether she is pregnant or not- is indistinguishable from the reasoning that a magistrate would use when he declares a 15 year old girl a woman and defends two adult men who molested her after plying her with alcohol. This behaviour is anchored in the same context-from which Tomana’s sentiments derive-a patriarchal culture that offers very little protection to women and girls and sees them as sexual objects.

Tomana’s sentiments are not isolated, they exist in the psyche of many; Madzibaba sects who prophesy that God wants them to marry 12 year olds, Makanaka’s mother who thought letting her 15 year old daughter marry a rich man would solve their financial problems, as well as many parents who say to their young daughters “go back where you were” and condemn their young daughter into forced marriage.

More tragic is the fact that these sentiments are entrenched in the letter of our laws. These laws are a reflection of us as a society because they are made by people, interpreted by people and enforced by people. As a society we are permitting the exploitation of our children and have stolen our children’s innocence. Only until we change the way we think as a society, will our children become less vulnerable to exploitation.

What does the law say?

Our criminal law, as contained in the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act, (Criminal Law Code) provides that the legal age of consent to sex is 16 (Section 61). Sex with under-age girls (aged below 16) is prohibited (Section 64 and 70).

You may have noted that I did not say “strictly” prohibited. This is because the law is not strict on this issue. If a man has sex with a girl who is less than 12 years old he commits rape. It does not matter whether she said yes; she lied about her age, looks mature or not. It is rape. I call this “strict liability rape.” If the girl is above 12 years but below 14 years, the man who has sex with her commits rape unless he can prove that she consented. There is therefore a presumption that a girl who is 12 years old can consent to sex. The law also provides that proving that the girl (12-14 years old) consented will reduce the charge from rape to the lesser crime of “having sex with a young person.”

The Criminal Code also states that sex with girls above 14 but below 16, (unless they did not consent) is not rape but “having sex with a young person.” If the girl did not consent then the correct charge is rape. This crime of “having sex with a young person” carries lesser penalties than rape and often Magistrates go for the lesser sentence of community service.

My problem with the law

Tomana said, “if young girls were asked what they want, most of them would say they should be allowed to have sex at 12.” Let us just say he is right and most of these girls might actually say they want to have sex at 12; first question- is that consent and second thing-does that mean we should do away with statutory rape laws?

The issue of consent
We need to understand what consent means. In simple English it means to agree to do something, to assent to, to allow something to happen, to give permission. In legal language, particularly where sexual crimes are concerned, it means more. Consenting to sex means; willingly agreeing to have sex, with full knowledge of what you are doing, who you are doing it with and the possible consequences. For a woman to be capable of consenting to sex, she must be mentally and physically mature, and capable of making a fully informed decision. She must not be mentally ill, drunk, or drugged or disabled in a way that prevents her from expressing her consent. If she is drugged or drunk, one cannot have sex with her and say she consented. If you hold a knife to a woman’s throat and ask her to say yes to sex, if she says yes you may say she agreed but she has not consented.

This may sound like semantics but it is critical when we relate it to young people. While a 12, 13, 14 or 15 year old girl may say yes to sex; agreeing to have sex should not be equated with consenting. Girls under 16 years of age and even up to 18 years, just like a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are not capable of informed consent. This is why in many countries 16 years is the legal age of consent with no derogations to that rule, the way Zimbabwean law is.

Girls under 16, simply lack the emotional and mental maturity to consent. Most of them fail to realise that they are being manipulated and see themselves as the adults that they think they are. Some under-age girls may make sexual advances, and, some may have already learned how to bargain with their sexuality at a very young age, but at the end of the day they are still children merely experimenting with their sexuality. Like all children, they test the boundaries that adults set and maintain and the law should not let that boundary be weakened by giving paedophiles room to escape.

The purpose of statutory rape

Instead of defending Magistrates who protect paedophiles, Tomana should have asked himself why laws on statutory rape exist. The purpose of the law on statutory rape is to correct a major imbalance of power created by age where young girls may be seen as willing but in truth are being taken advantage of, physically, mentally and emotionally. The law protects these girls by creating a presumption that even when they say yes, psychology has proven that in the same circumstances, were they more mature, they would probably have said no. Their immaturity lends them vulnerable and open to abuse by sexual predators.

At the moment- in practice- our law is failing our children. Instead of adult men (sexual predators and paedophiles) being found ‘strictly liable’ for taking advantage of young girls,’ young girls are being found strictly guilty of seducing men and wanting to have sex. The message that courts and magistrates should be sending is that 12-16 year olds are INCAPABLE of consenting to sex and it should be the adult’s responsibility to say no.

What to do…

Our legislators must change ‘statutory rape’ and ‘having sex with a young person’ to ‘strict liability rape.’ This means there should be no excuse for men who are caught having sex with minors. This should deter sexual predators. Lawmakers must increase the legal age of consent to sex to 18 years; the same as the legal age of marriage in the Constitution. We cannot say adults can marry at 18 but say children can consent to sex at 12 if we are to do away with child marriages. The distinction of under 12s, 12-14 year olds, and 15-16 year olds defies rational logic. Assuming that an increase in girls’ years inherently reduces the blame of the men who sleep with them is wrong. It makes older girls seem blame-worthy and exempts perpetrators of violence; the paedophiles and rapists who must always carry the blame.

We, (people of Zimbabwe) must police each other. Let us demand laws that protect children and use the laws to report paedophiles. Let us chastise our children who may think they are mature and want to have sex with older men. We must stop marrying off our children to save face when they fall pregnant or to use them as a solution to our financial problems. We must value girls’education. We must call out individuals who think like Tomana and challenge them to be humane.

Children need our protection not licenses to be exploited by sexual predators, the way Tomana has done with his comments.

Of hippos and Xenophobes #notoxenophobia

Africa, African Renaissance, Human Rights

Last night I watched a documentary on hippopotamus. Territorial and aggressive; that is how best one can describe them. Hippos do not only behave violently towards each other, but also to humans and other species . I drew parallels between this behaviour among the hippos and the developments I have observed unfolding in South Africa. For years since its independence, I followed the reportage on South Africa’s “alarming” crime rates recording violence among South Africans; from murder, burglary, armed robbery, and rape to corrective rape of lesbians. The list is endless.

In 2010, I studied the alarming rape trends in South Africa, with up to 55 000 reported cases per year and an estimated 450 000 unreported cases just in 2006. 9 of the 10, experts I spoke with agreed that the rape was symptomatic of deeper problems within South African society.  The emasculation of men , economic deprivation, unequal power relations, inadequate security structures for women to be protected from rape or to report and receive justice after the rape, they said. They spoke to failed attempts by the state to disconnect the past from the present, yet in reality some citizens, psychologically challenged by their past and lack, are using violence (including rape) to reclaim their sense of masculinity and power

Now, there is xenophobia and Africa has witnessed the callous hand of a nation slaughtering the very same brethren that housed freedom fighters , supported them, trained them, and provided them with the much needed financial, moral and logistical support.

Technically speaking- it is xenophobia-but in reality South African blacks are targeting their (Anger? Frustration? Hate? ) on vulnerable foreign nationals of African descent who are black! I struggle with the pain of comprehending how one human being can burn another- to death- because they supposedly belong on the other side of an invisible demarcation called a border/national boundary. Indeed, until Africa emancipates itself from the shackles of mental slavery, the scenes in Durban today will be another page in a horror story book tomorrow.

I recognise that Xenophobia in South Africa is not a problem of a “few” South Africans, as some would like to believe. Attacks have been taking place since May 2008, with very few if any convictions secured against perpetrators. The leadership has displayed moral bankruptcy by building and sustaining a culture of impunity where xenophobic attacks are concerned. The police, immigration officials constantly make xenophobic remarks and display xenophobic tendencies, enabled and protected by the South African Immigration Act.

Simply put, Xenophobia in South Africa is institutionalised!

What we see on the streets is a physical manifestation of such institutionalisation and a dearth in leadership to address the root causes. That is what South Africa needs to fix, beginning with the creation of leadership that is conversant with the needs of those at the bottom of the ladder, leadership that does not press the mute button when such attacks are taking place because it recognises that condemning the attackers for their actions could open a Pandora’s box on its own inadequacies and failure to deliver.

*** So, that point brings me to the actual blog ***

The philosophies of Jean Jacques Rousseau — a proponent of the social contract theory — have informed the legitimacy of political authority for centuries. Rousseau argued that government came into being to right wrongs such as the economic and social inequalities precipitated by civilization. He claimed these inequalities robbed human beings of their natural state, one characterised by freedom and dignity.

Rousseau suggested that to recreate the balance of nature, where freedom existed and inequalities did not, man made two pacts: pactum unionis and pactum subjectionis. Under pactum unionis, human beings agreed to coexist peacefully in return for the guaranteed protection of their lives and property. Under pactum subjectionis, they ceded their rights to an authority with the power to enforce the contract. This meant giving power to the authority to govern them to their benefit, to represent their interests and to protect their freedoms.

This theory assumed that those vested with the power would respect the submission of individual wills to the collective will, and that the agreement was between free and equal persons.

Rousseau’s theory would work perfectly if those given the power to govern would be driven by the desire to serve, and to serve first. Assuming that those to whom power is assigned are driven by humility, selflessness, empathy, foresight and are deeply committed to identifying and fulfilling the needs of all those they serve. The theory would also work if those in power knew how to communicate instead of throwing teargas at school children protesting the grabbing of their playground (Kenya) or beating women asking for better service delivery (Zimbabwe).

It would be applicable if those in power did not stir conflict, change constitutions to extend their stay in power and took rapid steps to entrench authoritarianism. Maybe, just maybe, it could work if those leaders were persuasive, convincing others to work together toward a common good, reaffirm others, nurturing the abilities of those around them and recognising their own limits.

This not to say Africa has never had good leadership. It has; leaders who were deeply committed to identifying and fulfilling the needs of those they served, without segregation and recognised the invaluable contributions of all members of society towards building sustainable societies. They worked hard to promote the equality of all human beings.

These revolutionary minds from the continent stated:

“We must understand how the struggle of the Burkinabe woman is part of a worldwide struggle of all women and, beyond that, part of the struggle for the full rehabilitation of our continent. Thus, women’s emancipation is at the heart of the question of humanity itself, here and everywhere. The question is thus universal in character.” Thomas Sankara

“There are among us – the organisation is well aware of this fact – people who believe that we must consecrate all our efforts to the struggle against colonialism, and that the task of women’s liberation, in this case, is purely secondary since it is a useless and strength-consuming task….The liberation of women is not an act of charity. It is not the result of a humanitarian or compassionate position. It is a fundamental necessity for the Revolution, a guarantee of its continuity, and a condition for its success.”-Samora Machel

These leaders walked in the shoes of those they lead; for their comfort and even existence came secondary to that of the people they led:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”- Nelson Mandela

Indeed the core is to serve, and to enhance lives.

Seven years ago, Thabo Mbeki pledged, together with other leaders to:

• do everything necessary to ensure that as Africans, regardless of our geographic origins, we will once more live together as Africans, at peace with one another, refusing to impose on ourselves a new apartheid order;

• work expeditiously to achieve the reintegration of all the displaced Africans within the communities from which they were forced to flee because of murderous criminal activities;

• do everything necessary to assist the victims of this criminal onslaught, both the South Africans and our foreign guests, to resume their normal lives;

• act without any unnecessary delay to address all genuine concerns which may give birth to tensions between the native and immigrant Africans;

• work to improve our social and national cohesion, we will also address the challenge to entrench the understanding that this includes full acceptance within all our communities of new residents from other countries, as well as the understanding among the latter that we welcome them as good neighbours and citizens;

•work to mobilise all our communities to isolate and defeat the evil elements in our midst who target vulnerable African migrants, subjecting them to violent attacks for criminal purposes and personal gain;

• ensure that all those responsible for the criminal activities during the dark days of May, targeted against African migrants, face the full might of the law; and,

• take all necessary and possible measures to sustain respect for the law and our Constitutional order by all who live in our country, and the safety and security of all these, whether native-born or immigrant.

Today, the leadership loots from the people, ignores calls to #bringbackthemoney and stays mute in the face of deepening inequality. What we have got out of that is a discontented society whose anger bubbles over to the levels that we see today. That still doesn’t justify the attacks, but the context gives them perspective.

When an elder’s fall becomes epic #MugabeFalls

Africa, Democracy, Politics, Zimbabwe

Growing up, the cardinal rule of my existence was that elderly people- all elderly people- deserve respect, by virtue of being old. The sense of respect for the elders is a part of our African cultural values, centred in our belief that the elderly are repositories of wisdom and history, carrying the knowledge of the hidden trails of our journey as a people from centuries past. We respect and obey our elders, deferring to them to make critical decisions because we believe they are inherently wise. Aging is symbolic of personal growth, personal strength, and resourcefulness and as such is considered an achievement. Spirit mediums such as Sekuru Kaguvi were revered, and, in consulting them, my people believed they were consulting oracles, trusting in their wisdom and foresight to provide guidance and direction.

As Emeka Emeakaroha argues, quoting William Conton: “Africans generally have deep and ingrained respect for old age, and even when we can find nothing to admire in an old man, we will not easily forget that his grey hairs have earned him right to courtesy and politeness.”

Picture Credit (Telegraph UK)

Picture Credit (Telegraph UK)

It is uncharacteristic of this innate sense of respect for the elderly to ridicule them and worse still to openly laugh at their misfortune. That is why the reactions to Mugabe’s fall call for interrogation of why many people rejoiced at such a tragic event. Why, when we are taught to respect elders whether they are right or wrong, have many young Zimbabweans on social media found pleasure in poking fun at our leader? What happened to the unwritten rule that all old people deserve love, care and above all respect?

A number of things are clear to me. First; there is an expectation that the last years of the elderly’s lives should be less pressured. Elders are expected to retire and enjoy their last days reminiscing over their youth and years of past activity. Second; elders are expected to be wise enough to know when their time is up; ceding power and handing over certain responsibilities to those around them. This idea of kutonga kusvika madhongi amera nyanga is the reason why some people are finding this unfortunate incident funny and using it to ridicule the President.

Picture Credit (Telegraph UK)

Picture Credit (Telegraph UK)

Third, there is no shame in falling per se; in fact watching an elder falling should ignite feelings of compassion and empathy. Ordinarily, those in the vicinity should have rushed to prevent the fall, rather than getting as many pictures as possible.However the indignity that the fall attracts is linked to the fact that a90 year old has been in power for over 34 years in which many things have gone awry. He has refused to let go of the power, including the option of letting a close ally succeed him, claiming he is as fit as a fiddle and has the energy of a 9 year old.  That fall showed that that may not be the case.

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Picture Credit (Telegraph UK)

The trip and fall symbolises, to many,  the downfall of an untouchable figure. In a moment of his weakness, those who ordinarily have no voice to criticise him saw their opportunity to lash back. To mind comes the assassination of Julius Caesar. When he walked into the Senate Chamber, the plotters of his assassination surrounded him. As he attempted to get away, he tripped and fell; and lying defenceless on the lower steps of the portico, Rome’s most powerful emperor was stabbed 23 times to his death.

Picture Credit (Telegraph UK)

Picture Credit (Telegraph UK)

I find this whole incident around Mugabe’s fall and Zimbabweans on social media’s reactions to it, as sad as it is tragic. Sad because these are the years he should be reminiscing over the years of leadership past and reflecting on how the current leaders are getting it right or wrong.  Tragic because it is a reflection of who we have become as a society; bitter, vengeful, sadistic even as we derive pleasure from other people’s pain. Many will claim that it is the years of repression and censorship, death and destruction, violation of human rights, lawlessness and subjection to abject poverty that have made us who we are.

Whatever the case may be, when an elder’s fall becomes epic for its hilarity rather than its ill fortune then we know there is something really wrong with our society. But then again, Satire has become our only means of protest.

To Obert and His Boys: Passengers have Rights

Governance, Human Rights, Politics

Zimbabwe is commemorating the 16 days of activism against gender based violence, and the key message is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in our communities: ‘Promoting safe spaces for women and girls.’ Safe spaces are secure spaces. They are spaces in which human security-the totality of all conditions that make a human being feel secure-is guaranteed. They are spaces in which women and girls are free from fear and free from want. These spaces are about the protection of women and girls from unnecessary harm and exposure to risky circumstances. The majority of women, men and children in Zimbabwe use the public transport system and the levels of risk they are exposed to within that system have precipitated my blog.

Sometime in March, while aboard a New York taxi, I learnt that there is something called the Livery Passenger’s Bill Of Rights.The Bill gives passengers the following rights to:

  1. Ride in a car that is clean, in good condition and has passed all required inspections.
  2. Be driven by a TLC (Taxi and Limousine Company) licenced driver in good standing whose licence is clearly displayed.
  3. A safe and courteous driver who obeys all traffic laws.
  4. A quiet trip. Free of horn honking and audio/radio noise.
  5. Receive a far quote from the dispatcher and pay that amount for your ride (unless the fare changed).
  6. A driver who does not use a cell phone while driving (hands free phones are not permitted).
  7. A smoke and scent free ride.
  8. Air conditioning or heat on request.
  9. Working seatbelts for all passengers (please use them!).
  10. Not share a ride unless you want to.
  11. Be accompanied by a service animal.
  12. Decline to tip for poor service.

    Photo I took on a New York Taxi: The Livery Passenger’s Bill of Rights

What?!-I am sure many Zimbabweans are asking as they read this. How can passengers have as many rights in their transport Bill of Rights as we have in our constitutional Bill of Rights? What we need to interrogate is why New York chose to make what seems like a very unimportant issue so very important.

First of all, in New York as in Zimbabwe the majority of people cannot afford owning cars. Whereas in New York buying a car is not as difficult as maintaining it (including the taxes and parking fees), many Zimbabweans simply cannot afford cars.

Second, the ability to access a clean, safe and secure alternative mode of transportation is central to guaranteeing the safety of the residents of New York. It is also central to the productivity and development of the city as residents commute between their homes and work, 24 hours a day.

The more I have listened to the grievances about combis (commuter omnibuses) and the service they give to my fellow Zimbabweans, the more I have wondered how many of them would be out of business if a similar bill of rights existed in Zimbabwe.

  1. Clean car in good condition:How many times have you been in a dirty combi or taxi, dusty even that you had to use tissue to wipe the seat before you sat? How many times have you seen combis and taxis that look like they want to fall over on one side? How many times also have you been in a combi or taxi that feels like the moment the driver changes the gears, that is the last sputter that the combi is going to give then die…on the spot? The combis are health hazards, so much that if anyone gets a cut from the edges of the folded aisle seats while dropping off or getting onto the combi, they need to get an immediate Tetanus shot.
  2. Licenced drivers:We know that many combi and taxi (mshikashika) drivers are unlicensed. In investigations following one of the accidents in Chitungwiza, it emerged that the driver was unlicensed. The majority of those who are currently licensed need a retest because they either procured their licenses through fraudulent means and never actually had proper driving tests or they have been driving hazardously for so long they have forgotten what the correct and proper procedures on the road are. When they get to the police and are asked for a licence, they produce a piece of paper with $5 or $10 or $20 stuck in the middle and police officers immediately forget what they were asking for.
  3. A safe and courteous driver who obeys traffic laws:That is something you do not see among combi and taxi drivers. What you see are near death experiences in which 98% of the time the combi drivers are in the wrong. Passengers sit and grit their teeth as their drivers overtake where there are continuous lines (clearly saying do not overtake), break the rules and drive up the wrong lanes in opposing traffic, shoot through red robots (traffic lights), filter into traffic at the wrong time forcing other drivers to hit their emergency brakes, skip over speed humps (not slowing down as they should) and turn dangerously close in front of oncoming traffic. I always say, if our roads had traffic cameras, which award automatic fines to a license plate as penalties for every road traffic offence, then our government would not need to tax us (law abiding citizens). They would generate all the revenue needed just from traffic fines.
  4. A quiet trip. Free of horn honking and audio/radio noise:This is one right where those who use public transport daily would agree with me that the adage “if wishes were horses then beggars would ride” applies. From the loud urban grooves sounds of Stunner singing “Tisu Mashark,” to the Zim Dancehall vibes of “Tocky Vibes” and the legendary Winky D, to the lewd sounds of Jacob Moyana singing “Munotidako,” the combi drivers “blast” (literally) the music. They play the music so loudly that anyone trying to have a conversation has to shout. Some drivers are courteous enough to turn down the volume when they see a passenger talking on the phone but the majority could not be bothered. When passengers sometimes request they turn down the volume they are told “Tenga yako kana usingade zvenoise” –“Buy your own car if you have a problem with the noise.”
  5. Receive a fair quote from the dispatcher and pay that amount for your ride (unless the fare changed)-The dog eat dog mentality that has permeated our society also affects public transport operators. Although certain fares are known i.e. it should cost $0.50 from the city centre to any residential surburbs in Harare using combis, the combis always take every opportunity available to charge more. If it is raining the fare goes up to a $1, during rush hour when everyone wants to go home-suddenly the fare also goes up to $1, if there is a big event somewhere (a soccer match, a Makandiwa judgement day) suddenly all operators want to carry passengers to that route reducing the numbers of buses available on the normal route-those that remain want to charge $1 because those going to the “hot and busy” route also charge $1. Nobody constantly monitors and enforces fares.
  6. A driver who does not use a cell phone while driving (hands free phones are not permitted): Dream on! Some drivers do not only talk on the phone as they drive, they even text; what with all this WhatsApp business.
  7. A smoke and scent free ride:Luckily Zimbabwe has very strict laws against public smoking and so in this instance public transport users are covered. I can’t say the same for the smell issue though because the buses are not always clean. Sometimes the problem and source of discomfort is not with the bus itself but the sweaty armpit of the conductor, stuck in someone’s nose as the conductor squeezes himself tightly between the door and the passenger on the edge of the first seat behind the driver’s seat.
  8. Air conditioning or heat on request:Again, dream on! Some combis and taxis do not even have functional windows; the windows are broken, missing, stuck and won’t open, not proper windows but rather cardboard paper or furniture boards. The ventilation is either poor creating a stifling environment or the wind lashes the passengers’ faces.
  9. Working seatbelts for all passengers:What seatbelts? This is why in many accidents the passengers on the front seat fly though the windscreens while the driver survives. At police roadblocks, the police are concerned with the driver putting on his seatbelt and are not bothered about the safety of the passengers seating next to the driver without their seatbelts on. RATIONALE: the driver can pay a bribe if he is caught not wearing his seatbelt; it is harder to solicit for bribes from passengers-you never know who they are, right?
  10. Not share a ride unless you want to:Huh! Dream on. Not only are passengers forced to share but they share with more people than is necessary. Packed like sardines, seats that should accommodate 3 people have 4 people on them. The situation gets worse if one of the passengers is a big person; never mind if there are two big people in one row of seats. They end up squashed to each other, literally sharing body fluids (sweat). I used to shout at the drivers many times when they tried to fit a 4thperson in the front seat. It was bad enough that the seatbelts were dysfunctional and the risk of flying out through the windscreen if the driver suddenly applied his brakes was high, but to share the seat meant for two people with a 3rd person, practically sitting on your lap was an added annoyance.
  11. Be accompanied by a service animal: Service animals are specially trained animals (mostly dogs)meant to help people with disabilities e. g. visual impairment, hearing impairment, mental illness, diabetes, autism, seizures and others. This greatly improves the safety and security of persons living with disabilities as they navigate their way using public transport. In Zimbabwe, not only do we not have such service animals but as it is animals are not allowed on public transport. Besides the animals, fellow human beings are not very helpful to the disabled. Many combis avoid carrying paraplegics arguing that they have no space for wheelchairs; when it truth they want to use that space to carry goods that will get them more money.
  12. Decline to tip for poor service: Well we don’t have to worry about this one because the service is guaranteed to be poor. No tips coming! Or going!-whatever the case may be.

Clearly the combi structure of providing public transport in Zimbabwe is problematic on many levels.

  • There is no uniformity in the quality of service.
  • There is no guarantee that passengers will get their change as some conductors assault or insult passengers for demanding change.
  • There is no guarantee how long the trip will take as there are no strict timetables.
  • The combis are not maintained to the same standard. Some buses are fully serviced while others have broken seats, torn interiors, missing windows.
  • The system of licensing is not properly monitored as the police take bribes instead of enforcing the law.
  • The buses are overcrowded.
  • The fares are not strictly standardised, monitored and enforced.

What is the solution?

The Minister of Transport, Obert Mpofu suggested banning the combis. But to me that pseudo-solution would only create more problems. The reality is that:

  • Combis constitute the largest transport providers for the majority of Zimbabweans on local routes within cities, between urban centres, between urban and rural centres and some even across borders.
  • Combis are a source of employment and income for thousands of combi owners, drivers and conductors and their families.
  • In urban centres they also provide employment to a unique group of individuals known as the ‘rank Marshall’s (effectively a group of touts who have dignified their loafing by creating a system of accountability among bus operators by giving them equal turns to ferry passengers in exchange for a $1 for every trip that each combi takes.
  • The dynamics become even more interesting when one observes the organised trade that takes place around the different bus termini known as ‘ranks.’ Vegetable, airtime, food and fruit vendors take advantage of the movement of people to and from the combis to do business.
  • Urban councils charge these combis for parking and this revenue going directly to the local governance structures.

To create a safe and secure transport system that gives men, women and children the dignity they deserve, Obert and his boys should consider creating a bus service (including combis) that operates on timetable and in line with a set list of rules and procedures observing the strictest standards including proper licensing, full insurance, being roadworthy with a cut-off date for the vehicle life span e.g. Anything older than 10 years should be taken off the roads as un-roadworthy! Every combi should have a bin to throw litter in to avoid littering by passengers, all seats should be properly functional –not broken or torn seats, combis should maintain a set level of cleanliness and hygiene in their interior including having functional heating and air-conditioning, every combi should abide by the regulations on maximum number of passengers to be carried; 3 per seat instead of 4, staff that is helpful to the disabled. In other words, an enforceable look-alike to the New York Passengers Bill of Rights would be a welcome development for Zimbabwe to guarantee citizens safety and security on the roads.

 

She must cover up?! : Reflections on the #MiniSkirtMarch

Activism, Gender, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

On Saturday 4 October 2014, Zimbabwean women, led by Katswe Sistahood, launched the #MiniSkirtMarch- a protest against men who publicly harass women for their dressing, especially at commuter omnibus ranks. The messaging of the #MiniSkirtMarch was about women refusing to have the way they dress dictated to us or to be used as an excuse for abuse. It was about rights and choice and how these should be respected. The #MiniSkirtMarch was about confronting our society’s double standards about women’s bodily integrity and autonomy. It aimed to send a strong message that there are no tolerable excuses for perpetrating violence against women in any form. It was not about all Zimbabwean women wanting to wear miniskirts because some, like me, have different preferences.

It is not our culture?

The excuse often given to justify why women should not wear what they want is that certain dressing is not part of our culture. Which culture? As far back as history tells us through art, stone carvings and folktale; our cultural dress has never been about covering up. Mhapapa neshashiko (the skin hides covering women’s backs and fronts) were very short. They covered the ‘bare essentials.’ Women’s breasts were not sacred, they were left hanging open. Our society borrowed the concept of wearing clothes from the Victorian British culture through colonisation. Our crisis is that we borrowed a concept in development and so as British society has transformed its values including shaking off patriarchal notions that dictate women’s choices, we have remained stuck in the past holding on to a half-borrowed concept? We choose to dictate the length of a woman’s clothing. Until a few years ago, some men on our streets beat up women for wearing trousers. Some men in their homes today forbid their wives from wearing trousers or short clothes? Why do we find the exposure of a woman’s legs offensive today when our real true culture did not find the exposure of her legs, stomach and breasts so? Why do we find pride in the terrible Colonial Victorian teaching that says it is shameful for the beauty of a woman’s body to be exposed the way she feels comfortable? For a nation that preaches sovereignty, we do embrace our mental colonisation quite comfortably when it allows the oppression of women.

This cartoon, which is part of the Kenyan #MyDressMyChoice campaign, whose message resonates with our #MiniSkirtMarch captures this point.

 

Kenyan Cartoon part of the #MyDressMyChoice Campaign

Kenyan Cartoon part of the #MyDressMyChoice Campaign

It’s not about dressing…

Abuse is about power, access and control and not about dressing.

Covering the whole body except for the eyes will not protect women from abuse. I personally witnessed this on the streets of Sudan and Egypt where all women, Arab, Black and White were sexually harassed.  The men did it because they could, with no consequence. Society was permissive of their abuse and so they whispered lustful words to us and groped us on the subways; even those in Burqas, where the only body parts visible were the eyes. The abuse was so bad in Egypt, that the Egyptian government created “women only” sections on the subways. It is hence not only offensive, but downright ridiculous to suggest that wearing clothes that are “offensive” to some men’s senses justifies harassment. As a friend said to me; “Is it not ironic then that these men find wearing a mini-skirt more indecent than attacking the woman for wearing the skirt.” They will strip her, drag her across town, cheer and jeer in the name of morality; and then call themselves human? Does she look ‘more decent’ stripped naked?

Abuse of women knows no class. When men dictate what women wear, they are asserting their property rights over women. Men feel that it is their right to determine what women wear; I am sorry maybe that worked when our laws still treated us as perpetual minors but the times have changed. The Legal Age of Majority Act tells me I am an adult, with full rights as citizen to make choices about my life including how I choose to dress.

But back to the point on power, it must feel good doesn’t it; for a powerless man, without a dollar in his pocket to dress down a beautiful, intelligent and ambitious girl. In that fleeting moment when he strips her naked, he must feel that he has power. Humiliating her makes him feel good and invincible. He could have done it to the similarly dressed girl in her Mercedes Benz, but because he has no access to her she remains safe. Another man however, in that other girl’s circles, will, with access, do to her what the girl on the street is subjected to, if not worse. Society’s reaction in both instances is to question the girls’ dressing; they provoked the reactions, right?

No, wrong! A man will not suddenly attack a woman for wearing a miniskirt! That vile character is in him. Men who attack women for their dressing use dressing as an excuse for expressing their debauchery. As a society we are helping them to get away with murder when we promote the idea that women are prey and must hide themselves from would-be hunters. We make excuses for criminals and criminalise victims, fooling ourselves to think they invited their own abuse. We are wrong! If rape was a crime of lust, then only mature women would get raped. How come then children, who have not matured enough to be sexually attractive are raped by their own fathers!

Our society, men and women alike, thrives on excusing bad behaviour and using deeply hurtful words for individuals who do not fit into broad social categories. The same applies with women’s dressing. To be considered respectable, women must wear a certain type of clothing. Wearing clothes deemed too short, too revealing, or too tight and offensive to some members of society’s sensibilities is a reason for labelling. ‘Ipfambi-hure’-she is a prostitute they say. Haana hunhu-she is of loose morals. Idioms such as “Chigamhira mudenga bra rehure” are used to describe women who wear push-up bras to expose their cleavage. The paradox here is that cultural dynamism is promoted through language that disrespects women yet women’s dressing choices and preferences must not be part of societal transformation. The biggest irony is that the Generals of the Moral Police, who frown upon women, including ‘powerful women who wear miniskirts in the company of younger men’ may themselves wear ground sweeping skirts but lack that one element that makes us human-separate from others animals; the ability to think and reason, to realise that my choices are mine-you are free to make yours differently. And so we are sociliased into conformance, failing to say and do what we really think and want; what famous Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie calls “turning pretense into an art form.”

As Zimbabwe commemorates the 16 days of activism against gender based violence, the key message is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in our communities: ‘Promoting safe spaces for women and girls.’ Our current reality is that women are not safe, in their homes and on the streets. We must increase our efforts to create public spaces free of violence, including verbal violence, and sexual harassment. Creating those safe spaces is about addressing these stereotypes which marginalise women. Yes we are diverse in our beliefs and strong opinions and choices but we must express these opinions respectfully, with civility and courtesy and stripping women naked because we do not like their dress choices is disrespectful and uncivilised.

Is protest through satire enough? #zvirikumbofambasei Part 2

Activism, Governance, Human Rights, Zimbabwe

The greatest enemy for any people is apathy for it breeds a sense of comfort that prevents further interrogation of issues that affect communities. But I guess it would be inaccurate to label Zimbabwean society as apathetic as some citizens do engage issues in many different ways, satire being one of them. My last article spoke to this as I looked through the meaning of the #zvirikumbofambasei skits.

Over the past few months Zimbabweans have watched in horror as shocking events have unfolded, the majority of them involving the “mother of the nation.” First the First Lady got a miracle PHD. Her fast-tracked academic qualification from the University of Zimbabwe, where her husband is the Chancellor, was procured in a record 2 months whereas scholars of repute globally have spent an average of 3-7 years to achieve the same feat. Second; she bumped her way up the political ladder jumping from being the mere spouse of the first secretary of the party to the head of the women’s league, a powerful position within the party and the nation’s politic. Next, she was touted as the possible successor to her husband; a process that saw her crossing the country to conduct rallies with members of her party; calling out supposed faction leaders and threatening to “baby dump” them; embarrassing other party officials vana Kakukonde vakamakwa bigtime!, and insulting Zimbabweans at large especially “Ndebele men who just drink beer, impregnate women then skip the border to engage in criminality”.

Meanwhile Zimbabweans responded to all three incidents; particularly through the Twitter-sphere, with ridicule; writing tweets that dripped with sarcasm. A special hashtag #tweetlikedramai, emerged, and another #dramai was created for the sole purpose of making a caricature of the First Lady. Twimbos, as Zimbabweans on Twitter are known questioned her conduct with tweets such as;
“Hello UZ, what other degrees are you guys selling”
“Worry not Zimbos. If the economy collapses, I will adopt everyone and you will all live at my orphanage in Mazoe.”
“Our police are working hard to bring electricity to your homes”

Ultimately, these tweets were a form of protest as young people flocked to social media to register their discontent, shock and outrage at the events as they unfolded. However, that’s as far as it went. Today we complain about the government’s neglect of the medical sector. Doctors are on strike; there isn’t enough medical equipment in the hospitals; people are dying in circumstances where they should not have to; senior officials in the ministry keep getting new cars while our dearly beloved leader flies to Singapore for eye-check-ups. Youths spend their days loitering, jobless, hopeless. Diseases we never dreamt we would face, ravage our population, cholera, dysentery, typhoid-the result of a negligent government that expends its budget on luxury cars instead of providing its people with clean water and proper sanitation. We are all in agreement; this is not the Zimbabwe we want. Yet only a handful of Zimbabweans, led by Itai Dzamara have taken this to protest launching the #occupyafricaunitysquare campaign, a non-violent movement aimed at demanding an end to Zimbabwe’s cycle of national failure and suffering.

Burkina 1 Burkina 4 Burkina 5In other parts of the continent we saw the people of Burkina Faso take to the streets. The actions of the Burkinabe represented the rising up of a downtrodden population that had reached the limits of its resilience, a population that was prepared to die for anything different from their status quo. 27 years of selfish leadership and an attempt to amend the constitution to continue this legacy was met with emphatic protests that signalled the Burkinabe had had enough. 27 years in which there was no evidence that the lives of the ordinary people had improved for the better; 27 years in which the leader enriched his inner circle and one could not tell the difference between corruption and official governance machinery; 27 years of oppression and suppression of dissenting voices; 27 years of cronyism characterised by immense privilege among the elite, touting their opulence to the poor hungry on the street; 27 years of unemployment, increased poverty and want among the majority.

How different this is from the Zimbabwe, 34 years on? So then, what are we missing? What shall drive us to be as incensed as the Burkinabe? Is the might of those in power really that indestructible? If it is the army we fear, is the wrath of the army mightier than that of the masses?

History has shown the power of mass movements from the French Revolution, the Egyptian #Jan25 Revolution to the Burkinabe Protests. Those in power might resist, throw teargas at, shoot at, declare states of emergencies against, the masses but eventually the strength of a united mass cannot be thwarted by the resources of a few bullies. As the t-shirt of one of the Burkinabe protestors read, “Notre Nombre est notre force” (Our number is our strength.”

One of my favourite bloggers writes,
“… revolution is not like an apocalypse. It is a dedicated process carried out through mass political education, destruction of the structural pillars of the old regime to build a new foundation from rock bottom. Revolution is abandoning the old and embracing the new. It is process you cannot go through without tears, blood and pain along the way. It is the rebirth of the new man and woman, in mind and spirit, resulting in the emergence of the envisioned self.”

At the centre of it all is the fact that the community, our community is a social organism that needs nourishment in political, economic and social ways. It needs to breed and sustain intellectual capital but beyond intellectualism it needs self-organisation by the communities themselves without depending on, or fearing the government to liberate it. We are our own saviour and if we are waiting to be liberated then we shall be waiting for another 1000 years. We have successfuly developed a culture of resilience but we need to grow fearlessness. Our leaders have used fear as a tool to cripple any social movements. I once said, regarding the arrest and harassment of Beatrice Mtetwa that to silence dissent, the state targets the few vocal and visible individuals to serve as an example and unleash a silent indirect threat to the rest of the faint and weak-hearted.

With the sowing of the seeds of fear they have taken away the power away from us; away from the people. The violence that we have witnessed persistently against WOZA women and more recently against Itai Dzamara and his colleagues is a reminder, watering the seeds of fear and letting it grow exponentially in our hearts and minds. But until when shall we continue to let our fear of death or injury overpower our quest for dignity and freedom? When shall we recognise that there is unity in strength?

We must recognise that beyond the different political party affiliation or non-affiliation as the case may be, we have greater humane interests that bind us together- interests that even those within the privileged circle will need protected the day they fall into disfavour among their peers.

Above all we must remember the words of Frederick Douglass for they speak truth to our situation and until we internalise them and act on them, we shall remain where we are, desperate but not driven to action, angry but fearful and incensed but too scared to chart our own path.

He said;
“Power concedes nothing and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of the injustice or the wrong which will be imposed upon them and these will continue until they are resisted. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
– Frederick Douglass 1818–1895

Is Satire Our Protest? #Zvirikumbofambasei

Activism, Civil Resistance, Gender, Governance, Human Rights, Politics, Zimbabwe

Satire: “The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticise people’s stupidity or vices.”

Protest: “A statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something.”

People often ask why Zimbabweans speak of a repressive government when freedom ‘of’ expression is guaranteed in the Constitution and articles such as mine can be published. However, they often overlook that freedom ‘of’ expression does not guarantee freedom ‘after’ expression. Citizens only get clarity on whether their thoughts and words fit within the political establishment’s definition of freedom ‘of’ expression when they get a response befitting the acceptability of their words.  Such a ‘response’ often consists of ‘visits’ to police cells; in other words unlawful detention; and often extends to bruises and broken bones for those who dare go onto the street to protest.

So, since we can’t go on the streets and hold placards or march and get our voices heard; we (Zimbabweans) have taken to our creative juices; letting our grievances out in the flow of our words; words often spoken so eloquently; with so much hidden meaning that those who block our protests on the streets become ignorant participants in spreading the word of our protest. In satire we have found expression, saying things we would dare not say openly; and Richard Matimba popularly known as “Uncle Richie”’s skit has widened the doors to our freedom of expression and opinion.

Mbiri yavo ndeyei? What is Uncle Richie’s fame?

Uncle Richie is the brains behind the “unotoshaya kuti zviri kumbofamba sei” craze that has hit Zimbabwe. In polite terms his message is “what exactly is going on” but in liberated speech what he means is: what the f*** is going on?!!!”  Nowadays, every statement and joke among Zimbabweans is punctuated with this statement. The message began as an audio recording circulating on WhatsApp (a cross-platform mobile messaging App which allows people to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS.)

Picture Credit-imgflip.com

Picture Credit-imgflip.com

When one first listens to it, the audio sounds like the incomprehensible rantings of a drunkard. The words are mumbled in a slur; the thoughts sound disjointed and discordant, unrelated even, what one would call mumbo jumbo.

But upon listening carefully, one gets Uncle Richie’s crazy wisdom.  In Uncle Richie’s words is a fascinating exercise of agency in which he strings together narratives of the economy, society and politics. He talks of people getting haircuts in butcheries (Unotoona vamwe vachitogerwa zuda mumabutcher-You see people getting haircuts in butcheries) [who does that?!]. He hints at the dearth in leadership and true representation of constituencies in Parliament (Wotoona kuti ah vanhu vese pa.. vanotoshaya mumiriri anotovamiririra…And then you see that all the people at… cannot find leaders to represent them). He talks of the lack of transparency and accountability in Parliament as a representative body as citizens are left wondering what exactly Parliament’s business is (Pavanozodiscusser muParliament vanenge vachitodiscusser nenyaya dzeiIn Parliament, you really wonder what they will be discussing).

He goes further to explore issues of social justice. He addresses the rampant lack of decent housing (unotoshaya kuti vamwe vari kutoshaya dzimbaand then you can’t get how some people do not have houses). He speaks to the issue of hunger and unavailability of food to eat for some, dashing the assumption that everyone has all meals on the table each day; (vamwe vanenge vadya makusenisome would have had food in the morning). He throws in the common practice of self-medication, given that a visit to the doctor for something as “silly” as flu is out of the question in Zimbabwe though it should be if we had proper health care (vamwe vanoto.. vanotoshandisa Vicks kana vachida kuti flu yavo iite kakudzikirasome  use Vicks if they want their flu to get better). Lastly he addresses the lack of access to clean and safe water; alluding to how, instead of simply opening the taps in their homes and getting clean and safe water, citizens have created their own alternatives; failed by local government (Vanotochera mvura mumigodhithey fetch water from wells).

Added to all the obvious confusion caused by the governance deficit at a local and national level, Uncle Richie expresses his confusion at the unusual events that have baffled mankind; Zimbabweans included making us all wonder what our world has come to. First the inexplicable and mysterious disappearance of the Indian man in Mt Nyanga, in Zimbabwe (vamwe hanzi akwira mugomo ashaikwa-some are said to have climbed up a mountain and disappeared) and the strange disappearance of Malaysian Flight MH370 (hanzi yatoshaikwa ndege yacho-they say that the plane can’t be found). Both incidences have led to so many conspiracy theories. In Nyanga some people speculate that maybe mystical powers of the hills made the man disappear, or the man was simply attacked by wild-life or thieves and the state doesn’t want to raise security concerns or this was a direct attack on a targeted individual for other reasons that we will all never know. With MH370, the speculations range from; “the pilot was a terrorist” to “there was a man on the plane with evidence of how the Americans created Ebola” and “the victims were trafficked to get their internal organs.”

Through his satirical skit, Uncle Richie paints a clear picture of the acute discord that characterises our economic, social and political landscape, both nationally and globally. As millions of Zimbabweans share the audio, and laugh at Uncle Richie’s words his message continues to build a shared consensus that something is wrong with our society. Through his words, he builds confidence for agency and legitimises the idea that it is only right to talk about all these injustices and unusual events.

And so when the police chief, Commissioner Chihuri collapsed and claimed he fainted because he wore the wrong shoe on the wrong foot, Zimbabweans asked “Zviri kumbofamba sei?” How does a whole general mistake left from right? Kupfeka banana here shuwa?

When we all heard that members of the Apostolic Faith Johane Masowe Sect had beaten up police officers, we asked-Zviri kumbofamba sei? Many felt the police had it coming given their history of brutality against unarmed civilians. Others wondered if we were progressing into a state of lawlessness.

Picture Credit-www.dailynews.co.zw

Picture Credit-www.dailynews.co.zw

Each day, pedestrians and motorists alike, grit their teeth  as vehicles that take them from point A to B, plod through potholes and ask; Zviri kumbofamba sei? How come our roads [with the exception of a few] are not getting fixed when money is being collected for that? Isn’t that why police have waged a war against combis, to ensure that they comply with all road regulations including paying for operating licenses? Or do our police just get a kick out of smashing private vehicles’ windscreens for no reason?

And when it emerged that a man had been arrested for setting his dogs   on wild animals in the President’s backyard, we asked- Zviri kumbofamba sei? The President has deer in his backyard? Wow! When I grow up I also want to be President so I can have deer in my backyard!

And when we had half-naked Brazilian dancers paraded during the Carnival; we asked –Zviri kumbofamba sei? How do we as a society still have people who cat-call and wolf-whistle at women wearing short skirts or dresses yet we have naked women paraded on our streets as part of a “cultural event?” and have no problems with it? How come people will castigate the organisers of the #miniskirt march for speaking out against sexual harassment of women yet they cheered the Minister of tourism for bringing half-naked Brazilian women onto our streets?

When we heard that popular Sungura music artist, Alick Macheso ejaculated in his daughter’s mouth, in an unorthodox traditional method of curing his daughter’s fontanelle (nhova) called kutara we asked; Zviri kumbofamba sei? Was there no other way of curing her? Should a daughter ever suffer the misfortune of seeing her father’s privates? Kuoneswa nhengo yesikarudzi yababa here shuwa!! What is wrong with the man! Two wives in the house and he chose his daughter’s mouth as the destination to empty his sperms!

We also heard of miracle money, miracle gold, miracle weight loss and miracle babies in this era of prophets or “profiteers” as some would call them and ask; Zviri kumbofamba sei? Are these men of God or men of gold? Let us not even talk of ‘Pastor’ Robert Martin Gumbura and his insatiable sexual appetite.

Source-Unknown

Source-Unknown

Again when we heard about the internal fights within both the major political parties and we asked; Zviri kumbofamba sei? In MDC-T we heard that Tsvangirai fired Biti or Biti fired Tsvangirai; with Mangoma featuring somewhere in that equation. In ZANU PF it was, Mnangagwa is going to take over from Mugabe or is it going to be Mujuru; then we heard Mujuru never shot down a helicopter during the liberation struggle and suddenly ‘Gamatox’ and ‘Mazoe Crush’ were political slogans. We are still wondering- whose narrative should we believe? What narrative of history was and is true? What is the future of our country with such messy politics?

To top it all, we have followed over the past few weeks, the emergence of a new strand of STD (Sexually Transmitted Dictatorship). A political party constitution has been flouted; dictates of seniority, merit and experience thrown away to hungry dogs as the first lady has risen dramatically through the power ranks, blazing at a comet’s speed from the shadows of her powerful husband’s kitchen to the highest seat in the Women’s league and maybe even HIS seat. Is it any wonder that we ask,  Zviri kumbofamba sei?

One thing remains constant; using the Zviri kumbofamba sei? phrase, as Zimbabweans we have developed a voice in calling out the political discord that surrounds us. We are naming and shaming the rot and those responsible for it in our politics, economy and society. I am inclined to agree with Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s who both argue (in their book called Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Non-Violent Conflict) that, the assumption that the most effective and forceful way of waging political struggle is through violence or the threat of it, is not true.  It takes the stirrings of dissent among a few, then adopted through high levels of participation by members of the population to grow a movement. The quiet protest Zimbabweans have grown through satire has enhanced the population’s resilience, invoked public loyalty and is grounded in local mobilisation.  We have created a home-grown movement with high levels of participation by ordinary citizens in which we are saying “this is ridiculous” to things that are ridiculous or “get your act together” to those who need to do so. We might not be toyi-toying/picketing on the streets but in our numbers as we pass the messages from phone to phone, one WhatsApp message to the next we are certainly getting heard. The icing on the cake, even those who would ordinarily arrest us for saying these things are passing along the messages; Unotonzwa maMinister achiti, Zviri kumbofamba sei? Either they have caught onto the dominant spirit or they are just too dense to get its import.

Whether using satire as our protest in itself is enough to change our fortunes is the subject of my next blog.

Below is a full transcript of Uncle Richie’s First Zviri kumbofamba sei skit

Unotoona vamwe vachitogerwa zuda mumabutcher (You see people getting haircuts in butcheries)

Vamwe vachitoseka (While others are laughing)

Wotonzwa vamwe…vamwe…vachitochema (Then you hear others crying)

Uchitoona…unotoona kuti pamwe vanhu vacho vanenge vakatosiyana siyana (Then you see that maybe the people are different)

Unotonzwa vanhu vachitoita ruzha (You hear some people making noise)

Vamwe vachitoita zvinhu zvekuti unotoshaya kuti vanhu vari kutombozvi…zvifambisa sei (And others will be doing things that make you wonder what exactly is going on)

Unototadza kutozvinzwisisa kutoti (You fail to understand that…)

Uno…unotoona vanhu vachitomhanya (You see people running)

Vamwe vachitongoramba vakamira (While others remain standing)

Wotoshaya kuti..kuti zvese vanenge vachida kuti zvizoitwe sei (Then you wonder that..ah…how do they they want things to work out)

Vana makanika unotoona vachitosangana pamwechete (You see the mechanics coming together in one place)

Vana hwindi kana wotonzwa vakutoti yeee uyeee (Then you hear the touts shouting yay oh yay)

Uchitoshaya kuti Ah zvinhu zvacho zviri kutombofamba sei (And you wonder what exactly is going on)

Wotoona kuti ah vanhu vese pa..vanotoshaya mumiriri anotovamiririra kuitira kuti (And then you see that all the people at… cannot find leaders to represent them so that…)

Pavanozodiscusser muParliament vanenge vachitodiscusser nenyaya dzei (In Parliament, you really wonder what they will be discussing)

Ndopaunotoshamisika kuti nyaya yacho yakatomira sei (And then you wonder, what exactly is this story)

Zvinhu zvacho hazvi hazvi hazvina..hazvitombonzwisisiki (You can’t understand these things)

Vanotoshaya kuti vamwe vari kutoshaya dzimba (And then you can’t understand how some people do not have houses)

Ah vari kuto ah vari kuto to ah vari kutoshaya ah kuti zvakatombomira sei (Ah they are..they are..they are wondering how things are)

Vamwe vanenge vadya makuseni (Some would have had food in the morning)

Vamwe vanoto..vanotoshandisa Vicks kana vachida kuti flu yavo iite kakudzikira (Others use Vicks if they want their flu to get better)

Vanotomboshaya kuti ah vamwe vanotoshaya… (They wonder what..ah some wonder)

Vanotochera mi..mvura ne..mumigodhi (They fetch water from wells)

Ah utotototi zvinhu zvacho ah zviri kumbofamba sei (Then you wonder what exactly is going on)

Vamwe hanzi akwira mugomo ashaikwa (Some say someone climbed up a mountain and disappeared)

Ah zvinhu zvacho utototi anhu ah handitombonzwisisi kutoti  ah (Ah,,,these things,,,you say people,,,ah,, I can’t understand what,,,)

Hanzi yatoshaikwa ndege yacho(It is said, that the plane has disappeared)

Ah ah woto…kuda kuzvibatanidza zvinhu zvacho soo wotoona kuti ah (Ah then you…trying to piece these things together, then you see that…)

Zvotonetsa zvinhu zvacho (These things are difficult to understand)

Ah hamheno kuti to.. to.. tinganyatsozvibatanidza sei kuti zvinhu zvacho (I don’t know if we should…should…how do we bring these  things together)

Tinyatso..nyatso…nyatsonzwisisa kuti zvinhu zvinenge zvakatonyatsofamba sei (So we fully…fully understand how things happened)

Unoti ah mupfungwa macho munenge ndimo makutonzvenga (You then think to yourself, maybe my brains are playing tricks on me)