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.

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)

 

This fuckery must end! #freealaa

Activism, Africa, Democracy, Human Rights

They are the most adorable couple I have ever met. Each time I think about them I am reminded that true love exists. They fell in love when they were teenagers and have not fallen out of it since. Over a decade now they have been together, more than a decade in which so much has happened.

We met; 2009, February. They were geeks; total computer/techy/nerdy geeks; -both of them. They knew stuff I didn’t know then and still don’t know now. Stuff about technology, hacking, security online, open software blah blah blah. I was a novice, I had no Twitter account, all I did was post pictures on Facebook, I had no blog, did not know anything about anonymity online or all that other stuff that techies know. So they made me open a Twitter account and start a Blog page; sadly both were to remain dormant for the next 2 years because I was still gripped by technophobia. Slowly and surely they coaxed me out of it and today I have blossomed-slightly-with a whole lot more to learn -in this technology business.

Our shared passion was activism as we found common ground in our fight for freedom, justice and equality. We shared our experiences; they shared what was happening in Egypt and I shared my Zimbabwean story. We compared notes and concluded Bob and Mubarak were having the same note-sharing exercise. Systemic repression of political freedoms, police brutality, enforced disappearances, ceremonial elections; the scenes were too similar; at least Bob pretended to care about the women.

2010 we moved to South Africa. We shared so many good times, playing playing tennis on Wii in their house, eating the spicy shawarmas, celebrating the world cup-some matches in the fan parks- others in the stadiums-all thanks to Alaa’s running around to get us the tickets.

2011 when all was good and we had no premonition things would turn out this bad

2011 when all was good and we had no premonition things would turn out this bad

Beginning of 2011 we met again. We were happy, genuinely happy. I found out Dodou (their son) was on his way, ecstatic to becoming an aunt. It had been Manal’s idea that I should go learn from Egypt. She sold it and I bought into it, brilliant idea, I thought and so I prepared to do the prophesied trek: Cape to Cairo.

A few months later, we all stood in Tahrir Square. They were heroes and heroines among their peers; a family of revolutionaries that have refused; through generations to sit and watch as injustices unfold. I left several months later, they stayed home, to continue the fight.

November 2013, the police raided Alaa and Manal’s home and arrested him, accusing him of  inciting illegal demonostrations. June 2014, Egyptian courts sentenced Alaa and 25 other people to 15 years in prison in a kangaroo fashion trial that handed down judgement in default; talk about fair trial! Today Alaa sits in a prison cell, while Manal is raising their child alone. 2 weeks ago Alaa’s dad passed on and he was not there to bid him farewell.

I am angry at all the injustices that have befallen my friends, angry on  behalf of that little boy who is growing up without his father; and even more angry that Alaa is now without his father and was not given the chance to say goodbye, detained on nonsensical charges.

What kind of fuckery is this; that gives certain individuals who call themselves politicians the power to mess with other people’s lives!  What idiotic nonsense is it that they actually can and always get away with these bullying tactics across borders and oceans? Where is justice when we need it; when those who fight for the welfare of every citizen are thrown into the dungeons of despair while the greedy fools who purport to have the masses’ interests at heart loot away?

 

24 January 2063: Dear Kwame from Nkosazana

Activism, Africa, African Renaissance, Governance, History in the making, Peace, Politics, Shared Resources, Social Justice

They are dreamers my friends, just as I am one too and, as I always say, I shall continue to dream for  dreams turn into visions, visions become plans, plans can be turned into designs and designs can be implemented and spring forth the change I want to see. In my optimism I find hope, for it is my hope that the Africa you shall read about in the letter below shall BE. It is the vision of that Africa that fuels my anger, energy and passion in doing the work that I do; for I know, Africa is better than what many say she is-Africa is capable of doing better than she is doing today.  So may the pessimists close this page before you throw up from the high dosage of optimism it contains. But may the optimists and hopefuls be encouraged in the knowledge that Africa INDEED shall rise!

*Beautiful note, written by Chika Onyeani of the Africa Sun Times; first published on the African Diaspora Network mailing list by Melvin Foote.

Date: 24 January 2063*

To: Kwame@iamafrican.com
From: Nkosazana@confedafrica.gov
Subject: African Unity

My dear friend Kwame,

Greetings to the family and friends, and good health and best wishes for 2063.

I write to you from the beautiful Ethiopian city of Bahir Dar, located on Lake Tana, as we finalize preparations for the Centenary celebrations of the Organisation of African Unity, which evolved to the African Union in 2002 and laid the foundations for what is now our Confederation of African States (CAS).

Yes, who would have thought that the dream of Kwame Nkrumah and his generations, when they called in 1963 on Africans to unite or perish, would one day become a reality. And what a grand reality.

At the beginning of the twenty first century, we used to get irritated with foreigners when they treated Africa as one country: as if we were not a continent of over a billion people and 55 sovereign states! But, the advancing global trend towards regional blocks, reminded us that integration and unity is the only way for Africa to leverage its competitive advantage.

In fact, if Africa was one country in 2006, we would have been the 10th largest economy in the world! However, instead of acting as one, with virtually every resource in the world (land, oceans, minerals, energy, forests) and over a billion people, we acted as fifty-five small and fragmented individual countries.

The bigger countries that should have been the locomotives of African integration, failed to play their role at that time, and that is part of the reasons it took us so long. We did not realize our power, but instead relied on donors, that we euphemistically called partners.

That was the case in 2013, but reality finally dawned and we had long debates about the form that our unity should take: confederation, a united states, a federation or a union.As you can see, my friend, those debates are over and the Confederation of African States is now twelve years old, launched in 2051.

The role played by successive generations of African youth contributed to our success. Already in 2013 during the Golden Jubilee celebrations, it was the youth that loudly questioned the slow progress towards integration.
They formed African Union Clubs in schools and universities across the continent, and linked with each other on social media. Thus we saw the grand push for integration, for the free movement of people, for harmonization of education and professional qualifications, with the Pan African University and indeed the university sector and intelligentsia playing an instrumental role.

We were a youthful continent at the start of the 21st century, but as our youth bulge grew, young men and women became even more active, creative, impatient and assertive, often telling us oldies that they are the future, and that they (together with women) form the largest part of the electorates in all our countries!

Of course this was but one of the drivers towards unity. The accelerated implementation of the Abuja Treaty and the creation of the African Economic Community by 2034 saw economic integration moved to unexpected levels. Economic integration, coupled with infrastructure development, saw intra-Africa trade mushrooming, from less than 12% in 2013 to approaching 50% by 2045. This integration was further consolidated with the growth of commodity exchanges and continental commercial giants.

Starting with the African pharmaceutical company, Pan African companies now not only dominate our domestic market of over two billion people, but they have overtaken multi-nationals from the rest of the world in their own markets.

Even more significant than this, was the growth of regional manufacturing hubs, around the beneficiation of our minerals and natural resources, such as in the Eastern Congo, north-eastern Angola and Zambia’s copper belt and at major Silicon valleys in Kigali, Alexandria, Brazzaville, Maseru, Lagos and Mombasa, to mention but a few such hubs.

My friend, Africa has indeed transformed herself from an exporter of raw materials with a declining manufacturing sector in 2013, to become a major food exporter, a global manufacturing hub, a knowledge centre, beneficiating our natural resources and agricultural products as drivers to industrialization.

Pan African companies, from mining to finance, food and beverages, hospitality and tourism, pharmaceuticals, fashion, fisheries and ICT are driving integration, and are amongst the global leaders in their sectors. Africa is now the third largest economy in the world. As the Foreign Minister’s retreat in Bahir Dar in January 2014 emphasized, we did this by finding the balance between market forces and strong and accountable developmental states and RECS to drive infrastructure, the provision of social services, industrialization and economic integration.

Let me recall what our mutual friend recently wrote:
“The (African) agrarian revolution had small beginnings. Successful business persons (and local governments) with roots in the rural areas started massive irrigation schemes to harness the waters of the continent’s huge river systems.

The pan-African river projects – on the Congo, the Nile, Niger, Gambia, Zambezi, Kunene, Limpopo and many others – financed by PPPs that involved African and BRIC investors, as well as the African Diaspora, released the continent’s untapped agricultural potential.

By the intelligent application of centuries-old indigenous knowledge, acquired and conserved by African women who have tended crops in all seasons, within the first few years bumper harvests were being reported. Agronomists consulted women about the qualities of various grains – which ones survived low rainfalls and which thrived in wet weather; what pests threatened crops and how could they be combated without undermining delicate ecological systems.

The social impact of the agrarian revolution was perhaps the most enduring change it brought about. The status of women, the tillers of the soil by tradition, rose exponentially. The girl child, condemned to a future in the kitchen or the fields in our not too distant past, now has an equal chance of acquiring a modern education (and owning a farm or an agribusiness). African mothers today have access to tractors and irrigation systems that can be easily assembled.

The producers’ cooperatives, (agribusinesses) and marketing boards these women established help move their produce and became the giant food companies we see today.’

We refused to bear the brunt of climate change and aggressively moved to promote the Green economy and to claim the Blue economy as ours. We lit up Africa, the formerly dark continent, using hydro, solar, wind, geo-thermal energy, in addition to fossil fuels.

And, whilst I’m on the Blue economy, the decision to form Africa-wide shipping companies, and encourage mining houses to ship their goods in vessels flying under African flags, meant a major growth spurt. Of course the decision taken in Dakar to form an African Naval Command to provide for the collective security of our long coastlines, certainly also helped.

Let me quote from our mutual friend again:
‘Africa’s river system, lakes and coast-lines abound with tons of fish. With funding from the different states and the Diaspora, young entrepreneurs discovered… that the mouths of virtually all the rivers along the east coast are rich in a species of eel considered a delicacy across the continent and the world.

Clever marketing also created a growing market for Nile perch, a species whose uncontrolled proliferation had at one time threatened the survival of others in Lake Victoria and the Nile.

Today Namibia and Angola exploit the Benguela current, teaming with marine life, through the joint ventures funded by sovereign funds and the African Development Bank.”

On the east coast, former island states of Seychelles, Comoros, Madagascar and Mauritius are leading lights of the Blue economy and their universities and research institutes attract marine scientists and students from all over the world.

My dear friend, you reminded me in your last e-mail how some magazine once called us ‘the hopeless continent’, citing conflicts, hunger and malnutrition, disease and poverty as if it was a permanent African condition. Few believed that our pledge in the 50th Anniversary Declaration to silence the guns by 2020 was possible. Because of our first-hand experience of the devastation of conflicts, we tackled the root causes, including diversity, inclusion and the management of our resources.

If I have to single out one issue that made peace happened, it was our commitment to invest in our people, especially the empowerment of young people and women. By 2013 we said Africa needed a skills revolution and that we must change our education systems to produce young people that are innovative and entrepreneurial and with strong Pan African values.

From early childhood education, to primary, secondary, technical, vocational and higher education – we experienced a true renaissance, through the investments we made, as governments and the private sector in education and in technology, science, research and innovation.

Coupled with our concerted campaigns to eradicate the major diseases, to provide access to health services, good nutrition, water and sanitation, energy and shelter, our people indeed became and are our most important resource. Can you believe it my friend, even the dreaded malaria is a thing of the past.

Of course this shift could not happen without Africa taking charge of its transformation, including the financing of our development. As one esteemed Foreign minister said in 2014: Africa is rich, but Africans are poor.

With concerted political determination and solidarity, and sometimes one step back and two steps forward, we made financing our development and taking charge of our resources a priority, starting with financing the African Union, our democratic elections and our peacekeeping missions.

The Golden Jubilee celebrations were the start of a major paradigm shift, about taking charge of our narrative.
Agenda 2063, its implementation and the milestones it set, was part of what brought about this shift. We developed Agenda 2063 to galvanize and unite in action all Africans and the Diaspora around the common vision of a peaceful, integrated and prosperous Africa. As an overarching framework, Agenda 2063 provided internal coherence to our various sectorial frameworks and plans adopted under the OAU and AU.

It linked and coordinated our many national and regional frameworks into a common continental transformation drive.

Planning fifty years ahead, allowed us to dream, think creatively, and sometimes crazy, to see us leapfrog beyond the immediate challenges.

Anchored in Pan Africanism and the African renaissance, Agenda 2063 promoted the values of solidarity, self-belief, non-sexism, self-reliance and celebration of our diversity.

As our societies developed, as our working and middle classes grew, as women took their rightful place in our societies, our recreational, heritage and leisure industries grew: arts and culture, literature, media, languages, music and film. WEB du Bois grand project of Encyclopaedia Africana finally saw the light and Kinshasa is now the fashion capital of the world.

From the onset, the Diaspora in the traditions of Pan Africanism, played its part, through investments, returning to the continent with their skills and contributing not only to their place of origin, but where the opportunities and needs were found.

Let me conclude this e-mail, with some family news. The twins, after completing their space studies at Bahir Dar University, decided to take the month off before they start work at the African Space Agency, to travel the continent. My old friend, in our days, trying to do that in one month would have been impossible!

But, the African Express Rail now connects all the capitals of our former states, and indeed they will be able to crisscross and see the beauty, culture and diversity of this cradle of humankind.

The marvel of the African Express Rail is that it is not only a high speed-train, with adjacent highways, but also contains pipelines for gas, oil and water, as well as ICT broadband cables: African ownership, integrated planning and execution at its best!

The continental rail and road network that now crisscross Africa, along with our vibrant airlines, our spectacular landscapes and seductive sunsets, the cultural vibes of our cities, makes tourism one of our largest economic sectors.

Our eldest daughter, the linguist, still lectures in Kiswahili in Cabo Verde, at the headquarters of the Pan African Virtual University. Kiswahili is now a major African working language, and a global language taught at most faculties across the world.

Our grandchildren find it very funny how we used to struggle at AU meetings with English, French and Portuguese interpretations, how we used to fight that the English version is not in line with the French or Arabic text!
Now we have a lingua franca, and multi-lingualism is the order of the day.

Remember how we used to complain about our voice not being heard in trade negotiations and the Security Council, how disorganized, sometimes divided and nationalistic we used to be in those forums, how we used to be summoned by various countries to their capitals to discuss their policies on Africa?

How things have changed. The Confederation last year celebrated twenty years since we took our seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and we are a major force for global stability, peace, human rights, progress, tolerance and justice.

My dear friend, I hope to see you next month in Haiti, for the second round of unity talks between the Confederation of African States and the Caribbean states.

This is a logical step, since Pan Africanism had its roots amongst those early generations, as a movement of Africans from the mother continent and the Diaspora for liberation, self-determination and our common progress.

I end this e-mail, and look forward to seeing you in February. I will bring along some of the chocolates from Accra that you so love, which our children can now afford.

Till we meet again, Nkosazana

Zim human rights defender wants stronger institutions

Activism, Africa, Democracy, Human Rights, Women, Youth, Zimbabwe

**I am reposting this from an article written by the Newsday on my acceptance onto the YALI Fellowship Programme **

Pan-African human rights defender, Rumbidzai Dube, wants strong institutional structures to promote accountability and good governance.

27_Rumbidzai-Dube

 

She says the invitation to participate in the first ever Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) Washington Fellowship in June will allow her to reflect on her work and life experiences in Zimbabwe while searching for innovative ways to expand and strengthen her work.

Her most recent work at the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) involves assessing the contribution of legislators to the democratic process. She tracks the MPs’ attendance, participation, representation of their constituencies and exercise of their oversight role over state institutions.

“I assumed the role of watching what our Parliament does, recognising that Parliament is a critical institution that has the capacity to ensure and guarantee state and government accountability. Putting members of parliament in the spotlight enhances their performance and encourages debate.”

Rumbidzai will spend six weeks at the University of Virginia/ William & Mary. “I will also increase my efforts in public legal education by launching a new website (www.allthingslegalzim.co.zw), a project that will simplify the law for the ordinary person.”

Forecasting her role during the Fellowship, she appears to be caught between a rock and a hard place. To her, the ambassadorial role foisted on her for being one of the 30 Zimbabwean young leaders that have been invited to participate in the Washington Fellowship presents a chance to brag but also to tell hard truths about Zimbabwe, she says. “It will be a delicate balancing act.”

As a legal researcher with a human rights non-governmental organisation and a human rights defender, she has seen the best there can be of the country and yet she cannot shy away from uncivil acts perpetrated against innocent individuals. She notes;

“Being an ambassador means defending my country’s honour and integrity, bragging about the good in it from the amazing people, the wonderful touristic sites, the abundant natural resources, with the biggest bragging point at the moment being that we are the most educated country with the highest literacy rate on the continent,” She adds, “on the other hand I will have to tell the hard truths of the indefensible and reckless acts of violence and corruption that I have witnessed and observed in my work as a human rights defender.”

Rumbidzai completed a law degree at the University of Zimbabwe in 2007. Three years later, she attained a LLM degree in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa from the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

Her career has spurned several international human rights bodies including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies in Egypt (2011) allowing her to witness, first-hand, the struggle for human rights and democratic transformation in Egypt and other North African countries during the Arab Spring.

She also worked briefly in 2010 with the Department of Political Affairs of the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

She sees herself as a social justice advocate, passionate about using the power of the written word to inform, educate and transform societies.

She writes on her personal blog- MaDube’s Reflections– where she interrogates issues of the law as it relates to women, human rights, democratic governance, international relations, and global politics. She is an admitted member of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

#CSW58- MDG 6: Combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases

Activism, Development, Gender, Human Rights, Women, Zimbabwe

I saw a headline in one of yesterday’s papers which said: “MDC official succumbs to Malaria.” Yes, Malaria, as a disease only becomes topical when it kills a prominent individual. Outside such circumstances, the media pays it very little, if not, no attention. Yet malaria remains one of the biggest health problems our country has to deal with. Did you know that 50% of our population is at risk of Malaria? And, did you also know that 1 in 12 children die before their 5th birthday of Malaria? Do you now see why we must pay malaria as much attention as HIV/AIDS?

Another disease, well known and feared but with hardly any statistics to tell us what it is and how much it has affected our people is cancer. All we know is that the number of death certificates, with the cause of death written down as cancer, are dramatically increasing. Women are being diagnosed with breast and cervical cancer while the number of men with prostate cancer is also increasing. We have many cases of individuals seeking donations to have surgery done on growths in the stomach, jaws, throat abroad and a vast number are also succumbing to lung cancer. Costs of getting cancer treatment are steep, estimated at $500 per session and government no longer subsidises the patients because they says government has no funds.

Typhoid and Cholera are also killing many people. The annoying thing about the scourge of these diseases in Zimbabwe is that it was purely man-made. Yes, I said that! We brought cholera and typhoid unto ourselves through the failure of our government to provide us with clean water and ensure sanitation for its citizens. Meanwhile, the bosses at the municipal councils responsible for collecting our rubbish bins, repairing our sewer pipes and providing us with clean water were always whining that there was not enough money for it while they paid each other $35 000 salaries.

Tuberculosis is also killing many of our people. Fortunately, the drugs are available for free in our public hospitals so once diagnosed; an individual can be helped and healed. Although about 79% of the people treated of TB in 2011 also had HIV/AIDS, 21 % were just cases of TB-something that a lot of people have lost touch with; assuming that only HIV positive individuals can suffer from TB.

We have been doing well in our fight with HIV/AIDS. Infections reduced from 30% in 2000 to 15% in 2011. However it is worrying to note that HIV/AIDS affects more women than men as prevalence is 6% higher among women (18% prevalence) than men (12% prevalence). And so it is perplexing to understand why some people JUST don’t get what we mean when we speak of the feminisation of HIV/AIDS, or the need for addressing gender relations in ending HIV/AIDS. Can she negotiate for safe sex [with her HIV positive partner]? Can she say no to sex with her [HIV positive] husband? How many of the women will get HIV/AIDS from their [HIV positive] husband in that polygamous marriage? How many of the women will contract the disease from that serial rapist? And so the nature of the relationships [where women have less power] determines the risk [higher] of getting HIV/AIDS and reflects in the prevalence [higher among women].

What have we done well?

  • HIV/AIDS testing has significantly improved. It takes less time to get tested and the counselling services have improved.
  • The roll out of the Anti-Retro Viral Treatment (ART) has been largely successful, with free drugs being provided for patients in public hospitals.
  • The successful implementation of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) has helped reduce new infections in children.
  • The availability of malaria and tuberculosis (TB) drugs for free in public hospitals has helped the fight against both diseases.

What have we not done?

  • We only have 2 public hospitals treating cancer – Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo and Parirenyatwa in Harare.
  • These hospitals have very little in the form of radiation therapy equipment, drugs and manpower in the form of specialists.
  • We have not opened our eyes to the reality of the increase in cancer detections enough to take steps to prevent its outbreak.

What more can we do?

  • We need to allocate more funds to addressing all these diseases. Relying on external partners’ support is unreliable and risky and as proved by the withdrawal of funds by the Global Fund, the plug on such funds can be pulled off any minute. Government must adequately budget so that donor funds become surplus, not the core.
  • More focus needs to be paid to dealing with cancer as cancer deaths are on the increase. Further, awareness efforts on what causes cancer and how it can be cured need to be scaled up.
  • Above and beyond the policy and practice, we need to address our ethos as a people. The reality of the high HIV infections among women lies in unequal gender relations where women are unable to negotiate for safe sex. Without addressing these gender relations, women will remain vulnerable.
  • We must address corruption; Salary-gate is part of the reason why people died of cholera and typhoid. Those who sanctioned and those who took fat salaries home while some poor people drank infected and dirty water to their death bed have blood on their hands.

#CSW58-MDG 5: Promoting Maternal Health

Activism, Africa, Development, Emancipation, Gender, Human Rights, Women, Zimbabwe

When I reflect on the risk and sacrifices that women make in this world, it makes me wonder when, why and how it came to be that in many parts of the world, they are regarded as second class citizens. What am I saying?

According to the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS) of 2011, at least 10 women die every day due to pregnancy-related complications. Did you hear that, 10 women die every day while giving birth to children, some of them sons, who will then turn on their mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces and cousins and treat them as second class citizens. Isn’t that ironic?

Millennium Development Goal 5 is definitely one of the goals that Zimbabwe will not be able to meet. With maternal deaths estimated to be above 960 deaths for every 100 000 live births, the target of reducing maternal deaths by three quarters can remain an aspiration for now. Given that the 960 deaths are official statistics, which God knows how accurate they are, with the way our government is out of touch with the issues on the ground on so many levels, the rate is possibly even higher.

Let us assume for a minute that these statistics in fact are right, I am still perplexed by the worrying trend that factors such as education, class, location and age are no longer critical in determining who is affected. Uneducated and educated, poor and rich, rural and urban, and older and younger women are all dying in child birth. Clearly there are hidden nuances to the problem and successfully dealing with maternal health will needs exploring these. For instance, cases of celebrities who passed on in child birth, grabbed the headlines, raising the need for a more concerted effort into addressing the issue of maternal mortality.

What are some of these nuances?

  • We simply do not have enough trained health professionals to deal with the delivery of our babies. Our nurses left and we are not doing much to motivate those who remained behind to remain in our service and to be motivated at work.
  • The private health-care system has not been effectively regulated. Just in the past year I have had 2 friends and a relative who have had nasty encounters with private health practitioners. The first friend went to a reputable women’s health centre where she was told she had a growth in her uterus and needed to have her uterus cleaned. Fortunately for her, she chose not to do that and sought a second opinion. Guess what-the supposed ‘growth’ in her uterus was a baby. And to think these people have advanced machines for scans and all that other fancy stuff!!

Another friend elected to deliver her baby through a Caesarean and informed her gynaecologist of her choice. However, he kept pushing the dates for the performance of the Caesarean forward, in what she feared was an attempt to create complications in her delivery, leading to her increased stay in hospital and increased bill=more money for the doctor.

My other relative had had two babies, delivered through normal births without any complications. However for her third baby, the doctor dramatically chose to ‘induce’ her labour prematurely. She could not understand why he did so when her labour was not delayed and her pregnancy was advancing normally. Eventually she found out why when the bill came with a breakdown of:

  1. Costs for inducing labour
  2. Costs for delivering the baby
  3. Costs for doing the ‘stitches’ on the mother
  4. Costs of medication to clean the wounds

She also complained that the same doctor had developed a reputation of forcing women whose babies he delivered to have more ‘stitches’  or proclaim non-existent complications requiring caesarean delivery because doing so meant he would charge more for sewing them back together and performing the surgery. It seems the love for money far exceeds the observance of medical ethics these days.

What have we done well?

  • Our implementation of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission programme (PMTCT) has significantly reduced cases of HIV/AIDS infections in children at birth. HIV testing has improved and the responsibility lies with the mothers to choose life for their children.
  • The adoption of the National Campaign to Accelerate the Reduction of Maternal Mortality (NCARMM) directly corresponding with the African Union (AU) Campaign on the Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa in itself is an important development as it affirms government’s recognition that maternal mortality is a serious problem that needs addressing.

What have we not done well?

Government admits that most maternal deaths are a result of time taken to seek healthcare because of ignorance or lack of funds to pay for hospital care; time needed to reach a healthcare because hospitals are too far and there is no easily accessible transport to and from the health facility or the cost to do so is high and unaffordable and time taken to access care at the health facility-where there is generally an air of neglect of women in health-care facilities by highly unmotivated nurses.

Generally health services are inaccessible particularly in rural areas where hospitals and clinics are not within easy reach and the transport networks to the major clinics and hospitals are not easily accessible. Increasingly, the service in hospitals, particularly public/government hospitals, has deteriorated and has become poor. Pregnant women suffer neglect in hospitals resulting in some avoidable losses and deaths. Socio-economic challenges, related with the current economic environment significantly impact women’s access to medical services as they cannot afford to pay the user fees. There has been reduced uptake of contraception for inexplicable reasons.

What more can we do?

  • We need to adequately fund all our health institutions. Although a government policy stating that women should not pay user fees exists, it is impractical. If clinics do not make women pay, then they will not have the gloves, medication and swabs to attend to the women at child birth. Until and unless government adequately funds these facilities then the assertions that user fees have been scrapped will remain what they are; mere rhetoric!!
  • We must address religious and traditional practices that deny women access to medical facilities or that delay until patients are in critical condition. Zvitsidzo (Apostolic sects’ version of maternal wards), located in bushes in the middle of nowhere, secretive and denying access to the public, are an example of how maternal care is being compromised. Because of the veil of secrecy that these sects throw over these spaces, it is not clear how many women actually die and whether there are any complications that women have to live with for the rest of their lives for failing to give birth in certified maternal health care facilities.
  • We must maintain our reliable supply of contraception BUT we must find out, through comprehensive research, why there is reduced uptake of contraceptives.
  • We must take measures to motivate our nurses to do their jobs effectively. Without the necessary incentives, women will continue to lose their lives in avoidable circumstances.