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!

I miss my sunshine: Lessons from Rwanda

Activism, Africa, Development, Transitional Justice, Zimbabwe

I had an exhausting trip from Harare (Zimbabwe) via Lusaka (Zambia) via Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) via Entebbe (Uganda) to Kigali (Rwanda). It took me 13 hours to fly from Zimbabwe to Rwanda when it takes just 6 hours to fly from Harare to Geneva? I therefore questioned how we as Africans could effectively foster the economic integration we talk of when the lines of communication and transport are so inefficient?  A certain individual, who happens to be Zimbabwean, then declared that there was no need for a direct flight from Zimbabwe to Rwanda because “What’s there to gain from Rwanda (economically) that will render a need for a direct link? And how many people will be on that flight?”

 I then made it my business to show how many things Zimbabwe stands to benefit from Rwanda, short and long term. Well here is the thing; our African leaders are closed-minded about what Africa can benefit them and I think that has been one of the major reasons for the failure of economic integration processes. With a myopic view of the world and clear lack of insight into the trajectory of intra-Africa trade patterns, they would rather seek immediate gratification, trading with parasites such as China and Europe in winners take all arrangements characterised by exploitation of Africans as the market determines the commodity prices, than trade within Africa in what would most likely be win-win situations of tradeoffs.

  But to get back to my story, I picked up a few areas in which Rwanda has done pretty well and from which Zimbabwe can draw lessons that could transform our society significantly.

 First; the transitional mechanisms

 Memorialisation

The Open Grave- One of the many mass graves at the Kigali Genocide Memorial where more than 250 000 victims of the 1994 Genocide are buried.

Yes Rwanda was the site of one of the worst genocides in the world and in Spring 1994 over just 100 days, more than 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in ethnic cleansing by the extremist Hutus. However, post genocide, Rwanda has done a wonderful job of keeping that memory alive as a constant reminder that it should never happen again. They have created genocide memorials in almost every city – where the history of the country pre-colonial and post colonial, leading to the genocide is recorded for all Rwandans to see. All the victims of the genocide who have been discovered are buried in mass graves at these memorials.  A children’s room showing how even the most innocent of human beings; children were not spared records the stories of how these children were killed. All the pictures of the victims whose surviving families identified are displayed at the museum.The stories are horrific but they make the point that Rwanda must never go that route again.

The human face  to the genocide:The presence of the thousands of photographs of victims of the genocide at the memorial ensures that the victims will not remain anonymous or unnamed. It is a huge step by the state acknowledging the wrong done and giving a human face to the tragedy.

 In Zimbabwe we have done a good job of recording one period of our history-the pre-colonial period and ignoring all the others. Our Heroes Acre is a wonderful symbol of the struggle for independence and a reminder of how we never want to go back that route. Fair enough! But, should we put the victims of the various post colonial landmarks in our history, namely Gukurahundi (the scourge against the Ndebeles (1980-18988), the victims of the land reform programme (Zimbabwean white farmers and Zimbabwean black farm-workers), the victims of Operation Murambatsvina (a clean up campaign that displaced thousands and resulted in the deaths of many from communicable disease because of terrible living conditions), the victims of the Diamond Rush (those who lost their lives in power struggles for the control of the recently discovered diamond mines in Marange) and the victims of electoral violence (2000, 2002, 2005 and especially 2008 elections); then we may just have had a genocide in Zimbabwe, albeit not in 100 days but which still needs proper memorialisation, as Rwanda has done.

 Justice and Reconciliation

In Rwanda, after the genocide, the people with the highest responsibility for the commission of the crimes were prosecuted. A special Tribunal, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was created specifically for that purpose.  A number of them have been convicted and the Court is finalising its work. Locally traditional forms of courts, the Gacaca Courts were used to establish the truth, find perpetrators responsible and mete out a punishment to the satisfaction of the victim in their communities. Yes the system was not perfect but effectively Rwanda did not allow impunity to reign supreme in its communities in the face of such horrific crimes.

 In Zimbabwe we have set up an Organ on National Healing whose self-created agenda is to force victims to accept forgiveness and reconciliation. Victims have not been properly consulted as to what they want or prefer to give them peace and to allow them to set the parameters under which they could possibly reconcile with perpetrators. In fact anyone who dares talk about the injustices and how they should be addressed becomes a victim of state intimidation and violence. Perpetrators walk free and they have become professionals, repeating their acts of plunder, rape, mutilation, torture, grave assault and arson among others because they benefit from the impunity they are granted by the state. Meanwhile victims have not received any remedy and they bear the physical, emotional and psychological wounds alone and in silence.

 Second; developing the economy

Rwanda’s economy is developing rapidly. Even the World Bank has acknowledged that Rwanda is among the fastest growing economies that have recorded sustained and widespread economic growth on the African Continent. Despite the impact of the global financial crisis, Rwanda maintained a positive economic growth at 5.5 percent. Lesson Number 1 they do not depend on the West. The West failed them and failed to stop the genocide and they learnt their lesson, you depend upon yourself as a country and find means to manage your circumstances in a way that benefits your own population. They have reduced their dependence on foreign aid from 100% in 1995 to 40% in 2011 moving towards 0% dependency. Through tourism, ICT’s and policies that allow investment, Rwanda’s economy is growing and pulling many of its people out of poverty.

 Rwanda produces more electrical power than Zimbabwe does (in our Hwange and Kariba stations combined) and there is room for Zimbabwe to invest in that energy sector to boost the scarce energy resources that we currently have. In Zimbabwe we have successfully created a volatile and investor unfriendly environment. We do not take heed of the advice we receive from others and we seem to think we can do it all by ourselves. Well wake up and smell the coffee, we are living in a global world where things happening elsewhere will definitely affect us so it is not only foolish but also suicidal to swim upstream when everyone else is flowing with the tide.

 Rwanda and Zimbabwe are both members of  the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the only reason I was allowed to get a visa upon arrival at Kigali international airport (against the regulations because I was supposed to obtain a visa before travelling) was because Zimbabwe is a member of COMESA.  Surely we should capitalise on these relationships to our mutual advantage.

 Third; keeping Rwanda clean

Rwanda is the cleanest country I have ever visited on the African continent and mind you I have been to quite a few. Yes, even cleaner than South Africa for those of you who may be wondering. The country of a thousand hills, as Rwanda is known has adopted a citizen policing system to ensure cleanliness of the city. So every Rwandese ensures that the next person does not litter, does not burn things that pollute the environment and maintains clean surroundings. There is no litter on Kigali’s streets and in its residential areas. I even went to their poorest areas and the grass was immaculately cut and neat and roofs were clean. Rwanda adopted a no-plastics campaign which has significantly reduced litter on the streets. They have replaced plastics with bio-degradable khaki carriers, which if for some reason find their way onto the street, decompose by themselves but also which the city authorities can dispose of cheaper and more efficiently. Every last Saturday of the month, Rwanda comes to a standstill as they clean their surroundings as a nation. Now that is what I call responsible citizenship!!!

 Harare, once the Sunshine city has become a mass of dumping. Plastic bags, plastic containers litter our streets. And on this one do not rush to just blame the government. Yes city authorities have the responsibility to collect rubbish in residential areas which they have not done, but it is us the citizens who have been responsible for littering our cities. I commend the citizens of Bulawayo, because they have taken up a clean-city campaign and by far Bulawayo is cleaner than Harare. Harare residents need to drop their dirty habits. Stop littering! Throw your rubbish in bins or keep it until you can dispose it responsibly! Separate your paper and food from plastics and glass when disposing. Create composts with degradable products. Burn the stuff that can not decompose.

 On the other hand let us hold our authorities responsible for what they ought to do but are not doing. What are councillors and mayors for if not to ensure that residents live healthy, fulfilled lives? They must collect rubbish, dispose of it responsibly and if we do not force them to take up these responsibilities then they will continue to sit in their offices, selling off land to corrupt business people and politicians and enlarging their already fat behinds!

 Fourth, development of infrastructure

As much as Rwanda is developing its cities and building new infrastructure, they are doing a pretty good job of preserving the natural look of their environment. They are developing yet ensuring minimal degradation to the environment, cutting off trees only where the buildings themselves stand and retaining all the surrounding trees and vegetation intact. As a result, the place is streaming with modern life in a very green space that looks welcoming and warm. Yes I love modernity but I hope most African cities, in particular my Sunshine city do not further develop- the Swiss way- and become neat, modern but barren and cold hubs of activity.

 You may be wondering where I got all this information. Well I was given access into the Parliament of Rwanda. I met some Parliamentarians as well as the vice President of the Senate (a She-very progressive!!!) who gave my friends and I a guided tour with explanations of how a country that was grounded in poverty and conflict 18 years ago has risen to what it is. Trust me, I have never been allowed access into my own parliament despite my efforts to do so and if I were to ask for information from my government, no one would give it to me and if they did most of it would be inaccurate.

 I drew many lessons from Rwanda and I am sure if I had stayed longer, I would have learnt even more. Harare used to be called the Sunshine city. Zimbabwe was the jewel of Africa. I really miss my sunshine-and I want her back!

Justice or no justice?

Social Justice, Social Movements, Transitional Justice

Egyptians are angry, so very angry that they are dragging their former president through the criminal courts. The trial of  Hosni Mubarak on charges of corruption and for conspiring to kill protestors who are popularly known as the martyrs of the Revolution, made headlines on many news stations across the globe.

Mubarak denied all charges meaning that his plea was that of not guilty. The implications of that plea are grave. The prosecution has to establish the link between Mubarak’s actions or failure to take action and the crimes that he is said to have committed. That is not an easy task. There is thus no guarantee that the trial will result in a successful conviction because the outcome is based on the evidence. So no matter how much Egyptians may be convinced that Mubarak was corrupt or that were it not for him snipers would never have shot at protestors, their convictions will come to naught if no convincing evidence is put to the judges to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.  Criminal justice is also slow and very expensive. The hiring of lawyers and the charges of the court could be costly.

The most worrying element for me is even if Mubarak were to be found guilty the criminal charges against him are specific to particular incidences of corruption and specific incidences of killings. The trial will not likely reveal details of the repression of the regime which must be exposed if Egypt is to move on. The trial will not expose the structures of corruption and so these will remain standing even after Mubarak is convicted. It will not show who was responsible for all the human rights violations that took place in Egypt during Mubarak’s reign. It is with this in mind that I ask myself if the prosecution of Mubarak, his sons and the six associates is the best way for Egyptians to express their anger.

When crimes are committed and justice is never served, the wounds of those against whom the crimes were committed never heal and that is why transitional justice is relevant. Transitional justice is not just an idea. It is the lived experiences of many countries that suffered under repressive regimes and then found ways of moving forward post-conflict. Transitional justice seeks to help societies to find ways of reshaping them, to prevent recurrence of atrocities committed in the past, to reaffirm victims’ dignity and to expose the truth of what exactly happened because victims have a reciprocal right to know.

By victims I mean the actual people who were killed, beaten, tortured, mutilated, abducted, unlawfully detained, disappeared, harassed, subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment and had all sorts of terrible things done to them. These are the primary victims. I also refer to secondary victims; the people who were close to those who directly suffered. They witnessed the atrocities committed against their loved ones and some of them live even today with the trauma of not knowing the fate of their husbands, sons and relatives.

I wonder then if a trial that addresses one incident of corruption and the killing of a few protestors during the Revolution is the best answer when so many years of repression remain mystical. Is it not prudent to deal with the issues in a more holistic manner than to focus on a single incident?

Reconciliation is key if Egypt is to move forward. But there cannot be reconciliation without justice. And that justice cannot be achieved through the trial of Mubarak, his two sons and a few associates for an isolated incident. Justice lies in the nation of Egypt coming together to chart a process in which they will formulate a strategy to deal with their past. Such a strategy must not only focus on addressing the violations committed during the revolution but also the trends of violations that prevailed throughout Mubarak’s rule.

Truth-seeking must be a central part of that strategy. The victims need to know how certain crimes were committed, who committed them, what happened to their loved ones. In knowing the truth and exposing the systematic way in which certain crimes were committed; history will correctly record the violations and the victims can begin to deal with their losses and come to terms with their experiences.

Victims must receive reparations. Reparations can be in the form of restitution, compensation or reintegration.  Restitution involves restoring the victims to their previous circumstances before the violations were perpetrated against them. Those who lost their jobs or property for merely opposing the regime could be reinstated. Compensation must be given to the victims for the harm they suffered. Such compensation may be in the form of money, goods, symbolic acts significantly recognising the wrongs of the past or some other form such as the building of memorials. Reintegration would be the process of bringing society together, rebuilding trust between individuals who previously were on opposing sides. In the context of Egyptian society it would involve rebuilding relations between the perpetrators and the victims especially the police and the general public, between Copts and Muslims and recent events show the need for mending the relationship between the army and the revolutionaries.