When an elder’s fall becomes epic #MugabeFalls

Africa, Democracy, Politics, Zimbabwe

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

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

Picture Credit (Telegraph UK)

Picture Credit (Telegraph UK)

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

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

Picture Credit (Telegraph UK)

Picture Credit (Telegraph UK)

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

P

Picture Credit (Telegraph UK)

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

Picture Credit (Telegraph UK)

Picture Credit (Telegraph UK)

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

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

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)

 

Dendere reshiri: The bird’s nest

Democracy, History in the making, Human Rights, Politics

The bird’s nest

There is a proverb amongst the Shona people in my country-Zimbabwe-which says

“Ziva kwaunobva, mudzimu weshiri uri mudendere” “Know where you are from, a bird’s ancestors are found in its nest”

This proverb speaks to the value of cultural heritage and roots. Once the bird’s nest is destroyed, its history and cultural heritage are gone. Destroying the nest kills the link between the bird’s current existence and its past. It’s in that old nest that memories of the past were made. Even though the bird may build another nest to create a new home for itself, that home carries no memories of the past nor does it have any value beyond the fact that it is just another nest. Preserving one’s cultural heritage is critical, not only for historical purposes but also for cultural value- linking past, future and present generations.

Montpelier, Monticello and  Ashlawn Highland 

Homes

The homes of 3 US presidents, James Madison’s Montpelier (top), Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (centre) declared a world heritage site by UNESCO and James Monroe’s Ashlawn Highland (bottom).

In the past 3 weeks, I spent time in and at three of America’s 44 presidents’ homes. These homes and plantations belong to three of America’s founding fathers: Monticello, home of the third President Thomas Jefferson, Ashlawn Highland- home of the fourth president James Monroe and – Montpelier,   home of the fifth President James Madison. Roaming around on these estates, I have come to know how these three bookworms designed the foundations of the American democracy as it is known today.

The three musketeers

The three leaders had certain values in common that leaders should emulate:

  1. They were revolutionary. They believed that a nation—their nation—could be built on the idea that people can govern themselves.  Jefferson—the visionary imagined an independent united American nation and so wrote the Declaration of Independence spelling out the aspirations of its people. Madison-the intellectual, realised that the aspirations contained in the Declaration could only find true practical meaning in another document that clearly spelled out how they could be achieved- the Constitution. Monroe-the operationalist, excelled in enlarging the American territory through his negotiations with the French and his diplomatic skills gained America the space and support it needed in the international world order.
  2. They were well read and multi-lingual. All had libraries in their homes and between them owned thousands of books in as many as seven languages: English, French, Latin, Italian, Spanish, Hebrew and German. It is from reading these books that they formed the ideas they pronounced so eloquently, which ideas shaped their nation’s history.
  3. Except for one thing, they believed in learning from other contexts. Because they spoke and understood many languages, they developed knowledge and connections to other countries’ histories, politics, cultures and traditions. The lessons that they gleaned from the French influenced the decor in their homes. Jefferson’s groomed estate consists of plants flaunted from Africa, Asia and his many travels to Europe. Their common fault, and exception to the listening trait, was their refusal to consider advice from their great friend and ally, Gilbert Du Motier- The Marquis de Lafayette, to give up and free the slaves they owned as the French had done in 1794. How such visionary men failed to see or refused to act on the injustice of slavery is something that will always diminish their greatness in my mind, as with any leader who blatantly ignores or commits human atrocities.
  4. They were patriotic. In all they did, these three men came together to plan and strategise on how to build a stronger and united America. Jefferson was about rights and revolution, Madison about structure and governance, while Monroe focused on international relations and diplomacy.

Through tours with capable guides, and observing the cultural heritage that the Americans have preserved of the men who designed their political system, I reaffirmed the value of doing the same in Zimbabwe.

Our language

Language connects us to our history and traditions. It is our heritage. Denigrating our own language and attempting to mould ourselves into a monolingual community gives us a false sense of security that we fit in with those we emulate. What it really does is to create a sense of deficiency in us, especially when we realise that our command of the foreign language is incomparable to that of native speakers. We may write in foreign languages to be understood by many. We can also learn other languages to learn about other cultures. We must never think our own languages are valueless. We need to develop pride in and value our own local languages.

Our history, our heritage

Monuments

Above are 3 of Zimbabwe’s most beautiful cultural heritage sites, the Chinhoyi Caves(top), Khami Ruins(middle) and Great Zimbabwe Ruins (bottom)-declared a world heritage site by UNESCO and the biggest man-made stone ruins on the continent

We need to know our history; who we are, where we are and where we are going including the stories of the men and women who have made our country what it is today. We may not have memoirs, letters or written documents narrating history but we do have the oral tradition of storytelling, which has passed folk-tales across generations. Story-telling can be used to pass down our history, recognising the limitations that come with it. We need to tell our own stories and give our own account of our history. We must preserve our monuments of national pride. We have done well in Zimbabwe to preserve cultural heritage sites such as the Great Zimbabwe, the Chinhoyi Caves and the Khami Ruins but we must do more to recall and record our history.

Another African proverb aptly put, “Until lions have their own historian, accounts of the hunt will always celebrate the hunter.” African history is predominantly told from the perspective of our former colonisers; books and maps are in colonial languages, mostly written by missionaries and mercenaries. As long as this persists, the account we have remains incomplete. We must tell our own history! We need to preserve our nests, as they will forever serve as reference points for future generations. As Malcom X said, “History is a people’s memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals.”

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 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.

Chronicles of a starving nation?

Development, Human Rights, Zimbabwe

So, in the period between November and the end of the holidays, I travelled across 5 provinces: Mashonaland West,  Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central, Midlands and Masvingo and as usual I was observing.  In the areas where there were little rains, Masvingo and Midlands and parts of Mashonaland West such as Sanyati, there were wide expanses of field-nothingness- very little rains and very few crops. “It is going to be a drought year,” the whispers were going round. “Will this one be better than the 1992 one?” one man asked. “I have heard that when farmers struggle with low seed germination it means that there will be a bumper harvest,” some people commented. I thought, “the irony of it, that the rains are scarce where they are desperately needed and where the people like to grow maize, these people survive on farming and their farming depends on the rains and the rains are nowhere to be found.”

Meanwhile in Harare, Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland East where it was raining cats and dogs the people were investing in cash crops-hectares on hectares of tobacco.

These observations got me thinking around a lot of issues.
1. In areas where it is not raining so much and the seasons seem to have changed, is the problem climate change?
2. If it is climate change what is government doing to educate the masses?
3. Have we adapted our seed to create shorter season, early germination and maturing seed that adapts to the shorter seasons and lesser rainfall?
4. If so how much do the people in the farming communities know about this and what is being done to educate them around such issues?

Pondering on all these issues I was then confronted with an allegation that not only shocked but enraged me, if it is true. The farmers I met claimed that the seeds had a very poor germination ratio because those producing seed were mixing expired seed from previous seasons with current seed. The old seed was not germinating and the new seed was less in each pack. So on top of footing the expensive bill of purchasing seed & other inputs & putting in many hours of hard labour; farmers were also being defrauded. Dear Min of Agriculture, you would do well to investigate this possible fraudulent disservice to our farmers and our economy.

Above all, there is a dire need to invest in irrigation to offset drought vulnerability. In Sanyati it was sad to see the few young crops withering away, while Munyati river was overflowing from its tributaries in the Munyati area where it was raining.  There is also need to ensure timely supply of inputs, and a verification of the quality of those inputs. Zimbabwe needs food and as the World Food Programme estimated, almost 2.2 million people will need food aid. We should be producing more food and I sincerely hope something is done to address this need soon.

My love letter to the Zimbabwean Judiciary

Activism, Democracy, Governance, Human Rights, Zimbabwe

Dearest esteemed colleagues, honourable members of ‘THE’ noble profession, Judges of our revered Courts, I write this intimate missive to you -one lawyer to another. You have an onerous task; TO CHANGE SOCIETY FOR THE BETTER. In fulfilling that role you also face the challenge of trying to balance the interests of two of the most difficult and at times irrational groupings in our society, politicians and the citizenry.

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

My lordships and ladyships; 120 years ago, on 9 February 1893, an American lawyer, politician and statesman who was also a Democrat presidential nominee 3 times-William Jennings Bryan said something profound, that I believe many of you-being widely read-have come across. He said, “Next to the Ministry [preaching the word of God], I know of no more noble profession than the law. The object aimed at is justice, equal and exact, and if it does not reach that end at once it is because the stream is diverted by selfishness or checked by ignorance. Its principles ennoble [lend greater dignity or nobility of character] and its practice elevates.”

Sirs and madames; the wisdom in this statement remains relevant today as it was then. For what are we as lawyers, if we do not seek to see justice delivered? Can we call ourselves agents of change and justice if our work is driven by self-gain and selfishness? Do we retain our dignity and the dignity of our profession when we display blatant bias, towards things that trash justice and all its principles?

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

Monsieur/madame le juge, my requests are few and simple:-

Make decisions on merit not on political bias

Have a quiet dignified presence.

If the system is rotten, be the maverick within-not just any maverick but one for justice; independent, impartial, accountable. As Martin Luther King Jnr said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” You are entrusted with ensuring that the arc bends towards what is right, fair and true-please do not throw that trust to the dogs.

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

My Lord and Ladies, I know you need to eat, but if you must eat won’t you have hard-earned and honestly attained worms than ill-begotten pudding? I assure you, for eating the worms-history will judge you kindly for your sacrifice. Don’t you think that your integrity and leaving behind a legacy of fairness and balance is much more honourable than serving your immediate needs?

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

Lordships and Ladyships, a wise someone once said “ The judge who gives the right judgement while appearing not to do so will be thrice blessed in heaven, while on earth will not be so.” Is this something that you might want to guide you in making your decisions?

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

Resepectfully, I know you are human beings before you are judges.  I know you experience fear; fear of losing your jobs, fear of reprisals, fear of the unknown.  Do not let fear expropriate your dignity. Rather as Thomas Pain so aptly put it, there is character in strength and choosing to do what is right, above what is convenient. He said, “I love the man that can smile in trouble,  that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.“

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

Humbly, when I ask you for impartiality, I am NOT saying do not come to the Bench with any ideas. The truth and reality of it is that you already have them; for or against women, gays, lesbians, prisoners, rapists, murderers, politics, political parties, ideologies and struggles. So bring your ideas to the Bench, but do not let these cloud your judgement in delivering justice. If anything, acknowledge you have these ideas in your head already but challenge them or affirm them with thorough, well-reasoned, value-based, critical thinking entrenched in the two principles of fairness and justice.

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

Your honour, it begins with you to serve justice and yes, your contribution as an individual even if no one else will back you, does matter. Ask Justice Koome of Kenya how she did it. She had a one (wo)man show, where she observed the right and freedom of all individuals from unlawful detention. And so she cleared all cases in the courts of individuals who had been arrested for “insulting the President.” Guess what, even after making these “unwelcome” decisions, which possibly could have lost her a job and income, she remains a judge today.

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

Honourable judges, I believe you know the law is an unfinished publication, you continue reading as each chapter unfolds right in front of you. I have come across these words and would like you to hear them too. They were spoken by Professor John Dugard, a South African scholar of great repute in his criticism of South African judges under apartheid South Africa. He said “The judge is not a mere automaton who declares the law…he has a wide range of options open to him in fact-finding, in the interpretation of statutes, in the review of administrative action, in the application of precedent and in the selection of Roman-Dutch authority; and. . . in choosing between conflicting and contradictory principles of statutory interpretation, precedent and Roman-Dutch authority, the judge may legitimately select those principles, precedents or authorities from our liberal Roman Dutch heritage which best advance equality and liberty.” So think, think and think again before you hand down your decision. Think in favour of equality and liberty. Think in favour of fairness and justice.

 I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

My Lords and Ladies, do not be afraid of labelling, if you are doing a good job, your record will speak for itself. As Justice Yvonne Mogkoro, former Judge of the South African Constitutional Court once said, “The role of a judge is not to be popular but to deliver justice, undiluted, unpolluted.” Your maturity comes with fearlessness and boldness. Do not cower from justice-deliver justice.

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

Oh my Lordships and Ladyships, humbly I urge, be careful in your speech, your utterances, your verdicts and your reasoning. You will be charged for it-maybe not in one of your courts of law-but in our collective memory as a nation. Jackie Assimwe, a friend and human rights defender from Uganda once said, “Once a judiciary is compromised, then the justice it delivers is tainted.” Do not let us doubt the efficacy of your footprints. Rather, regenerate in our minds the integrity and wisdom of the Bench.

I ask you not to favour either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

In humility and gratitude, I salute those of you who were suspended for rightly releasing, wrongfully arrested and detained fellow lawyers and human rights defenders.

I salute those of you who defend the rights of the defenceless, in particular prisoners as you ensure their right to fair trial and dignified existence while incarcerated.

I salute those of you who uphold fundamental freedoms, of speech, expression, association, assembly and of the press.

I salute those of you who recognise that divergent views within any society are patriotic as they foster constructive discourse.

I salute those of you who refuse to be “cadrerised”-after all your greatest strength lies in independent thought and expression.

May I invite you all to make these wise words by Mahatma Ghandi your daily mantra in executing your noble duty:

“Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day:

I shall not fear anyone on Earth.

I shall fear only God.

I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.

I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.

I shall conquer untruth by truth.

And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.”

My final humble request: I ask you not to favour me or either one of them [politicians or citizenry]; but please favour justice.

Stepping with grace over stony ground

Governance, Zimbabwe

A deep silence has settled
no jubilant cheering crowds
no smiled greetings from vendors at traffic lights/on the streets/in the shops

just a stunned disbelieving quietness
just deep, tired lines etched on the kind , caring faces around me

today……..

and we turn into tomorrow
knowing that we are still here
just where we are meant to be
that ours is not to choose to turn and face the wall
but to keep stepping with grace
over stony ground

that we are here with deep learning
each with a different calling
but with the knowing that our greatest work
is to bring peace
into our families and communities and children

is to stay connected to what is real and beautiful
the happy voice of the young boy named Perfect playing next door
and the wide eyed welcoming smile of my grandson

to keep stepping with grace
over stony ground

**This poem was written by Bev Reeler a Zimbabwean citizen, mom and grandma.**

Reflections on the SADC Summit

Africa, Democracy, Governance, Zimbabwe

A couple of nights ago, I attended an event hosted by the Southern Africa Political Economy Series (SAPES) Trust. The discussion brought together three panellists; Ambassador Chris Mutsvangwa of ZANU PF, Honourable Priscilla Misihairambwi Mushonga of MDC and Honourable Jameson Timba of the MDC-T. Dr Ibbo Mandaza facilitated the discussion in which the panellists gave their personal reflections on the recently held Extraordinary Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit of heads of states and governments held in Maputo, Mozambique on the Zimbabwean situation. The Summit culminated in the issuance of a Communique whose recommendations are captured HERE.

Jameson Timba (Deputy Minister of Media, Information and Publicity and Member of House of Assembly for Mount Pleasant)

Mr Timba mentioned that the purpose of the SADC Summit was to discuss the Zimbabwean Situation in the context of the Global Political Agreement. Given that SADC are the guarantours of the GPA, they serve the role of a service station, when the GPA needs a push or boost. He explained that the reality is that Zimbabwe is facing a political rather than a legal crisis because the Constitutional crisis the nation is in could have been avoided had the wrong political decisions not been made in the first place. He said that the MDC-T went to the SADC Summit very confident that the 31 July date set for elections could easily be changed to accommodate the reforms agenda given that there is already precedent in our courts where the President has sought postponement of by-elections on the grounds that the state is ill-prepared i.e. the case of Bhebhe & Others v The State.

Jameson Timba: Picture Credit Bulawayo24.com

Jameson Timba: Picture Credit Bulawayo24.com

Mr Timba felt that the Summit went very well and that the final Communiqué that came out of the discussions expressed SADC’s wishes for Zimbabwe’s successful transition into a democracy through the holding of credible, free and fair elections. Mr Timba expressed his admiration for the President of Zimbabwe and his conduct at the SADC Summit.  In Mr Timba’s view, the President-unlike those who surround him- showed that he respects SADC, something which Mr Timba accredited to the President’s deep admiration of the regional body whose origins from the Frontline States during the struggle for independence represents a point of solidarity. He however expressed disappointment with some individuals within the President’s Party whom he said were constantly acting in bad faith. He cited the example of Honourable Patrick Chinamasa whom he said has shown bad faith in two instances:

  1. According to Mr Timba, on the Tuesday before the proclamation of the election date, Honourable Chinamasa was asked in a Cabinet meeting when he was going to present the Electoral Amendment Bill. He responded saying the Bill would be presented in the coming week meaning this week. According to Mr Timba, at this stage, Mr Chinamasa already knew that he was working on a Bill but that he had no intention of bringing it through Parliament but through the Presidential Powers Temporal Measures Act, which in Mr Timba’s view was an unconstitutional and underhanded manner of effecting electoral changes.
  2. Mr Timba also stated that the SADC Communiqué in Paragraph 8.5 says,

“Summit acknowledged the ruling of the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe on the elections date and agreed on the need for the Government of Zimbabwe to engage the Constitutional Court to seek more time beyond 31 July 2013 deadline for holding the Harmonised elections.”

Mr Timba emphasised that when SADC said government, it was referring to the whole inclusive government.  This then meant that the government of Zimbabwe (the inclusive government) in its entirety was urged to bring a case before the courts to remedy the situation of the election date proclamation. Mr Timba said that he was however disappointed that at 5p.m on Monday, Mr Chinamasa served him with papers in which he (Mr Chinamasa) filed an application to the Constitutional Court and made the President of Zimbabwe-Robert Mugabe, the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe-Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC Party-Welshman Ncube, the Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe-Arthur Mutambara and Jealousy Mawarire the Respondents. In the Application Mr Chinamasa asks for an extension of the election date to August 14. Mr Timba explained that this application is against the spirit of the SADC Communiqué. Instead of making the parties mentioned above respondents, they all should have been cited as Applicants, they should all have contributed to the application’s contents through their legal representatives’ interaction with the Minister of Justice and the application should have been unopposed (one without respondents).

Chris Mutsvangwa (Member of ZANU-PF and former Ambassador of Zimbabwe to China)

He began his presentation by stating that he does not agree with the view that there is a crisis in Zimbabwe, be it political, legal, constitutional or otherwise because to him the current situation is a mere disagreement not a crisis. He then went on to give a disclaimer stating that although he was in Maputo he did not actually participate in the discussions that took place at the Summit nor was he privy to the outcome until he saw the Communiqué when it was presented to the public. [This admission for me was particularly interesting having read THIS article in which the author complained that the President’s delegation was bloated].

Mr Mutsvangwa however explained the position of his party where the Summit was concerned. He said that the President went with the simple position that ‘THE’ Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe had made an order setting the election date as 31 July. The president had no option but to respect the order of the Court or else he would have risked being in contempt of Court, something that could cost him his presidential candidacy. According to Mr Mutsvangwa, the President’s hands were tied and he had no option but to proclaim an election date as provided for in the Constitutional Court Judgement.

Chris Mutsvangwa: Picture Credit- ZimbabweMirror.com

Chris Mutsvangwa: Picture Credit- ZimbabweMirror.com

Concerning the question of reforms, Mr Mutsvangwa stated that no reforms are going to take place and those clamouring for reforms should remember that these same issues have been under discussion for the past four years with no success hence what is the likelihood that they will be settled in a few weeks when they have failed to be settled in years. He stated that ZANU-PF in 1980 was faced with a similar situation where they had to go for elections in an imperfect environment with no reforms to the electoral law nor to the security sector yet they still won the elections. He explained that the issue is not about reforms but about the leader whom Zimbabweans want to vote for. He said that each party has to be creative in how it “deals with the imperfections of state craft.” Mr Mutsvangwa went on to say that refusing to have elections on the basis that the environment is not perfect is akin to  a pregnant woman  who opposes the course of nature and refuses to give birth to her baby after 9 months of pregnancy because she thinks the baby is not mature enough.

Mr Mutsvangwa addressed his partners in government saying that it is time government stopped ruling by arrangement but rather by the people’s choice. He went further to say that yes SADC issued its Communiqué but people must remember that SADC is not Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court, it is just a club of states hence if Zimbabweans want elections on 31 July, SADC cannot stop that from happening.

Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga (Secretary General of the MDC, Member of the House of Assembly Glen Norah Constituency and currently Minister of Regional Integration and International Cooperation)

Ms Misihairambwi-Mushonga began her presentation by expressing her disappointment with the way in which this nation has been subjected to blatant lies, abuse and distortion of information She stated that she was disappointed with the fact that Honourable Chinamasa who was negotiating on behalf of ZANU-PF was not at the SAPES discussion as he was the person who would have best explained the distortions coming out of some quarters of the press about the outcome of the SADC Summit. She felt that Mr Mutsvangwa’s representation of Mr Chinamasa was an act of abuse since Mr Mutsvangwa had no clue what took place having been “on the corridors” of the Summit.

Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga: Picture Credit-The Independent.co.zw

Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga: Picture Credit-The Independent.co.zw

Ms Misihairambwi-Mushonga then went on to give a detailed description of what transpired at the Summit as follows:

SADC was appraised with the situation of Zimbabwe which they understood to be that Zimbabwe was faced with a legal crisis in which there was a Constitutional Court judgement but that judgement juxtaposed to the practical realities on the ground would not be possible to implement. The Facilitator for the Zimbabwean negotiations, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa presented his report which came out of discussions held by the parties to the GPA on the 4th, 5th and 6th of June 2013. The facilitator’s report was therefore not challenged nor disputed by all three political parties i.e. ZANU PF, MDC-T and MDC.

Ms Misihairambwi Mushonga then went on to state where the parties seemed to have different positions and she explained them as follows:

President Mugabe’s position was that he believed that as long as there is no violence then an election can go on. He agreed with the need for media reforms and also stated that he has been a victim of the media’s unprofessional and unethical conduct several times but that within the given time there is nothing much that can be done about this. He also addressed the issue of the rule of law, in particular the security sector, acknowledged that statements by some heads of security departments were not acceptable nor appropriate but that they could be explained when one understands that these statements were made by people who shared the liberation struggle with ZANU PF and hence would feel protective over their ideals. He then requested that these Chiefs be treated gently and with such sensitivity as would take cognisance of their socialisation and history. On the election date he explained that his hands were tied and he had to make the proclamation because the Constitutional Court had ordered him to do so. According to Ms Misihairambwi Mushonga, the President never disputed the facilitators’ report, never said that the report lied or that the facilitator was biased.

Ms Misihairambwi-Mushonga then went on to explain that Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s contention at the Summit was with the dishonesty shown by some members of the inclusive government. He explained how Minister Chinamasa had withheld the truth from Cabinet about his plans to amend the Electoral Act through using the Presidential Powers instead of introducing a Bill for debate and inclusive input before both houses of Parliament.

Ms Misihairambwi-Mushonga then explained Professor Welshman Ncube’s position; that he was concerned with the legal and political illegitimacy that would follow whatever government that would emerge out of the elections that would be held under the ruling of the Constitutional Court.

Ms Misihairambwi-Mushonga was pleased with the Communiqué, disappointed with some people whom she said were ill advising the President and hoped that the spirit of the Communiqué would be upheld.

Some interesting quotes from the discussion

“I am tired of this fixation of men on who is bigger than who which leads them into this bravado game where simple information is distorted and the truth withheld from the public.” Priscilla Misihairambwi Mushonga

“Chinamasa and others’ advice to the President on this elections issue is misleading, in fact it is treasonous.” Priscilla Misihairambwi Mushonga

“I hate it when leaders of this country behave like landlords and treat the people like their tenants. Leaders are just caretakers and the people are the real owners of all processes.” Jameson Timba

“For goodness’ sake no one owns this country.” Priscilla Misihairambwi Mushonga

“If anyone is not happy with the way we do things here and thinks there is a crisis let them come and I will fly them to Somalia so they can see what a real crisis looks like.” Chris Mutsvangwa

Conclusion

It was an interesting discussion and all the views presented here are the views as expressed by the panellists to the discussion. In the end Ambassador Mutsvangwa walked out of the meeting in protest over what he said was “utter disrespect” by Ms Misihairambwi- Mushonga of those who “delivered the country into her hands so that she could become a Minister.”

Some interesting titbits to mull over voting processes in Zimbabwe

Activism, Democracy, Zimbabwe

Titbit One

Deriving from the statistical figures of the 2012 Census there are approximately 6 070 537 adults in Zimbabwe. This means approximately 52% of the total Zimbabwean population are above 18 years of age. I am saying approximately here because up to date, ZimStats-the body mandated to conduct national Census- has only released the “preliminary” results from the 2012 Census and has not released all the full figures of that exercise, despite that the Census was concluded in September 2012; 9 months ago. How efficient, right!

Titbit Two

Zimbabwe has a total population of about 13.2 million. Of these, the RG says 5 867 642 were registered to vote as of October 2010. This means 87.8% of all eligible voters were registered to vote then. On the other hand Kenya has about 44 million citizens and of these about 12 616 627 were registered to vote in the 2013 elections. Now this is interesting, right? Is it because Zimbabweans are more educated about the importance of participating in ‘democratic’ processes than Kenyans? Is it that Kenyans are apathetic and do not engage political processes? Could it be that Kenyans were discouraged by the 2007/2008 electoral violence? But we also had a good share of that, so then was their violence worse than ours?  Do we as Zimbabweans have more faith in elections and so we always want to have our voices heard through the ballot? Or is it just as simple as that these figures are not accurate? Is it possible that some people registered to vote never registered to vote but were put on the voters’ roll by the Registrar General since he has all their birth, death, citizenship details as well?

A picture that I took of the scores of voters who thronged the Ongata Rongai Open Market in Nairobi, Kenya Polling Station to vote in March 2013

A picture that I took of the scores of voters who thronged the Ongata Rongai Open Market in Nairobi, Kenya Polling Station to vote in March 2013

Titbit Three

According to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission 3 316 082 Zimbabweans voted in the 16 March 2013 Referendum for a new Constitution of Zimbabwe. Of these, 3 079 966 voted ‘Yes’, 179 489 voted ‘No.’ Very impressive, right? I do wonder where these people came from though because having observed the process, the turnout-at least in Harare- was very low. On the other hand in Kenya 66.9% voted ‘Yes’, 30.7 voted ‘No’ and voter turnout was at 72.2%. Seems we Zimbabweans love our new constitution more than the Kenyans love theirs. Is it because our new Constitution is better than the Kenyan one? Is it because we yearned for a new Constitution more than they did? Could this have something to do with the fact that Zimbabweans hardly knew what they were voting for whereas Kenyans had several months in which they were intensively educated and informed about the contents of their Constitution and hence voting in Kenya was from a fully informed position?

Titbit four

According to a voters’ roll audit conducted by the Research and Advocacy Unit in October 2010, there were 41, 119 people aged over 100 years on the Voters Roll. It seems Zimbabwe is a healthy nation full of politically conscious and really old citizens, who want to stake their claim on the political landscape. I would love to interview all these people and find out what voting has meant to them for the past +/- 85 years, including the years when they were dis-enfranchised under white supremacist rule, their experiences with voting in an independent Zimbabwe and voting in all the subsequent elections.

Titbit Five

Did you know that the Registrar General is in charge of recording births? He is also in charge of recording deaths and is also in charge of awarding citizenship. Further, the RG is also in charge of the registration of voters; although under the transitional provisions of the new constitution such registration is supposed to be done under the supervision of ZEC. What does this mean for people considered to be aliens? What does this mean for the removal of dead people off the voters’ roll? What does it mean for the accurate recording of people eligible to vote? Is there enough supervision of these extensive powers? What safeguards are there for the abuse of power and manipulation of the voters’ roll?

Titbit Six

Did you know that before any voter is removed from the voters’ roll the Registrar General must send written notification of the intent to so remove?  This includes even people who are presumed dead. This is to allow the person to appeal the decision in case they have reason to believe that they should remain on the voters’ roll or in case they are actually not dead as presumed. Does anyone know if such notifications were given when the Registrar General removed the 969 620 ‘dead’ people that he removed from the voters’ roll as announced by the Herald on Friday 3 May 2013?