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African Tears Beyond Tears Innocent Victims Imire Can you hear the drums, by Cathy Buckle

Europe's economic crisis and Africa
May 25, 2012, 12:48 pm

Recent developments have demonstrated very clearly how Europe’s economic crisis is impacting on Africa and the developing world. Africa has become accustomed to the idea that the former colonial powers are the donors of money and material aid to their former colonies. ‘Quite right, too,’ some would argue. The colonists have exploited Africa’s natural resources for long enough. Time for the west to mend its ways; morally speaking, that certainly seems the right thing to do but now Europe and its currency are facing economic collapse. How to get out of the crisis is the dilemma facing European powers. Do we spend our way out or do we slash national budgets, pay back our debts and cut back on social services such as pensions, health and education?  That is the dilemma Europe faces.                    

    There have been signs of impending disaster for some time but now the signs have turned into real financial collapses that can no longer be ignored. First, it was Ireland, then Spain and now Greece, not to mention the UK which is now in what is called a ‘double dip recession’. All of these European countries have aid budgets which are directly affected by the financial crises that have hit them.  Budgets that have had to be drastically cut as governments struggle to balance their domestic requirements with the needs of the developing world. Taking away services which people in Europe have come to think of as theirs by right does not go down well with the electorate. Cutting the budget for nursery places, for example, means working women have no choice but to quit the workforce and stay at home, thus losing income and putting a further burden on the state. Something has to give and, inevitably, in times of financial constraints, it is the aid budget that will be cut.       

    Donors and recipients are affected by the financial crisis. It is not just ‘donor fatigue’ that has hit the aid agencies; it is cuts that materially affect the amount of money they have to give to NGOs. This week we hear that 66.000 Aids sufferers in Zimbabwe face cuts in care as HIV funding dries up. Harare hospital is in such a dreadful state that they have appealed to donors for help. The likelihood of government finance coming to the aid of hospitals or HIV sufferers seems remote in view of recent statements by Finance Minister Biti on the state of the economy. The cutting of aid money to NGOs by European governments will lead directly to an increase in the suffering of people already hit by disasters of one kind or another. 250.000 people in Manicaland are already in urgent need of food aid after a disastrous agricultural season in that region.

    Meanwhile, the forthcoming referendum on the constitution is reported to be costing $35 million more than the initial estimate.  NSSA reports non-payment of wages by a top military man who seized farms and now cannot pay their workers’ salaries. In government departments, too, the Auditor General reports the accounting system as ‘shambolic’. Creditors are calling in their loans: Malawi is pressing Zimbabwe to repay a five year old debt of $23 million. In Harare, district council pensions are not being paid and salaries are three months in arrears; railway workers also have not been paid for six months. Even in this dire financial situation, ministers are still preaching the Zanu PF doctrine that no one of another race should be allowed to take up business opportunities until all black youths have been given the chance. Saviour Kasukuwere was addressing Zanu PF youth, telling them to seize Indian businesses; Kasukuwere was echoing Mugabe’s words earlier in the week when he threatened mine owners who failed to comply with government regulations. “You will be thrown out of the country,” Mugabe said, “just like the farmers” He later told Navi Pillay the UN Human Rights Rapporteur that Zanu PF violence was “a consequence of history” even though his Justice Minister had told her there was no violence in Zimbabwe! In their efforts to pull the wool over her eyes, Zanu PF have overlooked the fact that Navi Pillay is used to distinguishing truth from lies, that’s her job.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle Pauline Henson


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To Kill a Mockingbird
May 18, 2012, 1:17 pm

There’s a wonderful moment in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird when Atticus Finch the lawyer who shocks the white community by defending a black man, gives his daughter a lesson in tolerance. The book is set in the Deep South of  America in the days of racial segregation. Atticus tells his daughter, “You never really understand a person – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Seeing things from the other person’s point of view is, after all, the very essence of tolerance.  

    An MDC senator this week proposed a law to force women to dress ‘shabbily’, to bathe less and to shave their heads! These measures, says the senator, would deter HIV/Aids. The proposal is so ludicrous that one’s first reaction is to wonder if the senator was joking. Quite apart from the impossibility of administering such a law – who would decide what constitutes ‘shabby’ dressing? – there is the implied assumption that women are responsible for whatever is done to them, because of the way they dress. It’s hardly original but it is surprising to hear it enunciated in the twenty-first century when attitudes towards male/female relations are more enlightened.

    The senator’s remark taken in conjunction with the Vice President’s advice this week to women to be ‘docile’ to promiscuous husbands gives the decided impression that Zimbabwe is a century behind the times when it comes to gender politics. Not surprisingly, Women’s Rights activists were very angry with the Vice President. Taken together, the two pieces of advice would result in a ‘shabbily dressed, shaven headed, smelly but docile woman’! Not a very attractive picture of the modern, emancipated African woman. As a former Freedom Fighter herself, Joice Mujuru must surely have been accorded equality with her male comrades? She rose to be one of the top women commanders in ZANLA and is reputed to have shot down a Rhodesian helicopter single-handed. Hardly the actions of a ‘docile’ woman!  

    When feminism first hit the headlines in the west back in the sixties it was often derided for being a European concept which had no relevance for Africa and the developing world where cultural practices appeared to endorse the position of women in a subservient role. Attitudes have changed and in 2012 Zimbabwe’s draft constitution enshrines the equality of the sexes. Homosexuality is another matter altogether and it is that which has caused a major rift between the parties. The draft actually enshrines gay rights but Minister Chombo made Zanu PF’s attitude very clear this week when he said that Chiefs should evict homosexuals from the communal areas and their land should be seized. His remarks have been roundly condemned by Human Rights lawyers and while Chombo may have been politicking in the run-up to elections, the sentiment he expressed is certainly in line with Robert Mugabe’s own views. It was Mugabe’s comment that gays are ‘no better than pigs and dogs’ that earned him the scorn of Peter Tatchel, the gay rights campaigner who twice attempted a citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe back in the days when the Zimbabwean president was welcome in the UK.

    Admitting that gay rights are ‘a controversial issue in my part of the world’ Morgan Tsvangirai told the BBC that for him gay rights constitute ‘a human right’ He has not always been of that opinion but that appears to be his present stance and I for one hope he stands by it. What Zimbabwe needs more than ever is tolerance in all matters but particularly in race, gender and politics. The views expressed this week by the Senator, the Vice President and the Minister suggest that Zimbabwe is a long way off accepting differences in such matters. Zimbabweans are by nature conservative people but as the tide of returnees increases in the months and years ahead, we can only hope that their years in exile have broadened their horizons and they return to their motherland with more enlightened views and increased tolerance towards differences of all kinds

Yours in the (continuing) struggle. Pauline Henson


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Religion and politics
May 11, 2012, 1:47 pm

Religion and politics make for a toxic mix; in both cases, followers have deeply entrenched views and when those views collide, the result is likely to be explosive. Religion and church membership of one kind or another is almost universal in Zimbabwe; admitting to atheism or even agnosticism is likely to gain you some very curious glances. As for politics, Zanu PF makes sure that’s behind everything – even church membership.

    For reasons best known to himself, Prime Minister Tsvangirai has apparently issued an invitation to a Nigerian ‘prophet’ named TB Joshua to attend a National Day of Prayer scheduled for May 25th which is also Africa Day and a national holiday throughout Africa. As a non-Zimbabwean, TB Joshua requires a visa to enter the country and it is that which has turned what seemed to be a simple invitation into a political matter. The issuing of visas is in the hands of the Ministry of Immigration and that Ministry is under the control of Zanu PF in this so-called Unity Government. Enter the propagandist media; the Herald newspaper has featured various pro-Zanu PF religious leaders declaring that TB Joshua was not welcome in the country and that his teachings were ‘judgemental and partisan and unorthodox’. At first glance it all seems like much ado about nothing until we remember that it was TB Joshua who prophesied the imminent demise of an elderly African leader. For Zanu PF fanatics, that was tantamount to a prediction that their saviour – as they regard Robert Mugabe – was not long for this world. At 88 years of age, that would seem like a pretty safe prediction but, in the event, it was not Mugabe but the 77 year old Binga Wa Mutharika of Malawi who died of a heart attack.

TB Joshua’s prophesies have got the pro-Mugabe religious leaders all riled up but as ever it is ‘Bishop’Abel Kunonga’s pronouncements that are the most racist and un-Christian.

Is it divine revelation that enables Kunonga to prophesy that those who seize farms and mines and other properties in the hands of ‘aliens’ will definitely enter the kingdom of God? He boasted that he had personally taken 3.800 farms which were in the hands of ‘aliens’ and according to Kunonga’s crazy logic, one must assume he will be up there in front of the queue at the pearly gates!  “As Christians,” he said, “we must gear ourselves for a bloody war against white interests.” Hearing those words, any sane person, Christian or not, is entitled to ask why Kunonga is allowed to get away with such open incitement to violence. And it is not the first time he has made such inflammatory remarks and escaped the legal consequences. The conclusion must be that Kunonga has the approval of Robert Mugabe and his partisan Police Chief when he makes these outrageous statements.          

    On Thursday this week a senior army officer, one Major General Martin Chedondo, told the media that all his soldiers are supporters of Robert Mugabe. Quite how the Major General can make this claim is not certain unless all army recruits have now to declare Zanu PF allegiance before they are allowed to join the military. That is possible I suppose, knowing how little regard Zanu PF have for the democratic process. The fact that it is Zanu PF who are doing their level best to delay and derail the draft constitution tells us just how far the party will go to keep Robert Mugabe in power. It is the draft constitution that is the clearest threat to Mugabe’s continued stay in power; the draft limits a president’s term of office and states that he can be prosecuted even after he leaves office. No wonder Zanu PF have rejected the draft constitution. If one falls they all fall and when that one is the man at the top, then all the other Zanu PF high-ranking officials must be terrified that they will be the next to fall. We hear now that the factions inside the party have increased to five in number as the top dogs fight over who will succeed Mugabe.

    The combination of  Bishop Kunongo’s threats and Major General Chedondo’s claim that all soldiers support Zanu PF suggests a frightening and uncertain future for non-aligned Zimbabweans – in this world and the next!   

Yours in the (continuing) struggle Pauline Henson


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Workers' pay packets
May 4, 2012, 5:53 am

Looking in from the outside can sometimes give the onlooker a misleading view of what’s happening at home. I could be wrong but it’s my impression that there is dissatisfaction throughout the country about inadequate pay packets. There appears to be a general feeling that it’s getting harder to manage on current salaries; whether that’s because the cost of living is rising or because wages are so low is not entirely clear. But when one reads that council workers in some cities – Bulawayo for one – have not been paid for four months, it’s hardly surprising that the workers opt for strike action. Even private firms are affected; workers of the private ambulance organization, Mars, went on strike this week and at the same time we heard that maternal deaths have increased simply because women are unable to pay ambulance fees. Even when wages are paid on time they are often very low. The Chinese, for example, who appear to enjoy special protection from Robert Mugabe, have very little regard for workers’ rights. Soldiers were called in to break up a demonstration by construction workers who had been fired without notice by their Chinese employers. The government is launching a probe into the abuse of workers by their Chinese employers but it’s questionable that it will lead to an improvement, remembering that the Chinese enjoy the president’s protection. 

It cannot have escaped the president’s notice that Bulawayo council workers were on strike as he arrived for the official opening of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair with the Zambian President Sata. These council workers are owed over 700.000 dollars by the Bulawayo council who are themselves owed 1.5 million dollars by the payers who are struggling themselves. Councils up and down the country are in financial trouble but as always in Zimbabwe, it is politics that are never far behind the problems. Eleanor Sisulu said this week that economic recovery will not happen without a political settlement. Saviour Kasukuwere’s Indigenisation programme has inevitably caused massive unease in the private sector, particularly mining. Whatever the occupation, greed and corruption go together: auditors are currently visiting schools countrywide to investigate the allegations that some head teachers are using School Development funds illegally.

So, while the workers struggle just to survive, the ‘fat cats’ are, as always, doing very nicely. As May Day came round once again, Raymond Majongwe claimed that the GNU had failed to address the workers’ plight and there was no tangible improvement in workers’ conditions.

Meanwhile a lasting political solution remains as far off as ever. Robert Mugabe says he won’t leave until all foreign owned firms have been indigenised. Only then will he call an election and only after that will he announce his successor. Prime Minister Tsvangirai, on the other hand, says he wants political reforms before elections and insists that the Unity Government can only be ended in accordance with the SADC Agreement: a new constitution followed by a referendum to test public opinion and then a new, updated voters’ roll. Mugabe’s repeated call for elections this year is clearly impossible to achieve if the SADC Agreement is adhered to. The drafting of the new constitution is already two years behind schedule and the drafters have been given until Friday this week to ‘clean up’ the document, whatever that means.

The continuing political uncertainty in the country means that outside investors are few and far between. News that the Gates Foundation is to invest in waste management, ie. converting solid waste material into energy, is of course welcome but it is unlikely to give the economy the boost it so desperately needs.

The overall picture is gloomy but one image this week was a source of cheer: the picture of a smiling health worker in her new uniform, mounted on her UNICEF-donated bicycle and riding off to administer health care in the rural communities - a reminder to Zimbabweans in the diaspora of the quality we miss most: the warmth and humanity of ordinary Zimbabweans.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH


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Anders Behring Brevik and Charles Taylor
April 27, 2012, 1:18 pm

The names of two killers have dominated the news this week. One man freely admits his crimes, the other categorically denies them. Anders Behring Brevik comes from Norway and Charles Taylor is an African from Liberia.

When most people think of Norway, they think of snow-capped mountains and superb scenery. The truth is that however beautiful the scenery or peace-loving the population, every so often society throws up a violent killer, a psychopath, an individual who is a danger to himself and to others. At his trial in Oslo, however, Anders Behring Brevik insists that he is perfectly sane. He knew what he was doing when he killed 77 people and what is more he would do it again, he said. His victims deserved to die because they supported the pro-immigration government which was destroying the purity of the race by allowing so many Moslems into Norway. The maintenance of racial purity was Brevik’s motive.

Charles Taylor’s motive was greed for diamonds. This week he heard the verdict of the International Criminal Court after a trial that has lasted for five years. Taylor is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder and rape and the deliberate mutilation of hundreds of Sierra Leonians. Taylor’s greed for diamonds in exchange for weapons led directly to a ten year long civil war that blighted the lives of innocent civilians in Sierra Leone and killed or maimed over one million people. It is alleged that Taylor planned, instigated and ordered the violence, using an army of child soldiers armed with weapons obtained in exchange for diamonds.

While, Anders Brevik’s victims are for the most part dead, leaving their bereaved relatives to mourn them, Taylor’s victims are the amputees who are living testimony of his crimes as are the women who were raped by his army and now struggle to bring up their children in the face of public antagonism.  

The relevance of Charles Taylor’s trial and verdict to Zimbabwe is clear; the victims of Gukurahundi, Murambatsvina and countless other crimes against human rights also deserve to see their torturers publicly tried. Justice demands no less. Taylor was a warlord who inflicted dreadful suffering on his African brothers and sisters and the public have the right to see him brought to justice. Taylor is the first Head of State to be tried before the ICC and his trial is a clear reminder that no one is above the law, not even presidents. The message is clear: ultimately all violators of human rights will be caught and punished, no matter how high their office.

In Zimbabwe, the involvement of senior members of the ZNA in the diamond trade was highlighted again this week with the news that the Zimbabwe Defence Industries are about to sign a diamond pact with China and Russia. Indeed, the Minister of Mines, Obert Mpofu, publicly confirmed that the army is involved in the diamond trade. Mpofu also vowed to continue relocation of villagers from Chiadzwa – with or without compensation. Once again we see that this diamond wealth is destined to benefit only the rich and powerful and not the villagers on whose land the diamonds are located. It seems that the discovery of diamonds is a mixed blessing - wherever they are found.

The two cases, of Taylor and Brevik illustrate the moral and legal complexities of crime and punishment. In the past such men would have faced the death sentence but today only 42 member states of the UN maintain the death sentence in law and practice. And on Thursday April 26th Charles Taylor heard the verdict against him. He was found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity, murder, rape and terrorism; sentence will be delivered in May. Accusations that Taylor’s trial was no more than a plot by the west to unseat African leaders reveals the Africanist agenda but is unlikely to give comfort to human rights abusers. They should be shaking in their shoes because the law will catch up with them.         

Yours in the (continuing) struggle, PH.


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