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

Zimbabweans must judge the truth for themselves.
March 8, 2013, 1:56 pm

At his 89th birthday celebrations, Robert Mugabe accused the MDC of lying about the level of violence and the number of deaths in the country. The MDC were lying, the president alleged, because they want to give a false impression of the situation in Zimbabwe to gain the rest of the world’s sympathy. So who are we to believe, Robert Mugabe or the MDC? Mugabe and Zanu PF tell us that there is only sporadic violence in the country and it is not caused by their followers; the MDC on the other hand says that violence is increasing in the run-up to the referendum and the elections later this year. The death of Christopher Maisiri is a case in point. The MDC have blamed the fire in the twelve year old’s bedroom on a fire bomb hurled into the room from the outside. The boy’s parents have even named the suspects who, incidentally, have fled the area. The police, on the other hand say there was no foul play. The fire was caused, they claim, by an overturned paraffin lamp and a highly flammable bag of AN fertiliser in the boy’s bedroom. ‘Well, that’s possible,’ is one’s first reaction, ‘that could be true. Such incidents are not uncommon in the rural areas.’ Then we heard Christopher’s mother’s version of the incident and her account has the ring of factual truth. The fire did not start inside the room but from outside, from the top of the thatched roof where the flames were first seen. Christopher’s mother gave her first-hand account of the incident to the police but, she says, they totally ignored her evidence. For ordinary people, the credibility of her account is beyond question; she was there, she saw the tragedy with her own eyes. What possible reason would she have to lie about the death of her own son? Are we supposed to believe that she would lie about such a deeply traumatic event as the death of her own child for political advantage?

Judging the truth, or half-truth, from the lie is something Zimbabweans have to do on a daily basis. With a state controlled media which consistently misleads the public with its one-sided version of events, the public has to decide on the factual truth of every story. The problem is further compounded when the police themselves are politically biased. As the pre-election climate heats up, the police are busy making sure that the opposition are hindered as much as possible from running their campaign. While Zanu PF youths are allowed to move freely from door to door in a recruitment drive, this week we have seen the police arresting MDC people for “perpetrating acts of violence” at a road block and police in full riot gear breaking up a Tsvangirai rally claiming that the MDC had not obtained police permission. ‘Not so’ claimed the MDC, ‘we did apply.’ It was “a communications breakdown” the police responded, the request for permission had apparently been submitted to the wrong official!

 The seizure of radios continued this week with another independent station closed down and 180 radios seized. It would be interesting to know where all these confiscated radios are being stored; with 80% unemployment, the temptation to help oneself might prove too much for some desperate unemployed person. Even employed people can barely survive; this week the wives of NRZ workers staged a demonstration in Bulawayo, their husbands have not been paid in full for 8 months. Perhaps Mr Mugabe thinks that is just another MDC distortion of the truth – or that is what he would have us believe. Zimbabweans must judge the truth for themselves.    

Yours in the (continuing) struggle, Pauline Henson


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In Zimbabwe, Zanu PF politics rule over life and death
March 2, 2013, 4:08 am

Speaking on Thames TV last week, Robert Mugabe is reported to have told his interviewer that “opposition is a luxury”. What he meant, of course, was opposition to him and his views. They say wisdom comes with age but at 89 Mugabe seems to have become even more authoritarian and intolerant of any point of view but his own. Unlike the other octogenarian on the world’s stage, Mugabe will not retire gracefully to ‘read and pray’ as Pope Benedict has done. Not for Mugabe a time of quiet meditation and reflection before the end; he wants to die in office, seemingly oblivious to whether it’s good for the country.

    Apparently the Zanu PF Youth League presented Mugabe with 89 gold coins for each year of his life. In contrast to Mugabe’s long life, young Christopher Maisiri lived just twelve years - but then Christopher’s father is a member of the opposition, what Mugabe calls a ‘luxury’. The blessing of a long life was cruelly denied young Christopher when he was burnt to death while sleeping in his bedroom. Mugabe himself has known the sorrow of losing a son but his Zanu PF thugs are immune to pity, seemingly deaf to their leader’s repeated calls for an end to violence. Christopher’s father, Shepherd Maisiri is an MDC activist and his son has paid the price for ‘the luxury of opposition.’ His twelve years of life began in the mountains where he was born after his mother escaped from Zanu PF. In his short life, Christopher had seen his mother raped, spent nights on the run from Zanu PF thugs and seen his home burnt out nine times. All this took place in Didymus Mutasa’s home area of Headlands. So, what did the Vice president have to say about the tragedy? He said Shepherd Maisiri was a friend of his and what is more, Mutasa claimed, Shepherd Maisiri is a Zanu PF man; that was news to Shepherd!

   Oddly enough, the story of Christopher’s death was not even reported in the state media. There was a strange postscript to the story when CIO agents in an unmarked vehicle arrived at the Maisiri homestead. When Shepherd asked them why they were driving an unmarked vehicle they told him their number plates must have fallen off on the rough roads leading to his Headlands home. It would be interesting to learn how many other drivers’ number plates, front and back, fall off while driving on rough country roads!

    As the week progressed, the explanations for the tragedy of the young boy’s death grew more and more bizarre. At a stormy cabinet meeting, the MDC’s Tendayi Biti produced shocking photographs of Christopher’s charred remains and, despite his earlier comments, Didymus Mutasa denied any knowledge of the incident – even though it took place in his own home area! Then it was the turn of Rugare Gumbo, the presidential spokesperson. “Zanu PF had nothing to do with it,” he declared, “it was all ‘staged’ by the MDC”. There are reports that it was Zanu PF activists who caused the death of the twelve year old boy; true or not the fact remains that there is a rising tide of violence as the election date draws nearer. MPs demanded action from Robert Mugabe so off he went to see Augustine Chihuri. “Not all violence is politically motivated.” Mugabe said, “Some people perpetrate violence without being sent by anyone.” Not much comfort for Christopher’s parents as they mourn the death of their son. Christopher was buried at his home on Thursday in front of crowds of people who defied war veterans’orders not to attend his funeral.

In Zimbabwe, Zanu PF politics rule over life and death.  

Yours in the (continuing) struggle, Pauline Henson.  


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Reward for being a police state perhaps?
February 22, 2013, 1:09 pm

    The news that the EU is to remove some of the sanctions against Zimbabwe as a ‘reward’ comes as a shock. ‘Reward for what?’ was my immediate reaction. Reward for being a police state, perhaps? Yesterday’s news that the police have banned certain radios revealed just how intolerant and one-sided the ZRP is. Like Zanu PF, the police are keen to ban all dissenting voices. Hence, the ongoing raids on NGOs. This week it was ZESN offices, the second raid in a week, by ‘armed men and women’ who stole a computer and drawers full of printed material. The police claim they are looking for electronic gadgets used for espionage and once again Jestina Mukoko’s ZPP is in the firing line. Zimbabweans have surely not forgotten how she was imprisoned and tortured by the Mugabe regime.

    The radios that are banned said Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba, are those that are “incompatible with state owned stations.” She went on to say, “We strongly believe that the intention of such people (ie. SW Radio Africa, VOA and other independent radio stations) are not holy but meant to create and sow seeds of disharmony.” I find it hard to apply the adjective ‘holy’ to the state broadcaster but, in the light of Mugabe’s claim on his 89th birthday that he was appointed by God to rule Zimbabwe, perhaps the word is not inappropriate! What the Assistant Commissioner did not say is that the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Act refers specifically to the possession and operation of signal transmission equipment. The short-wave, solar powered radios owned by many rural Zimbabweans are not transmitters, they are simply receivers.

     The fact that this same regime is regarded as worthy of a ‘reward’ by the EU implies either that the EU is incredibly naïve or that they have some hidden motive for rewarding Zimbabwe. And that, I suggest, is where diamonds come into the picture. The world’s largest diamond trading centre is in Antwerp, so in this case Belgium and the EU share a vested interest. Not surprisingly, the EU’s decision to lift sanctions against certain named individuals and, conditionally, against a state-owned diamond mining company provoked a massive outcry from human rights organisations. One of the individuals removed from the sanctions list is said to have been the war veteran responsible for the violent attack on a couple of elderly white farmers. Human Rights Watch commented that the EU’s decision has given Robert Mugabe a free hand to continue with his repressive policies. “They have put profit before principles” said Human Rights Watch; principles go out the window when diamonds are involved. In the case of Zimbabwe’s diamonds, a war veteran revealed this week what everyone always suspected: that it is Mugabe himself who is controlling the diamond industry and needless to say the profits – or some of them - are going into Zanu PF’s coffers. Coincidentally, across the world  this week in the Belgian capital a diamond heist was being carried out that had all the makings of a Hollywood movie with $50 million worth of the ‘sparklers’ stolen. The thieves appeared to know exactly how the stones were to be transported, not via Antwerp, the diamond cutting centre, but from Brussels and they simply cut through Brussels airport fence and in a black car with flashing blue lights drove straight up to the bay where the diamonds had just been unloaded from the security car. It would be interesting to know where those diamonds came from – or where they were going.

If Charity Charamba has her way, Zimbabweans will never hear that on their radios.   

Yours in the (continuing) struggle, Pauline Henson.


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"Something rotten in the state of Denmark"
February 15, 2013, 1:42 pm

“Something rotten in the state of Denmark” the quotation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet seems particularly apt with regard to the state of Zimbabwe. It was Zanu PF itself which suspended its Manicaland Chairman, Mike Madiro and four others on allegations of fraud and corruption involving some $700.000 from diamond mining which they claimed was intended for Zanu PF party funds. Confirming the suspensions, the party’s secretary for administration, Didymus Mutasa said, “leaders should be cadres of good repute and no party member would want to be led by a corrupt leader.” Whether Madiro’s suspension was a genuine case of misappropriation of funds or something more political remains to be seen. In the faction wars that are rocking Zanu PF; Madiro is apparently a supporter of the Mnangagwa faction and the suspension has raised fears that other Zanu PF bigwigs may also face investigation. Many of these top chefs have acquired a great deal of wealth in their rise to the top of the greasy pole which is Zanu PF politics. The danger for other big names is that as their comrades are picked off they will ‘name names’ and the whole rotten edifice will come tumbling down. Robert Mugabe is apparently keen to have the party cleaned up in time for the election now scheduled for July. What the president wants his party to be is “Whiter that white” you could say - but that would hardly be appropriate in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe where only the other day we heard a top Mapostori proclaiming that members should never trust a white man. The Mapostori were being told at the time they would get free stands if they voted Zanu PF so it’s not clear who we can trust there!

    To re-enforce the importance of this apparent clean-up, Mutasa told The Standard newspaper, “All of us in the party must be straightforward in our dealings…All those implicated in corruption, no matter what rank they hold, be it cabinet minister, will be investigated.” It is not only in the former ruling party that there has been corruption and dishonest practices. The rot has spread to all levels of society; this week we hear of a Headman in Mash East who is imposing his own fines on the people for evading cattle tax. So now, the people have to pay not only the police tax of $10.0 but also the Headman’s fine of $5.0; while the police issue receipts for their taxes, the Headman simple takes his $5.0 a head with no acknowledgement of payment for the impoverished villagers. In further evidence that greed and corruption appear to be increasing, two Immigration officials were gaoled for five years this week for theft of cash and property worth $40.000.

    It’s not only money that is involved in these dishonest practices; corruption takes many forms. In Bikita, a sub-chief is misusing his authority to divert food aid so that it only benefits Zanu PF supporters. But it is crime on a much bigger scale when it comes to the Chipangano gang who operate with impunity in Mbare where the police are clearly aware of the gang’s existence but have so far done nothing to curtail their criminal activities. The Mayor vows he will ‘tackle’ the gang who have their greedy eyes on a $5 million project being funded by the Gates Foundation to refurbish the 58 blocks of flats to house ordinary working people. Work started but was then halted by the violent intervention of a bunch of Chipangano thugs who succeeded in disrupting the project. However, “All’s well that ends well” and this very worthwhile project is now under way again. Incidentally, Chipangano is pro Zanu PF which perhaps explains why the police do nothing to bring them to justice?          

Yours in the (continuing) struggle, Pauline Henson.

 


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Democracy the loser
February 8, 2013, 1:54 pm

It is depressing to hear yet again the dismally low pass rate in the Zimsec exams. The truth is that ever since Zimsec was introduced in 2003 the pass rate has never been higher than 25%. Now we hear that in 2012, 81% of Zimbabwe’s state school students failed their Zimsec exams. We are not told how the private schools performed though young Chatunga’s truancy exploits from the exclusive St Georges College were widely reported!  

‘Education is in crisis,’ admitted the Education Minister and went on to list some of the factors contributing to the crisis: shortage of teachers, shortage of text books and shortage of investment in the education sector which consistently receives less in the annual budget than defence. The Minister went on to relate how some 20.000 teachers had left the profession in 2008 when there was a mass exodus of teachers from the country. A breakdown of the exam results for 2012 shows that the pass rate for Shona was 18% while there was a 20% pass rate for English and a mere 13% for maths. For a country that once boasted of one of the best educated populations in Africa, this is a sad reflection on the current state of affairs. Perhaps it tells us that youngsters – or their parents - are no longer as passionate about getting a good education as they once were but I very much doubt that. As a former teacher-trainer in Zimbabwe, I think that we must put the blame for this sad situation where it belongs and that is with the quality of the teaching. The Minister of Education says nothing about the vital subject of teacher training but it is in the training colleges that trainee teachers are inculcated with the moral and social values of their profession. Admission to these institutions has of recent years been overly influenced by political considerations, instead of the candidate’s suitability for the profession which should be the prime consideration. As a consequence, the profession has been weakened and demoralised. From being one of the most respected members in the community, the teacher has become nothing more than an easy target, blamed for everything that goes wrong in society. Zimbabwe is not alone in this change in attitudes towards the teaching profession, it is the same in the so-called developed world. In Zimbabwe, teachers themselves are often poorly educated with inadequate knowledge of their subjects. As an example of this, the 13% pass rate in Shona indicates that it is not enough to be a born Shona speaker; language teaching requires training and a deep knowledge of the technical aspects of the language.

In the matter of the curriculum, Zimbabwe suffers from a colonial hangover which values academic subjects over and above practical subjects which lead to manual jobs. Again, this is no different from the western world where a plumber, even though he may earn high wages and possess much-valued skills, is considered lower down the social scale than a ‘white collar’ worker. As a result of this colonial mindset, students who would be much better suited to practical subjects are pushed through the academic machine and emerge ill equipped for life in the world of work.

These latest Zimsec exam results demonstrate very clearly that state education is indeed in crisis and is failing our children. Too often, the teaching profession is the last resort for youngsters who can think of nothing else to do. To quote Bernard Shaw: “He who can, does. He who cannot teaches.” In a country with 80-90% unemployment this may be a sad reality but it does not make for highly qualified and motivated teachers. Without a well-educated populace, democracy is the loser.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle, Pauline Henson.


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