All posts by Rumbidzai Dube

Feminist Chronicles: Delta Milayo Ndou

Yet another young person, very inspiring and set to make Zimbabwe a very proud nation, or should I say prouder since she has already started making strides in achieving that. One of the most inspiring articles I have read written by this remarkable young woman explains who she is, or rather who she isn’t. Entitled kicking out paternalism, in that article Delta Ndou introduces the subject matter by saying;

delta

“I have never been too fond of radical feminism or any form of extremism for that matter; finding it to be an aggressive, usually narrow and unhelpful approach to conflict resolution.

Delta went on to explain how  despite her misgivings towards radical feminism, she supports certain radical steps that women take in countering paternalism. She bemoaned or rather emphatically discredited the underepresentation of women in the constitution making process in Zimbabwe, declaring unapologetically that the men of Zimbabwe, especially those in parliament are quite misguided if they think that in this day and age they can still purpot to speak on behalf of the women.  In her own words Delta said’

“The transition from theoretical gender policy frameworks to the implementation and practice of the same has yet to manifest; and while one can appreciate that it is not easy to reverse the thinking of years and that gender equity will be a process – one expects to see a degree of commitment towards living up to the words enshrined in the treaties, legislative instruments and laws which Zimbabwe has signed, ratified and enacted.”

What I see in her is a young inspiring Zimbabwean woman who knows who she is, what she wants out of her life and where she wants to go. But she wasn’t always this determined and she wasn’t always this focused. She met serious personal struggles in her life, the kind that almost drove her over the precipice. But what makes her remarkable is how she did not let her trials determine her fate. She rose above them and changed the course of her history. She surpassed her own personal struggles and has proved that, as empowered as she is, nothing can stop her from achieving what she wills in her heart and mind.

The one phrase I can use to describe Delta is that when you see her, or read one of her articles, or see another one of her updates on facebook, they speak of a personality that screams  ’I am woman, hear me roar.’ This roaring tigress is not afraid to challenge patriarchy and male domination that permits men to view women as objects that can be used and discarded.

On her profile on www.worldpulse.com she describes herself as ‘a wordsmith’…one who is ‘preoccupied by the need to challenge the status quo, to de-construct the stereotypes and the myths about what womanhood entails, particularly in patriarchal Africa.’ That is exactly who and what she is!

 Delta has gone past that stage of self discovery, a step that we all need to make in determining who we are and charting the way to becoming who we want to be. She states boldly “ I am a member of the human species, an African by race, a Zimbabwean by nationality, black (perhaps brown is more accurate) by color, a woman by sex, a Venda by tribe, a Christian by religion, a feminist by choice, a journalist by profession, a writer by design and an activist by default.”

 Delta is a journalist, a writer, a blogger and a gender activist. She is not scared to put her thoughts into words, unminced, uncensored and what you see on paper is what you get when you meet her face to face.

 In the Echo of silence  a captivating story of a woman who commits suicide after she finds her abusive husband of many years having sex with his own daughter, Delta speak to three issues. First, how women are expected to stay in marriage no matter how bad things get. Second, how relatives and society in general do not spare their precious time nor lend a listening ear to women who are suffering from abuse yet when these women die they all find the time to attend the funeral. Third, Delta speaks to the inhumanity in some men, to not only be so evil as to abuse their wives but also their own daughters. This problem has increasingly become a menace in Zimbabwean society with cases of fathers raping their own daughters appearing more and more in the courts, despite harsh sentences. The Echo of Silence story was published in the “ African Roar 2011” series by a South African publishing house “StoryTime Publishing.”

 On her blog , Delta explores many issues and is not scared to challenge the perceived normal and ordinary. In June 2011, because of her role as a blogger who advocates social and political transformation, Delta toured Washington DC and Minneapolis after she was chosen by the Washington Foreign Press Center as on of the world’s top 20 emerging Global New Media Leaders.

 Not only is she a fierce feminist but a patriotic individual who values her nation and defends its name against unjustified vilification. In her article ‘I met a Zimbabwean’, Delta addresses one of the issues that many of us have a problem with, especially when we travel outside the country. That problem is of defining oneself as an individual with their own views juxtaposed to the role we assume as ambassadors of our countries. We are challenged by individuals who have never been to our countries, have never met a national from our country but claim to know what the country is about, even claiming to know more than we do because they have access to some classified information gathered by lone researchers or stashed in some secret place by their intelligence bureau.  As Delta aptly says  it is  annoying when you have to constantly defend your country “in the face of half-truths, gross misrepresentation of facts and the supercilious know-it-all attitudes” by people that you meet wherever you go.

 Delta also blogs on Genderlinks where among other things she comes to the conclusion that any woman in an abusive relationship should ‘flee’ . In 2010 she was part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, Red Light Campaign which was fighting human trafficking in light of the world cup games that took place in South Africa. In that campaign Delta castigated the role that women play in facilitating the trafficking of other women.

She is an Alumnus of the Moremi Leadership Initiative, no wonder  she displays such strong leadership skills.

Ma Dube’s Feminist Chronicles

Feminist Chronicles: Tsitsi Dangarembga

One of the very first African Novels I enjoyed reading and actually took the time to walk into a bookshop and purchase was Nervous Conditions. Considering it was the first novel published in English by a black Zimbabwean woman, it was a special treat and a treasure indeed. I was 13 years old when I first read it. My appreciation of literature was quite limited then but then I re-read the novel at 18 and I have read it two more times and each time I am amazed at the beautiful style in which this novel was written. I am not surprised it won the African section of the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1989 because the way in which it depicts the dynamics of education, poverty, race, class, gender, and identity crisis is nothing short of intriguing. The author is none other than novelist, playwright, filmmaker and activist Tsitsi Dangaremba (pronounced da-nga-re-mbwa).

 

The Book Nervous Conditions

 

This woman who partially studied Medicine at Cambridge University, got a degree in Psychology from the University of Zimbabwe, studied Film direction from the University of Berlin and holds a PHD in African Film from the Department of African Studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin is a woman of many talents and vast experience.Tsitsi’s uniqueness as an artist lies in how she uses art and culture, not just for entertainment but as a tool for progress and development.

 

One of the things for which I owe her great respect is the film Neria. She wrote the script. That film was and continues to be one of the strongest instruments for effective community education on the importance of writing a will. It is also pivotal in campaigning for the respect of laws governing succession and deceased estates to protect women and children. Neria is a story of a widowed woman who loses her material possessions and her child to her brother in law in a typical traditional fashion. The brother in law, Phineas, confiscates all of Neria’s wealth and abducts her daughter claiming that as ‘Sarapavana’ a Shona word referring to a guardian, he has the obligation to take care of her. All that Phineas wants is the property; he does not care about the child. Only through her friend does Neria regain all these things. I remember reading reports that the man who played Phineas, the evil brother in law, in the film was assaulted in real life in Harare by incensed citizens who had been moved by the widow’s suffering and angered by his ruthless greed and malevolence.

 

Neria, the protagonist in the film Neria

 

Another one of Tsitsi’s unforgettable works is the film Everyone’s Child which she directed. The film portrays the struggles of HIV orphans, illustrating the trials and tribulations that the poor children had to undergo without their parents to support them.

 

Tsitsi’s work has won her numerous awards. In 2006 she was the recipient of the Arts Personality of the Year Award and in 2007 the Arts Service Award, both from the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe.Her films have also received awards. Kare Kare Zvako (2005) won the Golden Dhow in Zanzibar, the Short Film Award Cinemaafricano in Milano, and Short Film Award at the Zimbabwe International Film Festival. Peretera Maneta (2006) received the UNESCO Children’s and Human Rights Award. She also won the Gender, Equality and Media Award for her film Growing Stronger in South Africa in 2006.

 

Her short story The Letter is rich in its illustration of the hardships that an African woman, entangled in the web of a patriarchal society with no voice, limited choices and an almost bleak future has to contend with.

 

Tsitsi Dangarembga
Tsitsi Dangarembga

 

In particular I love this extract from The Letter in which Tsitsi portrays the gentle, quiet strength and deep character of this (abandoned) married woman;

 

“This morning I received a letter from my husband, the first in twelve years. Can you imagine such a thing? As has been my custom during all this time that I have been waiting, I opened my eyes at four o’clock when the first cock crowed, and lay remembering the day that he left, without bitterness and without anger or sorrow, simply remembering what it was like to be with him one day and without him the next.”

 

Tsitsi has also delivered a lecture published as part of the Dakar, CODESRIA, Lectures Series entitled, ‘The Popular Arts and Culture in the Texture of the Public Sphere in Africa’ in which she explores the African culture and suggests how culture may be used to cultivate subjective consciousness.

 

As a founding member of many initiatives, Tsitsi promotes Zimbabwean arts and women’s rights. Her involvement with the Zimbabwe Association of Community Theatre, the Women’s Action Group and Zimbabwe Women Writers has promoted women in art as well as the use of art to advocate gender equality. She is currently the Director of the International Images Film Festival for Women, another one of her brilliant initiatives. She is also a trustee within the Envision Zimbabwe Trust, an organisation that explores developmental challenges and issues affecting Zimbabwean women and youth and devising solutions to these problems.

 

Tsitsi speaks out against women abuse, against domestic violence and more recently against political violence against women.

 

Not only England is blessed with talented writers such as William Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Right here in Zimbabwe we have them too and I hope you agree with me that Tsitsi is definitely in their caliber. If you don’t I can understand why, it’s probably a generational thing, just like Jane Austen was misunderstood in her time, future generations will get what Tsitsi is all about too.

Feminist Chronicles: NoViolet Bulawayo

NoViolet-A true African woman who does

not wither despite the hardships surrounding her

To use the language of the wrestling world, or at least what I hear them saying when introducing a wrestler on television when I watch WWE Raw, this woman ‘hails’ from the second largest city in Zimbabwe, Bulawayo. In Ndebele, one of Zimbabwe’s local languages we would say ‘Uvela koBulawayo, konthuthu ziyathunqa’ “She comes from Bulawayo-where everything happens.”

 She wrestles with societal prejudices that limit the potential of women and with boundaries that restrict the horizons women can reach. Her weapons – words; leave inerasable imprints on the self esteem of women, uplifting them in their spirit and giving them a new hope. She creates new dictionaries full of ‘I can’ words, she paints new pictures reflecting hope and she draws new borders with her magic pen and paper, borders that call out and say any woman can reach me.

A violet is believed to be the flower that symbolises modesty, virtue, affection, watchfulness, faithfulness and love. I have always wondered why she calls herself the opposite of a violet, or maybe given my limited understanding of the arts, she means something different from what I understand her to be saying . Her name is Elizabeth Tshele but her pen name; NoViolet is what many people know her by. Although she claims English is not her first language I am confident in her mastery of the language that I would bet my (to be acquired in the future) million bucks that she knows it better than the current British Prime Minister.

The recipient of the 2011 Caines Award, considered to be Africa’s highest literary award, she makes me proud to be a Zimbabwean woman. Her award winning story Hitting Budapest  is a moving tale of the journey of six starving and poor children who decide to steal guavas in a residential area for the affluent. The story is a clear illustration of social classes and how they shape the givens and granted of one class differently from the other class. Food is a given for the rich and guavas can rot in trees, but guavas are more than a delicacy for the poor-they are survival itself and the poor will go to great lengths to get them, even stealing as the characters in Hitting Budapest do.

NoViolet has also been recognised as a finalist in the 2009 SA PEN/Studzinski Literary Award for her story Snapshots.

Yes, we all write with our own pens but the quality of NoViolet’s pen just seems that much better than most because the marks it leaves behind, in her words, are indelible. A read of just one or two of her stories will tell you that she is at a level of her own.

Her stories have been published in collections of short stories. The story  “Snapshots” appeared in Where to Now?, “Shamisos” appeared in Writing Free, “Hitting Budapest”  appeared in To See The Mountain an Oxford Publication, “Main Street”  appeared in African Roar while the story ‘ Flag’ appeared in the Warwick Review.

Last night, I read her story Red and I could not help shedding a tear or two afterwards. This story of a Zimbabwean man who walks barefoot, hungry and destitute in the streets of Johannesburg in South Africa where he meets a street child left a hollow feeling in my stomach. The vivid images that NoViolet’s words evoke of the man as he holds the little girl, sings and imagines he is holding his son whom he head to leave behind in search of greener pastures stirred deep emotions of sadness and yes anger in me. Many Zimbabweans are in Shepherd, the character in Red’s shoes. They have been forced to leave their homes by poverty, difficult economic circumstances and hopelessness. They hope for better lives but across the border all they face is rejection, segregation, a worse kind of poverty than the one they left home, bereft of human warmth and understanding of their circumstances. As NoViolet says in the story all they know is “hard laughter, sarcastic laughter, angry laughter, hollow laughter, fleeting laughter, dry laughter.”

On her blog she discusses real life issues and how they affect real people. The topics discussed on her blog range from HIV/Aids where she laments the loss of her brother to the disease, to the challenges of life as a migrant in which she expresses her surprise and discoveries living abroad in a foreign land.

I know people say that art is a talent that one is born with, and writing being one form of art is a natural talent, but I will never give up hope that someday I will be able to put words together in the indelible manner that NoViolet does. Since she holds a Masters Degree in Fine Arts from Cornell University in America specialising in creative writing, I would like to think these studies honed her unique voice. Maybe if I become one of her students at Cornell where she now lectures, I may learn to write as well as she does.

This blog post was first published on my blog  Ma Dube’s Reflections

My love letter to the Zimbabwean Judiciary

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-?nding, 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 con?icting 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.

Day Under the Egyptian Sun

As I write this piece, the Egyptian army is claiming to have ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi insists he is still president and that he is open to negotiations. He had only been in power since 30 June 2012, following what has been known as Egypt’s first ‘democratic’ election.

Everything about this situation defies all the obvious definitions we have come to know as questions are buzzing around; was the ousting of Morsi a revolution or a coup or… Who knows???

Democratic election? Was the election that led to President Morsi’s election democratic? Many of the anti-Morsi protestors will tell you it was not. The US government will say it was. What would make the election democratic or not?

Was it competitive; did all parties and candidates enjoy fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly, and movement? Did they have the necessary to voice their criticisms of the government openly? Did they manage to bring their alternative policies and candidates to the electorate?

Was it periodic, oh well since this was the first such election that really doesn’t count does it.
Was it inclusive; did all eligible and willing voters vote? Were any religious, racial or ethnic minorities excluded? Were women included? Were all interest groups included?

Was it definitive; was a leadership of the government chosen? Of course, there would not have been a President Morsi had that not happened.

So then was the election democratic: I don’t know…

Others argue these events oust a “legitimately elected leader.” Who confers legitimacy on a leader? Who elects a president? Is it not the people, the same people who have decided that he is not living up to expectations and have decided to remove him? If these same people with the right to choose a President were now describing him as “a political despot who was peddling religious fundamentalism to consolidate his power base,” did he still remain “legitimate?”

Oh but wait, there is a Constitution. Constitutionalism demands that the President should be removed through a democratic election but neither through a mass protest nor through the solicitation of the military’s strength. In terms of the law he obviously remained legitimate because he could only be legitimately removed through another election , but politically was he still legitimate? I don’t know that either…

To throw in another spanner, was the Constitution itself a legitimate document? Is it legitimate when citizens are trashing its provisions and crying foul about the process through which it came into being? Is it legitimate when citizens are crying foul about its provisions and crying foul about the implementation of some of its provisions? Is that Constitution binding or do the people have a right to demand a re-write of the Constitution-for the people, by the people, of the people? Again, I don’t know…

Is this a coup? The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines a coup as “a sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group, the chief prerequisite of which is control of all or part of the armed forces, the police, and other military elements.” Was it sudden-yes. Was it violent-well four people died and a whole lot more injured. Was it illegal-in terms of the constitution-yes. Did it result in the seizure of power from a government — yes. So was it a coup-hey, I don’t know…

Is this a revolution? Again the Encyclopaedia Britannica says a revolution occurs when “large numbers of people working for basic social, economic, and political change organise and execute a major, sudden alteration in government.” Were there large numbers in Tahrir-the images speak for themselves. Were they asking for social-economic change- bread, butter and bedding issues do sound economic and social to me. Were they asking for political change- definitely, against arbitrary arrests and other rights violations.

Late on 3 July, a number of civics in Egypt including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies described the mass uprising as “tantamount to a genuine popular referendum by which the majority of Egyptians rejected all policies seeking to undermine rights and liberties in the name of empowering a single political faction to monopolise state institutions, undermine the rule of law and judicial bodies, disregard court orders, harass and prosecute political opponents, and restrict the media and freedom of opinion and expression.”

Many are giving these events many terms; counterrevolution, popular uprising, invited coup, popular coup, a coup within a revolution, a revolutionary coup. What it all adds up to is that there is nothing defined under the Egyptian sun.

The story of Beatrice Mtetwa: A Red Herring ?

Right in the middle of a historical exercise, the holding of a Constitutional Referendum- something monumental had to happen. Merely a few hours after voting had ended, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) -in its unfathomable and incomprehensible wisdom-decided to arrest Beatrice Mtetwa. Previously I wrote about Beatrice in my Feminist Chronicles, having identified her as one of the most influential women in Zimbabwe, whose bright intellect and sharp and keen sense of reasoning was above many.

Given her history as a strong advocate for the weak, the defenseless and the vulnerable and also given her strong will to take on cases that many cowered away from, it is no wonder that she made it to the top of the regime’s WANTED list; a regime that is scared witless of its own population yet so boastful of its popularity.

The facts of the case…

Beatrice was arrested on the morning of Sunday the 17th of March 2013 in the line of duty, attending to her client Thabani Mpofu. Thabani’s home was being searched (read raided) by the police as they searched for what we have popularly come to know as “subversive material.” But who knows what that subversive material is; it could be anything from radios to smart phones to information packs, but a little bird whispered in my ear that Thabani was in the middle of putting together a dossier with evidence of corruption of some political big wigs, a job that the police believe is strictly theirs to do, hence the charges of impersonation leveled against him.

What is the law regarding search warrants

The Public Order and Security Act in Section 39 provides that the arrest or search of any person or premises shall be carried out in line with the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act. The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act in Section 49 as read with Section 50 demands that the police may only search premises and seize articles suspected to have been used or intended to be used for the commission of an offence with a valid warrant of search issued by a magistrate or judge. Section 50 (4) of the Criminal procedure and Evidence Act states that a person whose rights are affected by the search can demand to see the warrant, AFTER THE POLICE HAVE EXECUTED THE WARRANT, and the police are obligated to produce such a warrant. As the legal representative of the accused, Beatrice had every right to demand to see the search warrant, but the question is did she demand to see the warrant before or after the police were done with their job?

Presumably, the answer is no and we can assume that she demanded to see the warrant during the search before the police were through with their search which is why the police then accused her of obstructing the course of justice. But given that, half the time, the police in Zimbabwe carry out arbitrary searches and seizure and arrests, any lawyer of character would do under the given circumstances what Beatrice did.  This probably explains why Justice Hungwe, a judge in the High Court of Zimbabwe ordered her release.

However there remains no valid explanation as to why Beatrice remains in police custody despite the order for her immediate release. There is also no explanation as to why she has been moved from police station to police station since then in the typical fashion that the police have adopted to deny an individual under interrogation access to their legal counsel and/or relatives. This same tactic was employed against Jestina Mukoko and has been observed in many trends where political activists and human rights defenders have been arrested.

Is this arrest an end in itself or a means to an end?

Theory One…

A week ago IDASA launched the Democracy Index for Zimbabwe, an analysis of the state of democracy in Zimbabwe. In the Chapter on Political Freedoms and Democracy that I wrote, one of the questions informing the analysis was “How free are all people from intimidation and fear, physical violation against their person, arbitrary arrest and detention?”  In my response, I explained that despite Constitutional guarantees for such freedom, the state continues to use its security apparatus to silence dissenting voices, targeting the few vocal and visible individuals to serve as an example and unleash a silent indirect threat to the rest of the faint and weak-hearted. So I would not be surprised if Beatrice’s arrest is just but another example of that.

Theory Two…

When the process of writing a new constitution began, it ignited hope in many Zimbabweans that a new dispensation in which the rule of law would be restored was on its way.  However during the whole era of the inclusive government that particular hope has been dashed and continues to be dashed. Could it be doubted that the arrest of Beatrice is a clear message to the few hopefuls that NOTHING has changed and won’t change. This form of intimidation will continue to be the order of the day even with a new constitution with a broader Bill of Rights.

Theory Three

The arrest of Beatrice Mtetwa could be a red herring. Don’t get me wrong, that is not to trivialise the enormity of what is being done here or what it means for women human rights defenders’ safety and security. But maybe those who instigated this arrest are drawing attention away from the Referendum, with the strange and ironic  contradiction of voter apathy in city centres where people had access to the draft, to the press, to political commentary online about the contents of the constitution as compared to the high (if I may abuse the word -voluminous) turnout in the areas with citizens who had the least access to the media in the form of newspapers, radio and televisions. Were they saying, “YES we don’t know what’s in the constitution but we will vote for it anyway” or  were they forced to say “Yes” or were they genuinely saying “YES we want the draft to be the new Constitution because we agree with its contents”? There is no prize for guessing which it is likely to be! But also maybe Beatrice’s arrest is targeted at drawing the world’s attention away from how a flawed process resulted in the flawed adoption of a flawed document courtesy of political parties’ turnabout from fighting for independence, freedom and democracy to POWER.

Maybe, these are just what they are-theories -but I shall not wait for history to condemn my silence where I could have spoken-and so I have spoken, standing in solidarity with Beatrice and calling for her release- as any law abiding Zimbabwean would.

A crime against humanity

In this modern world of instant information, have we become inured to horror? Every day we are exposed to pictures and films of extreme violence, they flicker through our consciousness, moving on to the newest examples of human propensity for violence. And we forget each previous example as the newest hits the media.

However, one example of this propensity for violence, common to every country in the world, is with us every day, has been going on every day throughout recorded history, and seems hardly to evoke the same concern as war in Syria, Mali, South Sudan, or Somalia. But it is prevalent in every country in the world — WITHOUT EXCEPTION.

Indeed as UN Women has pointed out violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions with up to 70 percent of women experiencing physical or sexual violence in their lifetime – perpetrated by husbands, intimate partners or someone the victims know.

Consider the following:

  • In the United States, one-third of women murdered each year are killed by intimate partners.
  • In South Africa, a woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner.
  • In India, 22 women were killed each day in dowry-related murders in 2007.
  • In Guatemala, two women are murdered, on average, each day.
  • Women and girls comprise 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually, with the majority (79%) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
  • Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting, with more than 3 million girls in Africa annually at risk of the practice.
  • More than 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18, primarily in South Asia (31.1 million and Sub-Saharan Africa (14.1 million).
  • An estimated 150 million girls under 18 suffered some form of sexual violence in 2002 alone.
  • As many as 1 in 4 women experience physical and/or sexual violence during pregnancy which increases the likelihood of having a miscarriage, still birth and abortion.
  • Approximately 250,000 to 500,000 women and girls were raped in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
  • In Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence, mostly involving women and girls, have been documented since 1996, though the actual numbers are considered to be much higher.
  • In Zimbabwe, 52% of women reported being victims of political violence, with 2% being victims of politically motivated rape, and 3% reporting that a family member had been raped. A startling 16% claimed that they knew of a woman who had been raped.
  • Up to 53% of women physically abused by their intimate partners are being kicked or punched in the abdomen.
  • In Sao Paulo, Brazil, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds.
  • Domestic violence alone costs approximately USD 1.16 billion in Canada and USD 5.8 billion in the United States. In Australia, violence against women and children costs an estimated USD 11.38 billion per year.
  • Between 40 and 50% of women in European Union countries experience unwanted sexual advances, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at their workplace.
  • In the United States, 83% of girls aged 12 to 16 experiences some form of sexual harassment in public schools.
  • In Ecuador, adolescent girls reporting sexual violence in school identified teachers as the perpetrator in 37 percent of cases.

So, when it is claimed that 1 000 000 000 women are victims of violence, let us be clear that this is an underestimate. None of us should be thrilled knowing that 70% of half the population suffers abuse. No wonder one billion are rising! But wouldn’t it be wonderful if all seven billion human beings under the sun were rising, and these statistics became a thing of the past.

Maybe we need to see all these violent and discriminatory practices as crimes against humanity, fully one half of humanity. Not merely ordinary crimes, but evidence of deep rooted cultural prejudices, which we should get rid of. Some would ask; how do we get rid of these prejudices? I say; perhaps when patriarchy is seen as a crime against humanity.

This article first appeared on MaDube’s Reflections

The Arrogance or Ignorance of Privilege

The 25th of November to the 10th of December marked the annual 16 days of activism against gender based violence, a period designated by the United Nations for continuous lobbying and advocacy, awareness raising and education to end gender based violence in all its forms including domestic violence, political rape, human trafficking, sexual slavery, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, widow inheritance and many others. Yet some people believe that enough has been said and done to improve women’s human rights, and to fight gender based violence, and  to realise the goal of gender equality characterised by equal chances for all,  equal access to these chances for all and equal respect among all. Could it be forgetfulness and dire ignorance or just an acute sense of arrogance of a privileged few to seriously ask, “What is it that women want?” especially if you are also a woman. But yes some men (and women) ask;

“What is it that women want?”“Don’t they have enough already?”“What more do they want?”“Do they now want us to live in their petticoats?” “Soon we shall be singing ‘majesty’ and curtseying to the end of the world for them, isn’t that where we are headed at this rate.”“If they have food on their tables and roofs over their heads, what more do they want?”“This women’s rights thing is destroying our moral fabric, our culture and our traditions; we have had enough!”

 Delta Milayo Ndou, a fellow blogger and gender activist, in her article “We are in Danger of forgetting”  said something quite striking when she said,

“There is a period between the worst of times and the best of times in which there is a lull…. The relief of having escaped a horrible circumstance tempts us to ease back for a while and eventually the memory of how bad things used to be fades. We start to convince ourselves that things are fine now because we use the worst circumstance as a reference point instead of using the best of circumstances as an aspirational goal to work towards.”

Are women really making unnecessary noise? Are women asking for too much? Should women be grateful for what they have achieved so far and not demand the ultimate desired and aspirational goal that Ndou talks of? What is it that women have achieved that would make some individuals think that they need not ask for more?

A week ago, a young girl was shot in the head in India because she had confronted a man for urinating in front of her gate. In Afghanistan a young girl of 15 had her throat slitbecause her family had refused an offer for marriage. About two months ago, MalalaYousafzai, a 14 year old Pakistani activist was shot in the head in an assassination attempt by the Taliban for demanding the right of every girl-child to an education.

But to bring it closer to home women and girls are raped each day in Zimbabwe.One in every 3 women will experience rape or some other form of sexual violence at least once in her lifetime; that is about 1 billion women and girls. Each day there are several reports of women and girls raped, battered and bruised through domestic violence. We read in the papers: Woman struck by her husband on the head with a brick for singing happy birthday to him while he was still in bedWoman raped by pastor;   Woman assaulted for dishing the wrong piece of chicken to her husband; and Popular radio DJ and theatre performer, Tinopona Katsande assaulted by her boyfriend Brian Munjodzi.and these are just few of many stories in Zimbabwe

The perpetrators, most of the time are not strangers. They are husbands, boyfriends, fiancés, fathers, brothers, uncles, and even some men that women consider to be friends. Yes the occasional stranger takes a chance, but the majority of abusers are close relatives, individuals that the victims trust; individuals that the victims never imagined would abuse them; individuals whose depravity is unimaginable.

Why would anyone ever ask what it is that women want? You either have to be a ‘blind’ fool, walking around with a pair of dark goggles over your eyes not to see the injustices that women face or you would have to be totally ‘deaf’ not to hear the cries that women and girls are constantly making.

In Zimbabwe, the thought of elections sends shivers down many women’s spines; chills of fear because elections symbolise a time of destruction and loss. Loss of women’s dignity as young men force themselves upon women old enough to be their mothers or grandmothers; loss of women’s control over their bodies as they are raped while sticks, butts of guns, ashes, chillies and all sorts of foreign harmful substances and objects are thrust down women’s genitalia; loss of women’s health as they are wilfully infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases; loss of women’s reproductive choices as they are made pregnant, have no access to safe abortions and are forced to give birth and take care of babies whose fathers they do not know.

A cursory look at the legal framework would make it seem as if everything is in order. There is a Domestic Violence Act that prohibits all forms of domestic violence including marital rape and supposedly affords women the opportunity to report their matters to the police. There are supposed to be Victim Friendly Units within the police stations, catering to the needs of victims and attending to their complaints with the requisite sensitivity. There are supposed to be Victim Friendly Courts that allow the victim to tell their story in a safe space without facing a trial as if they were the perpetrator.  There is a Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act that prohibits incest hence one would think a father or uncle would never want to have sex with, let alone force himself upon his daughter or niece or a brother upon his sister.

Yet the reality on the ground is no stranger than fiction. Fathers rape their daughters, brothers- sisters, uncles- nieces, soldiers-civilians.Is there a single soul out there, oblivious to the commission of these horrible atrocities?  If not, then why would anyone think women do not need any more protection than they already have?

But why would anything change when Zimbabwe has a constitution that tells its citizens it is OK to discriminate against women as long as the issues relate to customary law and personal matters such as marriages, custody and guardianship of children, in case of divorce, division of property acquired during marriage, inheritance, access to land and many other instances. Women want to be treated like equals because they are also human beings. Is this too much to ask?

Why would anything change when people still perceive rape as ‘illegitimate sex’-that a woman slept with another man who is not her husband and hence she gets blamed as if she wanted it?-Women want a situation where rape is recognised as a crime, they want perpetrators to be punished in accordance with the severity of their crimes, and not to get a fickle 5 years or to swagger around with total impunity for politically motivated crimes.

Why would anything change when the immediate thought that pops into people’s heads when a woman is battered is  what did she do to deserve it, rather than examining what is wrong with the man to do such a thing to a defenceless woman or often a child? Women want and need a society that recognises that no amount of provocation justifies the use of violence against any woman.

So let those sitting in their high horses of privilege- or maybe halos of ignorance- be they men or women understand that the struggle for women’s emancipation is far from over!

My Zimbabwean Sheroes: Jestina Mukoko

I believe everyone has at some point watched a movie in which all your muscles are bundled up in tension. You are not sure which way the pendulum is going to swing, will the hero/heroine escape unscathed or will he/she die. When I watched Troy, I had the same feeling. In fact right at the end I had a sick feeling in my gut because the hero did not make it to the end and he never got to live happily ever after with his new found love.

The story of the life of Zimbabwean activists has a similar trend. Fear of arrest, abduction, harassment, forced disappearance and even murder lives at the threshold of our minds. Who knows what to expect? Who knows what new story we will hear tomorrow about one of our own? Who knows which individual has been targeted next for ‘disciplining’ by state security agents?

Zimbabwean activists and human rights defenders fight for a transformed society. But we fight against strong winds, the kind whose magnitude is worse than tsunamis. Most Zimbabweans hide from these winds. They do not want to be accused of opposing the winds or being associated with individuals that oppose these winds. But there are women in Zimbabwe who do not care how strong these winds blow; women who stand firm, sacrificing their bodies as windshields to protect other women and Zimbabwean society as a whole.

Jestina Mukoko is one such woman.

jestina-picture-credit-us-government

When we were young, she was the face that we loved to see reading the 8 o’clock news in the evening. Watching the main news at night was a ritual in my house and back then it was the most boring hour of my life. As a newsreader at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, Jestina Mukoko brightened the screen with her pretty face and her husky voice and made that hour a whole lot easier to bear.

Widowed, a mother of one, a human rights activist and a journalist, Jestina is the executive director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), a non governmental organisation which records incidents of political violence and advocates peaceful resolution to conflict. She serves as a Board member for the Zimbabwe Election support Network another Zimbabwean organisation that advocates democratic elections in Zimbabwe.

Jestina Mukoko is bravery personified. Despite the horrendous experiences she has had as direct reprisals for her work, I find it purely amazing that she still finds the strength to continue her work in Zimbabwe.

Between January and September 2008, Jestina and the crew at ZPP catalogued thousands of incidences of violations murders, abductions, rapes, torture, and assaults. They also began a project documenting abuse of food aid by the government, forcing people to support Mugabe or starve to death, with women and children obviously being the most vulnerable.

On 3 December 2008, Jestina was abducted from her home in the early hours of the morning. She was dragged out of her house barefoot and in pyjamas. Her abductors, a group of 12 to 15 men, claimed to be policemen and were driving two unmarked cars. For days her whereabouts were unknown and the state claimed they did not have her in their custody. She had been designated to stand as the head of Ceremonies at the annual Auxillia Chimusoro Awards recognising those fighting against HIV/AIDS, which awards were held the night of the morning she was abducted.

When she resurfaced in police custody she was held on false allegations of banditry and attempting to sabotage the government. For these false charges she spent 6 months in remand prison, the conditions of which could only be described as inhuman and degrading. She was tortured endlessly, denied access to medical care and gravely neglected. Jestina was subjected to falanga, a method of torture popular with the security agents in Zimbabwe where they beat a person under the soles of their feet until the feet are tender. This method saves the security agents from being held responsible for torture in court because it does not leave visible marks of abuse.

Jestina was held in solitary confinement in the men’s section at Zimbabwe’s Chikurubi maximum security prison, housed under the same roof with the worst criminals this country has, yet she had not committed a single crime. During her period of disappearance, many women’s groups, churches and NGOs as well as international organisations and governments rallied behind her demanding her release. Her prosecution ended several months later, when the Supreme Court ordered a permanent stay of criminal proceedings against her, a decision the Court said was warranted for by the gravity of abuses she had suffered at the hands of the state security and police.

In March 2010, Jestina was recognised as one of the women of courage, an award given to 10 human rights defenders by the US State Department, recognising her exceptional courage and leadership in advancing the rights of women.

Jestina at the Award ceremony with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the First Lady Michelle Obama

She also won the French Legion of Honor together with National Healing Co-Minister Sekai Holland for what French authorities called her outstanding virtues in serving Zimbabwe and others.

On 13 November 2011 a man in a Black Rhino, vehicles associated with state security agents in Zimbabwe followed Jestina in the central business district of Harare. She immediately raised the issue with her lawyers fearing another surveillance and possible abduction.

However, she continues to work at ZPP and is geared for another election in which she will name and shame perpetrators of violence against the women, men and children of Zimbabwe.

This article was first published on MaDube’s Reflections

My Zimbabwean Sheroes: Amy Tsanga

Radical, somewhat rebellious, robust-those were my first impressions of this woman when I first met her. Then I was a naïve-mousey thing, studying for my undergraduate degree in law. I observed how she had embraced her feminine self and African-ness yet she had also surpassed societal stereotypes of who an African woman is and what she can be. Here was a woman who lived through an era when the education of girls was not a priority yet she had done it and done it well too. She was my lecturer and I idolised her or was it, uh, hero-worshipping. Gentle, yet firm, she spoke so eloquently and confidently and we all hung onto her every word. She reinforced my conviction that women’s rights are human rights; as inalienable, indivisible an interdependent as any other right in relation to other rights. And from then on I have been fighting relentlessly for the empowerment of women and the realisation of their human rights.

Dr Amy Tsanga

Her name is Amy Shupikai Tsanga, but I, like many others who have had personal contact with her, like calling her Dr T. Maybe I may be blowing my horn too loudly, but I would like to think (an impression which I hold to date) that we took an instant liking to each other. Over the years she has become more than just my lecturer, she is my mentor, my (free) career guidance consultant, my friend, my big sister and my role model.

One cannot talk of women, law, gender and education without mentioning Dr T.

She earned her Ph.D. in Law from the University of Zimbabwe in 1998, a certificate in Law and Development from the University of Warwick (UK) in 1991, a Diploma in Women’s Law from the University of Oslo, and a BL/LLB in Law from the University of Zimbabwe in 1986. During her undergraduate studies she received the university Book Prize as the best Law student in 1985. She was also a Fulbright Scholar and visited the University of San Diego in 2010 as part of the Fulbright Scholars’ Occasional Lecturer Program.

Currently, a lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Zimbabwe and the Deputy Director of the Southern and Eastern African Regional Centre for Women’s Law (SEARCWL)  famously known as the Women’s Law Centre, Dr T is a woman of outstanding achievements. The Women’s Law Centre is popular for its excellence in gender, women’s studies and the law. As a lecturer she is responsible for teaching the modules in women’s law and the law of succession for undergraduate Law students (which she taught me and ably so too). She also teaches numerous courses on the regional masters in Women’s Law which is designed to bring students from Southern and Eastern Africa to pursue studies in women’s law. So far the Masters has pooled students from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, DRC, Botswana, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.

She has an outstanding record as an academic, challenging the patriarchal system and advocating legal systems and processes that correspond with the lived realities of women as full citizens. Her many publications in the areas of violence against women, women and development, human rights and gender are evidence of her academic prowess. Among her publications is the book ‘Taking Law to the People: Gender, Law Reform and Community Legal Education in Zimbabwe’ which explores the myriad of challenges that organisations face in transmitting the law to the people on the ground.

’She also co-edited with Anne Hellum, Julie Stewart and Shaheen Sardar Ali the publication ‘Human rights, plural legalities and gendered realities-Paths are made by walking,’ which addresses the failure of human rights norms at the national, regional and international levels to afford ordinary citizens at the grassroots the projected human rights benefits and protections. Her featured articles in that publication are entitled “Reconceptualising the role of legal information dissemination in the context of legal pluralism in African settings’ and ‘The widows and female child’s portion: The twisted path to partial equality for widows and daughters under customary law in Zimbabwe,’ the latter which she co authored with Professor Julie Stewart.

She featured the article ‘Dialoguing Culture and Sex: Reflections from the Field’ in the Pambazuka publication ‘African Sexualities: A Reader.’ She also authored ‘Women and law: innovative approaches to teaching, research and analysis’ together with Professor Julie Stewart. The book looks into the manner in which legal teaching methods can be tailored to engage and explore women’s experiences with the law in various legal disciplines.

Dr T also designed together with Ige Olatokumbo a Manual entitled ‘A Paralegal Trainer’s Manual for Africa’ which is a publication with the International Commission of Jurists. She was featured in the African Yearbook of International Law with article such as ‘Moving Beyond Rights in the Realisation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Challenges in Contemporary Africa.’

As a gender activist Dr T has played a pivotal role in influencing legal, policy and institutional reforms to ensure gender equality. She sat on the Board of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association as its Chairperson from 1998 to 2001. ZWLA provides legal assistance to indigent women. She is an award jury member on the Body Shop Human Rights Award, an award that was set up to give recognition to groups working in the field of socio-economic rights and other fields of human rights that are usually not recognised. She was also board member of the Swedish Foundation for Human Rights from 1995 to 1999. Since 2005 she has sat on the board of Musasa Project, a Zimbabwean organisation that challenges and addresses violence against women and since 2010 sits on the board of the Institute of Creative Arts for Development in Zimbabwe.

In July 2010 she briefed Parliament on how to ensure a democratic and inclusive Constitution for Zimbabwe that addresses gender equality. In that briefing she emphasised the importance of an inclusive constitution-making process; the expansion of grounds for non-discrimination; improving women’s participation in politics and decision-making; ensuring women’s equal status before the law and in marriage; and a proper enforcement of the Bill of Rights as some of the prerequisites for achieving gender equality in Zimbabwe.

For all her outstanding work Dr T received the national Women’s Human Rights Defenders Award in 2009.
I always look at her and admire the dexterity with which she has mastered the art of methodologies, which happens to be one of my biggest nightmares. The vivacity with which she pursues the empowerment of women is beyond words. And that is the story of one of the women in the women’s rights movement in Zimbabwe whom I admire verily.

*This article was first published as part of the Feminist Chronicles on Madubesbrainpot

African women on fire!!!

2012 has been a progressive year for African women in global politics.

In April Joyce Banda of Malawi became the first ever female president of Malawi and the Second Female president in Africa. In June, Fatou Bensouda of the Gambia became the first female and African Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) after having served as a Deputy Prosecutor in charge of the Prosecutions Division of the ICC since 2004. In June again, Zainab Hawa Bangura of Sierra Leone was appointed as Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict at the level of Under-Secretary-General.  She replaced Margot Wallström.  Just yesterday, Dr Nkosana Dhlamini-Zuma became the first female Chairperson for the African Union Commission.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the new AU Chairperson shaking hands with Jean Ping, outgoing AU Chairperson

Whilst others do not celebrate her appointment given the political debates, politicking and struggles that characterised her election, it still remains fact that her election preludes a significant shift in African politics and in the history of the African Union (AU).

In my view Dr Dlamini-Zuma was a strong candidate not only because she had the requisite experience and skill having served as Foreign Affairs Minister for South Africa for 10 years between 1999 and 2009 and led a number of peace and security initiatives with the AU in Lesotho, the DRC, the Comoros and others but also because she represents a new paradigm shift as the first female Chair and bringing a new face to AU politics where Southern Africa is given its rightful place as an integral member of the AU. Previously it seemed the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region was repeatedly sidelined, in what appeared to be legitimacy battles given that there was not a single representation of SADC at the inception of the AU then known as the Organisation of the African Unity as all the Southern African countries were still under colonialism and doubts about SADC sharing a common Pan-African vision given its population demographics. Continue reading

28 Years Old

28 years old, that’s how old I am turning today. Gees I am really getting old and I must admit, this time I feel old-really old. This is the time when I should be spending my nights cuddled up to someone- and of course not just anyone but that one person who makes me feel like I am the axis on which his world revolves. Many a people tell me that sort of euphoria doesn’t exist but in my foolishness- which I would rather think of as indestructible optimism- I do believe somehow, somewhat, that sort of euphoria is possibly achievable for me.

But that was a digression. The point of my blog today is that on my 28th birthday, I find myself in the middle of a rather interesting situation that I could not be more privileged to be part of.  I am a participant at the Fletcher Summer Institute for the Study of Non Violent Conflict. Oh well, it could be jut another Summer Course- but not this one. This one is unique!

I, a Zimbabwean and a fanatic human rights defender,  am among energetic community organisers, nerdy techs, daring journalists, enthusiastic human rights defenders, and renowned scholars from the US, Bahrain, UK, Mexico, Poland, Serbia, Russia, Ukraine, Maldives, The Bahamas, Pakistan, Palestine, Syria, India, Afghanistan, Peru, Nepal, Jordan, Hong Kong, Sudan, Spain, Ethiopia, Togo, Dominican Republic,  Austria, Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa,  Iran, Canada, Columbia, Chile and Kyrgyzstan.
Continue reading

The cost of international criminal justice

50 years he got. Taylor, at 64, is unlikely going to be a free man ever again in his life. 4 years, and approximately US $250 million later, the world can scream VICTORY for yet another ‘successful’ prosecution of a sitting head of state for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. As the Head of State, he bore command responsibility for the actions of the state and a duty of care for its citizens. He thus was responsible for the murder and mutilation of civilians. He was thus responsible when his forces cut off people’s limbs.  He was thus responsible when his forces used women and girls as sex slaves. He was thus responsible when his forces abducted children and forced them to fight as soldiers.

Charles Taylor during his trial-dressed in an expensive suit, looking well fed and well taken care of…

 So the Special Court for Sierra Leone said his crimes include acts of terrorism, murder, violence to life, health and physical or mental well being of people, cruel treatment, rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence, outrages upon personal dignity, conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups, or using them to participate actively in hostilities, enslavement and pillage.

Now he is going to spend 50 years in a British prison.

 Given all that he has done, one would expect that he shall be languishing and rotting in prison, and maybe then the victims could derive some satisfaction from knowing that he is paying for all the wrong he did. But is that the case for Charles Taylor?

 Here is why I ask this question…

 On average a British prison looks like this.

  Continue reading

Are we becoming a Zhing-zhong nation?

I am not only alarmed but also disappointed to see the depth and manner with which the “Look-East Policy” has pervaded so many aspects of Zimbabwean society. I am told the “Look-East Policy” is a lucrative alternative to the West, it is supposed to be about fighting neo-colonialism and resisting Western Hegemony over our sovereign affairs and welfare as a society.

Yes, I can understand the need to unshackle ourselves from white imperialistic tendencies. Indeed the British reign in Zimbabwe was a terrible tyrannical reign-no wonder they are adamantly refusing to release all public documents relating to their conduct in  their colony of Southern Rhodesia , which is now our own Zimbabwe.

What I can not understand however is the direction my government is taking us when it makes a deliberate effort to remove us from one form of colonialism and chains us to another form of bondage.  We have been exposed to a cunning, ruthless and amoral slave master-the Chinese. I sound quite xenophobic, don’t I? I do not mean to. The point I am driving home which is also the reality on the ground is that the conduct of most of the Chinese in Zimbabwe is unacceptable.

Just as I do not need expert evidence to show me that colonialism and neo-colonialism have been exploitative of African populations, I also do not need experts from Europe or China or anywhere else to tell me what I see with my own eyes. All I see is that what the West did in Berlin in 1884-5 when they partitioned Africa and their conduct in most of their African colonies since then is exactly the same thing the Chinese are after, going after Africa’s natural resources, to feed the Chinese industry and huge population, to largely exploit the continent, and in some cases develop infrastructure and industries which benefit the Chinese themselves more than the locals.

Continue reading

Some are guiltier than others

The fundamental principle underlying the right to a fair trial is that every individual is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Hence no one individual should be treated like a criminal until a court of law has passed a decision declaring them so. Even if the circumstantial evidence points to the guilt of the individual, they must still be given the opportunity to go through all the motions of a trial to present their case, present mitigating circumstances – if they are there – and receive a sentence that is proportionate to the gravity of their crime. Amongst the motions of a fair trial should be the ability of an accused to be granted bail. This is dependent on the state giving sufficient evidence to prove that the accused is not a fit and proper person to grant bail.  Of course, there is need to balance the interests of justice in granting bail: for instance, whether the accused will interfere with witnesses, tamper with evidence, or attempt to flee (among such other issues) must be taken into account.

My problem with the justice system in Zimbabwe is that the application of these factors is always unpredictable, and their fair application seems to depend on the social status and political affiliation of both the victim and accused.

In May 2011, a policeman was killed in Glenview, a densely populated suburb in the capital city of Harare, Zimbabwe. His name was Inspector Petros Mutedza. 29 MDC-T members were rounded as suspects. They are still languishing in prison. They have been detained in remand for nearly a year. They are being held in unsanitary, overcrowded conditions, receiving inadequate food, and constantly denied bail. The High Court of Zimbabwe keeps postponing the bail hearing indefinitely since the arrest and imprisonment of the accused, stating that they are a flight risk. Given this standpoint and the Court’s assertions, should they therefore not proceed to hear the matter on the merits and give the accused the chance to prove their innocence? One wonders, is the incarceration of these people serving justice and is it in line with the principle of a fair trial, or their continued detention is vindictive, serving a political agenda?

On 17 March 2012, police in the mining town of Shamva, in the Mashonaland Central Province of Zimbabwe, killed a man. His name was Luxmore Chivambo. His crime was apparently related tothe disappearance of a purse (containing some money and a cell phone) of the wife of the officer in charge at Shamva Police Station. Residents at Ashley Mining compound, including Luxmore, were savagely attacked by police officers as the officers tried to recover the stolen ‘goods’.

Why am I raising these two stories?

Oh well, the people who are alleged to have killed the police officer in Glenview are still rotting in prison. The police officers who were seen killing Luxmore, namely; Motion Jakopo (41), Simon Mafunda (32), Michael Makwalo (30), Lee Makope (23), Benedict Tapfuma (22) and Blessing Saidi (26) and injuring 11 other people have been released on $50 bail. Where is the justice in that? Are police officers more important than ordinary civilians, hence making their murder more critical and their alleged criminals guiltier than those who kill ordinary people? Is the known crime of police officers, who clearly ill-treated citizens to whom they owe a constitutional mandate to protect, a less serious offence than that of rowdy citizens who allegedly attacked a police officer?

We stand on the eve of Zimbabwe’s independence and I cannot bring myself to embrace the celebratory mood that others seem to have. After all what is there to celebrate when the oppressed (under colonial rule) have become the oppressors (black Zimbabweans suppressing black Zimbabweans). Such freedom where others are more índependent’ than others leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Maybe we need an ECOWAS in Southern Africa

Military governments found their most marked expression on the African continent recording an unprecedented eighty-five violent coups and rebellions from the time of the Egyptian revolution in 1952 until 1998.Seventy-eight of these took place between 1961 and 1997. Undoubtedly, West Africa was the worst affected region and it continues to experience more coups, rebellions and civil wars. Given this history, it is no wonder then that this region formed a regional bloc, The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to foster regional economic integration but also prioritising the maintenance of peace and security in the mandate of its bloc cognisant of the intimate link between peace, security and stability and economic growth.

Over the years, ECOWAS has proved itself determined to see an end to unconstitutional changes of government including coups, rebellions and incumbents who refuse to vacate office after losing elections.

In 2009, ECOWAS suspended Niger from ECOWAS after Mamadou Tandja successfully changed the constitution to permit him to run for office for a third term, and went ahead with elections which were boycotted by the opposition. When the army staged a coup against Tandja claiming to protect the constitution, ECOWAS swiftly negotiated a return to civilian rule and the holding of democratic elections. After 14 months of transition, the military junta in Niger formally handed over power to newly elected President Mamadou Issoufou as promised.

In 2010, when Laurent Gbagbo of Cote D’Ivoire lost a presidential election to Alassana Quattara but refused to vacate office, ECOWAS threatened to remove him by force and faced opposition from many sections of Africa including SADC heads of state. In the civil war that ensued, they maintained their position insisting on recognising Quattara as the legitimately elected leader. As the then Ghanaian President John Kufour stated “if Gbagbo [had been] allowed to prevail, elections as instruments of peaceful change in Africa [would have] suffer[ed] a serious setback.”

Earlier this year, when former Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade decided to stand for an election against the spirit of the new Constitution limiting presidential terms arguing that the constitutional provisions did not apply retrospectively, Senegalese citizens protested this decision. The violence that erupted could have gone out of hand and led to a civil war but the maturity of the Senegalese people themselves as well as the heavy involvement of ECOWAS through political talks allowed for a relatively peaceful transition of power through an election in Senegal. Today Macky Sall stands the democratically elected leaders of the Senegalese Republic.

ECOWAS condemned the recent coup of 21 March 2012 in Mali led by Amadou Haya Sanogo and swiftly took action. They suspended Mali from ECOWAS, applied an embargo on Mali, froze access to finance from the regional bank in Dakar and began discussions for a negotiated plan to return to civilian rule. Their intervention resulted in an agreement by the military junta to restore constitutional order by handing over the reigns to the Speaker of the National Assembly today as a first step towards returning to democratic rule. They also considered the possible deployment of the regional Standby Force, should the rebels refuse to observe a ceasefire and engage in dialogue.

Surely this record speaks volumes to the regional bloc’s seriousness and commitment to see democratic rule where the people’s choices and voices are respected and to restore peace and security. ECOWAS continues to reiterate the regional bloc’s commitment to the principles of democracy and the rule of law, and their opposition to unconstitutional transitions of power.

The Southern African Development Committee (SADC)  on the other hand has increasingly displayed its inadequacy to address similar issues. In 2008 when Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe lost an election to Morgan Tsvangirai and the subsequent runoff was marred by horrendous violence, SADC did not make a firm decision to respect the people’s choice. Instead they negotiated a power-sharing deal which was not only unconstitutional but in violation of the demands of a minimum democracy where the ruler must be instated at the choice of the people, chosen by the people and his term of rule exhibit governance patterns that respect the will of the people. Despite many violations of the negotiated deal that SADC negotiated, the regional body has largely failed to ensure that these terms are respected and that democracy is served.

In 2009, when Marc Ravalomanana of Madagascar was ousted out of power by Andry Rajoelina in a coup staged by the army which then ceded power to Rajoelina as its leader, SADC failed to take decisive measures to ensure a swift return to civilian rule. Since then, the High Transitional Authority, a negotiated deal by the African Union in collaboration with SADC setting up a leadership authority comprising the members of the Ravalomanana and Rajoelina camps has been in power and the people of Madagascar’s right to choose their own leadership continues to be undermined.

Yes, SADC believes it is being strategic diplomatically when it pursues the non-interventionist policy towards resolving regional governance issues. In the end it is us the citizens who are being done a disservice. Such precedents where the bloc is placating undemocratically elected individuals to enjoy power and continually denying SADC citizens the right to choose who they want to lead them are unsustainable. Maybe we ought to learn a thing or two from ECOWAS or better still, borrow them the next time we have similar crises. Bottom line, SADC needs to act decisively, with consistency and with one voice in the face of such blatant disregard to the will of the people.

Who is next?

Is Africa changing? Is the politics changing? Are the people changing and are their demands for democracy and good governance becoming more solid? Are we finally claiming our space as the cradle of mankind and the beginnings of all civilisation?

For years African citizens have suffered grave governance deficits at the hands of octogenarians who held onto power, clawing at the citizenry until it bled.

But recent events seem to indicate that things are changing. Now African peoples are looking for leaders who tackle corruption, facilitate an environment that allows for political debate and opposition. Citizens are demanding transparency and rule of law and when the leaders fail, the people are saying GO!

Of course there are setbacks such as the recent coup in Mali, the acceptance of Kenyan and Zimbabwean citizens of power sharing governments yet the elections had clear losers and winners. Even part of the new crop of leaders continues to be corrupt. I only need to cast my eyes down South to South Africa to see how leaders can be changed effectively but the new leadership itself fails to be effective. But, certainly no one can dispute that the era of passive citizens with no voice is surely moving towards being part of the archive books on our continent.

Here is a short rundown…

Yesterday, March 25th 2012, Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal conceded defeat and gracefully stepped down to allow Macky Sall victory. After 12 years in power it was high time Wade did go- a third term would only have served to undermine the spirit of the new constitution limiting presidential terms to only two.

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Coup in Mali: The ‘Rats’ and ‘Dogs’ discussion continues

Another coup in Africa. Another decision by an elite group of citizens to take the fate of millions into their own hands. Another threat to peace and security on the African continent. Well here is the thing; it all begins with such events, a coup, a rebellion, a mutiny. Then it gets prolonged and for years we shall write about political instability in one or the other of the African countries affected.

In the beginning, as is the case with Mali, the UN or the AU or both will make statements about how terrible it is for something like this to happen then bide their time to see if the situation will calm down. The UN Security Council has called for the “immediate restoration of constitutional rule and the democratically elected government”. ECOWAS has said the soldiers’ behavior is reprehensible. The AU called it a’setback to the democratisation process in Mali.’

Then if the trouble continues for a while, the AU will suspend Mali’s membership and “continue to engage them to restore democratic governance.” And then the war with the rebels will continue and grow in intensity. One or such other Western powers will clandestinely give arms to the Touareg separatists to continue fighting the Malian government feeding their own economies on wars in Africa and then publicly condemn the protracted war and send peacekeepers to bring back sanity and ‘peace’ to the land of Mali. Then maybe the UN Security Council will meet to decide if they should pass a resolution for action, either to intervene-which is rare- or to send the perpetrators of crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court. And then China or Russia or the US will veto that decision. Civil society organizations will make a huge outcry and continue lobbying for action.
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We are all Munyaradzi Gwisai

*This article was motivated by the call by Kubatana for Zimbabwean human rights activists to stand in solidarity with Munyaradzi Gwisai, and 5 of his colleagues who have been convicted for watching videos of the Egyptian Revolution in February 2011*

Munyaradzai Gwisai

The decision passed against Zimbabwe International Socialist Organisation leader, and my former lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, Munyaradzi Gwisai and five other activists to me only serves to show the ineffectiveness of the law as a tool for delivering real justice in today’s Zimbabwe. Comrade Gwisai, as he likes to be addressed stemming from his socialist background, was found guilty of “inciting public disorder”, after he, together with his counterparts organised a film screening and subsequent discussion on the Egyptian uprising in February last year.
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Imprisoned prisoners: the double tragedy of refugees in Zimbabwe

Every state has a right to defend its sovereignty and national integrity-yes. Every state also has a right to protect its borders from infiltrators who are a threat to its national security-yes.  In so doing, it is hence not only necessary but also prudent for any state to have immigration laws that regulate the ability of citizens and non-citizens alike to leave and enter its territory. Indeed it is an international norm for states to have specific requirements about who can enter their territory and under what circumstances, hence the need for identity documents and the imposition of visas to allow legal entry to non-nationals. This scenario is the picture perfect setting, where migration is voluntary and initiated by design- properly planned by the individuals concerned. Indeed when the movement of persons from their nation of origin into another is voluntary, then the receiving state has a legitimate and justified expectation that the documentation of the traveler be up to date and in order. However, that expectation by the receiving state ceases to be legitimate, reasonable and justifiable when it comes to refugees -but not for the government of Zimbabwe.

Refugees are prisoners of their ill-fate, victims of their own statehood, targeted by their own people.

Burundian refugees in Zimbabwe

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