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

The crack in the rock
March 21, 2014, 8:40 am

 

Dear Family and Friends,

In the bush the other day I sat watching two long-legged riverside birds on a small rocky island in a dam. For a long time they seemed unperturbed by my scrutiny but when they both turned and ran into a patch of tangled shrubs in a hurry, I knew something was up. From nowhere a shiny grey reptilian head appeared over the top of the rock. Its camouflage was excellent, skin colour blending exactly with the rock, spots on his head looking exactly like blotches of lichen on the granite. The mingled, reflected glare from  rocks and water made it hard to identify at first but when a long black forked tongue flicked out to scent the air, I knew it was a leguaan (Monitor Lizard.) From the size of his head he was obviously a fair size but that remained a mystery. There was no time even for a quick photograph because suddenly the leguaan completely disappeared into a crack between the rocks  and was invisible again. This is exactly how life is in Zimbabwe nine months after the last controversial election: haze and reflections, clever camouflage and big scary things hiding in plain sight.

Sensational headlines in the last couple of weeks have left an already suspicious, sceptical Zimbabwe wondering what’s really going on. After weeks of dramatic media exposures of CEO’s in government organisations and parastatals earning huge salaries ranging from 40 to 230 thousand US dollars a month, the Cabinet finally waded in. The Finance Minister announced that with immediate effect the highest wage in all state enterprises, parastatals and local authorities was to be six thousand US dollars a month. Included in this total amount are the  ‘allowances’ that people have been getting which are unbelievably disproportional to their actual pay. One example cited was of a Town Clerk earning two thousand dollars a month but getting an additional seventeen thousand dollars in benefits and allowances every month. In a country where 80% of people are unemployed,  where university graduates sell airtime on the roadside, where qualified teachers earn less than five hundred dollars a month and where all state enterprises are collapsing, these amounts are truly shocking. The excessive greed of a few at a time when so many are suffering is nauseating.

As disgusted as we are by the gargantuan salaries that have been exposed so far, everyone knows it’s the tiny tip of a massive iceberg. We also know that by slashing someone’s salary from say forty thousand a month to six thousand is going to generate another huge set of problems: law suits, even more corruption and asset siphoning and perhaps even a renewed brain drain from our teetering country. Asked why it had taken five years for the government to  do something about these huge salaries, the Minister of Finance said: ‘There was too much quarrelling in the inclusive government and we could not focus our energy on anything.’

So far no one’s publicly questioning the salaries, allowances and ‘benefits’ of senior government members or how they managed to amass such vast visible wealth while Zimbabwe was collapsing. One clue came in dramatic front page headlines: ‘Don’t blame sanctions, says Mugabe.’ The President said : ‘I will ensure that we don’t go back to the time of saying sanctions are the reason we are failing to pay civil servants. We have the resources, the gold sector for example, they are very easy to get money from.’ With statements like these Zimbabweans are again left reading between the lines, looking at the crack in the rock, wondering what’s really in there, hiding in plain sight.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.


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'African unity' automatically implies condoning outright fraud and chicanery
August 10, 2013, 1:02 am

Sometimes there are no words, no way to express the despair and disappointment when a longed for hope fails to materialise. That’s how it was for me and I suspect thousands of other Zimbabweans at home and in the diaspora over the past few weeks. I can’t speak for them but I have to admit that I had hoped – against all reason  – that the recent elections would finally mean the end of Zanu PF and Robert Mugabe. For weeks before I had told myself and anyone else who would listen that Mugabe was never going to give up, he would hang on to the bitter end. Yet, despite knowing that, hope would keep on reviving. I should have known better; dictatorship and hope don’t really go together, Mugabe was never going to give up power.

In stunned disbelief, I read the results as one after the other former MDC seats fell to Zanu PF candidates. It just didn’t seem possible but there it was: another five years of Zanu PF rule stretched ahead. When people here ask me how old Mugabe is and I tell them, they always respond “Well then, cheer up! He can’t live forever!” His mother lived to 102 I remind them gloomily and if longevity is genetic he could be around for another ten years.  A friend phoned from Zim telling me there were no smiling happy faces to be seen anywhere after the results were announced, just stunned disbelief on every face. The BBC here had shown the long lines of voters and it was immediately obvious that there were no youngsters, no one under the age of 40 by the look of the crowds of middle-aged voters. That was supported by the statistics: young voters had simply not been registered and so-called ‘aliens’ were turned away when they tried to vote; their names were just not on the Voters Roll; indeed it was calculated that one third of the registered voters were in fact dead. Even people who had been born in Zimbabwe and lived their whole lives there were denied the vote; yet still the African Union declared the elections ‘free, honest and credible’, SADC said the election had been  ‘free and peaceful’ but said nothing about its fairness or otherwise. President Zuma of South Africa was one of the first to congratulate Robert Mugabe, saying that the Zim election result represented ‘the will of the people’. It seems that ‘African unity’ automatically implies condoning outright fraud and chicanery; in short anything rather than admit that a fellow African nation is anything less that democratic. It was left to the west, Mugabe’s nemesis, to tell it like it is. Australia, the EU, the UK and the US declared that the election was ‘not a credible expression of the people’s will’ Ever the optimist, the US Ambassador had declared before the election that ‘there was still hope’, to which Mugabe had reportedly responded with the comment, ‘Keep your pink nose out of our affairs’. True or not, the comment certainly illustrates Mugabe’s racist attitudes.

Robert Mugabe won 61% of the votes and Morgan Tsvangirai just 34% and in the House of Assembly that represents a 2/3 majority for Zanu PF which gives them the power to change the constitution. They have 158 seats while MDC have just 49. Is that the ‘will of the people’ or simply the result of the massive rigging that went on? There was another factor that might explain Mugabe’s victory and that was the diamond revenue. The army is now firmly in control of the diamonds and no doubt it was diamond money that helped to fund Mugabe’s campaign. It is no secret that many of his closest supporters have made huge profits from the sale of Chiadzwa diamonds. Mugabe can be sure of their support; they are after all not likely to bite the hand that feeds them.     

Yours in the (continuing) struggle, Pauline Henson.


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Mugabe and Zanu PF have absolutely no intention of surrendering power
July 19, 2013, 1:05 pm

    I have been out of action for a few days with some nasty virus but coming back to the Zim Situation, I see that the forthcoming election dominates the news. As Mugabe and Tsvangirai criss-cross the country addressing rallies with reportedly huge audiences, the people themselves have in all probability already made up their minds which way to vote. A large number, calculated to be some two million have failed to register but whether the reason for that is plain indifference or the utterly chaotic state of the voters roll is not clear. Whatever the reason, one thing is very clear: Mugabe and Zanu PF have absolutely no intention of surrendering power. As yet there has been no repeat of the horrific violence of the 2008 election but here is still a great deal of very suspect behaviour from the party that has ruled the country for the whole of its independent life. It seems, however, that they can no longer take the people’s support for granted. It was once assumed that the rural areas were solidly Zanu PF supporters but there are reports of an increase in rural people’s political awareness and their support for Zanu PF can no longer be assured. MDC rallies in these remote rural areas appear to have been very well attended but both sides say they are confident of victory. Mugabe, of course, has played the race card again, saying that his opponents want to “bring back the whites”. He was all decked out in ‘mapostori’ gear at the time addressing a huge gathering of the brethren in Marange. I have never been quite sure of exactly what the mapostori stand for but I do know they are anti-white and anti-gay so Mugabe was on safe ground there. He promised church leaders that he would build them a school if they voted for him and his Vice President, Joice Mujuru went one step further promising church leaders houses and farms if they voted for Zanu PF. The President’s wife, Grace, assured the opposition that “there was no vacancy at State House” but then” Zimbabweans have heard it all before.

    It was the so-called ‘special voting’ that caused all the doubt and suspicion in the international community. The ‘special voting’ period was intended to apply to police officers and civil servants who would be on duty on polling day but then we came to the crux of the matter. How many cops are there in Zimbabwe? The Police Commissioner had applied for 70.000 ballot papers but according to figures issued by the Attorney General, Johannes Tomana, there are in fact just 44.000 police officers in the country. Whether it was with cops or civilians, suspicion was widespread that rigging of one kind or another was taking place. An eye witness who happened to be driving along the Harare-Marondera highway on voting day reported huge numbers of trucks carrying people being bussed out to polling stations in time for ‘special voting’ - that was when Baba Jukwa, had predicted that the real rigging would take place. No wonder Mugabe has offered a $300.000 reward for his capture! The MDC have challenged the ‘special vote’ in the High Court but it was the chaos observed by the SADC team that really caught the world’s attention. There were inadequately trained officials, insufficient ballot papers arriving late and massive irregularities to mar the validity of the whole process; even the Deputy Chair of ZEC, Joyce Kazembe, had to admit that ‘special voting had not gone according to plan’. Despite SADC’s warning that “The world is watching you” Zimbabwe has failed to demonstrate that it can conduct free and fair elections on July 31st; . Mugabe can blast off all he likes against his critics but his ‘hate speech’ only shows the world his real character.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle, Pauline Henson.   


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"Democracy"
July 5, 2013, 1:28 pm

Was it or was it not a military coup? That is the question being asked about what has happened in Egypt. Certainly the military appear to have taken over but that hardly fits the definition of a coup as: “a sudden violent seizure of power” As far as we know, 16 people have been killed during clashes at the university. The thousands of people in Tahrir Square for the last five days have been vocal but not violent. Then came the news that the democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi and his closest allies were being detained by the military; a judge has been appointed temporary leader of the country until fresh elections. How this situation will resolve itself remains to be seen but in the two years since the last upheaval in January 2011 very little has changed for the better in people’s lives. And it is that which is causing the unrest. Yes, Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected but in the year since his election, he failed to do the things he had promised. That is why Egyptians are out on the streets in their thousands.

    It is tempting to draw a parallel between Zimbabwe and Egypt, both countries are in Africa but Egypt has the added complication of religion to make it even more difficult for outsiders to understand exactly what’s happening - and there are many different branches of Islam to confuse the problem even further. It is the issue of democracy that concerns western commentators. To listen to some of these various commentators on the BBC one would think we are back in the days of the Empire! Their understanding of the term ‘democracy’ appears to be confined to the Westminster model but the concept of democracy has a very different meaning, depending on when and where you live in the world. The struggle for Zimbabwe’s liberation thirty three years ago was seen then as a struggle for democracy ie.‘one man one vote’ but that was against the background of a very limited franchise for African people. Now, in the twenty-first century, people have realised that democracy means much more than casting your ballot on election day.

    While he was in South Africa, the US President called for ‘free and fair elections’ in Zimbabwe and civic groups in the country have also called for credible elections. Zanu PF’s Rugare Gumbo’s rambling response hardly sounded like the response of a  democrat. On the contrary, it was more like a defence of dictatorship. “Who’s Obama?” asked Gumbo, “He’s the President of America. They can do that in America but we have a different situation in Africa. Those who are in power know exactly what their people want, like President Mugabe knows exactly what the people of Zimbabwe want.” That’s pure paternalism, I’d say. The people are just children and must listen to ‘baba’ because he knows what is best for them! Speaking of Africa’s struggle against colonialism, President Obama commented, “the promise of liberation gave way to the corruption of power and then the collapse of the economy.” That got The Herald going and they launched into a vitriolic attack on America’s first black president, calling him a hypocrite who is “mired in international barbarism, drone assassinations and spying.” Earlier in the week it was Lindiwe Zulu in the Herald’s sights because she had called for Zimbabwe’s elections to be postponed to allow for reforms to take place. In a sexist rant, the Herald called on President Zuma to “tether your terrier” describing Ms Zulu as an “outsider who is shooting her mouth off.”  Someone should tell the Herald leader writer: personal abuse is not responsible journalism; it is the gutter press at its worst. Is that what the Paymaster wants?

Yours in the (continuing) struggle, Pauline Henson


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Kunyepa!
June 28, 2013, 12:04 pm

   “Kunyepa!  It’s a lie!” That was one of the first useful phrases I learned in Shona. I was intrigued by the difference between the more direct and accusatory “You’re lying!” that one would use in English. In Shona that is very impolite, I was told. Kunyepa!  is the polite response to a false statement - and surely much more diplomatic. No one’s integrity is being directly questioned, only the accuracy of the facts. It’s a fine distinction perhaps but it says a lot about the cultural pitfalls that lie in wait for a second language learner. One of the major problems is that language is about so much more than vocabulary, grammar and syntax. There’s a whole cultural background to be understood if one is to use the language correctly. A highly educated person such as Professor Jonathan Moyo would understand that very well but, as we see from the following example, the learned professor is above all else a spokesperson for Zanu PF and his political allegiance over-rides all other considerations, even the truth.

    In a Hot Seat interview with Jonathan Moyo, Violet Gondo had asked Moyo a straight question. She was referring to a scheduled meeting that was due to be held last Friday between MDC and Zanu PF negotiators to discuss the way forward after the Summit in Maputo. SADC had been very firm on the question: there must be reforms before elections can be held in Zimbabwe. The MDC had claimed that their delegates, drawn from both MDCs, waited for three hours for the Zanu PF delegation led by Robert Mugabe to arrive for that meeting. There was, they claim, no phonecall, no message or apology to explain their non-arrival;  Zanu PF simply  failed to turn up.  So, Violet Gondo asked the MP for Tsholotsho, “Are you saying they (the MDC) lied?” and Jonathan Moyo replied, “Yes, I’m saying that they lied and not for the first time, they have lied many times before.” As the old saying goes, ‘It takes one to know one’!

     The level of trust between Zanu PF and their coalition partners must be rock-bottom but then as we saw this week, the results of telling the truth in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe can be fatal. There have been too many fatal but ‘convenient’ road accidents for any normally intelligent person not to question the accident that killed Zanu PF’s Edward Chindori-Chininga. He was the brave man who had dared to tell the truth about what was really happening in Zimbabwe’s diamond industry. The consequences for anyone who tells the truth about matters in which Mugabe and Zanu PF have a vested interest can be fatal but Chindori-Chininga chose to do the right thing. He told the truth about the corruption in the industry and paid with his life.

    With just a few hours to go before the nomination deadline, Zanu PF is rushing to complete their selection of candidates. While the opposition completed their nominations in six weeks with no problems, Zanu PF has had a torrid time with stories of irregularities and violations as well as a host of logistical issues. All the selected candidates will have to pass some very strict nomination rules as announced by ZEC.  Each candidate must sign two copies of the Code of Conduct and not less than ten registered voters from the same constituency must sign their nomination papers. Perhaps honesty really will be the watchword for the next election? If Mugabe is indeed ‘living in fear’ as Simba Makoni claims, that might explain why he rushed off to Singapore again for a medical check-up. All this worry and stress must be very bad for his health…and that’s no lie.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle, Pauline Henson.


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