Amnesty International has recently launched irrepressible.info, to raise awareness about restrictions on freedom of expression internationally, especially internet freedom.
The campaign is simple. People are urged to sign an online pledge: “I believe the Internet should be a force for political freedom, not repression. People have the right to seek and receive information and to express their peaceful beliefs online without fear or interference. I call on governments to stop the unwarranted restriction of freedom of expression on the Internet – and on companies to stop helping them do it.” They are also encouraged to take other personal action such as writing letters to Chinese Authorities to demand the release of Shi Tao, a journalist serving 10 years in prison for sending an email to a pro-democracy website, or publishing fragments of censored material on their own sites, to demonstrate the irrepressibility of information.
In Zimbabwe, we need to be included in this protest, to create our own irrepressible campaign, and more. The Interception of Communications Bill was gazetted on Friday 26 May. This means it begins its progress through Zimbabwe’s Senate and House of Assembly, a passage likely to be unhindered, given the vast majority the ruling Zanu PF party holds in both houses.
If (when) the Bill becomes law (in as soon as just a few weeks), even articles like this will be suspect—putting not only myself but my service provider at risk—to say nothing of more controversial posts.
The Bill authorises “the Minister,” namely the Minister of Transport and Communications, or any other minister the president appoints to oversee the Bill, to issue warrants to provide for the interception of post, email, telephone communications or “other services.” Intercepting includes reading, listening to, recording and copying these communications. The warrants can be applied for by the Chief of the Defence Intelligence, the Director-General of the President's department on national security, the Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Commissioner-General of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, or their nominees. The Minister is to issue an interception warrant when he (or, less likely, she) has “reasonable grounds to believe (among other things) that a serious offence has been or is being or will probably be committed or that there is threat to safety or national security of the country.”
According to the Bill, the "national security of Zimbabwe includes matters relating to the existence, independence and safety of the State.” Given that the President of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) is currently wanted by the police for posing a “threat to national security” due to his support of student protests against unforeseen increases in University tuition, the state is known for its paranoid interpretation of what, exactly, constitutes a “threat to safety or national security.”
These warrants are valid for three months, and can be renewed thereafter on a month by month basis. Ideally, they should be applied for in writing, but in extreme or emergency cases, they can also be granted verbally, though written documentation is supposed to follow.
The Bill obliges telecommunications providers to set up the necessary facilities for intercepting communications, storing them, and transferring them to the communication monitoring centre. Failure to do so, or the withholding of requested communications, carry a fine and/or up to three years imprisonment. Anyone using encrypted communications must provide the key/password for these communications on request to the monitoring authorities, or risk a fine and/or up to five years imprisonment.
So it all works something like this:
1) The army, police, or intelligence service decides that Jane Bloggs is a dubious character, and applies for a warrant to intercept her communications. These could include her text messages, cell phone and land line calls, emails to her known email address(es), communications sent electronically via her ISP, and post arriving at her house.
2) She is not told by any authority that an interception warrant has been issued in her name. The friendly technician at her ISP might want to give her a heads up that she is now being monitored, but given the threat of a three year prison term, is unlikely to do so. Similarly the ISP, phone company and postal workers also face a fine and/or three years jail time for not assisting the “MICC” – Monitoring and Interception of Communications Centre—with whatever information it requests.
3) Knowing the risk of her emails being watched, Jane might choose to use some kind of encryption device. But even if she did, she could at any time be instructed to hand over these passwords—or risk a fine and/or five years imprisonment.
4) With all of Jane’s text messages, emails, internet searches, etc, the state is sure to find something dubious with which they can charge her under any one of Zimbabwe’s other draconian laws—the Public Order and Security Act, the Miscellaneous Offences Act, the Foreign Exchange Controls Act, or the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, for starters. And, since it will have collected this evidence in a nicely “legal” manner, it will be able admissible in court, to strengthen whatever case the state might wish to make against her.
A few years ago, Zimbabweans manage to resist the passage of the NGO Bill, by exposing it for the unconstitutional, illogical piece of repression that it was. It’s past the time to organise the same kind of resistance to the Interception of Communications Bill. If we do not, the Orwellian hell we live in now will only deepen.
If we all carry on writing and speaking and reading what we like, the state would never be able to keep up with all of us, and would fold under the sheer weight of sifting through sheaves of tedious correspondence. I pity the spam, listserves, and newsletters anyone reading my emails would have to keep up with! But sadly, with the self-censorship that many Zimbabweans already tend towards, this may well see many people removing themselves from mailing lists, communicating their thoughts less with friends and family, and speaking out even less frequently and powerfully than we already do. And if that happens, they’ll certainly have won. Even more offensive than the handful of people they might ever actually prosecute with this act is the crime of silencing ourselves, of allowing our fear of their illegitimate authority to determine what we do or do not say.
Never doubt that a consistent, irrepressible, tireless flow of information can unseat a dictator. Indeed, it is among the only things that ever has.
An index of articles and commentary on the Interceptions of Communications Bill is hosted on www.kubatana.net
Censorship, China, Free Speech, Zimbabwe
The Joint Working Group for Lesbian, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender Persons in South Africa has published Sometimes X, Sometimes Y, Always Me, an anthology of lesbian writing from South Africa.
The anthology is dedicated to Zoliswa Nkonyana:
“At the tender age of 19 you were clubbed, kicked and beaten to death by a mob of men.
Why? For being a lesbian.
You were chased, pelted with bricks and finished off with a golf club.
It took two weeks for the story to trickle through to the news.
This happened on February the 4th, 2006, more than 10 years after South Africa’s new progressive Constitution and its accompanying human rights were written into law.
As you lay bleeding in the streets of Khayelitsha, thousands of people were celebrating the annual Cape Pride Festival in the streets of the Mother City.
Yet the shame of your death barely registered a decibel.
You ended up, a small article on page 6 in local newspapers.”
It is a beautiful, moving anthology of personal stories of South African lesbians. There is poetry, stories, letters and autobiography. The anthology deals with issues of coming out, family and peer acceptance and rejection, love and loss, abuse and death.
A few days before I was sent the anthology, ZLHR (Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights) launched their Zimbabwean HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Charter. Even though they were consulted in the development of the Charter, GALZ (Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe) are not mentioned in the list of partner organisations. Homosexual transmission of HIV is not discussed. Despite the fact the homophobia is deeply rooted in Zimbabwean culture, and president mugabe himself has dubbed homosexuals “worse than pigs and dogs,” homosexuals are not listed as a vulnerable or marginalised group that needs special attention in dealing with the HIV pandemic. Commercial sex workers are also not listed, and the issue of condoms in prisons is not discussed. These, the presenters argued, are controversial issues which would jeopardise the document’s more universal acceptance. But if they can’t be discussed in a charter on human rights and HIV/AIDS, where can they be discussed?
In the first chapter of Sometimes X, Sometimes Y, a woman discusses coming out as a lesbian:
To come out as a lover of women ... I am reminded of a parable I once heard in a Pentecostal revivalist tent, about an eagle’s egg that was placed under a chicken. Once hatched, the eagle chick waddled around with the chickens. One day he looked up at the sky and saw an eagle gliding on the wind. It made his spirit soar. It hit him like a bolt from the blue: I wasn’t meant to scratch around in the dirt with the chickens ... I was meant to FLY!
“Fly, how exactly?” The editors ask, “if you know you may come down hard, on a rock solid bed of cultural and religious prejudice?”
At dinner after the workshop, five gay human rights activists discussed the closing off of Zimbabwe’s democratic space, and the way it has shrunk the capacity for queer organising. Like women, gays have been told we must wait until after the governance crisis is resolved before we demand our rights. But what is this new Zimbabwe we claim to envision if it has no space for sexual minorities, confronting controversial issues, and standing up against injustice and intolerance, regardless of how popular or unpopular the object of the injustice might be?
Tags: Zimbabwe, Human Rights, Lesbians, Homosexuality
There are some days I am so angry, I think I could punch someone’s teeth in. Like today, standing in the queue to buy some bread, the man in front of me was busy on his cell phone. Tall and slim, dressed in a suit, I recognised his face from the papers as a Zanu PF Member of Parliament. He was so busy on his phone he couldn’t greet the teller. When his items were rung up, he thrust a wad of $50,000 notes into the tellers hand, and waved dismissively, as if to say “You count it. I’m far too busy with more important things.” His more “important things” included a call to a woman to organise where he was going to see her tonight. And confirming that yes he wanted a double cab. On the weekend, The Standard newspaper announced that the government has agreed to spend ZWD 600 billion on new 4 x 4 twin cabs for Members of Parliament. Never mind the poverty, the inflation, the recent shortage of birth control tablets, massive hikes in school fees, water rationing power cuts, and all the rest.
Walking home from the shops, I passed him standing by his other double cab, finishing off his sausage roll, and on yet another call. I fantasised about a leap in the air that would impress even Jackie Chan, kicking in his windscreen, stomping on the bonnet of his bakkie, and pissing on the radiator.
I wonder some times where all this anger comes from. And what to do with it. I recently finished
Reviving Ophelia, Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. As the Teen Ink review of it states:
"'Ophelia' represents a universal teenage girl who tries desperately to fight against society's status quo that, 'A woman's success is determined by her beauty, whereas a man's success is determined by his capability.' Her struggle to reject this popular theory is found in over 50 real-life stories of the young female patients Pipher treats. These are stories of young woman who range in ages from 11 to 21 and cover topics from drug abuse to violence, sex, sexual abuse, divorce, rape, depression and the plague of eating disorders."
One of the young women featured has a punching bag installed in her basement to help her deal with her anger after she is sexually assaulted at a party with her fellow secondary school students. I don’t have a basement in my flat. But maybe I could replace the lights in the lounge with a punching bag. And invite other women around for punching parties. It needs to be something that immediate. Something to capture and channel the rage before it dissolves into depression or despair. And something satisfying. No matter how unfeminine or unwomanly it seems. My colleague recently said she was reluctant to write something that sounded vaguely violent in an article, because she thinks that non-violent action is seen as so much more acceptable, and she didn’t want to be rejected by her peers. And I agree, in my more Zen moments, that violence merely perpetuates the problem. I know that expressing my outrage at violence, abuse, injustice, cruelty, prejudice and sexism through violent means doesn’t solve anything. But I don’t want to lose that edge. I don’t want to temper the anger with softness or hold my tongue and pretend it doesn’t exist. Because somewhere at the core of that outrage is the power to resist the daily injustices, and transform them into something completely different.
When I got home, I found a text message from the one woman who really knows me, reminding me of the last lines of Duiker’s The Quiet Violence of Dreams: “In keeping still we hear more. In choosing less we are given more. In trusting more we trust ourselves. I know where my greatest treasures lie. They are within me.”
Tags: Zimbabwe, Sexual Abuse, Activism, Feminism
My farmer friends are visiting from Zambia again. Jenny has been diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND), what Steven Hawking has. It’s a degenerative muscle disease that, it seems, western medicine really doesn’t know what to do with. Last year she was walking fine. This year she shuffles and limps: “walk one jive one” is her new Shona name. From what she’s been able to read on the disease, the most you can do is find a healthy, alkaline diet and hopes that it slows the progression.
So, while she’s here, we’ve been taking her round to the best fresh vegetable markets in town. These, not surprisingly, are in the affluent low density suburbs. We’ve been to Glen Lorne, Umwinsidale and Willowmead, with their manicured lawns, high walls, large houses and latest Mercedes. Driving around these areas, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing wrong with Zimbabwe, although the pot holes and well fortified guarded communities give up the game a bit.
This in stark contrast to Willowvale—an industrial site where we went for some farm equipment. There, the streets are dirty and deserted, the Sunday empty desolation feeling even on a weekday morning. So many of the businesses are closed, and there is hardly any foot or cycle or vehicle traffic. A friend who works in wholesale trading says that, last year March, his business sold 3,500 loaves of bread by 10am on a working day. Now, they sell less than 100 loaves per day. 60 of these are bought by their own staff, which means 40 people or fewer working in the previously thriving industrial area is buying their bread. This is in part a reflection of how many businesses have closed in the past year. But it is also an indication of just how cash-poor most Zimbabweans are, even the unemployed. As has been reported often over the past years (see for example Zimbabweans living hand to mouth, wages are not keeping up with inflation, and even those with jobs are struggling to get by.
The same wholesaler also said that their sales to TM, a lower-end super market chain, were down by 50% in April—this despite the fact that April featured holidays like Easter and Independence Day, and is a time when school children are at home and, traditionally, urban families went to see their rural relatives, brining grocery baskets with them.
The gap is widening, clearly. Those who can afford it continue to live well. Those who are connected can benefit from the Reserve Bank’s cash desperation. And those who are aligned with the ruling party continue to be rewarded. The latest perk is over 100 luxury vehicles that were imported into the country by the state and “sold” to a handful of loyalists at an exchange rate of ZWD 30,000: US$1—less than a third of the official rate or an eighth of the parallel market rate. Business people and economists keep saying this can’t last, the system will crack, at some point this will all come crashing down. But it hasn’t yet. There must be some way to leverage these inequalities and shift things in Zimbabwe—rather than just sitting back and waiting for the inevitable economic tremors to shift the earth for us. Until then, it’s shuffle one poor, drive fast one rich.
Tags: Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Blog, Social Justice
18 May marked the one year anniversary of the start of Operation Murambatsvina (“Sweep out the rubbish”), the Zimbabwean government’s programme of evictions and destruction last year under the claim of “cleaning up” the cities, but which in actuality left over 700,000 people displaced.
Several civil society organisations, including the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, have decided to use this one-year mark to “commemorate” the suffering and destruction of Murambatsvina, and to pressure government to follow through on the commitments it made to build houses for those displaced, and new market stalls for those vendors who were evicted from their markets.
There are many painful memories around Murambatsvina, and using it as a rallying point is not necessarily a bad idea. It was condemned by the international community, including the UN in a report by Special Envoy Anna Tibaijuka, and people both inside and outside Zimbabwe recognize it as one of the most horrific practises in recent years.
However, marking the “one year” anniversary of this destruction ignores the fact that Murambatsvina is on going. It’s become a verb, a noun, and a state of being for both the people and the government of Zimbabwe. In the past four weeks alone, Murambatsvina-style evictions have been carried out in cities like Masvingo and Ruwa. Operation Round Up has seen police in Harare “sweep up” over 10,000 homeless people and dump them on a farm outside Harare. I spoke with a woman last week who works with street children. She says she has heard many stories from different people, all reporting the same dreadful conditions at Melford Farm, the lack of food, water, sanitation or assistance, and saying that, after spending two weeks there, people are left to find their own way back to town.
The government isn’t pursuing any long-term development or assistance project here. But sadly, by not integrating an element of resistance and defiance into the “commemorations,” civil society also will not move towards the long term programme it needs to see genuine democratic change in Zimbabwe. On the weekend, I read [link=http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,,1773284,00.html]The Great Catastrophe[/link], an article about the Palestinian resistance. They call 16 May, the anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel, Nakba Day. Nakba means catastrophe, and they mark that day as the start of the evictions and displacement that they have faced over the past 58 years. But, as Karma Nabulsi, author of the piece and former PLO representative says, unlike in Zimbabwe with the Operation Murambatsvina commemoration, “Nakba day has now become a profoundly political event because it is all about resistance to the current Palestinian situation rather than enshrining past memories of victimhood.” She goes on to describe how Palestinians use the day to recognise the various ways in which Nakba continues, rallying around current injustices, not simply rolling over and mourning the losses of the past.
It seems like Zimbabweans are more and more trapped in our own victimhood. We say that things will change when the old man dies. Or that God is watching, and won’t let our suffering continue forever. But there is not the spirit of defiance that is essential if things like collective non violent action are ever to succeed here. As a friend of mine said the other day, “we’re missing the belief that we deserve better. And that we have the right to demand it.” It is this “victim mentality” that makes it easier for dictatorship to take root. We all get trapped in it in our own ways. But this is what we have to counter if we are ever to see a truly free Zimbabwe. All the public meetings, rallies, and even planned mass action in the world won’t take off until we start challenging this victim psychology, individually and collectively. Like Mail and Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee was saying this week in her comment, The Politics of Demagogy, "the meak only inherit a scorched earth."
[i]For more information on Operation Murambatsvina visit also the Evictions Index on www.kubatana.net[/i]
Tags: Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Blogs, Resistance, Activism, Operation Murambatsvina
I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately. An unquiet mind, clearly. Troubled by something. And maybe it doesn’t help any that I’ve been reading K Sello Duiker’s [link=http://www.nb.co.za/Kwela/kCatalogueDisplay.asp?iItem=189 ]The Quiet Violence of Dreams[/link].
Duiker committed suicide in 2005 at the age of 30, leaving many wondering where his career might have gone. I first came across him when I read his short story, “When You Least Expect It.” The Quiet Violence of Dreams is a novel about a university-aged student in Cape Town. It’s a powerful, interesting read, with different characters taking turns to tell their own stories in their own voices. And in so doing, the novel allows for a rich exploration of topics like race, sexuality, gender roles, family, and “success.” Duiker had an exquisite way with words, and the challenges and triumphs of each of his characters come to life. The novel also features some highly descriptive homosexual male sex scenes which share more detail than I, as a lesbian, ever particularly needed or wanted to know.
So maybe that’s part of why I’m not sleeping. Im also staying with some friends at an unfamiliar house with unfamiliar sounds. But last night I was also challenged by another tremor. Around midnight, I awoke to that now vaguely familiar low roar, heard the windows rattling and felt my bed shaking. At least this time I knew. Although it was windy yesterday, this wasn’t a hurricane. Or a tornado. “Just another earthquake” I thought to myself as I lay in bed and waited for it to end. I didn’t hear my friends get up, so I didn’t want to disturb them. But there was that part of me that just wanted to double check I wasn’t imagining things. So I sent a text message to my best friend, the only person I knew wouldn’t at all mind a midnight check up. Yes she had also heard it. But thought maybe it was some kind of explosion. She’d heard a shot. And said there was a weird noise.
Loosely translated, Harare means “they don’t sleep.” Based on the nostalgic anecdotes of people who lived here in the 80s and 90s, that might once have been true. There might once have been busy roads at midnight, people out for a jol and having a good time. But all that has changed. And to hear cars on the road as late as midnight is unusual in a residential area. In that blurry half-daze of wakeful sleep, I could convince myself my friend was right. The three cars I heard drive past in succession were army trucks ferrying soldiers to their stations. The wind outside was a distant helicopter, making its staccato way to a high density area south of town. And the dogs ferreting in the leaves outside was the sound of fire, crackling as the city was bombed, torched and left to burn.
Of course, it was only an earth tremor. Not long later there was another one. Months delayed aftershocks, perhaps, of the earthquake in Mozambique some months back. When morning came, and the house woke up, and we all went off to town for work or errands, it was clear the revolution hasn’t started yet. Nor has it been violently suppressed by gun waving state security agents. All of that might be still to come. The MDC continues to make its bold proclamations about a “winter of discontent.” But at this rate, we’ll see the next earth quake long before the regime starts to quake in the face of collective non-violent mass action.
Since I don’t have a refrigerator, I don’t buy things like milk very often. But, given the erratic milk supplies in Zimbabwe of late, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. Ever since the “farm invasions,” the national cattle herd has been dwindling, and the country’s dairies are struggling. So, since I don’t have anywhere to store it anyway, at least I’m spared the frustration of wanting something I can’t find. The same would go for meat, but I’m a vegetarian. Again I’m spared.
I also don’t have a stove. Which makes meal preparation a bit of a challenge. I do have a soft spot for cereal, however. So when I saw the milk truck pull up to the shops across the road from me on Sunday, I figured I’d treat myself. I bought one of those small plastic packets of 500mls of milk and had cereal for lunch and dinner. But there was still half a packet left. It’s going into winter here, which means it stays quite cool indoors, so when I was tidying up the kitchen I figured I’d take my chances and leave the milk out over night. I put it carefully in a little plastic dish and was looking forward to cereal again for breakfast. Some twenty minutes later, I was back in the kitchen putting my keys aside for the night, and I saw a vast sea of white across the green/yellow/black speckled counter. Spilt Milk. I said a small prayer of thanks to the goddesses that I’d spotted it then, and not the next morning when the roaches and ants had gotten wind of it, took an old newspaper and mopped it up.
A friend of mine has a refrigerator, a stove, a television and a stereo (two other appliances I have yet to acquire). But she lives in a suburb that’s regularly hit by load shedding, and most nights she doesn’t have any power. Thieves recently sabotaged the transformer near her, and since Saturday night her whole area’s been without electricity. Which got me thinking about the ironies of this world. There’s me, living near town, with reliable water and electricity supplies both. But only lights and a radio to plug into it. And there’s however many suburban dwellers with plenty of appliances. And no power to run them with.
But at least I have a place to live. And a bed and blankets. Unlike thousands who had their homes destroyed in Operation Murambatsvina last year, and still haven’t gotten any help building a new place or finding some where else to say. I saw that the Mail and Guardian this month is running a blankets drive to encourage people to donate their spare blankets to those who need them to keep warm this winter. As civic groups here prepare to “commemorate” last year’s destruction, they could do well to take a similar approach. Forget about the press statements and public meetings. Some blankets, candles, food, and firewood would go a lot farther.
I was invited the other night to the launch of Not Another Day, Julius Chingono’s new book of short stories and poetry. Chingono is a Zimbabwean poet and writer whose work has been featured in many local and international collections, and whose poetry appears on Poetry International.
At 60, Chingono is younger than my mother. But he looks old enough to be my grandfather. Maybe it was the strain of growing up on a commercial farm, the harshness of a long life as a mine blaster, or the general struggle of rural life in Zimbabwe, but something has aged him quickly. His gap-toothed tobacco stained smile comes easily, but his gentle eyes, weather beaten cheeks and ragged white beard frame the face of a many who has known pain.
His wife came along to the launch. She sat quietly at a table in her simple clothes, a black headscarf wrapped tight around her skull. A rural woman, she looked out of place in the young, vibey, urban atmosphere of Harare’s Book Café.
Chingono’s work is striking, no-holds-barred writing that catches you off guard with an impressive combination of humour and honesty. As it says on the back of the book, “Chingono is a compassionate writer. Many of the characters are facing poverty, tragedy, or violence. But he gives them hope and strength. He can inject funerals with farce, and find courage in unlikely places.”
His poem “Subjects” gives a taste of his style:
From my bedroom window
I watch them
walk down the road
they are not subjects
of a despot
down the street
as if they’ve had
a square meal
as if they can enjoy
they will not let
the world know
for fear of their skin
yet their ordeal still smells
like a subdued fart.
Zimbabwe is a country of storytellers, and has a strong oral tradition. But its fiction industry is weak, with Weaver Press, Chingono’s publisher, one of the few publishing houses in the country. Many authors struggle to make a living with their writing. Fear and intimidation also hold many would-be authors back if they believe their work would be perceived as “too critical” or “too political,” thus jeopardising their own security or that of their family. Authors like Chenjerai Hove and Brian Chikwava currently live overseas.
But Chingono’s book is a brave, honest, thoughtful account of modern life in Zimbabwe. He comments on many of the issues facing Zimbabweans today—HIV/AIDS, poverty, and the youth militia, among others. As my best friend once told me, to love Zimbabwe, you have to know both its beauty and its harshness. It is clear Chingono loves his country.
For more Zimbabwean literature and poetry visit: http://zimbabwe.poetryinternational.org
Former South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma has been acquitted of the charges that he raped a family friend in his home last year. In Zimbabwe, the acquittal got favourable coverage by the state press, and was spun in solidarity with Zuma and his liberation credentials.
Judge Willem van der Merwer, who heard the case and delivered his six hour judgment yesterday, is known and respected for his fairness and integrity. But, as the Mail and Guardian pointed out on Friday (A judge who cannot win), no matter how he ruled, van der Merwer was likely to be criticised.
Spending some time in South Africa last month, it was interesting to speak with people there about how they saw the case. Among both the men and women I spoke with—vendors, taxi drivers, cleaners, shopkeepers—their thinking about the trial went far beyond the specific merits or challenging of the case.
They spoke instead about the tribal issue. Many seem quick to dismiss the complainant’s credibility and instead blame tribal jealousies that see Xhosas preventing Zulus such as Zuma from achieving leadership positions in South Africa. They cite the leadership of the ANC, and the challenges faced by SACP leaders who seek to gain a higher profile in the ANC.
Others were dismissive of the trial based on the complainant’s history and her perceived lack of credibility. One taxi driver I spoke with at length said that he feared it would make it more difficult for other women to report rape in the future. In my cynicism, I fear he might be right. Not that the complainant’s case was necessarily unfounded. But in a culture that doesn’t treat domestic violence or women’s rights with much seriousness, it’s hard not to trust that the slightest loophole won’t be exploited.
This doesn’t mean that the case should not have been reported, or taken to trial, or defended. In part, sexual violence persists because of the stigma of reporting it and the shame society places on women who admit to having been survivors of rape or assault. But it is a reminder that the road to a society without sexism or gender violence is long, winding, and full of potholes ahead.
I went to Johannesburg recently. While there, I met up with a friend of mine who moved down there a year or so ago. Kevin is a dark-skinned coloured gay man, outspoken and full of life. He’s had more than his fair share of trouble with the law, has an idea a minute, brilliant fantasy visions of the life he’d like to create for himself, and boundless energy. He struggled for the first nine months or so that he was down there, as so many of Zimbabwe’s “economic refugees” do, but he’s finally found a sold job for himself. More importantly, he’s also found a much more out gay community that, on the outside at least, is far less closeted, shamed and afraid than that in Harare. An old family friend, I lived with Kevin for a year or so. He didn’t keep the flat very clean, but he was a lot of fun to be with. He misses home terribly, but he’s not yet ready to trade the freedom and excitement that he’s found in Jo’burg. Seeing him even briefly in his newfound home, it’s clear he’s in his element. He’s happier, more focussed and more sure of himself than he was in Harare. So far, at least, he’s a success story in the face of a long line of Zimbabweans struggling to make a living abroad, in countries that resent the influx of Zimbabwean jobseekers and make it difficult for foreigners to obtain visas, get work permits, and live with any security.
He brought a friend along with him, another young Zimbabwean man working two jobs, without a stable home, busy trying to earn foreign currency to support his parents and now responsible for the school fees for his two younger siblings. Petros also misses home, but with a heaviness far older than his years says simply “it’s what I have to do.” Kevin brought Petros to meet me because he needed a favour. He had R450 that he needed brought back to Zimbabwe, changed into Zim dollars, and put into his sister’s bank account to pay his brothers’ school fees in Gwanda.
I’d never met this man before, but because I’m from home, and because I know his friend, he trusted me with this responsibility. When I got back to Harare, I scratched around until I found a fair rate, and phoned the sister to get her bank details. She’d also never met me, but willingly gave me the information, and thanked me for helping them out. The 450 Rand converted to 14 million Zim dollars, less than half the necessary school fees, but a huge sum of money for Petros and his family.
I joined the snaking queue that lead far outside the banking hall to deposit the money. Old and young, men and women, we waited together patiently. Some held bulging brown envelopes full of notes. Others carried school satchels or gym bags over their shoulders, full of money. The wizened old man in front of me, in his torn jersey and mutton cloth wrapped around his neck clung tightly to a weathered plastic packet. The largest note—not even a proper bank note, but a “bearer cheque” is for $50,000—less than the cost of a loaf of bread. The automatic note counters at the tellers’ desks were working over time, rattling through screeds of money as parents, siblings, relatives and friend deposited their money in advance of school starting next week.
As I was queuing, I was reminded of the story a colleague of mine had told me some days earlier. A mutual friend, known for her helpfulness, had been approached by someone who needed some help depositing $100 million, but for some reason couldn’t deposit it himself. Ever one to lend a hand, this friend had agreed to do the banking for him. She didn’t realise at the time that the $100 million was in $1,000 notes. Bound together in bunches of $10,000, the money filled five large boxes. She spent from 8 in the morning until 6 in the evening depositing the money. First she had to find a bank that was willing to accept the notes. $1,000 notes these days are like loose change, and most banks resent having to carry too many of them. When she finally found a bank willing to take the money, she had to wait for one dedicated teller to count all the notes. Even with the automated money counters, it took the better part of a day to count them all. She did it anyway, because she’d given her word. But it’s one favour she won’t volunteer for again in a hurry.
There are many amazing attributes of Zimbabwean society. The social networks of relationships and mutual support, along with a steady stream of foreign currency remittances, keep the country going. There is an incredible resilience and adaptability that has kept people afloat over the past years as the economy continues to freefall. But perhaps it is this same adaptability that keeps people from standing up collectively for themselves and organising against state repression and mismanagement. As it can be for anyone, Zimbabwe’s greatest asset may also be one of its greatest weaknesses.
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