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You can't eat faction fighting

This week’s Pambazuka News features a powerful article by Zimbabwean human rights activist Mary Ndlovu. She accurately sums up the current Zimbabwean crisis, and the lack of government action to resolve it.

In the meantime, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change appears more focussed on its own faction fighting than it does on confronting the regime or transforming national politics. The main MDC news on Studio 7 Voice of America last night was a dispute between the two factions over the now-divided organisation’s assets. The one side is now blaming the other for a recent car jacking.

Does any of this bring jobs, food, clean water or medical care into the homes of ordinary Zimbabweans?

Ndlovu writes:

Certainly we know that the multiple crises which embody Zimbabwe’s millennium experience are intensifying, making life barely liveable for the majority of the population. The crises have engulfed the working world, the learning world, the consumer world, the world of the supermarket and even of sport. The economy limps along, agriculture crawling, tourism virtually defunct, manufacturing crippled, and mining, the one still flickering light of the economy, under recent assault from government policies. Electricity comes and goes at will, water likewise in many places; fuel supplies (black market only) are erratic and prices exploitative. Schools are places of confusion, teachers demoralized, pupils unable to afford textbooks if they manage to pay fees, and only finding bus fare for half the school days. Courts barely function, police cells are filthy putrid hell holes, prisons even worse. The Commissioner of Prisons admits the entire prison system has no drugs as they have been stolen before reaching the system; prisoners simply die for want of treatment. Hospitals have no doctors, no medicines; their mal-functioning mortuaries overflow and the stench from too many bodies wafts through into some of the wards. All government “services” are riddled with nepotism, incompetence and corruption.

Living conditions are abysmal, with several families crowded into most houses, even in low density areas, each taking a room and sharing cooking and bathing facilities. It is hardly surprising that skilled personnel flee the country, not only for greener pastures, but for the opportunity to function as genuine professionals.

Year-on-year inflation has just reached the official figure of 782%. Imagine the daily trauma suffered by the working father who realizes he cannot pay for medicine for his sick child, the student in his final year who cannot raise the 1000% increase in fees imposed mid- year, the pensioner forced to sell his possessions in order to eat. And what of the estimated 80% who do not work? A thriving informal sector in which hundreds of thousands of people managed to survive through trading, cottage industry, deal-making, and personal services, was wiped out in June and July by brutal police attacks. A large percentage of them also lost their homes in the assault on the urban poor. Although many have resurfaced, enormous numbers had their livelihoods destroyed and will not be able to recover. How do they live in the environment which defines Zimbabwe today? Many don’t, and die quietly of malnutrition, exposure, cholera, pneumonia and broken spirits.

Is this it? Is this meltdown? While this is the question occupying most Zimbabweans, the more interesting question to political analysts and observers is what various actors on the stage are doing about the situation. Is there any hope of a solution emerging from this complete disaster?

Read the rest of the article: Zimbabwe 2006—We All Fall Down

Men are still out of hand

In the Financial Gazette opinion piece Letter From America, “Feminists getting out of hand,” 23-29 March 2006, Ken Mufuka argued against a proposed bill targeting domestic violence in Zimbabwe.

His article does not discuss the content of the bill, its merits or shortcomings, or the fact that the proposed legislation was first drafted over seven years ago—a clear indication that the male-dominated legislature does not take domestic violence seriously.

Instead, Mufuka decries “Western imposed” feminism, because, he argues, within African culture there are two simple rules that prevent domestic abuse from happening altogether.

In short, Mufuka says, women should maintain a specific order: Love, Marriage, Sex. No marriage without love, and no sex before marriage. Women, he emphasises need to remember this rule and not take things out of turn, particularly by having sex before marriage. And it’s the women specifically who must remember this because, as Mufuka himself paraphrases from German religious reformer Martin Luther, “boys are by nature promiscuous.” By inference, men cannot control their sex drive, and therefore it’s up to women to insist that all relationships follow the “right” order.

Secondly, Mufuka also argues that domestic violence doesn’t really happen, because African marriage customs are set up in a way that would prevent it. Because a man pays lobola for his new wife, and because the marriage is done with the approval of the man’s family, and because, Mufuka argues, the lobola is paid by the husband’s Sekuru, the new husband’s maternal uncle, no husband would ever dream of striking his wife, because of the affront that would be to his uncle. In reading this argument, it’s hard not to wonder if perhaps if the man only risked hurting his wife, he wouldn’t be too concerned. But because by extension another man—his uncle—would be dishonoured, the man suddenly has a reason not to beat his wife.

Mufuka’s argument is both naïve and dangerous. It ignores the basic reality within which Zimbabwean women live. The statistics about domestic violence in Zimbabwe are sobering—even more so when one considers the high incidence of domestic violence being unreported, and the problem is on-going. In 1998, domestic violence accounted for over 60% of the murder cases tried before the Harare High Court. A survey conducted by Musasa Project in 1996 found that one in three women are living in an abusive relationship.

Domestic violence is not about women resisting pre-marital sex, or insisting on the “proper” order of events. It’s about male power and domination. Legislation will not miraculously stop men from beating their wives. But it’s a start. At the very least it would recognise the pervasiveness of the problem, rather than denying that it even exists.

Women, it's time to decolonise our minds!

I cannot believe the misogyny of some women. Have we so bought into the male view of the world that we hate ourselves that deeply? If a black who buys into white domination is dubbed an Uncle Tom, what does one call a woman who buys into male domination? Where are the African feminists? Is there a future for an African women’s movement? Why are we women our own worst enemies?

South Africa’s former Deputy President Jacob Zuma is on trial for rape. The weekly Mail and Guardian of South Africa has been covering the trial quite thoroughly, I’ve found. It’s a charged issue, and the M&G has been presenting many of the different sides of the debate. While the trial has been going on, demonstrators have gathered outside the courthouse both in support of the defendant [Jacob Zuma] and the complainant [her name is protected by South African law, but her supporters have dubbed her Khwezi—a Zulu word meaning “star.”]. The demonstrators on both sides are mostly women. But, as the Mail and Guardian points out, the women on the pro-Zuma side appear to be more “ordinary, working class women,” where as the pro-Khwezi side features more “activist, professional and middle-class women.”

Noting this, the paper did a spot survey with women on the streets of South Africa, getting opinions, comments and perspectives on the Zuma trial, and showcased these comments in the article in 'This mama is speaking lies'. I was shocked by some of these comments. The trial is still underway, Zuma should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and naturally every one is entitled to her own opinion the matter. And, of course, because Zuma is such a public figure, and because of his controversial removal from the deputy presidency on allegations of corruption, any one’s opinion on the case will be influenced by their feelings about Zuma. But regardless of Zuma’s stature, the high profile nature of the case would, I thought, create opportunities for women to build their solidarity and support one another in speaking out.

Unfortunately, the comments featured in the Mail and Guardian article paint a shocking, depressing picture of women and our own opinion of and trust in one another. Of the 16 young, black, South African women interviewed, 10 branded Khwezi a liar and an opportunist. And, like the demographics of the women protesting outside the courthouse, opinion seemed largely divided along class lines. The three “professional” women—the photographer, the fashion designer, the camera operator—all voiced their support for Khwezi. But only one of the working class or unemployed women seemed to think that she might have been raped.

Two of the comments that jumped out at me were:

Sthembile Ndwandwe (24), a single mother from Lamontville who distributes flyers for a doctor’s surgery: “This mama is speaking lies because she was in Zuma’s room with that [kanga] on and he could see everything. After that Zuma slept with this mama and then she put the case against him. Zuma will win this case because this mama is speaking lies and all the people know it’s wrong. She’s got too much money and she didn’t really work, where’s this money coming from? This woman is a isigebengu [criminal], she is Zuma’s girlfriend, otherwise why would she sleep with him without a condom? Why would she sleep with him four times? There’s nothing wrong!”

Anna Mashele (51), cleaner at the Bus Factory in Newtown, Johannesburg: “Zuma for president, no matter what. This young girl is crazy and does not respect older people. She has insulted all women in this country, even those supporting her. She’s a bitch and deserves to be jailed for dragging Zuma’s name in the mud. All people supporting her are rotten, like her. She has shown the whole world that she can do anything for money.”

These are the sorts of comments one might expect from men who don’t know any better. But women can only be making these sorts of remarks because the patriarchal view of the world is so dominant they’ve begun to believe it as well. There is a gathering of Southern African women’s organisations next week to discuss the struggling women’s movement in the region, and to develop strategies for strengthening it. I’m hoping that the issue of women buying into the male world view is near the top of the agenda. And that their strategy includes powerful, practical steps to address this.

Colonisation is a word because society recognises the conquest of one culture by another, and the imposition of a new social order that subjugates the old. There is no word like “Patrification”—the imposition of patriarchy on an otherwise functioning society—because the assumption is that patriarchy is “natural.” There might not be a word for it, but as women we must all undergo de-patrification—the process of liberating our minds from the male-centric paradigm, and speaking the truth of gender violence, inequality and sexism that we know we have all experienced.

See also:
One in Nine Website
Black Looks--One in Nine
One in Nine—Supporting women who speak out

Balancing Act

My friend Brian’s company is being audited. Normally this wouldn’t be a very big deal. Their books are in order, the book keeper is thorough and responsible, it’s a small firm, and it all should go quite well.

Except that they haven’t been paying their taxes. Which is also understandable. In a country with an illegal regime for a government, more and more people are withdrawing their support, in one way or another—refusing to pay their city council for undelivered services, not paying their income taxes, not making contributions to the national social security scheme—where the monthly payouts deteriorate rapidly in the face of inflation, etc.

So now they’re being audited, and they’re faced with a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, they could hold fast to their principles, maintain their position of non-payment, and risk getting turned in by the auditors—many of whom are former tax department employees. And, having been turned in, the company could face closure, the directors would be black listed, and possibly unable to do business in Zimbabwe again. On the other hand, the company could compromise its principles, be realistic about its position as a very small fish in a shark-infested tank, pay its taxes in arrears, and show the paper work on this to the auditors.

Brian is pushing for the latter. He’s not keen on a potential life in exile, and he reckons better to make some concessions here and there and, by so doing, live to fight another day. Outside the fear and the dread and the weighty burden of a difficult decision, it’s easy for me to be disappointed in him. Surely it’s better to stand by your principles, I asked, and not let the mugabe regime claim one more victory, however small.

But, as Brian points out, he contributes to “the system” everyday, just by living here. He registers his vehicle, and pays carbon tax on that. He goes to the shops, and pays the VAT that is included in the price of goods there. And so do all of us, by living here. Two friends of mine left Zimbabwe a few years ago. More than anything, they said, what pushed them out was recognising that, every day, just by being here, just by employing people and running a business and supporting their family, they were contributing to a semblance of normalcy here. And, while nowhere is perfect, they couldn’t stomach the injustice here—and their own felt hypocrisy in how they saw themselves contributing to it.

I think about their decision often. Maybe compromise is a necessary part of life. But it’s a difficult thing. And I find it hard not to feel like I’m losing a part of myself in the process. If just being here, just living here, is participating in and contributing to this illegitimate regime, one way to counter that is to continue to expose it. To inform, inspire and contribute to the resistance. It’s tiring, challenging, and difficult. And energising and incredibly rewarding in its own way. Nothing is ever easy, or simple, or perfect. But maybe that’s also part of life. Striving for that fine balance between demanding change, or justice, or improvement, and accepting our own flaws as part of what is.

The Better Route

The other day my colleague and I bet on whose preferred route is shorter from Point A to Point B. If I’m right, I win a spinach and cheese pie at my favourite café. If she’s right, I have to buy her a meat pie from Hamburger Hut.

I’m a cyclist. So I’m fairly confident I’ll win. But she is a runner. And a self-proclaimed taxi driver in another life. Which means I have had a few moments of wondering if maybe, just maybe, I’m wrong.

So I decided to try both routes. Mine is a long straight shot up a long incline and down a long incline. It goes by in a blur—grass, sky, cars on my right, the occasional pedestrian walking purposefully, two sets of news paper vendors, three lots of roadside worm sellers, all along a long, unbroken stretch of leg-pumping pavement before me. It’s an energising, focusing, meditative kind of ride, in which I can solve problems, make plans, and think clearly.

Hers is a meandering route, with neither the grunt of a long up hill nor the windswept flying of a long down hill. Twelve turns, including a right turn across several lanes of traffic, three robots. A small stretch of cycle track next to where there is often a roadblock. Several hundred metres alongside a police training camp. The short part past the fkwit president’s house, where his guards invariably shout rudely at me, never goes quickly enough. It goes through a more medium density residential and shopping area, which means I spend a good ten minutes of thicker pedestrian traffic. I pass sweet vendors, newspaper vendors, roasted mealie vendors, basket vendors, street children.

Having tested them both, I was confident that even if hers were shorter, on the enjoyability scale, I’d made the right choice. Yesterday I had a look at a friend’s map book. Sure enough, mine works out to about 4.5 kilometres, while hers is more like 6. So I’m one spinach pie richer. And several cycle rides more peaceful.

Goals and wickets

Going to meet some friends across town, I arrived a bit early. So I decided to stop off for a bit at the neighbourhood sports club to pass some time, thinking maybe I’d find a deserted patch of grass in which to do some reading.

But the joint was jumping!

Harare’s hospitals may be out of medication, the shelves in its shops bare, its streets potholed and its water verging on undrinkable, but its sports clubs are thriving.

Two different groups were busy on the cricket pitch, practicing their bowling, batting and fielding. A team of girls and two groups of boys were on the soccer fields, running laps, doing drills, playing practise games in shirts and bibs. In addition to the almost exclusively black youths on the fields, a small group of pensioners—all white—was gathering in the bowls club. Middle aged executives were walking in, kit bags and squash racquets over their shoulders.

At five in the afternoon, the grounds staff was still at it, moving stands, fetching water, shifting equipment. And the waiters in the club bar were just warming up.

I sat there, taking it all in, with no small amount of amazement. There was such an incredible buzz, a combination of fun and a sense of purposefulness, the youth of Harare getting fit, learning skills, building strength.

Earlier that day, a colleague and I had watched a group of primary school children walking home, and we’d asked ourselves, sadly, what future for these children? The sports club reminded me of the discussions I’ve been having around [link=]HIFA[/link], the Harare International Festival of the Arts, which is making its annual appearance in April. Many of the people I’ve spoken with are looking forward to it. A bit of excitement, culture, entertainment, to keep them going and brighten a dreary time. But a small number of us are contemplating a boycott. Similar to the sports boycotts of South Africa during apartheid. Surely, we argue, Zimbabwe should not get away with appearing a “normal” country. And the appearance of international musicians, actors, dance troupes, etc, contribute in their own way to the legitimisation of the country’s illegitimate regime.

But seeing the sports club made me question my own rigidity. In a country with an uncertain future, collapsing economy and pervasive sense of despair, are things like sports clubs, or HIFA, essential avenues to boost morale, release tension and build a sort of hope and confidence? Or are they pretences at normalcy, perpetuating the apathy by preserving a certain order, or belief that everything is alright. Would taking away these outlets, or denying them support, hasten the change of government that Zimbabwe needs? Or are they crucial in maintaining strength for the tedious years of struggle yet to come?

Overcoming Hatred

Like so many others, I'm sure, I watched the television coverage of the September 11th attacks on the Wold Trade Centre with horror, with sadness for the thousands of victims and their families, but also with a certain sense of the inevitable unfolding.

After decades of US interference in the Middle East and the developing word, America was being made to pay for its successive policies of intolerance, vitriol, xenophobia and meddling. And yet, the attacks also made me feel hopeful in some ways. At last, I optimistically [if not naively] assumed, the US would begin to reconsider its attitude towards the rest of the world. Surely these attacks would make the American public and its leadership rethink their policies. The act of being targeted in this way, I reasoned, would make the United States question what it had done to so offend another group, that they would choose to attack them in this way. Perhaps this would finally inspire the US to rethink its arrogance, and the post-9/11 world would see the US taking the lead in creating a new approach towards politics and foreign affairs.

Of course, my optimism was sorely unfounded. In response to September 11th, the US increased its intolerance and violence. And in so doing, it has laid the foundation for it to be even more hated and vilified.

This came to mind again recently whilst reading M.G. Vassanji's The In-Between World of Vickram Lall. The first part of the book is set in colonial Kenya, during they early days of Mau Mau. A family of settlers in Nakuru are slaughtered in their home by the Mau Mau, and while this terrifies the settlers in that town, it does not make them rethink their attitude towards the black Kenyan population. If anything, it exacerbates their racism and intolerance. Watching this, the novel's “radical” Indian character, Uncle Mahesh, says of the British colonisers: “They'll never learn. Arrogant bastards. . . and they say they don't understand why they are hated.” The same could be said of the Americans today.

His comments also reminded me of a recent opinion piece in the Weekly Telegraph by Nonie Darwish. In “We were brought up to hate—and we do,” Darwish describes the hatred and intolerance that characterised Egyptian society in the 1950's. He describes the same intolerance and hatred for the other that the American leadership also tries to rally. Reflecting on this, he comments, “Is it any surprise that after decades of indoctrination in a culture of hate, that people actually do hate? Arab society has created a system of relying on fear of a common enemy.”

In the Middle East that Darwish describes, in the United States, in Zimbabwe today and throughout the world, the same system is being used. To indoctrinate and terrorise a population into submission, a common enemy is created and vilified. How then do we escape this? The solution is not to create yet another enemy, to redefine the terms of hatred and generate more fear and intolerance. As Audre Lorde wrote in Sister Outsider, the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. We cannot overcome hatred with hatred. We need to develop a much more courageous, difficult and principled stance. Each of us, as individuals and organisations and communities have to resist the easy route of blaming and labelling and bad-mouthing. We must look much deeper, into our own humanity and the humanity of our friends and so-called enemies alike. Rediscovering our own inherent worth, and challenging the branding of “the others” is no simple task. But finding this intrinsic commonality is among the most radically transformative we can take as human beings in this world. It isn't easy. But it can be immediate. It starts in each of us, in our own hearts, homes, streets and communities, sharing our own stories and listening compassionately to one another's.

Technorati Tags: Bush, Hatred, Politics, Racism, Zimbabwe, Zimbabwean Blogs

One in Nine--Supporting Women Who Speak Out

Waiting for the office to open yesterday, my two [male] co-workers and I were telling nyayas. At some point, the talk turned to the Jacob Zuma rape trial which is currently high profile news in South Africa. My colleagues joked about the trial, commenting wistfully that if only they were women, they would also try and make a lot of money by claiming some high profile figure had raped them. They say they don't believe Khwezi* was raped, or even that she has a real case. If she was, they argue, why did it take her so long to come forward? They listen to the evidence in the trial from a male perspective. What was she doing at this man's house at night? Never mind that she is a long time family friend. Never mind that interactions between men and women do not, by definition, necessarily end in sex. No, they argue, clearly Khwezi wanted to have sex with him or she would not have been at his house. And, if she really was raped, she would have reported it long back, not waited 10 years. Clearly, they say, this is blatant opportunism.

I listened to their arguments with horror and dismay. Here were two educated, employed, articulate men arguing with a logic of such domination and chauvinism. If this is how supposedly “thoughtful” men think, what chance does Khwezi stand? The People Opposing Women Abuse website reports that less than 2% of filed rape reports are false reports. As an indication of just how much stigma is associated with reporting rape, this is lower than the false reporting rate for other crimes. But if the attitudes of my colleagues are any indication, is it any wonder that rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence against women go so often unreported. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I know intimately the pain, fear and shame associated with talking about what happened. It is only now, 15 years after the fact, that I am beginning to think about telling my story, or reporting my perpetrator. I know the isolation of silence and denial. And I can understand why Khwezi would have waited so long to speak out.

But the drastic under-reporting of sexual assault does not help our cause as women. Rather, it allows men to deny the extent of the problem. This is what makes the actions of Khwezi, and others who do dare to tell their stories, so brave, and so important. As long as rape and crimes against women remain taboo subjects, men will never be forced to acknowledge the extent of these crimes, or to take responsibility for them. As long as there is such stigma and fear about reporting these crimes, there will always be men who question the allegations, who cite opportunism or jealousy as motivating factors, rather than recognising the seriousness of the violations which occur.

The bravery of Khwezi must be acknowledged and supported, regardless of the outcome of the trial. More and more women need to be encouraged to speak out. We must all challenge the silence around rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence. For as long as we remain silent about it, we collude in our own form of complicity. By allowing the crimes to go unreported, we enable men to deny the extent of the problem. Morevover, we isolate other women, by not affirming to them that they are not alone. Thus we prevent women from feeling the strength and support that solidarity can offer.

This is why I was so excited to learn about the One In Nine campaign currently being organised in South Africa. [The campaign name is based on the fact that, in South Africa, fewer than one in nine rape cases are reported to the police.] Their website is not yet fully functional, but they are developing a “Messages of Support” section, through which people will be able to send in their solidarity messages for Khwezi, and will be able to read others' contributions. Imagine the fear, the isolation, the nauseating dread of having to bear witness and give testimony as to how you were raped. One In Nine, and People Opposing Women Abuse have developed what looks like a well organised initiative to support Khwezi outside the court each day. Further, they are encouraging people to wear purple ribbons and to sign on to the petition of support. [This petition is not yet available on the One in Nine site, but you can also email for more information.]

Is there opportunism in this case? Perhaps. But if so, it is the strategic leveraging of a high profile case to raise awareness about the abuse of women. I cannot speak for Khwezi. But I applaud One In Nine, People Opposing Women Abuse and the other women's rights and social justice organisations which will rightly use the media coverage and public attention of this case to raise awareness about women's rights and gender violence.


*Khwezi is the pseudonym adopted by the woman brining forward the rape charges in the Zuma trial. It means “star.”

For more information read:

[link= ]Zuma Trial: One in Nine Campaign [/link]

and visit:
One In Nine
People Opposing Women Abuse

Pussy Packs

Chipo is still taking her family planning tablets. But she doesn’t think they’re doing the trick. In lieu of an illegal abortion, though, it seems maybe there are other solutions. Local AIDS organisations like SAfAIDS and The Centre are recommending that she goes back to the programme she was originally signed up with. They reckon that, having signed her up on 13th January when she wasn’t pregnant, these programmes have some obligation to either continue her on their programme or, if the requirements for the trials mean they cannot, they have to advise her about other clinical trials that will take her on. Of course, even if she does get onto one of these trials, the next challenge is whether the trials have any medicine. Apparently in Zimbabwe’s collapse, even the ARV trial programmes are running short of drugs.

Meanwhile, a group of Zimbabwean women are travelling to Botswana and Mozambique to perform the Vagina Monologues there and to encourage women to speak out and perform their own monologues about their experiences as women. The same group performed in Harare last year.

They are travelling with “pussy packs,” small rectangular black bags written “Vagina Monologues” on one side. The women’s relationships with the bags—about the right size for some tissue, a few sweets, and some money—shifts as they go through the monologues experience. At first, they wear their bags shyly, vagina side in. But by the end of the performances, the Botswana women were proudly sporting them vagina side out, no longer shy or embarrassed about “that word.”

Inside the bags are three male condoms, a femidom and a Vagina Monologues badge. Coming back into Zimbabwe with left over packs, they got stopped by customs. At first they wanted to confirm why the packs were re-entering the country, if they were for retail sale, etc. Eventually, it turned out what they really wanted was the contents. The female condoms in particular were a hit, and the female customs officers happily took a carton of those.

The pussy packs are a great start. But a few more femidoms might go a long way. Women are typically much more shy about buying condoms [male or female] than men are, and there is much more stigma associated with a women buying products like that. Many Zimbabwean men reject condom usage. “What’s the point of taking a shower in a raincoat?” they say, likening sex to a shower and a condom to the raincoat. Women are traditionally the subordinate partners in sex, and in Zimbabwean gender relations as a whole. While women might struggle to ask a partner to use a condom, the femidom gives them a different sort of autonomy. They are still much less readily available than male condoms, and more expensive. And until women are better able to protect themselves sexually, stories like Chipo’s, and much much worse, will remain all too commonplace.

The Centre
[link= ]Vagina Monologues[/link]
HIFA: A personal account - Performing The Vagina Monologues

One Kilometer. Six Incidents

I took myself for a coffee today. In a country of gripping poverty and staggering unemployment I know this simple statement indicates the privilege within which I live. I have a bicycle—free access to transport any time of day. I have discretionary income to spend as I please. And I live independently, free of any expectations or obligations to account for my time or my whereabouts to anyone.

And yet, despite all this privilege, I am reminded every day that as a woman, I am not free. I went for my coffee at spot maybe a kilometer away. And in the ten or so minutes that it took me to cycle there, I counted six separate incidents of gratuitous male predation:

1) The vendors on the corner hissing at me as I cycled past
2) “Hesi chimoko” from the men in the back of the bakkie that drove passed me
3) “Hello baby” from the man standing idly on the side of the road
4) “Howzzit sweetie” from another man on the side of another road
5) Vulgar kissing noises from a knot of men sitting on the corner
6) “Hesi murungu” from the hwindi of a combie that went past

Zimbabwe is in its 26th year of independence. International Women’s Day is in a few days time. But freedom of movement, freedom from harassment, freedom to go about our daily lives are a long way off for the women here. Do men realise the unfreedom their behaviour creates for women? Is it intentional? Or is it just a side-effect of the arrogance and presumptuousness with which they live their lives? Do they set out to make the streets, the shops, the work places and even the homes feel unsafe to women? Or are they just too wrapped up in their egotistical behaviour to notice the impact their actions have?

International Women’s Day, like other commemorations of non-existent equalities, is a hollow sham of a celebration. This year let’s skip the press adverts, the NGO workshops, the solemn politicians pledging empowerment and equality. Instead, we could try something potentially much more effective. Let us swap gender roles for one day. Let the men for one day experience what it’s like to be a woman, to never be able to relax, to regularly feel intruded upon, to consistently be subject to the routine insults, comments, suggestions and come-ons that women endure every single time they walk out the door.

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