JASS Blog Archives for July 2013

by on July 30, 2013 on 2:59 pm

“They’re already neck-and-neck, heading for a run-off!” That’s a running joke on the streets of Harare as we wait for July 31, the day of Zimbabwe’s national elections.

Walking through the city's streets, standing in shopping queues at the supermarket, waiting in line at the petrol station, even just stepping into the arrivals area at the airport, you can sense the tension in the air. There is the feeling that people are waiting for something to happen. It’s a strange mix of cynicism and fear for what will come after Wednesday’s vote. One young man quipped with an easy grin, “Well, we already know that the MDC-T (Movement for Democratic Change - Tsvangirai) are going to win – after all, they won last time. But that didn’t matter then and it probably won’t matter now.” If people aren’t sure that the ballot bins are being stuffed as we speak, they are pretty sure that whatever the count will be, the results will be contentious.

As with all situations of instability, rumors and misinformation abound. Everything from the absurd to the chillingly accurate to religious zealotry.  T.B. Joshua, a continentally-renowned prophet and mega-church leader made a prediction: a country somewhere in Africa will have elections, the results will be read out after eight days and within that week at least 3000 people will be killed in post-election violence. This number varies from anywhere between 3000 and 30, 000 depending on whom you speak to. And the prophet has since denied ever making that proclamation in the first place. Facebook personality, Baba Jukwa, a party insider who thrives on spilling high-security secrets of MPs and ministers (no one’s quite sure to which party he belongs) is telling everyone to watch out, violence is coming and intimidation at voting stations is rife. He has also claimed that MDC-T leader, Morgan Tsvangirai will win by 61% and dishes out safety tips for citizens during the harmonized elections on his Facebook page. ECONET, the country’s largest cell provider has shut down bulk SMS services, making it harder to warn large numbers of people if violence does escalate.

We don’t know what will happen or who will win, and how people would react. It could be ZANU PF winning and people taking to the streets and saying, ‘This is not what we want.’ Or it could be the other way round, and people will no longer accept defeat. I think whichever way the vote goes, there could be violence after the election. ~ Winnet Shamuyarira

No one knows much of anything right now – how these elections will pan out, who will win, what the aftermath will be in the immediate and the longterm, whether there will be violence or not. But we remember what it was like five years ago, we remember the hospital wards full of tortured people, their backs and buttocks bloody and bruised. We remember the women who were raped and violated, many of whom have not had the support systems to speak out. We remember the people who were evicted from their homes, harassed and abused.

So we wait.

How people are feeling…

Some citizens are excited:

I’m very excited because I managed to register at the last minute, the night of the deadline. I think Zimbabweans had become more and more apathetic but things have happened in the course of the last few years with the unity government that have restored people’s hope. That ZANU can negotiate with people from different parties. I think many feel that this time around, it's for citizens to participate in national processes. ~ Talent Jumo

And others are juggling feelings of apathy and realistic scepticism with hopefulness:

I feel that when we heard elections were coming, people were prepared for the worst [of violence]. But the worst hasn’t come. So people are a little bit freer, they’re campaigning, they’re on the streets wearing their red MDC t-shirts, going to rallies and doing what they can – which is different from 2008 in some ways. But we have to remember that this is also Harare which has always been an MDC stronghold. It may be different for many in the rural areas. We’ve heard that people are being ‘forced’ to go and vote, and that they should ‘know where to put their vote.’ There’s intimidation, some people being told there are cameras in the voting booth so they should ‘watch out.’ But I think, personally, the people of Zimbabwe know what they want. Those who want to vote for ZANU will vote for ZANU and those who want to vote for MDC, will do that. ~ Winnet Shamuyarira

At the end of the day, what are the choices?

On Zimbabwe’s local news at 8PM every day, the plot unfolds like a very dark comedy. Each report of pre-election campaigning has shown very brief, uninspired clips of MDC-T rallies, sparsely populated, Morgan Tsvangirai sitting idly on a sofa decked out in bright red colors. The sound on these reports is often magically faulty, so we can’t hear anything of the singing or hear any campaign messages to rouse the viewer. I went by an MDC rally yesterday, at Harare’s Freedom Square and there were hundreds of people, a sea of red, all singing and dancing and shouting in support of Morgan Tsvangirai. You would never know that by watching the news.

By contrast, the news features on Robert Mugabe and the ZANU PF campaign are lengthy and thorough. We see long reels of Mugabe and party faithful speaking about the “traitors” who have betrayed the country and sold it to the dogs, all of them dressed in the garish yellow and green campaign-wear, with crowds and crowds of people bloating stadium stands.

However, perhaps the real question when Zimbabweans stare down at that ballot paper is what kind of choices do we have at all in a context where there are no truly meaningful alternatives? While MDC is campaigning on their “change” slogan, not everyone has faith that Morgan Tsvangirai and his party represent change for all Zimbabweans—not change for the better at least. But the alternative is a party and a man that represent 33 years many of us would rather forget even with the positives we can still retain from that time period.

I guess we’ll have to see.

Photo Credit: CNN

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by Shereen Essof on July 29, 2013 on 2:57 am

The winter sun bathes the gently curving road, the street, the people, the commuters and the face-brick houses.  In that instant, the narrow road we have been walking upon suddenly appears welcoming and prosperous.

However, this was not always the case in Vilakazi Street, Orlando West. Today, Vilakazi Street, without a doubt the most famous street in Soweto, is where two Nobel Prize winners, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former president Nelson Mandela once lived. It has been made more accessible for the busloads of tourists that arrive here every day to pay homage to two of the world’s great peacemakers. One can visit the Mandela family house, now a museum.  As I stand at the top of the tree lined street it has clearly been widened and paved to make it more pedestrian-friendly, the trees adding some shade from the sun. Eight statues spelling out the word Vilakazi in sign language greet visitors. There are information plaques telling how the street got its name.  Vendors sell curios. Buskers perform the minute they see someone vaguely resembling a tourist.  Intricate mosaics add color and vibrancy to the pavements, where street side restaurants and café’s entice foreign money.

Vilakazi Street is also within walking distance of the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum and is home to one the most famous schools in Soweto, Orlando West High School.  On 16 June, 1976, the street became a war zone when police opened fire on about 15 000 pupils demonstrating against Bantu education. In a day of violence, 23 people – including 13-year-old Hector Peterson – were killed and 219 injured. The violence sparked a popular uprising that eventually became known as the “Soweto Riots” which changed the face of the liberation struggle in South Africa.

JASS Southern Africa contributed as guest facilitators at the Fahamu (Pan African Network for Social Justice) Movement Building Bootcamp which took place in late July 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  The bootcamp brought together a small group of activists from across the continent to deepen their thinking on movement building. As part of the process, participants visited with the Gauteng Residents Association (GRA) in Soweto an affiliate of the Anti-Privatization Forum (APF) which works to unite struggles against privatization in the workplace and community, linking workers’ struggles for a living wage and jobs with community struggles for housing, water, electricity, fair rates and taxes. 

During the bootcamp, we spent a few days grappling with the ins and outs of a system intent on commodification and outsourcing, keeping the poor poor and lining the pockets of the rich. In light of this, the walk up Vilakazi is that much more striking.

Vilakazi Street is the most visible and visceral site of struggle commodified.  The roads are well-tarred and the pavements paved and lit, with benches to sit on.  The ANC flags flap in the winter breeze.  At every landmark the participants of the bootcamp try to gain entry, but there is an entry fee, often too steep for activist pockets.   As we walk down the street, I am reminded of the conversation we have just had with the members of the GRA – that within this community there are women who struggle to access decent housing, water, electricity, grants.  None of the markers of these struggles are visible on the road we walk along.   Looking around, one would think that everyone has good housing, affordable electricity and water.  People seem to be happily getting on with the business of life.

As we walk down this long road, from landmark to landmark I am reminded of the ways in which women mobilized for freedom, for national liberation and the struggle to overthrow the mantle of patriarchy.  One of the most visible markers was the 20 000-strong women’s march to the union buildings in 1956 to protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act (commonly known as the pass laws) of 1950.

After liberation, this movement secured many gains but these brought challenges.  Now almost twenty years after liberation, many women anti-apartheid activists have moved into state structures, business, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), thus growing the number of women in decision-making positions. But a Constitution that guarantees equal rights and women in political leadership does not add up to a society where real liberation for women has been achieved and the goal of a non-sexist society remains in the distance.  The women in the GRA remind us of this.  Vilakazi Street makes it all the more surreal.

Back to Basics…

The truth is that in South Africa, like in many countries in the region, in the absence of a strong women’s movement, the challenge becomes one of going back to the basics, grappling with ways and means of doing the community consciousness raising and mobilizing that require creating the spaces for women to come together on their own terms to build the analysis and strategies for women’s emancipation from their lived experiences of oppression however it may manifest and realize the dream of alternative worlds in which sexism and all forms of oppression are dismantled.

In a 1989 issue of AGENDA, Jacklyn Cock identified the challenge facing the South African women’s movement as ‘widening and extending the space for feminist activism’. In 2013 the challenge is no different.  Having a language with which to speak about the betrayals and the violations of the present is one step that the women in Gauteng Residents Association have taken towards their liberation,  the second, working class women coming together to organize in small ways around the big things that allow us to be more human.    In this way, South African women can once again express the resolve with which their grandmothers marched: ‘You have struck a woman, you have struck a rock.’ 

Photo credit: Ultimate Johannesburg Tour 

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by Dudziro Nhengu on July 17, 2013 on 10:57 am

7 am TALKCITY cyber cafe, Joina City Mall, Harare

A long, winding queue has formed from the Julius Nyerere entrance, past the Edgars shop, across Jason Moyo, stopping right at the corner of the main post office in Nelson Mandela Street. It’s mostly young people of both sexes and middle-aged women. They await the opening of the MultiChoice shop. MultiChoice is sub-Saharan Africa’s main satellite television service.

South Africa’s broadcasting signal distributor Sentech recently scrambled the three South African television channels available in Zimbabwe via free-to-air decoders, cutting off millions of viewers from an alternative source of information, news and entertainment. Before the cut-off, approximately three million Zimbabweans could access alternative channels using Wiztech, Philibao, Fortec Star and Vivid decoders for free. The alternatives? The more expensive MultiChoice-powered Digital Satellite Television (DSTV) or Zimbabwe Television (ZTV), which means relying on the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) as the only source of news and information.

In a repressive state the media is the major foot-soldier of a form of patriarchy called militarism. ZBC’s record of partisan broadcasting has left many in Zimbabwe with little confidence in its credibility as a news source. This scrambling of the free channels available to Zimbabwe ahead of elections due July 31st, deprives the majority of voters who don’t have DSTV of alternate sources of information. It also gives ZBC a broadcasting monopoly given that so many cannot afford the alternative.

"In conversation with my 11-year old son..."

I stand there stupefied at the volume of people, not knowing whether to join the queue or not. My son, Vus, has boycotted dinner for three days now because he wants to watch the alternative channels. He’s a big fan of basketball and calls himself “the sicker version of Kobe Bryant”, the American basketball star. He has also always been the kind of child that questions, questions, questions. Just a few days ago, we had this conversation:

Vus: Mummy, how can you help me register to vote?

Me: Son, people of your age do not vote in national elections.

Vus: I know mummy but isn’t there a way I can cast my vote? It will count.

Me: How will your vote count?

I want to laugh, but when I take a second look at him, I realise the gravity of the moment—he is almost in tears. I know that I need to take the time to tell him about our beloved country. So I draw his slim body close and hug him, and ask, “Why do you want your vote to count, Vus?” He looks at me earnestly and says, “Things must change, Mummy. We can’t get the cheaper SABC channels on Wiztech, and I know you cannot afford DSTV. I want to watch TV.” He tells me that the issue is political because with South Africa withdrawing support from Zimbabwe, the President is only making things worse. “We need to be connected to other countries mummy. We even get electricity and fuel from other countries. I can watch ZTV when I want but I also want to have a choice to watch other channels. SABC educates and entertains. But ZTV is all about a certain political party. I need good information. I want to shine in the quiz club, Mummy, and I can’t miss world sport and football and, after all, ZTV is boring!”

This morning, before I dropped him off for school he said something that touched me on a raw spot: “Mummy, Tinashe’s dad has subscribed for DSTV. I told Tinashe that my mum will too.”

He knows just the right words to say to his self-defined feminist mother. After all, last time Vus got me into trouble when he wrote “FEMINIST” on a school survey asking children to name their parent’s occupation. The headmaster urgently summoned me to explain why I was teaching my son “wrong” words, and lies too because there was no profession called FEMINIST!

The verdict has been passed, and I have been effectively blackmailed and that is how I find myself at the entrance of the MultiChoice shop. “Dads are better?” The fact that the queue is filled with women of all ages refutes that. I see the long, winding line and before I know it, I am interviewing the women, pen and journal in-hand.

The story is the same – “Our children cannot watch ZTV oh! We want alternative voices, we want soap operas, we want world sport, we are tired of jingles and lies, we want so many things that we cannot get – but alternative voices we will get oh! We will send our money to South Africa for Sentech to chop because we don't care as long as we get alternative information!”

“Women, casualties of history”

A feminist’s mind is a wonderful thing – it talks. I hear Marx and Engels, “It is not the consciousness of man that determines their being, but their being determines their consciousness.” I also hear foundational feminist epistemology, “The personal is political!” I think of these determined women in the line with me and my son too. At his age I never wished to vote, and I had no idea of how best to hypnotise my parents. At age 12, my country was slowly evolving out of colonialism, and I remember the queues as our parents, brothers and sisters put pen to paper to overthrow the Smith regime. I was content with my parents voting – I trusted their vote. Our politics was common and shared. The white rulers had to go; we wanted our ‘sovereignty back.’ I was tired of the bloody war, of seeing my elderly sisters giving birth to ‘fatherless’ children nine monthly back in the village. They were so-called children of war, vana vana mukoma (our fighting brother’s children). No one understood it as rape then, ‘it’s just war stories’, they would say or dzaive nyaya dzemuhondo. I hear the poem:

Women, casualties of history,

Their bodies, war battlefields

We gave away our integrity

We donated our sweetness

To secure their freedom.

Those children of war were given telling names – Gift, Chipo, Talent, Hondo, Bazooka, Rusununguko, Nyikayedu.

When I was a child, we were all hopeful; we felt we shared a common vision, that we were politicized enough. I remember being hopeful that I would see my family move from Njube township to go and occupy one of the posh houses in Morningside.  This was my politics as a young girl; this is how I had been politicised. I was contented with my parents voting, and trusted their vote would bring change home. Were things better then than now? Obviously not, things were bad, bad, bad then as they are now.

I had so much hope in what Independence would bring, but did not realise that the Freedom train would be too small to accommodate all of us, especially women. Independence came and gave my son free international television channels on Wiztech with the right hand, and with the left it slowly dispossessed him. Independence has allowed my son to transcend border barriers and identify with basketball stars like Kobe Bryant, but Independence has snatched that privilege away overnight. And so, my son can’t trust the elders’ votes anymore and dreams of a world where the young are allowed to peacefully cast their vote and “make things change.”

I rarely discuss politics with my minor children at home because Zimbabwean politics has long betrayed its populace and made me both disappointed and apathetic about current political leaders. As a feminist, I know the value of constant reflexivity and resisting the urge to force my opinions on others. So I try to avoid imposing my gloomy perspective on the current context and Zimbabwe’s future on my children. Yet my son’s politics is very clear – he knows the truth from lies. No one can teach anyone consciousness because one’s being or material conditions will determine it.  When Sembene Ousmane’s women took to the railway line and staged a demonstration that changed the politics of the whole country overnight, their husbands had not given them any lectures on capitalism – their material conditions, what they were suffering day-to-day determined their transformative politics. Tahrir Square! No one taught people to revolt, their experiences, their being informed their consciousness.

“Silence is not always about fear”

And so, when Zimbabwean women reach the lowest point but continue to remain quiet while peacefully engaging in different modes of survival for their families, they are not silent and stupid. They are busy speaking, and sometimes their silences can be deafening too in certain spaces. They are using their silences and peaceful engagements to navigate a political system that can overnight, turn violent against women, rape and impregnate grandmother, mother and daughter – three generations of women in a single minute, and on the same floor. Quietly, women are occupying the queue to get birth certificates for themselves and for their children; some are completing affidavits for their relatives, all silently in the long and slow queues. Yes, they know these people were born here, but their particulars were burnt during elections. Or their parents were killed, and their information got lost when they were forcibly removed from the farms in which they grew up. This year they must vote, the women will help them register.

Is silence all about fear? Is silence also not a way of communicating, a coping strategy, a mode of resistance? When I asked Mbuya Diedricks1 why she looked so determined standing in the long line awaiting her turn to be attended to at one district office last week, she sadly and slowly formed words in her mouth, “Chakachenjedza ndochakatanga mwanangu, gore rino tinodawo kuvhota. Iyo size yangu ino kunyengiwa novarume vatanhatu nguva imweyo? Vana vadiki vezera remuzukuru wangu chaiye. Hupenyu hwemukadzi hwakaoma zimhandara. Ndakarwadziwa, ndichiri kurwadziwa. Dai tavhotawo tese tese zvapfuura!”2

1Not her real name. 

2Translated from Shona: We have learnt from our past mistakes my dear. We must definitely vote in our numbers this year and put an end to this. Can you imagine an old woman my age getting raped by 6 young men at once? It’s hard to be a woman. I was pained, and I am still in pain. I wish we could all vote and put an end to all this.

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