Uncategorized, Zimbabwe, Politics

I was at the Solidarity March (and I am not naïve)

I was at the Solidarity March in Harare yesterday, the 18th of November, 2017. And I am not naïve.

 

As soon as I heard that the army and police would not beat up anyone I decided I would go. You have to understand that Zimbabwe is a country where the security forces are characterised by heavy-handedness. In the late 1990s while at a University of Zimbabwe (UZ) demonstration against a proposal to scrap students’ pay-outs I was beaten up by riot police. My leg was so swollen I could not walk for four days. So I associate the security forces with force, heavy-handedness, violence and intolerance. To be quite honest, if there had been no reassurance on protection I would not have even dreamed of leaving my house.

Over the years there have been a number of demonstrations or meetings of the opposition parties or Civil Society that have been blocked or violently broken up by the police. The process of seeking police clearance is always controversial: are you supposed to inform the police of your event or you are supposed to ask for permission to hold the event? My understanding is that one needs to inform the police but the police have other ideas. The interpretation of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) obviously differs depending on who you are. The police have largely used it against dissenting voices. I can tell you that the police and army are guilty of selective application of the law in my country. They will break up an opposition rally whilst that of the ruling ZANU PF will go ahead. This is an all too familiar script.

So you will understand why it was a big deal for me that I could march freely without any threat of violence from the army or the police. These institutions have not been known to protect civilians. In fact, they have been an integral part of the State Machinery used to oppress ordinary Zimbabweans with impunity. I was not going to miss the chance to exercise my freedom of movement and expression. Perhaps the more important reason to join the march is rooted in my childhood.

I was born and bred in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. This is the part of Zimbabwe which experienced what became known as the Gukurahundi massacres. I remember hearing that the army was looking for dissidents Gayigusu and Gwesela. I personally experienced the Entumbane disturbances. There was a curfew so no one was allowed to be on the streets after 6pm. The helicopter would fly very low and a voice from a loudspeaker would announce “Seligonjolozelwe. Lingaphumi ezindlini.” This means “You are now surrounded. Do not leave your houses.” That is where my fear of helicopters started. Sadly, even now my reaction to helicopters is the same: my heart beats very fast and I get a headache.

I remember an incident that happened in Mpopoma where I grew up. One of the guys whose name was Muneyinazvo was on the streets during the day and the police asked him what his name was. His reply was “Muneyinazvo” and they beat him up so bad because his response was “what do you have to do with it.” They thought he was being insolent. But that was his name. In the end, he showed them his identity document but he had already been beaten up. So you see, from an earIy age I have associated the army and helicopters with fear and terror.

I fully understand that the army is part of a system that has done all it can to deliberately exclude and oppress those that are not part of it. I am under no illusion that the army did what it did for ordinary Zimbabweans like me. Not even. This is part of ZANU PF internal struggles. But the thing is ZANU PF is the ruling party and what it does will eventually affect me, directly or indirectly.

The army obviously knew that we were tired of a system that it has protected for the longest time (therefore, it was clear citizens would rally behind them on this particular issue). I also fully understand that Robert Gabriel Mugabe presided over that system. He cannot be the only one to account for what the system did. Unfortunately for him, he was the face of that system. The buck stops with him. However, I think that whatever process has been started should continue.

Let me share what I said on Twitter this morning: “Here’s the thing. There’s a whole system. A whole structure that is designed to benefit just a few. To dismantle it will take a long, long time. Lots of time, energy and effort. But we have to start somewhere. That’s all.”

As far as I am concerned, the Solidarity March was that start. And what a start it was. Ordinary Zimbabweans came together for a cause. We stood together to express ourselves. When was the last time we did that? I am 42 years old and I have never been part of anything like this before. I am proud I was part of that moment. This was a moment where I took a picture with a soldier, and in front of a tanker. That is such a big deal for the young girl from Mpopoma. Thanks to Twitter, I saw many other pictures of citizens with soldiers. I would never have imagined this happening under any circumstances.

I am convinced the engagement between soldiers and citizens achieved the following:
• It reminded us that the soldiers are people like us. Yes, they are part of a system that does not have our interests at heart, but under the right conditions, they can be one with us. We can count on them for protection. Now we have to work hard to create the right conditions.
• It said to the soldiers that they can still be one with us. They appreciated the interaction and love from the citizens. I am sure they realised that despite what they have come to symbolise, they are still part of us.
Hopefully, both the soldiers and the citizens will invest whatever resources they have at their disposal to create the right conditions for all to co-exist peacefully, to have a system that goes beyond personalities.

Phew, this must be my longest post ever.

I rest my case. I was at the Solidarity March and I am not naïve. I fully understand what is going on. I was not coerced to join the march. I did not do so under duress. I have no issues with those who did not join the march. Everyone has a right to choose what they want to do. Freedom of choice is important. But I just do not want to be viewed as naïve for my choice to join the march.

I understand that I am a Ndebele woman who is, for all intents and purposes, at the bottom of the “political food chain”, as it were. But Zimbabwe is still my home. I know no other home. It is also the only home my children know. This is why I joined the Solidarity March. I did it for posterity.

And of course, the camera-photo-picture with #SoldierBae did not hurt either.

This is my own truth. Indaba Yam’istraight. Ayifun’iruler.

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Memories

Childhood Memories

I grew up in Mpopoma, a high density suburb in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. Mpopoma is one of the oldest townships(or amalokitshi as we say) in Bulawayo.

Phew, that was quite a mouthful. But it gives you an idea of where I come from.

Mpopoma once had Sydney Malunga as its Member of Parliament (MP). He was a man of the people. He was a favourite of the young and old alike. He was dependable, going by what the adults said. They knew that he would solve their problems. I once asked my mother what an MP was and she said “nxa silamaproblems siyamtshela ahambe ayekhuluma eParliament besebesilungisela.” Loosely translated, this means he was the go-to man when the community had problems; he would use Parliament to make sure they were solved. He was their problem solver.

Mpopoma was the home of football greats Douglas Mloyi & Cleopas Dlodlo (Highlanders) and Joseph Machingura & Misheck Sibanda (Zimbabwe Saints). Douglas, Misheck and Joseph played for rival teams but  off the field they were good friends. They were our local celebrities. Football was part of everyday life, much like the shebeens were.

Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t start drinking alcohol at an early age seeing as I was surrounded by shebeens. But I suppose my mother had something to do with it? One of my earliest memories of shebeens is of my brother Zwelibanzi and his friends singing along to True Love by Ilanga at the popular koMalahle shebeen. A couple of tipsy guys singing (rather well, if I remember correctly) to a song that was an anthem at that point. I think one of them said they knew Busi Ncube, an Ilanga band member from school, but I never verified this, of course. This was the beginning of my love affair with the music of the legend Andy Brown, although I did not know it then. Around the same time, I fell in love with Brenda Fassie. These two loves have remained until today. They will remain until the day I die.

Once in a while, officers from Western Commonage Police Station raided the shebeens. This did not deter the revellers though. I guess the shebeens were the perfect hangouts. I can tell you quite a number of relationships were started and nurtured at these places. Some relationships even produced marriages and children. KoMalahle was by far the most popular. The other shebeen close by was KoMaNcube. It catered for the mature folk.

I can trace my love for music back to my childhood. My siblings played everything from Lou Rawls, Randy Crawford and Whitney Houston to Letta Mbulu, Caiphus Semenya, Dollar Brand and the Soul Brothers. I remember my brother Sipho bought me Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s Thank you Mr DJ vinyl when I was in Grade 7. I played that record until it had a scratch. Coins came in handy to make sure I listened to Umqombothi over and over again. Our Super 60 radio did the most those days.

Anyway, back to the football. Highlanders was not just a football team. It was a way of life. The boys in black and white carried the hopes and dreams of a whole people. And they delivered. Songs were changed to reflect the people’s love for Bosso. So as the people downed their beers they listened to a Bosso song. Nomathemba by Dalom Kids was one such song. Instead of uNomathemba uyadelel’ abadala we sang uNomathemba wayevele supporter iHighlander.

In Grade 5 I had my first crush on my brother Zibonele’s friend Ntando. I did not understand what it was of course but every time he came around (and it was almost daily), I rushed to wash my face and legs. The dust on the legs was stubborn,  but at least one could see a hint of Vaseline Blue Seal. I made the effort please. I liked this guy and I wanted to impress him. But all the time I was not aware of it. I think Ntando knew it but he did not say or do anything.

Like many families, we always had relatives staying with us.  During Christmas our house was full. There was so much food and drink and we showed off our new clothes. I loved the socks with the dolls on the side and the glass shoes. We only got new clothes at Christmas There was no haphazard buying of clothes; it only happened once a year. The local park also provided lots of entertainment: plays, music and poetry. There was everything for the whole family.

By the way, Christmas was the one time we could be out of the house late and it did not matter. The curfew was suspended. And so I looked forward to Christmas and it clearly had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ.

Another thing I looked forward to was taking pictures. It was an event. It was a big deal because not anyone could take pictures. We had to book the photographer. We would generally bathe properly and wear our best clothes for the occasion. Mother did not have to ask you to bathe twice. But once in a while, if we saw Mr Chinyama passing by with his camera we would just go for it.

I have many childhood memories. I can never share them in one post. I have just remembered my dad’s Vauxhall car. In the picture accompanying this post, my sister Sifelani and I are sitting on the bonnet of the car. It was a gem in its day. It took us to many places, most notably Tshabalala Game Reserve, Chipangali and Plumtree.

One childhood memory that features constantly is that of Highlanders Football Club. Siyinqaba. Bosso. Amahlolanyama. Ezimnyama ngenkani.

And so as I conclude, I realise my childhood was defined by Highlanders, music and shebeens. Perhaps this should have been the title of this blog post?

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Uncategorized

Kuwe Baba…

It is July. I would have wanted to write to you on the 9th, which is the Anniversary of your death, but I could not. I was just too tired. I had gone to Johnny Clegg’s concert. Remember him from Juluka?

I have so much to say to you, but I do not know where to start. So I will just say whatever comes first. Mom suffered a stroke in December last year. It has not been easy, but we are grateful to have her with us. You know, mom never re-married. Sometimes I wonder if she was not lonely. I guess you were her one true love.

Talking about love, that didn’t quite work out for me. I think I still believe in love though. But that’s for another day.

Just so you know, I am no longer angry at you. I have realised that you probably would have wanted to be with us longer, but you had no choice. However, I am still sad because I really miss you and my babies never got to see you. I think they would have enjoyed being around you.

Just the other day, I was talking about you and mom on Facebook and how grateful I am you insisted we get an education. Well, Facebook is a Social Media platform, where I post stuff and people get to read it. Anyway, the gist of what I was saying is that if it were not for education, my life would be worse off. You see, I have not had a permanent job for a couple of years (yeah it happens now, Baba. Akusela misebenzi emelele abantu). The hustle has been real. Last year I landed a 12 month contract, which expires at the end of this month. So I was just reflecting on the past year and how if I didn’t have an education, it would never have happened. Thank you, eTshabangu, eMantshinga.

Things have changed. Many factories in Bulawayo have shut down over the years. There are many young people who finish school and cannot find imisebenzi.  Khonapho some parents cannot afford University fees. That is their reality. It’s very difficult.

Christmas time has also changed. It is no longer as exciting as it was when I was young. Sometimes it feels like it is any other day nje. Not much we can do about that, though. That’s just the way it is.

Umalume uBhungane passed away a few years ago. It has affected umama kakhulu. She has mentioned more than once to me that she is sad because she is the only surviving child of Mzanywa and Mbonankulu. I feel her pain. After all, family is everything.

I understand her situation very well. For a long time, she had her children at home to keep her busy. But now we have gone in our different directions, somehow and she is the centre that keeps everyone and everything together.

By the way, I visited Rwanda in December last year. It was a life-changing experience for me. It gave me time to think clearly and reflect on my life. Above all, it gave me the courage to make a difficult decision, which I had been dreading. Rwanda has a special place in my heart. I need to visit again.

I still love music and dancing.  I am not sure if I could survive without music in my life. I dance whenever I can. Because someday, arthritis may not allow me to even move. So, I am dancing while I can; when I have the chance to do so. I am not wasting any moment.

I am living in the moment Baba.

Praying for Hope, Faith and Courage.

I LOVE AND MISS YOU

Yim indodakazi yakho ethandekayo,

Buhlebenkosi Nomqhele.

PS I love this picture of you, mom and Fiso.

 

 

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#JusticeForBenhildah, Uncategorized, Zimbabwe

#JusticeForBenhildah

The justice system failed Benhildah Dandajena. She has been sentenced to an effective 18 months in prison for killing the man who attempted to rape her-more than once.

Magistrate Ms Bianca Makwande said a life was lost “due to Dandajena’s negligence.”

Defending yourself against a man who has shown that he is determined to rape you is negligence? Really? In which planet?

Negligence is a noun, which means “failure to take proper care over something.” I understand how leaving a knife within a 2 year old’s reach is negligent. Or not holding a child’s hand while crossing a busy road is also negligent. But defending oneself against a rapist? Dandajena was expected to take proper care while a man was trying to violate her? How? Is that even remotely possible?

Makwande is alleged to have also said Your self-defence was excessive since the deceased was not armed. You could have averted the danger by calling for help.” I have a huge problem with this theory. Benhildah was supposed to cry for help to whom? Who was in that house who could have assisted her? How many times have people cried for help in different circumstances and they were ignored. As @LynneteRonica mentioned on Twitter, Chisipite is not really the “kind of neighbourhood where you scream and neighbours will  come rushing.” Would they even hear you in the first place?

Moreover, if my life is in danger, am I going to stop and question whether I am using excessive force or not? 

And at that point when I am defending myself am I going to think about his family? Magistrate Makwande said the deceased’s family “moved to the village because of his death and his wife was pregnant at the time.”  So, his family is suffering and the magistrate sympathised with them. The problem I have with that is she did not sympathise with Benhildah`s family. She has two minor children who are going to be separated from their mother for 18 months. Does this not matter to the courts?

The deceased tried-more than once-to rape Benhildah. Now she is paying the price. We are told she was supposed to call for help and not use excessive force. What does this say to women and girls? If you ask me, it says “If a man tries-more than once-to rape you, please don’t use excessive force against him; you can call for help.” Is this the message we should be hearing? Is it even the message a magistrate should be sending? 

I don’t know what it is about female magistrates and their comments in rape cases. There is one who said rapists should be taught to negotiate for sex in a case involving a minor. Can a minor negotiate for sex vele? Is there a guideline to these things or each magistrate uses his or her discretion? That made me angry. Just like Benhildah’s case has made me angry. I am outraged that she is being punished harshly for defending herself against a man who wanted to violate her.

I feel the justice system has let Benhildah down. I hope she can successfully appeal this sentence and be with her husband and children. That would help in restoring some faith in the courts. And our courts do not exactly have a good record of dealing with rape cases.

Let’s face it, what would a reasonable woman do in Benhildah’s situation?

#JusticeForBenhildah

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Hope Faith Courage, Rwanda

Kigali sunrise…hope for a new beginning

So, my journey to Rwanda in December last year turned out to be a spiritual one. Of course, I didn’t realise it at the time.

When I left Harare, I was just going to see Kigali and experience life in a different part of Africa.

As it turned out, life had other ideas. Doesn’t it always?

Everyday I was in Kigali, I watched the sun rise. Without fail.

As long as the sun rises, there is hope yet. Maybe today will be better than yesterday. Maybe it will be worse. Who knows?

Rwanda was just what I needed. I got plenty of time for deep reflection on my life: what I want, what I need and more importantly,  to find myself again. I realised that for a long time I was like a Zombie; just going through the motions, just going through life. For a long time, I was not putting myself first.

Rwanda changed that. All of a sudden, I could hear that little voice speak to me over and over again, saying  “It is ok to be selfish sometimes.” 

Rwanda somehow made me realise that it is never too late for a new beginning, despite the mistakes I have made along the way. I need not punish myself forever.

When I came back to Harare, I knew in my heart that it was not too late for a new beginning, even if I do not know the ending. I do not have to know for sure what will happen tomorrow. Sometimes, I just have to take a leap of faith and hope for the best.

Some days it will rain and my hair gets messed up. The rain will cloud my glasses and I cannot see clearly. Or my suede shoes get all muddy.

But I still appreciate the smell of the rain and the hope of plenty of maize, ulude and amakhomane at harvest time.

So, here is to a NEW BEGINNING.

To not knowing the ending but having the courage to start anyway; and having faith that things will somehow work out (God, the Tshabangu and Hadebe ancestors must be working behind the scenes).

To riding the boda boda despite my fear of falling off.

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Joyride on a boda boda

Murakoze Rwanda. Murakoze.

Hope. Faith. Courage.

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Africa, Hope Faith Courage, Rwanda

Hope. Faith. Courage. Rwanda

This post has taken too long to put together.

There are too many things to say. Where do I start? With the excellent service on RwandAir? Or the world-class experience at the Lemigo Hotel?

Oh, I took a picture with Rwandan President, H.E. Paul Kagame soon after the press conference that concluded the 2016  UmushyikiranoRwanda’s National Annual Dialogue. I am not one to shy away from a Kodak moment. I do not have any picture where I am smiling (or grinning?) that much. That just tells you how excited I was.

Anyway, back to the press conference. I asked President Kagame if he could relate hope, faith and courage to Rwanda and his reply was “absolutely.” That response and the Kodak moment were undoubtedly the highlights of my visit.

You see, for many years, the only thing I knew about Rwanda was the genocide. To me, the genocide defined Rwanda.  I had no idea that there was  much more to Rwanda than its painful past. I remember watching Hotel Rwanda and crying. I could not finish watching it. I did not try again.

So, when I started reading about Rwanda (minus the genocide), I was surprised. And somewhat confused. Could this be the same country? What had happened? Were people exaggerating? Was this the work of some high-profile PR company? I had to see the country for myself.

In October 2016 I finally decided I had to go to Rwanda, one way or the other. I had no idea at that time that the journey would materialise. Or that if it did, it would be a turning point for me; a spiritual journey I never knew I needed. A big thank you to the friends who made it happen.

I went to Rwanda in December to attend the Umushyikirano. I saw citizens holding Government officials to account; questioning them on development. I also witnessed Government officials reporting back to citizens on progress made on resolutions made at the 2015 Umushyikirano. I was shocked to hear President Kagame encouraging citizens to demand good service: “Service delivery is very important. If you are not satisfied with the service but you pay and just leave; you’re part of the problem. If you don’t demand quality service, you’re also to blame.”

I had to remind myself more than once that I was in Rwanda. The Rwanda I once associated only with genocide.  More importantly, the Rwanda which is an African country.

I suspect I developed some form of cognitive dissonance in relation to Rwanda. How could a country in Africa do what Rwanda is doing, despite its history?

I found myself saying that the story of Rwanda should be the story of Africa, that it should be the norm; not the exception.

But what is the story of Rwanda, I asked? What is it about this story that needs to be told? I was well aware that there is no single narrative on Rwanda. There can never be, just like with any country I can think of; or anything for that matter.

But I was pretty sure that whoever told this story, no matter how they frame it, they would somehow talk about the genocide.

But my story of Rwanda goes beyond the genocide. It is about HOPE. FAITH. COURAGE.

Hope that, in the end, they will succeed.

Faith that they are doing the right thing, they are on the right path.

Courage to acknowledge their pain and somehow try to deal with it. The courage to continue living despite their pain.

I know a thing or two about pain. Wishing it could go away. Then I realise (not for the first time) that it simply won’t. It stays with me and insists that I acknowledge its existence at the most awkward of times. Sometimes it numbs me. At times, it seems to consume me and take over my whole being. So, I think it is a big deal to move forward, at whatever pace, despite one’s pain.

Rwanda gave me perspective about my own life in a very strange sort of way. That one decision that I had been dreading; that I did not want to make. But Rwanda gave me the courage to take a leap of faith and hope for the best. It was a spiritual journey I was not even aware I needed. So, Murakoze Rwanda. Murakoze.

Let me leave it here for today. This is just the first in a series of posts on Rwanda. Like I said, there is a lot to talk about: the clean streets, the tall buildings I saw going up in Kigali, the sunrise and sunset (which somehow looked and felt very different from any I have experienced) and the friendly people. Not forgetting the boda boda ride.

If there is one thing you take away from this post, let it be this: Many will write about Rwanda. There will be countless stories on Rwanda. No doubt, some will view it as a case study. But my story is one of HOPE. FAITH. COURAGE.

Yiyo Indaba Yam’ le. I-straight. Ayifun’ i-ruler.

 

 

 

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AIDS, Sex Work

Sex Work. The Law. & AIDS

​Over the past week, I followed the #AIDS2016 Conference very closely. Thanks to Twitter, I felt as if I was one of the delegates in Durban. I was intrigued by the variety of issues under discussion, especially #SRHR for young women, AIDS and the gender dynamics and Key Populations (KPs).

I am particularly interested in KPs because they present a very interesting dimension to HIV/AIDS discussions. Countries pledge their commitment to reducing the prevalence rates yet they do not have specific programs targeting KPs. At least not at Government level. There is no official acknowledgement of the existence of KPs, hence we cannot openly discuss their vulnerability.

In Zimbabwe, for example, Sex Workers (SWs) are vulnerable to abuse from clients. If a client refuses to pay or assaults a sex worker, she is unlikely to report this to the police. In other words, the SWs do not have the protection of the law. I remember a few years back talking to sex workers who told me that approaching the police even if they have been violated is never an option for them because it opens them up to even more abuse. They also said they cannot report rape because “would the police, or anyone for that matter, believe that a sex worker had been raped?” This is in contrast to New Zealand where sex work was decriminalised in 2003 and sex workers report any violence to the police.

In Zimbabwe sex work is criminalised. Section 81(2) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act states: “Any person who publicly solicits another person for the purposes of prostitution shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level five or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both. “There was a time when police arbitrarily arrested women wearing mini-skirts for allegedly “loitering for the purposes of prostitution”, a crime that does not exist under Zimbabwe’s criminal laws. So the police were policing women’s clothing. 

Overreaching is the only word that comes to my mind.

Fortunately, in 2015 the Constitutional Court outlawed the arrest of women on charges of solicitation in the absence any evidence. In other words, as long as there are no men to confirm that they had been approached, the arrest of the women is unconstitutional. This was a welcome ruling but the law remains; it criminalises sex work. 

This criminalisation of sex work presents a predicament for the country. How do we reconcile the law with regards to sex work and the fight against AIDS? How can we win the fight against AIDS if a section of the population is left behind? How can we reduce new infections if sex workers are treated like criminals? 

Mossman (2007) argues that criminalisation of sex work “seeks to reduce or eliminate the sex industry and is supported by those who are opposed to sex work on moral, religious…grounds.”

The dilemma is how to reconcile morality and/or religion with the reality of HIV/AIDS in our midst. Where do we start? How do we do it? We have a section of our society that is left out in the fight against HIV/AIDS. How do we address this? If we are to win the war against HIV/AIDS, we have to deliberately target KPs, including SWs. These interventions should ensure that SWs have access to justice (and hopefully reduce their abuse) and comprehensive healthcare services, including prevention and treatment of HIV.

According to the UNAIDS 2014 GAP Report, despite “enormous achievements in the last decade in the provision of treatment and the reduction of AIDS-related deaths, which fell by 39% between 2005 and 2015 in Sub-Saharan Africa, new infections among key populations are on the rise, specifically among…sex workers…” In sharp contrast, the infection rates among SWs is lower than in the general population in New South Wales, Australia, where sex work was decriminalised.

Decriminalisation has also been shown to avert new HIV infections among SWs.  In its 2012 report “Prevention and Treatment of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections for sex workers in low and middle income countries”, UNAIDS says evidence indicates that where sex workers are able to negotiate for safer sex, HIV “risk and vulnerability can be greatly reduced.”  

The ability to negotiate is greatly undermined in an environment where sex work is criminalised, as is the case in Zimbabwe. As long as sex workers are operating in an environment which criminalises their work, they will be at the mercy of their clients, the police or other people.

Decriminalising sex work is an important step to providing the protection that sex workers need. It will also ensure that we do not leave anyone behind in our battle against HIV/AIDS.

I am fully aware of our society’s negative views when it comes to sex workers. I can already see my fellow Christians coming at me with all manner of venom. But at the end of the day, sex workers are humans too. And that, to me, is the bottom line.

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