Archive | January, 2015

Chinotimba: defending whose rights and to serve what purpose?

24 Jan

So Joseph Chinotimba is at it again. Hogging the limelight which I’m sure he relishes even in his sleep. From invading and reinvading farms, to winning human rights defenders awards, this time he was caught in action clearing garbage at Mbare Musika and condemning the Harare City Council for not collecting it. Apparently, heaps of praises have been poured on him for this supposedly valiant move. But I beg to differ. Whatever stunts Chinotimba is pulling they are not amusing at all nor do they come across as genuine. Whatever he did in Mbare cleaning up garbage could have been done by me, you or the inept Harare City Council. So in a sense we could all have pulled a Chinotimba!

Let’s face it, Chinotimba makes some pretty comical gaffes and jokes but I will not allow his jokes to hoodwink me. I will make three points here. Chinotimba managed to do whatever he did in Mbare because the system he operates in i.e. ZANU PF allows him to do so. If it had been anyone else, they probably would have been asked to “seek police clearance”, arrested, beaten by the police or possibly have been denied even the “opportunity” to collect the refuse from Mbare or even their own neighborhood. So, there is nothing special about what he did. The whole of Zimbabwe is fully aware of the garbage problems in our cities and there is no need for him to make noise about the same.

Secondly, Chinotimba must not think that he is very clever and can pull woolen hats over peoples’ eyes. Recently he has been caught up in a big mess widely reported in the press about his invasion of another farm. ZANU PF has on numerous occasions spoken about one man one farm policies; an end to politically motivated violence and farm invasions. One would assume that an award winning human rights defender would know better than to commit such vile acts, but he has done exactly the opposite of what typical human rights defenders would do. His act of cleaning up garbage at Mbare Musika stinks of a plot to cleanse his faltering image by playing to the peoples’ gallery. Chinotimba is just trying to appear as if he is concerned about the public and does so wily by attacking the Harare City Council which leads me to my third point, the beleaguered Harare City Council.

Everything must be read in context. The Harare City Council is dominated by the opposition Tsvangirai’s MDC. Of course, it is also clear that the City Council has failed to run the affairs of the City of Harare diligently. I will not defend the beleaguered City Council but I also strongly believe that the ills in the institution largely emanate from the excessive powers accorded to the Minister of Local Government who meddles and interferes in the efficient running of the institution. The Harare City Council continues to battle corruption wherein staff can be allowed to buy snow graders for a country and city that has never experienced snow, the plague of ghost workers, senior employees who continue to be paid whilst absent from duty, staff that is paid exorbitant salaries and so on. These challenges gobble huge sums of money which could be utilized for refuse collection and other critical functions. For Chinotimba to want to argue that the City Council spends most of its fuel chasing kombis in town is unfortunate and misplaced. It is just a diversionary tactic by him. The Harare City Council needs to rid the City Center of the menacing kombis. Of course, just like any reasonable person I disagree with the way the Council carries out this work of trying to rid the city center of kombis by violent means. However, I believe that part of the problem stems from a central government and police which fails to reign in thee kombis and their owners once and for all. The lackadaisical approach to the problem of kombis and public transport by the central government as a policy matter leaves the Harare City Council in a limbo.

The root of the problem with garbage collection is not Harare City Council’s alone. There are bigger forces in ZANU PF that stifle the Harare City Council from doing its job properly. If it is the Council and the Councilors who are corrupt and cannot deliver then they must just be fired. Chinotimba should spare us the nonsense and if he really wants to clean up the garbage he knows where to go. Shake Shake House and Jibril would be a good starting point. There is too much baggage and garbage that needs to be gotten rid from there. Otherwise there would no need for him to go to Mbare Musika or if there was a genuine problem with garbage, you, me or him could have just done the same and taken to the streets to condemn the City Council or just removed the garbage as he did. I would want to be a human rights defender too, I would want to own my own farm too, I would want to clear the garbage at Mbare Musika too. But alas, Chinotimba, please go and clear the rubbish in your party first!

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The “Satanic Verses” that are the proposed Zimbabwe NANGO Private Voluntary Organizations (PVO) Amendment Bill

24 Jan

I have heard about the NANGO proposed PVO Amendment Bill of September 2013 (hereinafter referred to as the NANGO document) but had never taken time to go through the document. Out of curiosity I have since gone through the document. My, was I astounded by the contents of this document – the 2004 NGO Bill reincarnated with some “Satanic Verses” added. Excuse my French, but I think the document pokes holes into itself for a number of reasons. In all fairness the document tries in vain to take PVOs and civil society organizations exactly where they are coming from. The NANGO document tries to introduce MORE government by giving the responsible Minister unnecessary powers, overburdening the political arms of the state, introducing frivolous checks on NGOs and clearly in one way or the other try to belittle NGOs as entities and people who cannot think on their own and need “direction” at every turn from the state.

First of all the background of the document rightly mentions the need to preserve NGO/Private Voluntary Organizations’ space and what efforts have been made in the past to preserve such rights as freedoms of assembly, association and expression. What appears in the text/sections of the NANGO document purporting to be championing the PVOs’ cause directly contradicts the quest to fight for such freedoms. This has been an issue since 2004 when the NGO Bill was introduced by the Zimbabwe government.

Secondly, in its Article/section 3, the NANGO document purports to seek a conciliatory position with the government by offering the Minister responsible for administering the same Act the right to appoint board members.  The logic behind this position skips me. There will NEVER be a point whether in good or bad times that more government will be necessary or welcomed in handling welfare, watchdog or other voluntary organizations. It is not the government’s duty to be running the day to day affairs of PVOs except in banana republics fearful of their people. Civil society organizations have numerous roles part of which includes being watchdogs of the state. It is not possible to imagine such private organizations as those that investigate torture, investigate corrupt government institutions, or those that represent such victims to have board members appointed by a state organ.

Thirdly and honestly what is this obsession with having lawyers or persons with legal backgrounds sitting in each and every body that is appointed by the state? Does the NANGO document want to argue here that it would be necessary for even a small rural PVO or any other organisation for that matter to have a whole lawyer sitting on the Board? NGOs can always hire or seek legal opinion from pro bono or commercial legal enterprises if required. They do not need more government or in house lawyers all the time.

The sheer numbers of personnel and appointments by the Minister proposed by the NANGO document are astounding. 3 members appointed by the Minister, 1 lawyer from the Judicial Services Commission and 3 senior reps from Home Affairs, Finance and Ministry administering the Act. My word! Where in the world do people get all this time to waste sitting in board meetings for PVOs for that matter? I will assume that this is just a simple way of trying in every way possible to reign in the high unemployment rates in Zimbabwe. Otherwise, what other explanation is there to give for such suggestions? I see this as more of an appeasing strategy to the sitting government whether in good or bad times. The context and setting in which this NANGO document has been written does not make things any better. We all know how the present government has behaved in the past and present towards NGOs. Home Affairs – CIOs, Finance – to try to scrutinize sources of funding. Could this be a way to appease them, I wonder?

Number five. There are issues that I find very problematic in the same Article/section 3 of the NANGO document. Public law cannot certainly be used to determine the tenure of board members in PVOs. This should be left to the discretion of the members of such organizations or their boards. Those rules should be left to state/statutory bodies and other bodies dealing with public oversight and so on.

The NANGO document in another section tries again to appear conciliatory and suggests that the Chairperson and Vice Chairperson have to be selected from the non government linked board members. This does not solve problems with interference or necessarily give the Chairperson and Vice more powers. The fact that the Board is inhabited by persons appointed by the state is enough reason to deter the smooth function of that PVO stifling free expression, assembly and association as the Government through the Minister can now determine who those PVOs can meet and what they can discuss in the Board meetings. The NANGO document has this illusory touch to it which flies in the face of democracy and seeks to trample on the cardinal principles of the freedoms of association, assembly and expression.

Section 3(5) of the NANGO document touches on the issue of remuneration of the “non government” Board members. I do not see the need for such issues to be legislated on and neither should they concern the government. I stand to be corrected but this section just looks unnecessary to me. Less government please!

The seventh point concerns the issue of the National Council of Private Voluntary Organizations which the NANGO document suggests will be help with the “coordination and networking of all PVOs operating in Zimbabwe”. Unless there is a very clear explanation and logic to this suggestion it simply does not hold water. For starters, what organizations will fall under this proposed council? Will this include international NGOs as well or those registered outside Zimbabwe? On what basis has the 25 representatives been suggested and will it be sufficient to represent all the various NGO sectors operating in Zimbabwe? Well, the same question can be asked of Parliaments and whether the numbers will ever be sufficient to represent the whole population in a country or whether in fact the numbers stipulated by the country’s constitution will be too high. All the same my point and question stands?

The NANGO document in the same section suggests the setting up of a code of conduct “for the effective and efficient running of the registered voluntary organizations” and the creation of an environment in which they can supposedly “THRIVE”. This thinking seems too naïve to be believable. PVOs in Zimbabwe have failed in certain instances to thrive because of the stifling environment caused by MORE GOVERNMENT through the state security officials, repressive laws and adding more powers and ambiguous amendments will not solve the problem. I will suggest that all that is simply needed is to amend or repeal the laws that have up to this day stifled civic operations such as the broadcasting laws, the laws that proscribe the questioning of the President from being questioned etc.

The NANGO document creates this fallacy in its concluding sections by advocating that complaints from the public or interested persons should be referred to the Council. I would say that if there were any complaints against the staff of the organisation then they would be dealt with through simple means such as the suggestion boxes, and other feedback mechanisms of those same institutions. Failure to resolve such matters and depending on the gravity of the concerns the matters could be reported to the police. This idea of creating watchdogs over other PVOs’ spaces is unnecessary. NGO staff who will be sitting in this proposed Council will now have to sit and purportedly investigate whatever little compliant that comes from the public and turn away from the responsibilities they were mandated to carry in their own organizations. This is not realistic.

Finally Section 11(3) of the NANGO document purports to suggest that there is a significant gap in the management of PVOs which needs to be addressed by trainings offered by the suggested Council. NGOs employ people who are well trained and qualified in most instances. Where these groups are not well equipped in terms of technical expertise they can always refer to academic institutions and other sources of expertise including government itself if needed. It cannot be the duty of any other body to be statutorily mandated to help NGOs supposedly manage their resources and functions. PVOs lacking in such capacities can always be assisted in one way or another by seeking help from like – minded organizations.

With all due respect, I am of the opinion that this NANGO sponsored PVO Amendment Bill instead of taking the fight for PVOs freedoms of expression, assembly and association to a higher level, will instead do the reverse. There is need to revisit the proposed document in a number of way and in fact scrap most of the suggestions as they serve as a reincarnation of the “Satanic Verses” which were the 2004 NGO Bill in one way or the other.

To minimize women’s dressing or not? and for what?

11 Jan

So 2014 came and went. Some people were sent home, others were placed on high seats, 2014 left us with potholes that look as if there had a been a nhodo world cup all over Zimbabwe. Anyway, the story of the young lady who was stripped in the city centre needs to be revisited. Revisited not for the sake of wanting to cause agony for the young lady but to continue serious discussion around chauvinistic male attitudes, government policies to protect women and just to speak truth to power.

The events of the end of 2014 in Nairobi and Harare where women were harassed and stripped in the city centres by touts were utterly disgusting and cannot be tolerated in modern societies. Of course some will argue that these acts have happened before and debates condemning and others supporting the stupid acts have always ensued with no solution in sight.
I call the acts of stripping women by men because of their supposedly revealing skirts stupid. Yes it is idiotic to say the least. First of all, who determines what is long, what is short and what enough cover is. Men cannot be standard bearers over such. The body and the dress belong to the woman and it will be up to her to dress how she sees fit.

Three months ago I had a spat with someone on fb. I still consider that man stupid because of his warped views over this same matter which had occurred in Nairobi, Kenya. He argued that it was sinful and the bible did not allow women to dress in ways that would seduce or tempt men. What hogwash I thought. What verse and what section in the bible sanctions women’s dressing. In any case it really does not matter. The same Jesus that men of such disposition worship is the same Jesus that womenfolk worship. If it is sinful then it should between them and their God, not for any men to judge.

Based on the above, I find it appalling and distasteful that religion is invoked to suppress women in Zimbabwe. It cannot be right. What is even more dangerous for me is that the same church where women flock to every Thursday (ku china), Friday, Saturday and Sunday for everyone else remains quiet when such atrocities occur. Church leaders who are mostly men definitely have the power to voice their anger and disgust at such behaviour if they believe what is happening is wrong. To remain silent in such times for me shows that they silently want the matter to go away and also they do not believe that the touts are wrong in undressing the women in mini – skirts.

The same goes for politicians and public officials who “grace” public offices in Zimbabwe. Honestly, where was the MP for Harare Central? Where was the Commissioner General of the Police? I believe those with power – be it legal, political, religious, traditional, academic or otherwise have the wherewithal and a national duty to end this madness. Their silence for me signals doubt, fear and lack of willingness to confront the matter based on their political, religious and traditional beliefs that a woman cannot put on a mini skirt and walk around freely. This cannot be right!

There is need for more decisive action and it has to come from these people. In recent months, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya (http://kenyacrazymedia.mediarivers.com/?p=16089) and President Obama of the US have come out strongly speaking against the abuse of women and young girls because of how they dress. These were responses to what was becoming a national crisis. The stances show a leadership trying to conserve a national ethos. The continued silence from Zimbabwe’s ruling party and top leadership in the opposition is stunning. I’m not too sure what other issues are so prominent that the rights of women should take a back burner. We have always seen swift responses by the authorities when police or military details are assaulted in city centres by touts. We have always seen swift responses by the police when women march in city centres on Valentine’s Day. So what is different now, that some men commit a crime of overt violence and sexual harassment and the authorities casually deal with the matter?

This nonsense of talking about decency and traditional culture is absolute hogwash. People used to wear loins around their waists before the white man came to Africa. So what culture are people trying to invoke here? This paternalistic, chauvinistic and male dominant attitude which is pervasive across the country and well executed b low lives such as touts at bus termini cannot be left unchallenged.

I do not write this because I regard women as weak or incapable of dealing with this matter. However I feel that just like the young black men being killed by the racist police elements of the US; and just like the young women of Kenya who are attacked left right and centre by touts; the women of Zimbabwe need and deserve the support of every individual until the government through its police, judiciary and parliaments recognise and uphold fully women’s rights.
More importantly, there is need for speaking truth to power. What Grace Mugabe did to Joice Mujuru on national TV and public rally noting that Joice Mujuru had been inappropriately dressed in a mini skirt was uncalled for and wrong. By saying such stuff Grace became complicit in perpetuating and condoning the vile acts of harassing and undressing women in public. I feel that at the time Grace attacked Joice Mujuru; we should have stood up and called her to order for trying to condone verbal abuse women all over Zimbabwe. By attacking Joice Mujuru on the basis of her dressing or lack thereof, Grace basically undressed each and every Zimbabwean woman and left them to the mercy of lustful and hateful men who do not seem to have anything better to do than attack female citizens on the basis of their dressing and looks.
To the young lady who was harassed in that video, I apologise. To the young man who valiantly defended her I take my hat off. Ndoti sando dzako. My wish and my request though is that this matter cannot continue to be discussed anymore. Action needs to be taken. The action needs to come from higher offices. To continue pummelling the hwindis is good for they are the perpetrators of such vile acts. However I feel it will be a shallow victory. Real gains will come when men and women of substance in churches, parliament, political parties, business etc start denouncing such acts of chauvinistic behaviour in public; when laws are clearly spelt out to protect women’s rights and they are implemented by law enforcement agents. The structural roots of such evil which stem from misguided religious and traditional beliefs need to be debased and it has to happen now.

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