What suffocating injustice!

I got to work late having been online since 3am attending to work-related tasks that unhappily involved engaging with a story about how top management at Premier Service Medical Aid Society (PSMAS) is gobbling at least US$1 million in basic monthly salaries at a time the State enterprise is reeling under a US$38 million debt.

Honestly, I am choking with some indescribably emotion.

It is a cross between excruciating pain and mind-numbing rage.

Not to mention the sense of complete violation that always weighs me down when I have to consider the nature, form and shape of a given instance of injustice.

What on God’s green earth is wrong with our leaders?

I say ‘our leaders’ and take ownership of said leaders even though I did not choose them because they are the leaders of the day and viewing them as someone else’s leaders would diminish my capacity to hold them accountable – so they are MY leaders and I want to hold them to account.

I got to work still in a state and quite incapacitated, unable to function let alone process any of the tasks that I had before me.

I was and still am too aggrieved, beyond distressed and indeed quite beside myself.

So I ignored the buzz around me, shut the world out and sat at my laptop to write because for some of us – writing is what we do when we don’t know what else to do and when we don’t have the power to do anything else.

I was reminded this morning of this very touching musical scene from the acclaimed film – Sarafina.

The music score for the scene in question captures this heartrending mood of the youth’s powerlessness following a brutal raid by apartheid police against which they were completely defenseless.

There is something about those piercing voices, shrieking in desperation and shouting to the heavens:

“O safa, saphel’ isizw’ esimnyama
O safa isizwe sabantsundu
Anitshelen’ inkokheli zethu zisilamulele kuloludaba”

Loosely translated the song means, ‘Oh, the black nation is dying, the African nation is dying! Can you tell our leaders to come to our rescue’?

Words cannot do justice to that poignant song so before I continue here it is below so you can listen to it for yourself.

Anyway this song strikes a chord in me because it speaks to the value system that I was raised to uphold.

It speaks to the idea that it is the duty of those who have power to protect those who have none.

It is the obligation of those who have voices to speak up in defense of those who (for whatever reason) cannot speak for themselves.

It is the mandate of those who are leaders to protect the interest of those they are leading and it is the worst human failing to betray the public entrusted invested in a person.

What is wrong with our leaders who don’t care?

They don’t care at all. Not even an iota. Hell, they don’t even care enough to even fake it!

How does anyone sleep at night knowing that they are complicit in an injustice as awful as the PSMAS salary debacle?

Honestly, when will have leaders that we could even conceive of crying out to for help, for deliverance or for rescue?

In the family pecking order, I am reasonably positioned in the higher echelons of authority and being a big sister to several boys and girls (most of them are fast becoming young men and women) – I dutifully assume the responsibility of rushing to the rescue whenever my siblings are in trouble.

I never hesitate because it is hardwired in me that by virtue of being their ‘leader’ in the family’s totem pole – I have an obligation to place myself between them and harm.

I do not know any other duty more sacrosanct than the duty to protect, to defend and to sacrifice (within reason) for those whose care and wellbeing I have been entrusted with.

It is with this fundamental understanding of what it means to lead, to be responsible for the fates of others and to have the power to positively impact upon their lives that I am rendered stupefied by the leaders Zimbabwe is cursed with.

We are surely cursed. Because there is no other word for it.

It is a curse to have such selfish creatures, such conscience-less, heartless, un-empathetic, callous, unrepentant, shameless, arrogant and evil people at the helm of public institutions.

Surely, heads and torsos must roll.

Having won a parliamentary majority, the buck for every grievance we have stops with ZANU PF and if it fails to act on these atrocious goings on; it will live up to the words of one of its own – Nathaniel Manheru who stated: Trust my Party: when it finds itself with no enemy, it ingeniously becomes one itself! Against itself!

Perhaps ZANU PF has been afforded an opportunity to prove that it is not what Manheru fears it is when he noted – And then a key point which many seek to duck: it is in its moments of undisputed and indisputable ascendancy and triumph that Zanu-PF is always at its worst and most fallible. It becomes reckless, very reckless. It becomes insolent, very insolent. It becomes indifferent to the people, most indifferent.

I hope the Government day does not choose to remain indifferent.

In a very perceptive and refreshingly candid article Amai Jukwa charged-: We [ZANU PF] have become accustomed to mollycoddling ineptitude and finding any and every excuse to defend those responsible…It is not so much that Zanu-PF does not know what is right to do. The problem is that some put political expediency ahead of efficiency and competence. There is a tug of war between the intellectual persuasions of Zanu-PF and it’s political considerations…Government agencies are inefficient and unimaginative; some of those in power have no sense of community and seek to line their pockets at the expense of the nation… If Zanu-PF is serious about making Zimbabwe work again it needs to say thank you to the incompetent comrades within its ranks for the little work done thus far and then bid them farewell.

To conclude my frustrated rant and smother this overwhelming sense of impotence; I will borrow from the Herald’s Editorial Comment of today reacting to what it termed “the institutionalized plunder in Government-linked enterprises” which observes -:

In short, people are paying themselves for failing to prove their individual and collective worth to the nation….. There must be some form of punishment for people who steal our present and our future from us, because their actions are really no different to treason. Zimbabweans need to see political will going beyond talk to real action that does not spare self-serving parasites regardless of who they are.

If this chorus of voices does not ring as melodiously as the musical score of the film Sarafina – it is the best we can do in raising our voices to call for those in power to heed our pitiable cries.

This injustice is suffocating!

p.s I was so annoyed I couldn’t be bothered with putting pretty pictures.

Questioning, querying, probing and poking….

I have been writing a column for the Southern Eye for a while now. The title of the column is ‘Agreeing to Disagree’.

I kind of use it as a platform to ask, probe, query and poke viciously at sleeping dogs. Here are just a few of the things I’ve been mulling over:

The elections are over, what else is left other than closing a chapter on Zimbabwe bearing in mind that:

What remains open is the next blank page after this chapter. What remains alive to possibility and what our hopes can latch onto and our dreams can hinge on, is the undeniable fact that five years from now there exists an opportunity to rewrite the narrative. It is an opportunity that can only be realised by the choices we make today and the resolutions that we commit to here and now.

…as long as we choose to care, hope is not lost

I think our commitment to the future of our country will be determined by the extent to which we are willing to care. When we get to that point where we want to throw our hands up in despair, it might be worth considering the possibility that caring is the only patriotic thing left to do because:

Indifference is the easiest thing in life. It is the most convenient cope-out of all. Just decide you don’t care. Decide you’re not going to lose any sleep over anything that doesn’t appear to remotely affect your bread-and-butter
issues. But the problem is that if you stop caring, you give power to those who would run the country aground and surrender your agency as a person to determine the course of your own life (to whatever extent it is within your means to influence political actors).
Five years is a long time not to care.

And then there was a week in which ZANU PF (in usual consultation with itself) conferred national hero status to three people…. it made me think about the selection criteria and wonder how much of the history I think I know is actually accurate. I think there’s a real possibility that we will remember historical lies for as long as ZANU PF maintains its hegemonic and monologic stranglehold on the nation’s liberation struggle narrative. In my musings I wrote:

It has been said that without memory we become less than ourselves and it matters what our real historical narrative is all about rather than having one party using history to claim political legitimacy. Where are the people who remember differently? Where are the people who were there when it happened and who can refute what the public media has constantly churned out, what the history books have claimed and what Zanu PF has insisted on propagating?
What really happened? Is it true that Zanu PF single-handedly liberated the country as they have claimed non-stop?

More recently, I wondered about the love and the hate that Mugabe attracts. I was thinking of my own ambivalent feelings towards the man. I agree with so much of what he stands for (it appeals to my pan-African sensibilities) but then I find myself vehemently opposed to the manner in which it is implemented (e.g the need for land reform was noble in principle but the land grabs were unconscionable). I do wonder at the way in which he is adored on the continent and I wonder what sacrifices I made to facilitate it because who’s footing the bill for Mugabe’s glory, if not ordinary citizens like me. While they may praise him, there’s another side to the story:

How do I tell these people who gaze at my Zimbabweanness through rosetinted lenses, of nights in which neighbors tossed stones on the roof to help me wake up and collect water from the taps because it had returned just for a few minutes? How do I explain standing in queues at borders hoping to go and buy basics from neighboring countries, queueing at banks trying to withdraw a set daily amount of money whose worth was devaluing while I queued, queueing at supermarkets where I joined stampedes for a packet of salt, and getting whipped one day by an overzealous city council security officer who was manning the queues at a taxi rank after I was pushed out of the line and he thought I was trying to jump the queue? There’s a part of me that feels like Mugabe wanted to make a point. If the adulation of the Africans I have met is anything to go by, he succinctly made his point, but he made it at my expense.

Suffice to say,I’ve got a lot more questioning, querying, probing and poking to do because somehow; the answers matter to me now more than ever before. It must be a mid-life crisis of sorts. But these things do haunt me and keep me up at night. Writing the column is becoming therapeutic – somehow.

These elections won’t just “leave us alone”

The shadow being cast by the forthcoming harmonized elections is so vast that hardly any of us can afford the luxury of shrugging a nonchalant shoulder, wrapping ourselves in swathes of indifference and hoping that these elections will ‘just leave us alone’.

If you don’t want to vote FOR anyone in the upcoming elections… then decide who you will vote AGAINST but for goodness sake – vote!

There is too much at stake for the eligible voter to merely decide that their pink finger is not worth staining or to make the ignoble choice of sitting at home, flipping through DSTV channels and pretending that elections are none of their business.

The elections are everyone’s business… no, in fact they are everyone’s battle.

Elections are not a business they are battles.

They are a battle to elect the people we want and the people we want to vote for are those whom we think will protect and advance our interests.

You see elections are as much about self-interest as they are about any other more ‘noble’ human quality.

The self-interests of the voting public reigns supreme in the ballot box – not the will of politicians but the will of individuals, expressed through one ‘X’ after another until cumulatively thousands upon thousands of individuals collectively morph into millions saying the same thing.

Millions of individuals, like you, determining whom they will entrust their wards, districts, towns, cities, as well as provinces and ultimately whom they will entrust their country to.

So do the selfish thing – go and vote! Elections are all about you.

FYI…they [elections] won’t just leave us alone!

A woman who said ‘something’ important…

...in 2009; this woman said something important. Maybe she was wrong, maybe she was right - but I'm just glad she had the guts to say it!(pic by lfla.org)

The name ‘Dambisa Moyo’ is one I vaguely recall hearing here and there, but my disinterest was such that I cannot even pinpoint where or when. I just have a fuzzy notion that the name has been said in my hearing on many an occasion.

Until recently; it is not one that would have piqued my interest, never mind galvanizing me into writing an entire blogpost on her.

This sudden interest was sparked by the fact that I befriended a Chartered Accountant a while ago and he is an engaging conversationalist whose only fault is that he just won’t shut up about how remarkable Dambisa Moyo is.

Now seeing as how Dambisa Moyo’s awesomeness was becoming a recurring conversational theme and how she was a constant reference point in our discussions- I thought it wise to find out who the hell this woman really was and what all the fuss was about!

Well, I did my research and I still cannot answer who the hell she is but I think I have a good idea what all the fuss is about.

If you’re really interested in specificities regarding Dambisa Moyo you are welcome to ‘google’ her; I am not really writing authoritatively on her – so for the purposes of this post I’ll identify her as Zambian-born author and economist.

Now, I am not an economist, have never been particularly concerned with that field of study and having come across the storm of controversy Dambisa Moyo’s books have stirred – I think I should read around the subject a bit.

A disclaimer before I go on – I have NOT read Dambisa Moyo’s books (I hope to do so soon) hence the title of my post… as far as I know she is a woman who said ‘something’ important in one or both of her books. I say ‘something’ because I have no idea what exactly she said I am just convinced it was important.

The reason why I think she said something important is because while doing my research I came across a lot of praise for her book and insights on economics, Africa, aid and what-not. The praise was lavish and made for some entertaining reading.

However, it was the harsh criticism that really caught my attention. Oh, didn’t they just shred her, tear her to bits and pieces, flog and flay her views; stamp and spit and spew venom in response to whatever she had opined in her book (specifically Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way For Africa published in 2009).

It was the criticism, the meanness and the vileness of it that convinced me (as nothing else would have) that this woman said something important. Again I am not at liberty to state categorically what the important thing she said is for the reasons given above.

I am just of the opinion that you have to have said something pretty damn important to grab that kind of attention, stir that sort of controversy and attract that kind of brutal criticism.

Sometimes even when what we have to say is wrong… if it is important – it will get a reaction precisely because its wrongness points to what is right. I don’t know if that’s the case with Dambisa Moyo but a lot of learned people disagree vehemently with her and a lot of equally learned ones agree with her views.

Whatever it is they are quarrelling about (what do I know about economics?) – it must mean she said something important.

Below are quotes from various reviewers including Donor Organizations on the contentious matter of Dambisa Moyo’s writing:

Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, who advocates scrapping aid to Africa, creates a sensation wherever she goes. Her critics say she is nothing but a media hype, but she is nevertheless an African voice in a debate dominated by white men. – Critics dismiss Dambisa Moyo as 'media hype'

One suspects that behind this book is a remarkable woman with an impressive career and very little time for learning how to write a good book. The result is an erratic, breathless sweep through aid history and current policy options for Africa, sprinkled with the odd statistic. There are so many generalisations skidding over decades of history, such frequent pre-emptory glib conclusions, that it is likely to leave you dizzy with silent protest. This is Moyo at her weakest; she is an economist by training and her grasp of the political economy of Africa is lamentable. Time and again, she fails to grapple with the single biggest factor determining the poverty of the continent – how the state functions, and has failed to function. – The road to ruin

…here we have a Zambian academic weighing in on a subject that has been the preserve of self-appointed “development experts”. I have always found it challenging to review papers or books penned by fellow Zambians as my natural propensity is to cheer every sentence and offer support. But of late I have found the call to review Dambisa’s book too loud to ignore…Dead Aid falls far short of what is expected of a book advocating such a radical proposal of “turning off the aid tap”. If there’s any consolation in this assessment, it is that Dead Aid will hopefully not find any intellectual traction. – A Zambian Economist Review

The book is sporadically footnoted, selective in its use of facts, sloppy, simplistic, illogical, and stunningly naive…Moyo’s concerns are old and poorly argued, but I close constructively. For her concerns are also serious. She is passionate and authentic as she tries to tackle and explain big ideas. This is an early effort, and she can improve. Going forward, she must give up the search for easy answers. – Dambisa Moyo Discovers Key to Ending Poverty

“Mrs Moyo is not the voice of Africa”, he said. “She lives in an Ivory Tower far away from the reality of Africa. Perhaps she should go back to Zambia to see how much that country still needs help. Maybe then I will pay better attention to her” – John Kufuor, former president of Ghana</a

The big opponents of aid today are Dambisa Moyo, an African-born economist who reportedly received scholarships so that she could go to Harvard and Oxford but sees nothing wrong in denying $10 in aid to an African child for an anti-malaria bed net – Jeffrey Sachs, American economist and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

I could go on and on… but the bottom line is I am inspired. Inspired to go right ahead and write my own book about whatever the hell I like and state whatever the hell I think and fearlessly express my own opinion and not be afraid of the critics. They could be right and I could be wrong. But I’ll have my say regardless. Thank you Dambisa Moyo, for whatever it is you said – that seems to have been so damn important!

"Too many African countries have already hit rock-bottom -- ungoverned, poverty-stricken, and lagging further and further behind the rest of the world each day; there is nowhere further to go down." - Dambisa Moyo (pic by wikipedia)

…we’re here – and we aint gonna leave!

..standing our ground against Zimbabwe's sickening culture of 'ageism'

I feel patriotic these days. And before the feeling wanes and recedes into the indifference that often informs the limited involvement of young people in anything important in this country- I think I should speak up.

For in keeping silent I perpetuate a grave injustice to those of my kind – the youth of Zimbabwe.

Combined with these patriotic sentiments are the sentiments of Deborah Meier that I happened across the other day. She wrote, “There’s a radical – and wonderful – new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world. It’s an idea with revolutionary implications. If we take it seriously.”

I can trace my blossoming patriotic sentiment to the three weeks I spent cooped up at the University of Ghana with two and a half dozen young women from 21 African countries and to the fact that in nearly deliberation Zimbabwe was used as a reference point for one bad thing or another.

It is one thing to daily hear Zimbabweans speak negatively of their own country, to listen to them and join them in denigrating their own country but quite another to listen to outsiders take similar liberties.

Indeed it is the one thing that will make you defend your country without stopping to examine your reaction but simply because it is your country, your home and ultimately it is who you are – Zimbabwean. It is also what will force you to scrutinize the condition of your country and how other people have come to perceive you as a people.

By omission or by commission every Zimbabwean is responsible for the leadership we have and for the mess we’re in.

Whether through indifference, greed or fear – we’re all guilty of allowing this great land to sink to its knees.

I have joined on occasion, when I could muster the breathe, in the mud-slinging, bad-mouthing, finger-pointing and hurling of insults directed at those in power and those aspiring to be in power. I say on occasion because for the greater part, I simply have been too nonchalant to even care.

Perhaps, that is the real problem for me and the youth, we have believed that we are too weak, too young to be of any consequence and in believing this fallacy we have sought refuge in nonchalance.

...to fight or flee? To live or die? To watch or act?

It doesn’t help too that there is so much romanticising about the past that we always feel that our unavailability to be drafted into the liberation struggle automatically makes us less qualified to have a say in the running of our country.

I mean if there is one thing ZANU PF has perfected it is the art of using its formidable credentials as a revolutionary party to bring the Zimbabwean electorate and youth to heel with a cocktail of nostalgia, sentimentality and the incessant reminder of the insurmountable debt of gratitude owed to them by every citizen who lives in a free Zimbabwe.

The MDC, on the other hand; wisely discerning that they cannot do much to beat the revolutionary party card that ZANU PF loves to draw – have made it a point to totally ignore the liberation struggle and by doing so attempt to rule Zimbabwe and its people outside the contexts of our history rendering them rather superficial.

I will not strain self trying to untangle the relevance (or lack thereof) of the splinter factions that are now a ZAPU pulled out of ZANU and an MDC pulled out of an MDC-T; too much ink has been spilled de-bunking these political specimens.

However, if the youth hope their participation in the nation’s politics to be meaningful; this is the political menu of parties that is availed to them.

One that is stuck in the past and bogged down by its distrust of young people and new ideas then another with a vibrant youth visibility but suffering from the acute deficiency of denial and a tragic refusal to own Zimbabwe’s liberation history (without which they would not enjoy the very autonomy that allows them to aspire for political power).

I have opinions about Zimbabwe, I have thoughts about the conditions of Zimbabwe, I have theories and hypotheses about what is wrong with this country and about why we are where we are today.

I have no idea how long I have held these views but they must have been simmering in me, stewing for a long time because when I was in Ghana I said, for the very first time, in a lecture room full of strangers what I thought.

And I was surprised by the vehemence with which I leapt to defend my beloved country, astonished by the passion with which I narrated the course of events that had brought us to this present miserable condition and even more shocked by the utter convictions with which I spoke.

I was amazed that I cared that much about Zimbabwe; surprised that I cared at all for over the years the pretense of being indifferent has become second nature to me such that I began to believe that it was normal.

How dare we sit, fold our hands and watch the demise of our country as if we had another spare Zimbabwe stashed somewhere to live in as soon as this one folds up and inexorably crumbles?

...always thrust in the background and barely discernable; the youth have none but themselves

For in the years to come, many who hold the reins of power will succumb to the inevitability of death and we shall inherit nothing but the shell of what once was.

I believe that Zimbabwean youths have been sidelined for too long and that perhaps we must come to a definitive age-range of what it means to be a youth in this country.

It bothers me no end that a person on the wrong side of 30 should strut around as a youth leader or presume to speak on behalf of young people in this country.

Moreover it bugs me terribly that young people have been willing to be used as arse wipes by those who aspire for political office only to be discarded after the elections and flushed into oblivion.

But I want to believe that the tide is turning. That the youth will be reckoned with, that we will be ignored no more, sidelined no longer and never again patronized.

As we enter the UN International Year of Youth running under the theme “Promoting Dialogue and Mutual Understanding” – I fervently hope that the would-be election candidates of 2011 and beyond will get off their high horses and engage young people as equals because we are not going anywhere.

The International Year of Youth is our chance to declare categorically that as Zimbabwean youths, we are here and we are not going anywhere. This is our country of birth and we have as much right to live and prosper in it as anyone else.

A woman should know her ‘place’

I used to be one of those women who would turn her nose up whenever politics was brought up thinking, “what a waste of time, I’ll focus on gender issues and advancing the interests of women.”

I have had occasion to change my mind about politics and the discourses of governance and decision-making in the highest echelons of power.

In fact, I would go so far as to say I have set my mind firmly on pursuing politics as an overarching goal in my activism career.

Once I realized the influence that politics has on my life and its bearing on the choices availed to me as a woman, as a youth and as an African, I became convinced that being a woman must of necessity require one to be a politician.

I figure if politics determines what I can afford to eat, what kind of bed I can sleep on, what kind of shelter I can call home, what kind of lifestyle I can lead (power-cuts, water-rationing and all) – if politics can impact on what kind of clothes I can afford to wear or the kind of educational and career opportunities availed to me – then clearly politics is exactly where my head needs to be and precisely where my heart should set its sights.

If politics determine what kind of future my children will have or the kind of road I must travel on daily and the texture of my journeys (bumpy dusty roads, potholes and all) then I figure politics is exactly where I need to be.

If politics will determine which embassy will shut its door in my face, if politics can deny me the chance to see the world beyond the borders of my nation, if politics has the power to detain me within the confines of my continent – then to change the narrative of my life and to exceed the limitations imposed by my nationality (tainted by bad governance, skewed politics and all); I must delve into politics.

If politics determine what laws will govern my conduct and which laws will legitimize my oppression – then by all means I must become a politician to change the status quo from within and not from without.

If politics can give immense power to a minority and perpetuate the discrimination and marginalization of certain sects of society – then I should be a politician to use the same vehicle to turn the tide of social injustice.

If politics can determine the quality of my life and my fate when I ail (no drugs in hospitals and no health personnel and all) as well as the kind of burial I am likely to get from my well-meaning but financially stunted nearest and dearest – then politics is my business.

If politics determines my diet, keeping the best brands just out of my reach so that I have to be content with the ‘no-name’ average products (with local industry struggling and all) then clearly, politics is where I need to be.

If politics influence the kind of security afforded to me and my property as a citizen (with underpaid cops and corruption being the order of the day) then I have to be a politician or be doomed to a life lived according to the dictates of others.

If politics gives one the voice, to speak on behalf of others then politics is my kind of brew – for no one speaks for me; I will speak for myself and if need be, I will speak for those on the receiving end of life’s endless tragedies and political intrigues.

A woman’s place is in politics. A woman’s business is to shape a tomorrow brighter than our own past and greater than our present circumstance.

So I sold my soul to the ‘dirty’ game of politics for if it is a game then I refuse to be a casualty, a pawn and a bystander caught in the middle and paying the price for decisions made without my consent or footing the bill for events sanctioned without my permission.

So hear me when I say, politics is my business for I would rather pay the price of being one than suffer the penalty of standing on the sidelines while others recklessly play God with my life.

I figure every woman should know her place – and I have resolved my place is in politics.