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.

For justice’s sake, we must speak

I have always maintained that there is nothing as powerful as the ability to speak up.

To keep silent when something is terribly wrong is to be complicit in the perpetuation of that wrong.

And while many people often think that speaking up changes nothing, I for one have learned that the greatest thing about speaking up is that it changes you, if nothing else.

It changes you because it teaches you courage, it teaches you to walk outside the castle of your fear and venture onto the other side of the shores of public opinion.

There is nothing that riles me more than injustice in its myriad manifestations and regardless of who it is directed at – I simply cannot stomach it.

Which explains why I have failed to shake off this slimy feeling of revulsion and a sense of a violation I can only equate to having someone smear excrement all over my face.

Honestly, I really cannot stand it.

I was very profoundly affected by the NewsDay story titled Tinopona Katsande reveals infertility that was written by one Silence Charumbira and sourced from her Facebook profile where she revealed that she was suffering from a health condition that has rendered her infertile.

The revelation was very deeply personal and I have no doubt that she made that revelation after much reflection and at great personal cost because the more prominent a person is in society – the more scrutiny they become subjected to.

I don’t take issue with the fact that the story was sourced from Facebook, I believe that when something is in the public domain – online or offline – it should be fair game for journalists.

What upset me is the manner in which the story was written without an attempt at objectivity, balance or even a pretense at being fair in the portrayal of Katsande.

..do no harm!

..do no harm!

What upset me even more is the apparent lack of remorse, repentance or empathy on the part of those who defended this story.

Fortunately, through her article titled An Open Letter To Zimbabwe’s Media one of my dear friends have called them out on this so I won’t have to harp on about it.

The portrayal of women in Zimbabwean media has always been of grave concern to me and I have argued that wherever women are subjects in a story they are either victims or they are social/sexual deviants; Charumbira’s article sadly proves me right.

In Charumbira’s article, Katsande is framed as a victim by being introduced to the reader as the “battered television and radio personality” and in the very next paragraph, the issue of her “controversial sex-tape” is made mention of thus framing her as a deviant and opening her up to judgment even before the facts of the story at hand have been presented.

Admittedly, the rest of the article gives a faithful rendition of Katsande’s post but this does little to mitigate the harm done by the initial introduction of Katsande to Charumbira’s audience – here is a battered woman, who (lest you forget) made a sex tape and is now confirmed to be barren – the stigmatizing narrative is thus gleefully (almost maliciously) served up to an audience that laps it up and reacts with the judgmental, holier-than-thou, self-righteous and indignant vitriol that the framing of the story elicits.

To defend such a story (especially when you have read the comments and are aware of the unintended consequences it has visited on an individual whose stated intent was to raise awareness on a very serious health issue) you would have to be incredibly obtuse, breathtakingly misogynistic and completely impervious to common sense.

Journalism is powerful.

To be able to write of other people and expose the intimate, personal, private and sometimes shameful details about their lives is to possess incredible power – it is to play God.

May we never get so drunk with that heady sense of power that we become journalists whose purpose is to inflict harm, demean the dignity of others and wreck lives for no other reason than that we have the power to do so.

That is unjust and to some of us who believe in social justice that is unacceptable.

So for justice’s sake, we will speak up because no one’s social status insulates them from pain or victimization.

For justice’s sake – let us refuse to be the ones who allowed a grievous wrong to go unchallenged.

We are in danger of forgetting

There is a period between the worst of times and the best of times in which there is a lull…. The relief of having escaped a horrible circumstance tempts us to ease back for a while and eventually the memory of how bad things used to be fades.

We start to convince ourselves that things are fine now because we use the worst circumstance as a reference point instead of using the best of circumstances as an aspirational goal to work towards.

We comfort ourselves that things are better than they used to be and teach ourselves to be content rather than focus ahead on the best we can aspire for.

Between the worst of times and the best of times we fall into the trap of forgetting. We forget what used to matter because our discomfort has been eased a bit and we feel we can afford to take a breather.


We forget the tears we shed to get this far, we forget the voices that spoke up and grew hoarse and we forget the sacrifices made by others on our behalf because things are not so bad anymore …because we have known worse we are more prepared to settle.

Over the last two months I have tried to understand why all the things that have mattered to me since teenage-hood matter and why I should bother following the course that I chose.

The older I become the more accommodative I am… of the world and its injustices, of people and their weaknesses, and of circumstances and their imperfections.

I am more ready to concede that my point of view is not the only version of reality and with each concession; I grow less certain of the battles that I choose to wage.

What guarantee is there that my most deeply held convictions are more valid than those of others if my own truth is not essentially the truth of others?

If I believe that the opinions of others are as valid as my own, then what right do I have to wish that my opinions be given primacy over those of others?

If I am right and know myself to be right at what point is it okay to point out the error of another?

I have always worked on the premise that things in life are black or white but now that I am older, I find there are varying shades of grey… and grey is as legitimate a color as any.

In some things it just can’t be black or white, sometimes you have to settle for the middle ground – for the grey.

I have discovered that my desire to stick with black or white…with the extremes was derived from a fear that compromise would mean defeat or that compromise would mean that I had become some kind of turncoat.

I have learned that sometimes you can stand for something without needing to stand against another.

I used to define the things that mattered to me by identifying the things that didn’t matter consequently making the things that matter to me dependent upon those that don’t matter. I have learned that the things that matter to me can and should be able to stand up to scrutiny without being juxtaposed to anything else.

One thing that has always mattered to me is the pursuit of justice – especially social justice. I say pursuit because I recognize it as an aspirational endeavor, as a goal that may not be realized in my lifetime but I work towards it hoping that in pursuing it I may become a better person for having bothered.

Sometimes I am scared that I will become complacent and forget why it mattered. Forget that the rights I enjoy and take for granted today were hard-won by women who came before me. Forget that the privileges I take as my God-given due were once denied to those born with female genitalia. And when we start to forget, we start to think that the battle is won, we start to think that victory is certain and that the status of women within their societies is assured.

But if nothing else, these 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence serve as a rude awakening and reminder that progress in terms of achieving equality in the public sphere does not guarantee equality in the private sphere.

We must not forget that women live the most crucial aspects of their lives in the private, not public domain – in their homes and not their offices; in their bedrooms and not their boardrooms…. And it is in these spaces that they are most vulnerable and that our advocacy efforts cannot effectively penetrate.

As we celebrate progressive laws and policies that advance the interests of women, elevate their status and protect their rights – we must not forget that without peace in their homes, women cannot thrive in their societies nor effectively execute their duties and responsibilities in the public domain.

Of women, gender and the search for equality

Some time ago someone sent me the following message:
“I’m doing a gender story. I want to know why does society refer to gender issues as women and girls issues? Are they not creating stereotypes and discrimination by focusing more on females than both sexes? Are we saying that men are not being abused? Aren’t young boys being violated too?”

The questions came during an inconvenient time (I was in the middle of my dissertation) but because they are questions that have been thrown my way time and again, I had to respond. This was my considered view.

Why does society refer to gender issues as women and girls issues?

Because gender issues seek to address, expose, redress, explore and understand the societal realities that often privilege men and simultaneously disadvantage women.

For example: a recent gender issue is the curfew which police have placed on women to limit their movement during the night time. This curfew affects women only BECAUSE they are women at the same time this curfew PRIVILEGES men by allowing them to enjoy freedom of movement without being harassed.

Consequently those who are being disadvantaged by this curfew (ie women) are the ones most likely to make it a gender issue by insisting that they are being disadvantaged on the basis of their sex. On the other hand, while men themselves may feel that the curfew is unfair – they are less likely to pro-actively seek to redress it because it is not necessarily directly affecting their own liberties, in fact the curfew is affording them privileges that are being denied women.

Any issue is often associated with the social group that stands more to gain from its resolution than the ones that have little to gain or in fact are benefiting from the status quo.

Therefore the resolution of gender issues in our society would greatly benefit women and in some cases it would also diminish the unfair privileges men enjoy on the basis of their gender; which unfair privileges enable them to enjoy supremacy over women or exercise dominance over them.

No social group wants to be dominated by another, why should women be the exception? At the very core of it, gender issues represent a search for fairness eg it is unfair that women have a curfew placed on them; it is unfair that men are not given a curfew too. BUT it would still be unfair if women were given a curfew and men were also given the same curfew because that would restrict EVERYONE’s freedom of movement and infringe on their liberties. The fair thing therefore would be for women to enjoy the same privileges that men are enjoying i.e a just society would allow its citizenry to enjoy freedom of movement both male and female.

Gender issues tend to be associated with the social group that is disadvantaged and can benefit from the resolution of those issues that they feel are unfair, unjust or place them at a comparative disadvantage.

Are they not creating stereotypes and discrimination by focusing more on females than both sexes?

No, they are not creating stereotypes and discrimination by focusing more on females than both sexes. What they are doing is RESPONDING to pre-existing inequalities in our society.

Any attempt at neutrality in terms of addressing gender imbalances in society requires us to pretend that everyone is starting off from an even playing field which is not the case. In our socialization, in our customs and cultures we have privileged the male citizens and relegated the female members – and we have done this because we insist that it is traditional or normal. Gender issues become a way of looking at these inequalities and assessing whether or not the gender roles men and women fulfil are ‘natural’ or merely constructed.

It is not ‘natural’ for girls to do the dishes and for boys to herd cattle – it is a socially constructed expectation, society expects, requires and assigns certain roles to its girls and to its boys and in the same manner it constructs roles, responsibilities, expectations and assigns ‘power’ to men and ‘rules’ to women.

In talking of gender issues and focusing on women and girls – we show an appreciation for the fact that there has been an uneven assignation of gender roles that has privileged men insofar as they have been afforded opportunities that women have not been granted; and these opportunities are opportunities that men received when they were still boys (being able to go to school without first having to do the dishes or sweep the yard) and these are the opportunities that girls could not enjoy (being married off at very young ages, missing some days at school to cope with menstrual pains, not getting enough time to do homework or read because they have chores).

Over the years the advantage merely widens within the job sector as women still have to juggle multiple responsibilities while holding down full time jobs (women are less likely to go for careers that require constant travel or long hours because the gender roles assigned to them necessitate that they be at home being hands on in nurturing their families while men are not required to be hands on and can have more time to invest in career development, being rewarded with promotions, benefits and eventually becoming the dominant partner in terms of acquiring and accumulating resources).

It is not discriminatory nor stereotypical to address an existing gender imbalance by acknowledging the need to give preferential treatment to the social group that needs that preferential treatment to offset the negative cumulative impact of an unjust societal status quo.

If you have two children and one of them has a limp; your offering a crutch to the limping child is not discriminatory but it is an appreciation of their comparative disadvantage. You cannot then insist on offering both children a crutch just to appear non-discriminatory. Similarly insisting that gender issues should provide a crutch for the social group that has historically enjoyed dominance and privilege is unhelpful.

Discrimination is unfair, women should not get favors just because they are women BUT by the same token women should NOT be denied opportunities or privileges for being women.

Are we saying that men are not being abused? Aren’t young boys being violated too?

We are not saying that at all. We are saying that women and girls are comparatively worse off in terms of vulnerability. The key issue for me (as far as I can tell) is the issue of ‘comparativeness’…. there is a degree and an extent to which the vulnerability of women and girls to abuse significantly outweighs that of men and boys.

And it is practical for most to start by dealing with the bigger problem before addressing the smaller one – but in dealing with the bigger issue we are not saying that the smaller issue does not matter or is unimportant. We are merely prioritizing in appreciation of where the resources, support and mobilization are needed the most.

We could of course, say lets prioritize the abuse of men by women and forgo (for now) the abuse of women by men – but you would find that it would not go anywhere in terms of addressing the issue of abuse in our society because such an approach has IGNORED the social group that is most deeply affected by the problem. It is not about being dismissive towards the suffering of men or about pretending women do not abuse men but it is about appreciating the varying realities of men and women that make women more vulnerable to abuse than men.

And as for the violation of young boys, there is no way anyone in their right mind could insist that the suffering of little girls is more important than the suffering of little boys. The suffering of children is categorically unacceptable and gender issues are all encompassing in relation to the rights of children. However the truth is it is impossible to protect the rights of children (both boys and girls) without securing the rights of women.

If the rights of women are violated, their capacity to provide for their children materially or emotionally and otherwise is diminished and severely hampered. Battered women are battered mothers and their condition as victims of abuse and violence dis-empowers them and diminishes their capacity to create and sustain safe home environments for their children.

Gender issues are intertwined with the issue of children’s rights, with the issues of fairness, of social justice and of equality between the sexes in terms of enjoying similar privileges, enjoy equal access and freedoms and in terms of enjoying the liberties of being a full citizen. The only reason why these gender issues become synonymous with women as a social group is that men as a social group already enjoy all of the above. And in seeking the elevation of the status of women in society – gender issues is just a means of saying, “lets all share it together”.