Monthly Archives: October 2008

Zim Riot Police beat up and arrest women protesting talks

PRESS RELEASE

27October 2008

Harare: RIOT police in Harare, today descended on hundreds of women
this morning who were peacefully protesting over the delayed
conclusion of the peace talks between Zimbabwe’s three major political
parties. At least 47 women were arrested around 10 in the morning and
over 100 were beaten in the city as they were walking to the venue of
the talks scheduled to begin this afternoon.

The Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) had mobilized nearly 1000
women who were tear- gassed and badly beaten as they regrouped at a
spot near the Rainbow Towers where the talks are expected to be held.

Women started grouping for the demonstration around the Rainbow Towers
at about 7am on Monday 27 October 2008 and the police dispersed them
using tear gas and some of the women were beaten up. Some of the women
even attempted to go directly to the Rainbow Towers and were beaten up
too. By 1130, police had set up a road block and were turning away any
cars intending to go to the venue of the talks, regardless of their
purpose.
National Coordinator of the WCoZ, Netsai Mushonga is amongst those
arrested and information reaching their offices said the group has
been denied access to lawyers. Emilia Muchawa, WCoZ Chairperson, said
“the major concern by women is manifest hunger, amongst other
emergencies and the dire concern that failure to resolve the impasse
will further exarcebate the situation.”

It is for these reasons that Women demand the following;

That the political party principals put the interests and concerns of
the people of Zimbabwe first
That the Political Party Principals negotiate and conclude the talks
in good faith on Monday 27th October 2008.
That an Inclusive Government be in place shortly thereafter to begin
tackling the urgent challenges that the country is facing in
accordance with the Agreement.
That the Inclusive Government be constituted by a fair representation
of women within the spirit of the Government of National Unity deal,
SADC Protocol on Gender and Development and other regional and
international instruments.

Conclude the Talks, We are dying of hunger.

Pedzayi Hurukuro, Tafa nenzara.

Qedani inkulumo – sesilambile siyafa ngendlala

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support women in Zimbabwe

News update from WOZA
21st October 2008 – 5pm

Magistrate to give ruling on bail application on Friday 24th October – Williams and Mahlangu remain in prison

Magistrate Maphosa has reserved judgement on the request for bail for Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu until Friday 24th October as the ‘court is very busy’. Bail hearings are normally heard on an urgent basis. Williams and Mahlangu will therefore remain in Mlondolozi Female Prison until that date.

The bail hearing was heard in the absence of Williams and Mahlangu who had not been brought from Mlondolozi as prison authorities claimed that they had no fuel. This being despite the fact that the WOZA support team had been informed yesterday by one of the prison guards at Mlondolozi that they did currently have fuel. Two prison vehicles were also observed by the WOZA support team travelling at great speed into Bulawayo on Sunday afternoon.

The defence lawyer, Kossam Ncube, had also been given permission yesterday by a senior prison officer at Mlondolozi, Mathanire, to bring Williams and Mahlangu to court in his own vehicle if transport was not available. Upon arrival at Mlondolozi this morning however, Ncube was informed that it would not be possible after all by Superintendant Dlamini.

The hearing finally went ahead in their absence before Magistrate Maphosa. Prosecutor Chifamba called another state witness, Detective Sergeant Ncube from the Law and Order Section of Bulawayo Central Police Station to testify.

Ncube claimed he believed that bail should be denied because of pending cases against them, citing four different cases dating back to 2004. None of these cases are actually pending but the witness tried to claim this was because Williams and Mahlangu could never be found to be presented with their summons! On cross-examination however, he could not deny that the two accused had actually appeared in court for all of these cases. Following the cross-examination of the state witness by the defence, the court adjourned for lunch.

After lunch the magistrate heard the arguments of the two attorneys. The state had three main arguments: propensity, that the accused were of no fixed abode and that they had cases pending against them. Chifamba argued that the four cases mentioned by the state witness showed that the two accused had committed similar offences on several occasions and were likely to do so again. He claimed that the court should ignore the fact that these were not serious crimes. He also claimed that because the state witness had testified that he had tried on several occasions to locate the two at their homes, and they were not there at the time, obviously they did not live there. His third argument was that the case relating to a July 2007 arrest that is currently before the Supreme Court is pending and therefore Williams and Mahlangu wilfully lied to the court when asked if they had any cases pending against them.

In reponse, Kossam Ncube cited a 1922 judgement (States vs Shaw) that ruled that when arguing propensity, only convictions should be considered, not mere charges. He also cited a 1973 South African case (State vs Fourie) that ruled that with regard to propensity, only violent crimes should be considered. He went on to argue that neither Williams nor Mahlangu have ever been convicted of any crime.

With regard to the accusation of the two having no fixed abode, Ncube argued that there is no legal requirement for persons to remain at their given address 24 hours a day on the off chance that police may come looking for them. Just because Jenni Williams was not at home when police came looking for her last year does not mean that she does not live at the address that she has given. He also raised questions about the admissibility of police notes that the state had entered as evidence that police could not find Williams at her given address. The notes merely stated that summons could not be served, not the reasons why. The police officer who had made the notes was also not present in court. Ncube asserted that Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu had never defaulted on a court appearance and therefore did not constitute a risk, a fact that the state witnessed concurred with.

Ncube went on to argue that in fact none of the cases mentioned by the state are in fact pending as they had been removed off remand in all four cases. Williams and Mahlangu did not therefore mislead the court when they stated that they had no pending cases against them.

He also reminded the court that the alleged wrongdoing was not a very serious one and that to deny bail for an offence that carries the sentence of a fine would be prejudicial to the two accused.

Following the argument, Magistrate Maphosa pronounced that she would reserve her judgement until Friday 24th October at 11.15pm. Attempts by the defence to bring the ruling forward were rebuffed with the claims that ?the court is very busy.?

The on-going detention of Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu and the delaying tactics and machinations of the state are a clear violation of their rights and the power-sharing agreement signed by the political parties in September 2008. It is further evidence that ZANU PF has no desire to act in good faith.

WOZA therefore calls on all friends in the region and internationally to protest the ongoing detention of Williams and Mahlangu, particularly ahead of the SADC meeting on Zimbabwe next week.

Zimbabwe agreement not gender neutral

As I listened to the live coverage of the signing, I was struck by consistent absences in the reporting as well as in what could not comfortably be used in the interest of the celebrated moment. One reporter, live outside the venue in Harare, noted that even as the ink was drying on the paperwork, a group of MDC women approached him to say they had been attacked by ZANU-PF male youths moments before. I was somewhat relieved that this was a radio, rather than a television broadcast because I did not want to see more brutalised bodies. I could not help noticing that this information was quickly passed over.

I recoil from the sight of more bruised and bloodied bodies not because of what Gail Smith has called ‘compassion fatigue in relation to the crisis in Zimbabwe,’ but because there are other ways to make sense of our continent. A.C. Fick insists that when we privilege particular forms of evidence over others ‘we run the risk of giving the former more power than they already have in our world.’ Therefore, we trap ourselves in a certain cycle, since ‘we are educated to understand the world in particular terms.’ Furthermore, we remain so accustomed to our particular view that we completely miss the presence of other events and ‘critical languages’ in the very same moment in which we attempt to understand. Part of what we have grown accustomed to is the near total elision of women’s lives, contributions and agency from large political events.

Consequently, I turned away from the coverage I had been obsessively following in between teaching, and reflected on what was unfolding through other events I have access to. Sometimes it helps to turn away in order to better make sense of what we are in the midst of. This is the approach I brought to my reading of the text of the power-sharing agreement signed on Monday 15 September.

In August, I formed part of a group of South African women who went on a feminist solidarity trip to Zimbabwe. The excursion was coordinated by activist and international relations and development expert Bunie Matlanyane Sexwale, and divided into a group that went to Harare and one that flew to Bulawayo. My group, the Harare group, included the essayist Gail Smith, as well as poets Lebogang Mashile and Gertrude Fester. We went to have conversations with a variety of women’s and civil society groups; unionists, students, health activists, law and human rights activists and so on. This trip clarified many of the niggling questions that had been plaguing me in previous years. The Johannesburg office of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition had made the trip possible, also offering us insights into what we might encounter upon arrival. Among us, Bunie was the only feminist who was personally familiar with the different Zimbabwean epochs.

To the extent that it had been impossible to live in South Africa without reflecting on Zimbabwe constantly, the trip followed numerous conversations with people more familiar than I with the crisis in Zimbabwe. Two artist friends, one a filmmaker and the second a novelist, who had grown up in Zimbabwe as South Africans in exile, noted upon returning from visits recently that this was a different Zimbabwe from the one they knew. There was sadness in one’s eyes and anger etched onto the face of the other. My child’s day-mother, herself Zimbabwean, had remarked upon return from an earlier trip that her homeland made her despair. Colleagues commented on how fatigued they were at being asked to comment about their home country at every turn. I was careful to listen to information volunteered, but not to pry and further exhaust them. Only one said ‘things are not the worst they have ever been.’

I had questions raised by other areas of information as well. Where were the women in all the coverage of Zimbabwe, in the negotiations, in the interviews broadcast, among the experts explaining and helping the continent and the world make sense of the crisis? I know from reading, watching and from interactions with feminists from the continent over the years that Zimbabwe has a very strong women’s movement. How is it that I was hearing so little about what women were doing, when they were not being brutalised, inside Zimbabwe?

The trip was to help me grapple better with some of these struggles.

Unfortunately, it also raised many more. Very few of the new questions are addressed in the resolution we are all invited to celebrate. The Harare we arrived in at the end of August brought different worlds into collision. In a very public sense, it was the Harare in which the (Women of Zimbabwe Arise) WOZA 14 trial was scheduled to start, after many postponements. These are women considered so dangerous that the Zimbabwean State imagines their varied activism treasonous. This was also the Harare which staged the opening of the new parliament, during which MDC leaders, among them the leader of Senate Sekai Holland, shouted for Mugabe to go back to the talks so much that he was visibly flustered as he tried to open parliament.

When Holland agreed to meet us in a public place, with unionist and former MDC Women’s Assembly Chair, Lucia Matibenga, the disbelief was palpable on the faces of many young Zimbabweans in the Harare CBD location where we met. There was no question that both women were recognised. As they explained to us, it was unusual for powerful Zimbabwean politicians to be seen in a food court. Holland and Matibenga had both been driven underground by the physical and other attacks instigated by ZANU-PF and other agents of state sanctioned violence. They shared some of these experiences with us. But more so, and interspaced with a wicked sense of humour shared by both, they articulated a very clear vision for a new Zimbabwe. These were women who demonstrated what Pregs Govender has called ‘insubordinated spirit’, in their actions, incisive analysis of power and in rising after being personally attacked. I was saddened by the fact that as powerful and active as they have been, even these women’s names were often lost in the reporting of what occurs in Zimbabwe.

I wonder how much of such voices we will hear in the future, given the bizarre half-protected freedom of speech as articulated in Article 19 of the agreement signed on Monday. Recognising the necessity for freedom of speech in Zimbabwe, the article nonetheless opens doors for dismissing certain media outlets if they are ‘foreign government funded external radio stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe’ since these ‘are not in Zimbabwe’s national interest.’ What about radio stations operated by Zimbabweans in exile as one of the few ways to contest state-controlled media outlets? So what if another government or its agencies fund them? What if that government is Botswana’s? How will the stated desire to ensure ‘the opening up of the airwaves and ensuring the operation of as many media houses as possible’ translate in a context where ZANU-PF youths allegedly attack people outside the signing?

<read the rest of the analysis at Pambazuka

Loving Chris van Wyk

The great poet, memoirist, novelist, essayist and biographer, Chris van Wyk spoke to my English 3 class (elective: postcolonial humour) this week on his Shirley, goodness and mercy. The class was a huge success and many things associated with van Wyk tend to be.

Indeed, even some of my most hesitant students were animated by his address and his answers to the questions they posed. Now, it does not matter how many times I teach this text, and I was probably one of the first person to teach it, just as the first reviews were coming out in the local press. Each group of students I have taught it to have loved it, even though the areas I have focused on, and the kinds of courses I have prescribed it for, have differered significantly.

It is both a wonderful and challenging text. The first challenge results from having to teach it alongside another work of creative writing. It is a firm favourite no matter what other text I teach it next to, so this year I scheduled the lecture series on the memoir last. At both institutions where I have taught it, students inevitably want to write their essays, assignments, focus on it for their class presentations and answer exam question on van Wyk’s incredible text.

The second challenge results from the sheer enjoyment that comes from reading the text. Challenge, you ask? In a discipline, literary criticism, that is about the analysis of written creative texts, the actual pleasure of reading the text to be analysed is nonetheless undertheorised. Van Wyk’s memoir hard to put down even upon third and fourth re-reading. I talked about my lecture series this year as the paradoxical exercise of “taking humour seriously”. In these classes I sometimes grapple with a way to “take humour seriously”, in other words, a means to pay attention to it, its uses, its variances, etc without spoiling the humour in my discussion of it.

For, van Wyk’s text, although immensely enjoyable, is also a finely crafted piece of literature. Although it is humorous in parts, it is also carefully moulded to sometimes use humour for politically sophisticated ends. As I work through the meanings and strategies embedded in/enabled by the humour, I hope that I do not leave my students behind – and that they will be able to return to the text several times over, after they have left the course.

I really do believe it is a wonder of a book, and the answer lies between the covers. In a country where “most people choose not to read” for leisure, and where bestseller stats start at 4500 units sold, the memoir has sold over 20 000 copies as at last count, according to van Wyk. When the Market Theatre put on a play based on the memoir, van Wyk’s magic broke another record: the theatre was filled to capacity for weeks on end. Getting tickets was quite a mission. Yet, this is the same country where we are told that Black people don’t watch theatre. Shirley, goodness and mercy was sold out to predominantly Black audiences for well over a month.

This makes you think, doesn’t it?

Angry for Eudy Simelane

Earlier this week, the men accused of killing Eudy Simelane appeared in front of a Springs magistrate again. One accused was set free, while the remaining four will appear on trial in February 2009. Eudy’s case is both commonplace and a spotlight on the plight of Black lesbians in South Africa. Oftentimes when feminists speak of the ways in which violence is endemic and how women in this country are held in a state of constant self-censorship, we are told we are over-reacting. Yes, the previous president (Mbeki) was one of those people who was not entirely able to deal with the fact of the very real siege that characterises how South African public and private spaces are gendered. Even more sinister responses usually remind us that the women with the loudest mouths are professionals and therefore out of touch with the reality of most women in South Africa.

This is a red herring. All women in South Africa are under threat of violence. Constantly. Yes, some are more endangered than others. Nobody seems to be as reguarly attacked as Black lesbians. The fact of their professionalism, the fact of their visibility is no protection. Eudy Simelane’s attack proves this, in case there ever was any real doubt. Ms Simelane was a visible woman, a player in the women’s national soccer team, Banyana Banyana, and yet she was not safe from the violent hatred that is the shadow haunting those women who love themselves and other women like them unapologetically. In a twisted irony, she was killed the day after our 14th Freedom Day as a nation.

I despair when I note how little media attention the ongoing postponements attract, how few published commentaries there are on the scourge of what Wendy Isaack previously dubbed “curative rapes”, but which increasingly are being called “corrective rapes” and murders of Black lesbians in South Africa today.

Yes, her case has been postponed yet again. One of the accused has been let free even as a cloud hangs over his face and involvement. Perhaps he will turn valuable State witness.

Today, again, my thoughts turn to Eudy as well as the many Black lesbians whose names are known and not known to me, who have been raped and otherwise violently attacked for loving women. I turn to the ones who survived and those who have not. My thoughts turn to the women who have been raped already – lesbian and not – in the time it has taken me to type this entry.

And I am angry on their behalf – at the society that lets it happen, that continues to bring up young men who think women’s bodies are their entitlement, at the police officers, lawyers, magistrates and judges who let them get away while they secondary victimise the survivors, at my fellow feminists who would rather talk about broad gender based violence than use our collective voices always to say lesbians are under constant attack in our midst.

Eudy Simelane case update 7 Oct 08

7 October 2008

CASE INTO THE MURDER OF EUDY SIMELANE GOES TO DELMAS REGIONAL COURT IN 2009

The five men arrested for killing Eudy Simelane on 28 April 2008 re-appeared today at the Springs Magistrate Court.

Before Magistrate Mr. J. Mokoma, the Springs Prosecutor Mr E. Maloba presented the instructions from Mr E.M. Matsane of Transvaal Director of Public Prosecution in Pretoria as follows:

i. All charges against Tsepo Pitja – accused number 4 – are withdrawn and he is free to go;

ii. The four co-accused to appear for trial at the Delmas Regional Court on 11, 12 and 13 February 2009;

iii. They are remanded to stay in custody until the conclusion of trial; and

iv. That the charges against them include murder, two counts of robbery and ‘other’.

The news was met with mixed emotions. Many of the activists who gathered to picket outside the court expressed outrage that Tsepo Pitja, who was one of the men who picked Eudy up from her home the Sunday before her body was found, had been set free. One activist who did not want to be named cried saying “he knows most of us. He is a known rapist and now we are scared that he will be outside and target us like they did to Eudy.”

According to Phumi Mtetwa of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, she understood that the DPP saw no sufficient information to charge Pitja and that he would collaborate with the State during trial. She welcomed that the case has been referred to a high court but that it would have been better if the dates were sooner.

Captain Dube of the Kwa-Thema Police re-assured picketers that the State’s case and investigation had been thoroughly handled and that these developments are only to ensure that justice is served and that the perpetrators are tried and convicted.

The family was saddened by the release of Pitja, a known neighbor to them, who they had seen as key into the events that led to the killing of their daughter. Mrs. Mally Simelane said that she just wants this trial to be over and have closure for her family. “God is there and knows the killers. They must go to trial and be sentenced for many years. My daughter is gone but I know that she will not rest until she has her justice.”

Despite these developments LGBT activists are committed to organise activities in and around Kwa-Thema with the Equality Project, local structures such as the ANC, TAC and others to continue raising awareness on hate crimes, violence and the rights of everyone to live in safe communities.

Mobilizations to ensure that masses also attend the trial next year are underway and a possibility to bring an Amicus Curie (friend of the court application) is being considered.