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Mugabe and Tsvangirai united in gaybashing? (1)

Kubatana.net an online community for Zimbabwean activists have responded to the reports in The Herald that Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, President and Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, respectively, made anti-gay statements at a Women’s Day Rally with the theme Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All in Chitungwiza, near Harare. Below is Kubatana’s open letter to the MDC:

Web: www.kubatana.net
Blog: www.kubatanablogs.net/kubatana
Email: admin@kubatana.net

Open letter to the MDC

RE: Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s comments in The Herald, March 26, 2010

The Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe is very concerned with what we have read in the article entitled “President, PM speak on gays” in The Herald of March 26, 2010.

The article quotes Tsvangirai in these two paragraphs:

PM Tsvangirai concurred saying: “President mataura nyaya yemagay rights, yevamwe varume vanofemera munzeve dzevamwe varume. [“President you talked about gay rights, of men who breathe in the ears of other men.”]

“Bodo, apowo handibvumirane nazvo. Unogodirei kutsvaga mumwe murume yet vakadzi make up 52 percent (of the population)? Varume titori vashoma,” [“No, I do not agree with that. Why would you look for a man when women make up 52% of the population? We men are actually fewer,”] he said.

It is even more worrying that these remarks were made as part of International Women’s Day celebrations in Chitungwiza, where the theme was “Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All.” The comments made by the Prime Minister speak more to “Equal Rights for Some” – not All.

Is The Herald article an accurate quotation of the remarks made by the Prime Minister’s in Chitungwiza?

If it is an accurate reflection of the Prime Minister’s response, and his personal views, what is the position of the MDC about homosexuality, gay rights and the protection of gay rights in the Constitution?

The Parliament of Uganda is currently debating the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, an extremely worrying and homophobic piece of legislation. This Bill draws strength from its assertion that homosexuality is “unafrican”. However, this assertion goes against the truth of history and culture, which finds instances of same-sex sexual relations between men and women across Africa, throughout time.

You can read the opinion of respected Ugandan human rights lawyer Sylvia Tamale, denouncing this bill, here:

• A Human Rights Impact Assessment of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill – http://www.faruganda.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=16%3Adrtamale-hits-the-hammer&catid=1%3Anews&Itemid=3
• Why anti-gay Bill should worry us – http://www.faruganda.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=10%3Aopnion&catid=1%3Anews&Itemid=3

Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe has been at the foreground of campaigning for gay rights, and have a wealth of literature available explaining the history of homosexuality in Africa. This history makes it clear that homosexuality is not a “Western import,” nor is it a response to demographic pressures in which one gender outnumbers the other.

The remarks attributed to the Prime Minister in The Herald suggest a simplistic, populist view of homosexuality. Is the Prime Minister seriously making an argument that because women out number men in Zimbabwe, men should not be in relationships with other men? If so, he is making an insulting, demeaning argument, which belittles the thousands of Zimbabwean men for whom homosexuality is their personal identity.

One’s sexuality is as integral a part of someone’s humanity as their race, gender, and religion. A Constitution that protects Zimbabweans against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is thus as essential as one that prevents discrimination on grounds such as race, gender, ethnicity, or religion.

When political leaders discriminate against one segment of the population in order to gain popularity with another, it encourages prejudice. This prejudice can easily fuel violence, hatred, and intolerance, which can divide the country. It is imperative that politicians use their public profile and status to promote tolerance, encourage diversity, and embrace all sectors of the population. To do otherwise is an egregious, offensive violation of the spirit of democracy, peace, human rights and ubuntu on which the Movement for Democratic Change is founded.

The Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe

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RIP Susan Tsvangirai

Susan Tsvangirai died in a car accident last Friday, and I know that her husband, Morgan, has said he really thinks it was an accident, but I remain skeptical. I saw footage of him on the news saying something along the lines of there being 1 in a 1000 chances that the accident was deliberate. Regardless of what we may want to think, it is very sad that she was taken away now during this tentative time in Zimbabwe’s history.

I felt quite deflated when I first heard on Friday night. Haven’t Zimbabweans been dealing with enough with that Bob Mugabe who is STILL president, albeit illegitimately? And then I started suspecting that someone was trying to kill the new Prime Minister. How many people don’t know about the unofficial history of the political car accident in Zimbabwe?

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

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

Where are Zimbabwean women in the news?

I spent all of last week in Harare, having been invited to go on a feminist solidarity mission with nine other South Africa feminists. Well, mostly, I am not sure one of them identifies as a feminist. Nonetheless, we will all be writing a few things and speaking in media, reflecting on the trip because it was a life-changing experience for me. Lebo Mashile has already mentioned the trip in one of her radio interviews. We’ve set up the blog here to discuss some of our impressions, so it should be live later this week. Go and take a peak.

It was very important for me to go for various reasons, not least of which were the following:

*as I watched the news coverage of the Zimbabwean negotiations, I felt a little de ja vu since the same footage of men in suits and sometimes a cowboy hat:) would be shown over and over again, as though on a loop. How many times have we seen women being locked out of processes they worked just as hard as men to make reality?;
* I know from various other African feminist forums that Zimbabwe has a very powerful and vocal women’s movement, yet there was almost complete silence in the news about all the activist energy and general experiences of women in Zimbabwe;
* the news never gives the whole picture, and as my friend and co-solidarity feminist sojourner, Gail Smith says, news channels have tended to peddle victimology stories about Zimbabwe, as though women have no agency and are doing nothing but receiving blows to the head, etc;
* it’s well and good to be informed of what is happening in the world, but generally the bulk of the media avenues fall short of providing nuanced coverage of what is happening in the world;
* I could not shake the feeling that there was much more going on than we hear on the news. How could there not be? According to the news, there are no women in Zimbabwe because they are certainly ignored except as those that occupy the sidelines;
* Che Guevara said: “si tu eres capaz de temblar de indignacion cada vez que se cometa una injusticia en cualquier parte del mundo, somos companeros”, which translates into: if you shiver with indignation whenever you know an injustice is done in the world, then we are comrades. I think we are all each other’s business;
* Sometimes the best of intentions are misguided – there certainly are enough examples of how some feminists tried to support sisters in a different part of the globe and ended up complicating the issue in unproductive ways, rather than assisting. It is important to offer the kind of sisterhood and comradeship that makes sense for those you want to link arms with in struggle. This was part of my motivation;
* I was tired of not being sure what to do except incorporate a critique of what is happening in Zimbabwe here and there when I speak, lecture, teach, write.
* Conversation matters for me – it’s a space for reflection, regrouping, strategising, support.

I lost my physical voice in Zimbabwe because I had the beginnings of a flu when we flew out of OR Tambo airport on Monday morning. But this is good in many ways, because I had gone to Harare to listen, to learn, to try to hear the difficult. Now, as I settle back and try to process all that I felt, saw, heard, learnt, wondered about, my physical voice returns slowly. I hope that my writer voice will return in ways that surprise me as I write here and elsewhere about that trip that needs to be spoken about.

Why Kenyan intellectuals rock!

On Friday I attended the most intellectually and politically rigorous workshop I have attended in a long time. I don’t know how long “a long time” is, but suffice to say it was certainly one of the best academic events I have attended in my entire academic career – a staggering highlight. It is at moments like these that I am glad that I chose the life of the mind. It is also at such times that I am almost happy about my choice of institutional affiliation. But this is not an advert for where I work. They don’t pay me enough to do that – and I certainly need the ocassional brilliance to deal with the regular irritation. Let’s just say the workshop happened in Johannesburg. But I digress.

Back to the workshop on Kenya, then, called “Conflict resolution in Kenya: taking stock of a political crisis”. Although the programme ran from 08h30-18h30 officially, but really much longer, previous commitments meant I only attended 2 of the 4 sessions. The first under the title, ‘”mediatisation” of politics: writing violence and ethnicity’ and the second ‘literature and the imagination of a Kenyan public sphere’.

Mediatisation of politics had presentations on the famous and substantial Kenyan blogosphere at the time of the Kenyan conflict resulting from the latest elections. Jennifer Musangi outlined how that blogosphere staged a war of words with “truth”. She focused on mashada.com and how even this incredibly popular site was overwhelmed by the kinds of contestations going on about what was and could be “true”, what was allowable and not. mashada.com was shut down for a period due to the kinds of activity and postings following the conflict. Musangi was interested in how – because truth is unreliable (we can’t find it, whose truth?)- we use narratives to make sense of ourselves to ourselves. Many times in Kenya and elsewhere, such narratives rely on ethnic stereotype and what she calls historical rumours. How does this kind of narrative tell us about the search for truth, especially in the context of a Kenyan public that is good at “forgetting and moving on”? Dina Legaga’s paper also focused on electronic communications arguing as she did that the internet is attractive for getting a sense of what people are thinking on a particular issue, especially sites and exchanges that are raw, unedited and sometimes anonymous. She showed us that in the aftermath of the post-election violence such sites often relied on stereotype as narrative, and reminded us that stereotypes are not innocent. Fascinatingly, she showed how such stereotypes were used to divide Kenyans into numerous “sub-nations” which were very interesting for how they construct new truths using a “political tribalism” that demanded loyalty from some while breeding division. Jacob Aketch focused on the international press coverage of the conflict and showed sharp contrast before and after the elections. Much of the idiom after the elections relied on ethnic stereotype, while also circulating older stereotypes known from generalised Northern coverage of contemporary Africa. Western media outfits produced medicalised explanations for the violence, failed to engage interestingly with the causes, timing and patterns of the conflict and showed remarkable silence around why government offices were often the targets of violence. Additionally, there was no addressing of the intensity of the conflict or non-violent responses to its outbreak. He then went on to offer some ways in which more nuanced analysis and coverage could have engaged with the conflict.

The discussion session introduced by Dumisani Moyo (acting as discussant) flagged questions such as the contradictory roles played by useful and open spaces for debate since these could sometimes be platforms for the rehashing of stereotypical representations found in the mainstream press. Is there an escape possible from these kinds of representations circulated further through the rumour mill, sometimes called pavement radio, Moyo asked. It was also important to reflect on the large numbers of Kenyans in the diaspora who take up much space on the Kenyan blogosphere even as we continue to understand the resilience of ethnic chauvinism, and how modernity’s non-linearity is supportive of ethnic chauvinism. Does Kenya resort to collective amnesia or do the narratives of the rumour mill suggest otherwise?

The second panel I attended featured Grace Musila, whose scholarship is of such consistent brilliance that I make a note to attend whatever presentation she gives. I really do think – without the slightest hesitation – that Musila is going to be one of the African studies/feminist studies/Af Lit/postcolonial studies greats in a few years. She spoke about how the state and individual agency are gendered in Kenya, but moved beyond what has become standard discourse about the gendering of the nation state. Musila deepened this discourse considerably when she unpacked how the Kenyan state is not just masculine/phallic, but also that it was a phallocracy. She refered to three Kenyan presidencies to illustrate the mutating phallocracy (Kenyatta’s heroic, elder, struggle credentialed to Moi’s ultra-masculinity, “first lady-lessness”, paranoia, mother & father of the nation styling of Kanu to Kibaki’s very visible first lady-presence, the questioning of his masculinity, and absent presidency). She spoke equally compellingly about how women figure in the Kenyan politicalsphere either through female masculinity (similar to what Ramphele calls honorary male status in SA liberation politics) or excessive femininity. Like Musila, the latter group is more exciting for me, and I also share Musila’s excitement about the figure of Wambui Otieno, a key feminist in Kenya who routinely threatens the ridiculous masculine ideal by destabilising hegemonic masculinity and the meanings of class. Next, the Af Lit giant, James Ogude spoke convincingly about how “cultural sites that deal with human subjectivity help us deal with the relationship between state, class and ethnicity” more so than much of the studies that rely on political economy. How do we read the Kenyan stance (“those who are rich are so because they govern”) which is an inversion of the Marxist axiom? Why the persistance of the metaphor of Kenyan nation state as food (to be carved up by sharp knives and distributed through big men)? How does the highly localised metaphoric associative eating (“I eat because a clansman eats”) work? For Ogude, something is missing in the existing explanations that do not address that people are still grappling for a nation; that ethnic citizenship continues to hold greater pull than national citizenship; the failure of the concept of/desire for the nation state to be fully domesticated; the meanings and implications of the strong kinship bonds retained by the middle class; and the lack of civic culture and civic responsibility.

As though Musila and Ogude had not blown my mind enough, Dan Ojwang’s presentation is going to haunt me for a while to come. Some of the things he said about memory I continue to turn over and over in my head. I work on memory, so this was significant in a field where much repetition happens. He pointed to how academic intellectuals speak about others and very seldom about ourselves, and addressed himself to Simon Gikandi’s argument about the failure of the intellectual class to be distinguished from the political class (as guns for hire) and the ensuing failure to use reason. Gikandi’s comments came because of the near complete silence by the Kenyan intellectual class in the face of the recent conflict. Ojwang admitted to varying degrees of distance from and agreement with Gikandi’s stance. He probed further the meanings of intellectual responsibility and complicity. Is intellectual work useful at a time of crisis? What might that mean? What does it mean? Given that much of our work remains professionalised, how do we mediate the expectation that we are to produce answers/solutions? If knowledge’s entanglement in the world is the condition of secular intellectualism since intellectuals are always also subjects of the state, how do we make a useful impact on the world? What are the implications for Kenyan memory, for recognition of Kenyan collective trauma, the place of the irrational? Why has ethnicity been so sacralised in a politics framed as consumable melodrama?

The discussion (shaped and framed by Garnette Oluoch-Olunya) again rose to the challenges posed by these three speakers. And as I listened, asked questions, and reflected on the goings on as well as those in attendance, I will admit that my ever-present Kenya-envy was quite strong:) But claimed honorary Kenyan status only gets you so far, sadly. I also could not help relating some of these questions to South Africa and Zimbabwe, and the ways in which some parallels were obvious. I was glad for the benefit of the work presented and the opportunity to deepen my own thinking & writing about Southern African embattlement on democracy, public sphere contestation, memory and forgetting processes, the codification of language on resources and the phallocracies down here.

Of course, I now write from memory, so the actual papers have been condensed and no doubt crudified. I hope there is a book out of this that I can read and read and re-read. This would also give me a chance to read work from the sessions I missed.