Why Mugabe is my hero

I’ll rephrase … why Mugabe is one of my heroes this week. He hasn’t always been, but in recent years I’ve grown to appreciate what he stands for and I’ve grown to understand that his voice is so important in Africa and in the world today. I’ve come to realise he is important and he matters.

‘We also belong to the world, a part of the world called Africa and Africans shall no longer tolerate a position of slavery; slavery be any other name, by the denial of rights, by not being treated in a manner that is not the manner that they treat themselves.’

Robert Mugabe is one of the world’s most controversial characters. He won the hearts of many over 30 years ago when he and the freedom fighters brought independence to Zimbabwe, a country under the grip of British colonial law. As President, his government turned the country into an agricultural goldmine with large farms producing cash crops to sustain the economy and feed neighbouring countries. His schools boasted quality education. The country was peaceful and beautiful.

And then the spiral of events that turned him into the ‘despot,’ the dictator, the madman. To correct White dominance over the economy, he ordered repossession of those farms, taking them from White farmers and handing them to Black farmers, who lacked the experience or equipment to run them correctly. His message became very anti-White, leading to sanctions, withdrawal of development assistance (read: Aid). As HIV and AIDS ravaged Africa, Zimbabwe was not spared. The economy crumbled and Black and White nationals emigrated; Zimbabwe became a shadow of its former self. But still Mugabe stayed as president, year after year, election after election.

It’s been 34 years of independence and Mugabe has been the one and only president. In his own words, “I’ll still be here. As long as I’m still alive and I have the punch.”

Political opponents have come and gone, but Mugabe remains in power and remains as vocal and critical of the Western world as ever. He calls out the UK, the US and the EU for not minding their own business (the fight against corruption), or interfering with African politics when their politics was in no better state (Bush vs Gore). He criticises the West for imposing ideas that Africans may not necessarily accept (homosexuality). He lambasts their hypocrisy regarding human rights abuses when reports of war crimes and abuse occur in Afghanistan and Guantanamo.

In all of this, Mugabe has become hated by Westerners and Africans alike. Black and White people, but I suspect for different reasons. The White group might not like his actions, and true, it was harsh to dispossess people of their homes. Black people have also suffered at the hand of Mugabe, so many lives destroyed and people killed, home razed and voters threatened. Africans may not like his abuse of power over his people. Westerners may not like his disregard for democracy and his dominance over a country.

But Mugabe is the voice that Africa needs. Africa is a continent struggling for recognition, equality and economic independence. Still, after all these years and wars. Africa is struggling not on its own terms but on the terms of those cooperating partners who offer help with conditions. Mugabe, as outgoing AU chairperson, at the Summit in January, 2015, made clear comments demanding greater equality for African member states in the UN Security Council. “If the UN is to survive, we must be equal members. Speaking truly as members with voice… respected and honoured.”

His words were applauded and rightfully so. And the greater context was not just in the UN Security Council but in other global bodies in which Africa participates. Mugabe wasn’t saying anything that we Africans haven’t already thought or wanted. We live the inequality every day when we see our governments signing MOUs to have our resources mined, taken away and sold back to us. We know that the world needs us and yet they don’t look us in the eye like a partner. Mugabe rejects that sentiment. He says what his counterparts are afraid to say and he speaks for us Africans on a global stage. As uncomfortable as it might be, the Westerners are forced to hear him, and maybe listen. His words might not bring action but at least he has not been silent.

This is not to say that Mugabe has done nothing wrong. He has plenty of wrongs in his book. But the reason he is my hero today, this week, is because he has gone out there and spoken the uncomfortable truth on behalf of many Africans, so the West can know that they are not knights in shining armour and we Africans might not tolerate it for much longer. We have a lot of work to do for ourselves, but at least Uncle Bob is paving the way for us to have our voices heard, and to speak that uncomfortable truth.

Mugabe addresses 26th AU Summit

Zimbabwean White farmers lose land to Zimbabwean Black doctor

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Can someone please explain this xenophobia in South Africa?

This last week, media screens have flashed images of black South Africans execute violent acts on other black people, though not South Africans. Black people from other countries in Africa. I have seen people petrol bombed in their shops. I have seen images of bloodied heads and faces. I have seen images of angry mobs walking through the streets, mpangas and other weapons in tow, ready to lash out at any foreigner. But more so the Black foreigner.

These people have come to South Africa for a number of reasons – school, work, business, economic opportunity, refuge. They came to South Africa to live their lives, but are now being punished for making such a decision.

It’s black on black crime like we’ve never seen before. Actually, we’ve seen this before. In 2008, 2011, oh, 2014 and 2015. It happens year after year in South Africa with no end to this horrific attitude in sight.

It appears the Black South Africans are angry because other Africans have come to South Africa to take away opportunities that rightfully ‘belong’ to them. This latest upsurge in violence is as a result of King Goodwill Zwelithini’s comments that foreigners must go back to their homelands. Of course, the Zulu king has denied it, claiming his comments have been distorted but the damage has been done, and one cannot deny that even if his comments have been taken wrongly, there is an amount of anti-foreign sentiment there.

Why? Why can a country like South Africa resort to these awful acts? In their apartheid days, black South Africans were harboured in many African countries – Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya. All the countries in southern Africa rallied together, sometimes at the peril of their own stability, to ensure South Africa’s freedom. Lives were lost in South Africa fighting apartheid. Lives were lost outside of South Africa, too. And yet, these people, who have their political freedom because of us, are now beating and battering us as though none of that happened, but also as though it’s okay to treat humans like that. Black South Africans are attacking foreigners, burning their homes and businesses to make a point. And the point is this:

You are taking over our country.

You are taking our jobs.

You are taking what should be ours.

South Africans have found themselves competing with foreign nationals on a number of fronts and with the history of marginalisation, perhaps it was all too much. The government wasn’t protecting their jobs, houses or opportunities but bringing in even more foreigners. They took matters into their own hands. Regardless, it’s shocking. And I don’t understand it.

What I do know, is this should not be accepted. Governments are not taking a large enough stand against xenophobic attacks against their nationals, probably because the region depends so heavily on South African goods and investment that boycotting SA investments and products would cripple their own economies.

These are human rights violations on a grand scale and I would like to see South Africa penalised for this. I would also like to see the foreigners repatriated to their own countries. Get out. Malawi has begun bussing its people back to Nyasaland. Good. I hope they stay home.

Next should be Zambia, or Zimbabwe. And let all other African countries follow suit. Then we’ll see who’s left in South Africa. We’ll see how well their economy would run, how well their services will be managed and delivered.

And then we’ll see who will be targeted next.

Because it seems to me, these are just angry people who have the residues of apartheid left in their souls and cannot be freed from that grip.

But they don’t see it.

The Easter Egg Hunt

It was a sunny April Saturday. Eight children aged two to eight bounced around, brimming with anticipation. They knew eggs were hidden around the yard and they couldn’t wait to find them.

Soon, they were off!

Twisting their tiny hands through the leaves of trees to find treasured chocolate eggs. Reaching up in the branches or on the wall to grab the marshmallow treats. And twenty minutes later, it was over. This little team of hunters is efficient and thorough. Their baskets are filled and they are ecstatic. There is more chocolate and candy here than they wished for, and it’s all theirs!

To help the hunt along and to guide the younger kids to some treasure are four parents – two men, two women. As the kids bring their baskets around to count who found the most eggs, the parents gather, too, equally expectant. Each child patiently waits their turn to tip over their basket and take account of their find. A little envy for the fuller baskets.

One younger child dives right in and rips apart a chocolate wrapper, setting in motion the trend that all the kids have been waiting for – eating the eggs!

As quickly as it all started, one parent jumps in to bring some order. Of course they would, they’re a parent. “Wait, wait. Let’s put all the eggs together and share.”

“No, no,” said another parent. “They eat what they kill.”

The socialist vs the capitalist.

Who would have thought an age-old conflict would present itself at a children’s activity?

The parents stopped, laughed and jokingly debated – are we here to teach lessons about achievement and rewards? Is the best method equal participation should get equal rewards? Should the younger children receive a smaller portion of the spoils because they are younger?

I was fascinated, albeit for a brief moment, by the differing philosophies and approaches and even wondered if it was the correct forum to even teach lessons. Isn’t this supposed to be about fun? Easter is philosophical enough without lessons of capitalism vs socialism.

What further interested me was the gender split in the friendly conflict. The female parent wanted the children to share. The male parent was clearly the capitalist and both presented valid points to support their agendas. I suppose it can be said that women tend to consider the collective much more than men do. Men definitely exhibit more caveman hunter-and-gatherer traits than do the women-folk.

In a group like this with children of different ages, women are more likely to ensure everyone is fairly treated, and I’ve seen men hold back a bit, displaying a ‘let them fend for themselves approach.’ If extrapolated to economic models, perhaps these could be grouped as socialist and capitalist traits.

In the meantime, the smartest people among us, snuck away with handfuls of candy and started chomping away. Yeah, that’s where the real fun is at. A marshmallow, please…

What a difference ten years can make

December 26, 2014 and the news channels are streaming images of the tsunami ten years ago. It’s a sad anniversary and when looking at those images, I’m still shocked at the devastation and the loss that all those communities suffered. It still seems unbelievable that such a natural phenomenon can happen.

One particular news agency showed a collage of images of what those devastated areas look like now, ten years after the disaster and after recovery and rebuilding efforts have been in effect. My mouth dropped looking at how transformed these areas were after the scale of the devastation. It appeared as if the disaster had never taken place.
Then my heart sank because it dawned on me that in my poor Zambia nothing like this transformation would ever take place.

Zambia has been receiving development assistance in one way or another since 1955, according to the World Bank. The development assistance or ‘aid’ has been used to boost the economy, implement poverty reduction strategies and schemes, and to improve local industries, manufacturing, infrastructure, health, education, and agriculture. When HIV and AIDS hit, the kind of assistance changed, the tone of the assistance changed, but still foreign governments and many non-profit organisations came to help Zambia weather the storm. My only concern is that only in recent years has the country started to look different, but much of this is private sector investment in infrastructure. Throughout my childhood, up into my twenties, Zambia has pretty much looked the same, with little external sign that millions of dollars was being poured into the country to help develop it. Yet five nations transformed their battered communities and built sustainable lives in only ten years.

What is wrong with us? Zambians? Why can’t we get it together? Is it corruption? Greed? Mismanagement? An unfair playing field?

I have no answers to these questions. I can only paint a clearer picture of what went into rebuilding the areas struck by the tsunami in 2004.

It is difficult to get an exact count of the funds raised but the data reads something like this: information from the Council for Foreign Relations states that $13 billion was raised in contributions after the tsunami. Most of these were private contributions. The World Bank states that $7 billion was received by Indonesia, particularly for the Aceh region that was most devastated by the tsunami. Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved assistance and co-financed funds in the amount of US$892.035 million, 81% of which was grant funding.

With all the money available to tackle the tragedy, relief organisations and governments set about dealing with basic needs of the survivors – water, food, shelter, combating disease and malnutrition. Once the initial relief work had been dealt with, reconstruction began. Housing first, to accommodate the displaced. Then communities to ensure they had markets in which to shop, clinics to visit and other services and support systems. Then the building of infrastructure. The last phase was economic development to ensure sustainability of the society. ADB reports that in five countries — India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Maldives and Thailand – livelihoods were restored and long-term sustainability of economies were rebuilt. These are not G8 nations, these are countries that can be classified middle-income, maybe lower-middle income countries, with some way to go before they achieve an ideal state of development.

The World Bank’s strategy for Zambia for the four-year period 2013 to 2016, align with the Zambian government’s priorities: to reduce poverty and the vulnerability of the poor; to improve competitiveness and infrastructure for growth and employment; to improve governance and strengthen economic management. The poverty theme has remained the same for at least fifteen years. That’s no secret. Financial commitments to Zambia by the World Bank Group have been as follows: in 2010 $114m, in 2011 $211m, in 2012 $80m, 2013 $191m, in 2014 $83m. This is only five years from one donor. Not to mention the other millions coming from the other donors from which Zambia receives development assistance over the years. These millions of dollars have not resulted in an obvious change in what Zambia looks like.

Economics is complex and there are a myriad of reasons why this is so. But at the heart of it all, in my view, there is a very simple reason. There is a fundamental problem that we exhibit and it is echoed in a statement made by Bill Clinton as UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery. “Governments, donors and aid agencies must recognise that families and communities must drive their own recovery.”
We, Zambians, don’t recognise that in ourselves, which is why we can’t make that level of development and transformation. We’ve never taken it upon ourselves to get together with the neighbours to improve our local market, or even to pick up the litter! We’ve never demanded that our local government improve drains so our streets and markets don’t flood in the wet season. We’re waiting for ‘someone’, for ‘government’ to do it.

The 2004 tsunami was a one-time devastating tragedy with consequences that had to be dealt with immediately, whereas Zambia has been in a state of development flux for decades. Galvanising an effort to match 2004 would be difficult, but the impetus is the same. That impetus is the desire to rise above so we can be better, live better and thrive. We just don’t have that.

Wrapping up

gift
I have never wrapped more presents at any other time than in the last two years. Since my son joined nursery school two years ago, there has been an endless request for presents. Since the circle of friends grew larger to include their children and babies, there has been an endless flow of presents. Since my children discovered Christmas, there has been an urgent request for presents. Presents for the newborn. Presents for the one-year old. Presents for the returning child of the returning family we haven’t seen in so many years. Presents for the twenty classmates whose parents think a party at school is better (for them) than a party at home. A present from ‘Santa” for the school Christmas party. Presents for cousins’ birthdays.
I have used wrapping paper, decorative bags, colourful tissue paper, coloured bond paper, plain bond paper with ‘creative scribbles’ done by baby and brother to look arty, brown paper and even kitchen foil! Yes, kitchen foil when the wrapping paper became a toy, was scrunched up and rendered unusable.
Gone are the days when a present is a well-timed thought, presented artfully in romantic moments. Gone are the days when presents are surprises to your husband, just because he’s been eyeing something for such a long time.
My heart sank this Christmas when, after presenting my four-year-old son with the gift he’d been whining about since he learned Santa was coming to his school and then his house (!!), he ripped the wrapping paper to shreds to get to the Transformer inside. Should I spend many more years wrapping presents? They just want to get to the good stuff, anyway.