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Philip Barclay and Grace Mutandwa

Zimbabwe

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Friday 17 July, 2009

We do have some happy occasions

Over the past few months, some people have asked me if life is always as grim as I paint it in my blogs. "Are all Zimbabweans drowning in sorrow,?" they ask.

We do live  a confused and at times chaotic life but we also have some happy occasions. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, New Year and Easter. We also go to fairs.

In the past four weeks I have attended the first ever  Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) sports day, a suburban fair and a fundraising fair for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). I have also watched rugby, tennis and cricket on television. Yes in the midst of all the chaos, we manage to sneak in some normal and fun days.

I also watched the whole two hours of the American pop star Michael Jackson's memorial. My teenage daughter was amused by the overwhelming emotions I displayed during the specialbroadcast. When tears rolled down my cheeks as the king of pop's daughter spoke, my daughter shook her head in disbelief. Michael was an institution, an amazing entertainer.

Earlier last month seeing Zimbabwe's terrorised civil society get together for a day offun and games was quite emotional for me. It made me realise just how much fun life could be if we lived in a normal country. Yes there is an inclusive government in place but most of the time we the common people, are left confused about just how inclusive the government
is willing to be.

Zimbabweans are a resilient people. We get trampled on by our political leadership and groan, nurse our aches, get up, dust ourselves and get on with the business of survival. When a small window of opportunity presents itself to relax we seize on it with gusto.

Most Zimbabweans love entertaining. When money permits there are parties galore and barbecues are a special favourite. In summer we like to invite friends over for drinks and a barbecue. We love life.

Over the past month I have noticed that we have also become "war weary" and the revolution is no longer the main subject of discussion at gatherings. We have started talking about plants, going on holidays and dancing again. We are slowly beginning to reclaim a bit of our lives before the political brutality since 2000.

Musical bands have started drawing huge crowds of revellers once again.The arts world is slowly awakening. Every week now there are venues hosting poetry slams or offering budding artists the opportunity to showcase their varied talent.

We still do not know what tomorrow holds for us but we all know that we certainly can not afford to go back to the way things were last June. We know that even as we fight and differon the constitution we would like to have, we have no choice but make life better for ourchildren and grandchildren. We have to get the spark back into our lives again.

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Friday 12 December, 2008

We Shall Overcome

We shall overcome - one day peace will prevail over brutality.

Zimbabwe has joined the international community in commemorating the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. All well and good but problem is, this is the same country where nobody who stands up to the regime is safe. In Zimbabwe this commemoration has lost meaning.

Jestina Mukoko, a former media colleague turned human rights activist was abducted from her home in the early hours of 3 December. A defenceless woman, clad only in her nightdress was forcibly taken by more than 10 armed men.

As director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), Jestina exposed and documented various human rights abuses before, during and after the Zimbabwean elections and subsequent disputed presidential run-off.

Jestina was working consistently and lawfully for the advancement of peace in Zimbabwean communities. Soft-spoken, Jestina is a warm, brave woman who went about her work in a  non-threatening way.

All efforts by her lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa to get the courts to attend to an urgent  application for a court order for the police, to produce Jestina if she was in police custody, or if not, to launch a search for her was only heard on the 9th December after a tortuous struggle by human rights lawyers.

Reports abound of female judges finding excuses not to hear it. One would have thought fellow women would be gravely concerned and falling over each other to get to the bottom of this savage abduction. But no, it seemed either too hot or not in their interest.

Yes a woman judge eventually heard it and ordered Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, to delegate a team of police officers to work closely with lawyers from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) to search for Jestina, to search all places as maybe within their jurisdiction in terms of the Police Act and Constitution of Zimbabwe and to report progress to the Registrar of the High Court by 1000hrs each day until her whereabouts have been determined.

What about all those female politicians who only a few months ago were urging fellow women, including Jestina, to vote for them. Where are all those women today when one of their own is in trouble? What do these women stand for?

Abductions in Zimbabwe as human rights lawyers continue to point out, have resulted in many deaths. Everyone is worried that she was not even given the opportunity to put on decent clothes, get her spectacles and medication. We are even more concerned that no-one in authority seems keen to get to the bottom of the abduction.

The people who abducted her identified themselves as police officers. The police say they know nothing of the abduction and also argue that they can not search for her in Central Intelligence Organisation or military centres as they have no jurisdiction.

The fact that the Zimbabwean government is a signatory to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which recognises the protection to life and physical integrity of a person and is against arbitrary deprivation of liberty, has not in any way helped to protect those Zimbabweans who have stood up for what is right.

If anything, Zimbabweans have found themselves even more vulnerable. There is no protection for those seen as enemies of the State. And Jestina through her work had turned into an enemy of the State. A helpless mother of a 17-year-old boy and an aunt and guardian to a six-year old, Jestina was abducted at gunpoint - treated as a dangerous mass murderer.

That some people can actually live with themselves after being party to such brutality really breaks my heart. That some Zimbabweans believe life is worthless and can be treated with such disdain makes me grieve for my country. We have hit rock bottom, if we have lost all respect for the rights of others.

If anyone can wake up in the morning after participating in such brutality and look themselves in the mirror and still go around as if what they have done is the most normal thing, then the country has really hit rock bottom. We are in serious trouble.

It is indeed deeply, deeply sad, that Zimbabwe is stuck in a region where very few leaders have spoken up about the current brutality. What is going on here is happening on these men and women's watch and yet they are not moved. Where is the Southern African region's conscience?

It is a sad day indeed for all peace-loving and democratic Zimbabweans to wake up to the news that a group of armed men raided and abducted a defenceless woman in front of her shocked family.

What Jestina and several other activists who have been equally tormented stand for, is something that is so big that it scares some people. Scares them enough to get together a group of armed men to abduct one helpless, nightdress clad woman.

I am deeply sad but the more I think of what it took and how many people it took toabduct Jestina, the more proud I feel of this hard-working, soft-spoken woman. She is bigger than her tormentors. She is stronger than they ever will be.

If Jestina's abduction was meant to scare civil society then it was a terrible misculculation as this has made people stronger and even more determined to ensure that Zimbabwe becomes a country where human rights are respected and upheld and a place where ourguiding principles are of good governance and democracy.

People who use brute force and torture others, do so because they are scared of what their victims stand for. Wherever you are Jes, you are in our hearts, our trueheroine, a woman not afraid to stand up and be counted for the good of her country. We shall overcome.

 

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