Thursday, 27 March 2008

Ziso: 'A day in Mvurachena '

Zimbabwe, March 26

Fay Chung spent the day visiting her most impoverished constituents. Mvurachena encompasses suburban housing areas, and then the vast expanse of farmland that surrounds the Harare airport. Hopley Farm is home to a population of refugees who were violently removed from their homes in the high-density areas during 2005’s Murambatsvina (the disastrous ‘clean up’ of several hundred thousand urban dwellers homes). Hopley Farm was forcibly reclaimed during the fast track land redistribution program and given to the City Council. The refugees were invited to re-locate to the isolated area where they now live in makeshift squatter shacks. Three year’s later, the farm has been sold (at a very low price) to a relative of our incumbent president and the refugees once more face destitution. These are the povo, the poorest of the poor, many of whom have been engaged as activists in the campaign, seeking protection behind their senatorial candidate.

The campaign team then moved to a series of farms in which Fay informally met small groups of the community. In some areas there was a happy dialogue, singing and dancing and welcome; in others, the rumour that Simba might actually be planted by Mugabe reared its head during the question session. Simba’s late entry into the race and his ZANU PF credentials has been confusing to some but it is obvious when one hears his honest assessment of Mugabe that he could not possibly be acting on the Fist’s behalf. His smiling campaign poster is in stark contrast to the violent and stern campaign of the Fist. Mugabe’s railing against Makoni (calling him a flea, a prostitute, a sell-out while spitting and frothing at the mouth) has been the best PR campaign Makoni could have received and laid the population’s suspicions to rest, but in this remote community the doubt still lingered. On another farm, women who had previously been activated to support the campaign as polling agents ran away when they saw Fay approaching. Eight policemen lingered ominously in the background. In some areas there is still great fear of intimidation, and it is clear that crowds that have gathered in the day to listen to her speak have been bullied in the evenings when left alone with their pro-ZANU neighbours.

The evening was spent at a conference between Makoni and women’s groups. Makoni spoke passionately about the fact that women have borne more of the load of hardship in the past decade, and lived with great fear for themselves, fear that they will not be able to feed their children, fear that their loved ones will die in their arms. He then went on to lay out his vision for women’s equal participation and engagement in rebuilding the country, but not from a segregationalist perspective. His manifesto does not specify a section on women’s issues; his outlook is macro – the government will create the structure in which things start working again, and the people will be empowered to solve problems themselves. Integration and self-determinism are at the heart of his outlook on gender, “We are not going to solve the problem for you instantly, but we will remove the impediments to you solving the problem for yourself. We will be an enabling, not constraining leadership. Together - pamwe chete - we will solve the problem.” (The Mavambo gesture is two hands clasped together over the head: the ZANU fist of Black Empowerment and the MDC open palm of Change joined together to rebuild the country in Unity.)

Fay Chung spiced up the debate by pointing out that in her university days in the sixties there was only one black woman enrolled and 100 black men – ‘What are the reasons?’ she asked and called for in-depth research on systemic problems that disempower women in Zimbabwe. For instance, under a Mugabe law married women are unable to inherit from their parents. “If they want to inherit, they shouldn’t get married,” was Mugabe’s response to criticism. Although Simba’s gender policy is still vague, what was genuine was his willingness to listen, and he set up the meeting asking for a genuine response to his views and was not afraid to test his views in a room full of well-spoken women. He railed against the culture of ‘chef’dom (big-wigs are known as, and act like, chefs/ chiefs). “Government is about service, not being served.” Fay ended the conference by thanking Simba for his bravery, acknowledging the fearful environment that Zimbabweans live in where suffering takes place in silence without criticism of one’s leader, “Simba has cut through the gordian knot that Zimbabwe has been trapped in.”

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