In Zimbabwe, women activists are not surprised by the abduction of Itai Dzamara

 

In Harare on Monday, Itai Dzamara – journalist, pro-democracy activist, leader of “Occupy Africa Unity Square”, and a real pain for Robert Mugabe – was kidnapped, in broad daylight. On Tuesday, Dzamara’s wife, Sheffra Dzamara, went to the High Court and filed an urgent habeas corpus. Today, the High Court ordered the State to “search” for Dzamara. Talk about the fox guarding the chickens.

Reporting on this incident, and reporting on Zimbabwe more generally, suggests that State-sponsored violence has significantly reduced since the dark days of the 2008 elections. Jestina Mukoko, National Director of the National Peace Project, and Beatrice Mtetwa, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, would tell it differently. In 2008, Jestina Mukoko was abducted by State agents, and held and tortured for three months. Beatrice Mtetwa has also been a guest of the State, for having committed the crime of asking the whereabouts of one of her clients.

But that was then, and this is now. Right?

In an International Women’s Day celebration honoring Mbuya Felistas Chinyuku, a staunch anti-eviction women’s rights and human rights activist and organizer since 1991, Beatrice Mtetwa noted that in the past 24 months, 1390 local women human rights defenders had been arrested. The women activists’ crimes generally involved staging street protests or petitioning and litigating government with the aim of pressing for political, social and economic rights.

Beatrice Mtetwa explained, “When these women were arrested they were trying to assert their rights as women first and foremost and as citizens of Zimbabwe.” Jestina Mukoko added, “I do not know why the state thinks that we will be fighting against them. We do not intend to fight against the state but to remind them that we are people whose rights are being violated. But by just reminding them to recognize and respect people’s rights you will find yourself in jail.”

Beatrice Mtetwa and Jestina Mukoko made those remarks last Friday, three days before Itai Dzamara was kidnapped. Activists, and just plain folk, in Zimbabwe are worried and rattled by the abduction of Itai Dzamara, but they are not surprised. They have been struggling for the past two years with all varieties of disappearance, for the crime of being women and of being citizens. #BringItaiHome

 

(Image Credit: Twitter / Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition)

Rebecca Mafukeni, citizen of the Republic of Chikurubi

Rebecca Mafukeni died last month, in remand in Zimbabwe’s `notorious’ Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. She had meningitis. Her bail application was denied. Her appeals for medication attention were rejected, and so Rebecca Mafukeni died … or was killed.

Mafukeni was one of 29 MDC-T supporters who were arrested two years ago, in 2011, on suspicion of having killed a police officer. Last week, 21 were acquitted because of lack of evidence. There was no evidence, and yet they remained behind bars, in Chikurubi, some for more than two years. The High Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu took great pains to discuss the case of human rights activist Cynthia Manjoro. Manjoro had been released on bail in 2012, after a State witness testified that Manjoro had only been arrested “as bait” to lure her boyfriend into a trap. Whatever the plan was, Manjoro spent May 2011 to October 2012 in prison.

Yvonne Musarurwa had been with Rebecca Mafukeni in Chikurubi. She has described the experience as a nightmare, especially the months long period held in complete solitary confinement, under a `no human contact’ order. During that period, they thought they were Zimbabwe’s “most isolated women.”

This is the story of women’s lives, and deaths, in the Republic of Chikurubi. Chikurubi is one of those prisons that give notorious a bad name. It is the house of beatings, intimidation, sexual violence, and degradation. It is a place in which people are meant to rot, literally. It is a women’s prison where violence against women extends from overcrowding to refusal to dispense sanitary pads to direct sexual violence to torture to continual abuse and threats to isolation. It is a place that aims to destroy people, individuals, families, communities. In Chikurubi, the personal is political, and the politics is death.

Ask Jestina Mukoko. Ask Beatrice Mtetwa. Ask Violet Mupfuranhehwe. Ask Jennie Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu. Ask Cynthia Manjoro. They’ll tell you. Ask Yvonne Musarurwa. She’ll tell you: “During the first few weeks, we couldn’t cope with living in prison. Rebecca and I broke down completely. We thought we were going to die. But slowly, when we realized there were people who have been there many years before us, the condemned prisoners, we thought okay, we might make it as well.”

We might make it as well. Rest in peace, Rebecca Mafukeni. The struggle continues. We might make it as well.

(Photo credit: Newsday)

Who’s in, who’s out, who’s counting?

Roma

Maps and tallies tell stories. They tell something about what’s going on, who’s in, who’s out, who’s where. They reveal more about the mapmaker and the list maker, the cartographer and the accountant.

Over the weekend, police in three major provinces of South Africa were accused of `fiddling’ with the statistics to make it look as if they, and `we’, are winning the war on crime. Like all modern wars, the war on crime is a statistical phantasmagoria, and so to win the war, one must play the numbers. The police played. Charges include stockpiling, burning, hiding dockets generally; ditching dockets of crimes on the increase; failing to register crimes with a low chance of prosecution; reducing serious crimes to lesser charges; and cover up.

Meanwhile, the police in Los Angeles are fiddling as well. The LAPD online crime map `omits’ close to 40% of serious crimes committed over the last six months, serious crimes that are actually reported elsewhere by … the LAPD! The Department officially reported 52,000 serious crimes between January and June of this year. The map shows 33,000. 19,000 crimes went missing. That’s a lot of missing numbers. That map has some pretty big holes.

From South Africa to the United States, and beyond, some numbers are abandoned, others are abducted.

In Rangoon, Aung San Suu Kyi is a guest of the State, in Insein Jail. She counts. Sunday July 5 marked the 5000th day of her incarceration.

In Uttar Pradesh, or UP, in India, Roma counts, too. She’s Number One, the first woman in the state to be charged under the National Security Act. She’s accused of consorting with Naxalites, of being a terrorist, a dangerous woman. There have been no incidences of insurgent violence where Roma works and lives. There has been “a silent revolution”. Women from over 500 villages have occupied over 20,000 hectares of forest land and have established farming cooperatives. Without committing an act of violence. But Roma is a member of the National Forum of Forests People and Forest Workers, she has worked and lived with tribals in UP for twenty some years, she is a writer, a researcher, an activist who calls for democratic dialogue, a woman who supports tribal women, social justice, peace. She says she has lost count of the number of accusations and arrests. She has never been successfully prosecuted.

In Zimbabwe, Jestina Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, is also counting. Having been abducted and disappeared last year, she now counts the number of times the government of Zimbabwe lies in order to keep her in prison or under the formal threat of imprisonment. At the end of June, state prosecutor Fatima Maxwell admitted that indeed Mukoko had been abducted by state security agents, and that the abduction was illegal. According to government testimony, at least three rights were violated: the right to liberty, the protection of the law, and the right to freedom from torture. A week later, State Security Minister Sydney Sekeramayi denied it all, said no rights were violated. Jestina Mukoko is counting the lies and mapping the spaces where rights used to be. Some are abandoned, some are abducted. We keep trying to count, we keep losing count, we keep counting.

We are in a map of the countless. In Iran, for example, journalist, feminist Zhila Bani Yaghoub was arrested, along with her husband, Bahman Ahmadi Amooy. They were taken to Evin Prison. Yaghoub has written about, and for, women’s rights in Iran for years. The Nobel Women’s Initiative expressed concern “for the safety of Zhila, her husband and the countless other Iranian activists and protesters currently being detained in Iran.” Countless. The numbers are countless. Not because they are so many, although they are many. They are countless because the tally is forbidden. How many lives lost, how many acts of violence, how many rights lost, how many mourners?

Mairead Maguire, Cynthia McKinney, Derek Graham, were among a small boatload of 21 people and humanitarian aid, toys and building supplies and medicine, headed for Gaza, epicenter of the countless. The Israeli Navy took the boat and hijacked it to Israel, where the crew and passengers were detained, mostly in Ramle Prison. Two days later, Maguire, Graham and McKinney were deported. According to Maguire, “Gaza is like a huge prison, but—because its borders are closed. The sea pass into Gaza, which has been closed for over forty years by the Israeli government—we are only the seventh ship to get in to the port of Gaza that tried to break the siege.…And also farmers—fishermen, who try to go out without—in about twelve miles to fish for their families, are shot up and have been killed by the Israeli navy in that area. So, Gaza is a huge occupied territory of one-and-a-half million people who have been subjected to collective punishment by the Israeli government…. It is also tragic that out of ten million Palestinians of a population, almost seven million are currently refugees out in other countries or displaced within their own country, particularly after the horrific massacre by Israeli jet fighters after just earlier this year. Twenty-two days Israel bombarded Gaza, Gazan people, civilians.” 40 years, seven ships, twelve miles, 1.5 million people, 10 million Palestinians, 7 million refugees and displaced persons, 22 days of bombing. Countless. Not infinite, not insuperable, not unimaginable. Simply imprisoned, behind walls and barriers. How many abductions, how many abandonments?

In Ramle Prison, Cynthia McKinney met African women refugees, women who had “arrived…in a very difficult way”. Those countless women wait to be counted. In immigration detention centers around the world, countless women and children and men wait for the fog of their war to dissipate, for the fiddling to stop, for a new set of maps and tallies, and cartographers and accountants.

 

(Photo Credit: CJP)

Bordering on peace: Save Zimbabwe Now!

School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
School’s been blown to pieces

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher’s dirty looks

Out for summer
Out till fall
We might not go back at all

School’s out forever
School’s out for summer
School’s out with fever
School’s out completely

Welcome to Zimbabwe, where even Alice Cooper becomes a prophet. The schools of Zimbabwe are closed. One more organ shuts down. Here’s a week in the death of a nation and a map of the borderlands.

Zimbabwe is not dying. No. Zimbabwe is being choked by killing off its health services. Zimbabwe is being violently kidnapped, disappeared, tortured, til death do us part. Zimbabwe is being negotiated to death, while schools stay closed. Do not confuse dying with murder.

The year ahead looks even bleaker, without seed or with reduced international aid. 10 out 13 million people live in abject poverty … in a land filled with natural riches. Zimbabwe has become a `factory for poverty’. Zimbabwe has entered the business of poverty production. Zimbabwe can give you a great deal on cholera and is willing to consider reasonable offers for hunger. It’s the sale to end all sales.

Have the people of Zimbabwe suffered enough yet? Suffered enough for what? As Zimbabwean Pastor Wilson Mugabe said last week, “We have become beggars … yesterday we were people who could feed the whole of Southern Africa. Hear us, we have suffered enough.” Who measures and weighs the suffering, who decides who lives, who dies, who suffers, who cries? Zimbabwe is a lesson, a curriculum. Zimbabwe closes schools, and thereby teaches the region and the world: “This is a lesson to our region. We came together to liberate ourselves, but now [we see] that power can pervert you to become precisely the opposite of what led you to become a freedom fighter. This is a lesson to other liberation movements in our region.”  The people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough.

Over the last five months, tens of thousands have fled Zimbabwe for South Africa. Zimbabwe inflation is at 6.5 quindecillion novemdecillian percent. Is that really a number? Zimbabwe cholera death soars past 2700. It will rise to 3000 by week’s. Just another day in the death of a nation. Life in Zimbabwe is `precarious’. The women of Zimbabwe have taken to the roads. Many, such as the members of the Kubatana Cooperative, sell goods by the side of the road. For women in Zimbabwe, life is not only precarious, it’s perilous. Jennie Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu are sort of released from prison; Jestina Mukoko and her comrades remain in Chikurubi Maximum Prison, and everyone wonders about those disappeared who are “still missing.” Then Chris Dhlamini and six others, abducted and then `revealed’ in Chikurubi, were reported as misplaced. Misplaced. In Zimbabwe today, reporting that the person you abducted and then smuggled into prison without any charges is now missing, that’s called transparency. We need a new Zimbabwe dictionary that will explain the words, transparency, currency, death, negotiation, hunger, hope. We need a new Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has been `misplaced.’

Desperate children and women flee Zimbabwe for the bleak horror show that is Musina, South Africa. For the children, life in Musina is precarious and perilous. For the women: “While the stories of the refugee children are troubling — with penury in Zimbabwe being exchanged for penury here — many of the more horrifying stories in the city involve the rapes of helpless women.” They are not helpless, they managed to cross the border. For Zimbabwean women, life is more than precarious and more than perilous.

The SADC talks on Zimbabwe fail. Joy Mabenge of the Institute for Democratic Alternatives for Zimbabwe, concludes, “”The pronouncement that the political talks are dead is likely to trigger mass protests. For now the masses are trapped and indeed arrested in false hopes of either an inclusive government or a transitional authority being consummated. The nation has reached a tipping point and what the ordinary people are waiting for is in historical terms the 28 June 1914 Sarajevo assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand to trigger some sort of coordinated civil disobedience.” Now that’s a democratic alternative. Meanwhile, the school system is in total collapse. Teachers can’t afford to teach and so sell goods on the street. Women teachers , women who were business owners, traders, accountants, secretaries and PAs, police, they cross the borders, into Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana, and enter the sex work industry. Last year, 30,000 Zimbabwean teachers left the educational system; 10,000 now live in South Africa.

The killing of Zimbabwe includes the story of borders. It is a story of neighboring nation-states equating security with peace, and so closing their borders. It is a story of distant nation-states claiming that national sovereignty, borders, is the basis of the rule of law. The only crisis, the only emergency, that supersedes national sovereignty, the rule of borders, is military. So, SADC dithers. The UN dithers. All nation-states dither.

The world dithers, and Zimbabwe continues to be killed. Zimbabweans keep crossing the borders out. But who crosses in? Recently, people have started to question the sanctity of those borders, the logic of outflow. In the past week, with the launch of Save Zimbabwe Now, something new emerged. Save Zimbabwe Now has called on people of conscience to engage in a personal collective action, fasting and monitoring. Yesterday, Nomboniso Gasa of the South African Commission for Gender Equality and a member of Save Zimbabwe Now, put governments on notice that people of conscience, people who want Zimbabwe to be free today from hunger, oppression and poverty, would be monitors. The test for competency to become a monitor is trust. Not a blue helmet worn nor a civil service exam passed: “by sheer silence… they condone what is happening – so what basis do we have to trust them!” Trust.

As Graca Machel said at the launch of the Save Zimbabwe Now campaign, Zimbabwe is a lesson. Even when the schools are closed. Yvonne Vera knew this, the lesson that is Zimbabwe. Her last novel, The Stone Virgins, ends on a double note of education. On one hand, there’s Nonceba, who is remarkably educated: “there are not many people with a good high school certificate in the city. She has an advantage. Education for everyone is being constantly interrupted by the war. Schools close down. They remain closed. Especially, the mission schools located in rural areas. Nonceba has an astounding capacity for joy.”

And there’s her partner, Cephas: “His task is to learn to recreate the manner in which the tenderest branches bend, meet, and dry, the way grass folds smoothly over this frame and weaves a nest, the way it protects the cool livable place within; deliverance.”

The schools must be opened today, the hospitals and clinics as well. People must have access to their own and their shared capacity for joy. At the same time, the cool livable place within must be learned. The borders must be opened so that exile is not confused for deliverance. Save Zimbabwe now, not from itself but rather from those who are murdering it.

 

(Image Credit: Save Zimbabwe Now Campaign / Twitter.com)

 

Zimbabwe: what else can we say?

Jestina Mukoko

Nigel Mutamagau, a two year old, abducted with his parents and now in jail, has been beaten and has not received medical attention. Jestina Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was abducted, is now in jail, and reports suggest that, along with torture, she may be suffering poisoning.

Welcome to Zimbabwe, where the rule of law means once you’ve been abducted and disappeared for a while, you’re meant to be grateful if you show up in jail and then in court. Where’s the gratitude, where’s that thank you note to the government, to ZANU-PF? Last week, in “Fighting for Jestina Mukoko,” an interview with Elinor Sisulu and Barbara Nyangairi of the ZPP, Mukoko was described as a role model because she would speak publically in a place where none do, a zone of collective social self abandonment, Zimbabwe: “”The day before she was abducted she spoke about women and police violence, in an address to the women’s coalition in Mount Pleasant.” When her lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, finally saw Mukoko, she reported: “We saw Jestina. Of course someone who has been tortured cannot look good. She was seen by a doctor who is working in cahoots with her torturers, they [usually] want to make sure [the effects of] her torture [are] not too visible.” That was last Sunday.

Jestina Mukoko is still in jail; Beatrice Mtetwa still represents her and still speaks out. Mukoko was kidnapped on December 3, was disappeared for three weeks and then `magically’ appeared in court on December 24. Mtetwa filed motions to know who her abductors were, to dismiss any information obtained under `duress’, aka torture, and to be allowed to go to hospital for treatment. Friday, January 2, all motions were denied: “`The law has absolutely broken down in Zimbabwe,’ Mtetwa told journalists outside the court. `If a High Court can refuse to investigate an admitted kidnapping, refuses a patient a right to medical treatment — to a place she can get treatment — what else can we say?’”

What else can we say?

At the very least, we can speak, shout, sing their names: Nigel Mutamagau, Jestina Mukoko, Barbara Nyangairi, Beatrice Mtetwa, Elinor Sisulu. We can try to find the names of others who have been abducted but for the moment remain disappeared, and we can invoke the names of those `whose bodies have been identified.’ Let these names engulf and erase the names of the murderers who run Zimbabwe, the names of the murderers of adjacent countries who support the murderers who run Zimbabwe, the names of the murderers of distant countries who have supported the murderers who run Zimbabwe.

(Photo Creidt: Nehanda Radio)