I killed men today


by Lindani Chirambadare

I was there with thousand others in Coppa cabanna as we stood aside and did nothing, craning our necks to see the soldiers beat up the faceless nameless unwashed hwindis whose problems and running battles with the soldiers and police we did not need to remember because for one they deserved it, two it was none of our business, three I have enough problems of my own…and any number of reasons to fill in the blank spaces. We knew in our hearts that it was wrong and that it should not happen, least of all with the frequency and magnitude with which it has been happening. I watched as the soldiers dragged the poor unarmed young and old hwindis out of the kombis, whip them up, kick them and pound their heads with sadistic glee. I was there when they were stripped of their dignity and reduced to begging battered pulps. I was there. And I did nothing but kill each one of the soldiers in my mind.

What gives a soldier the right to beat up a civilian, or two, or three, or ten or twenty? They bellowed that the hwindis refused to carry them to work, for free, in the morning. They reiterated their entitlement to such benefit because they defend this country and are by consequence entitled to treatment as “staff” munyika yababa Chatunga (in Mugabe’s country). What or who has brainwashed these man and women of the uniform into a warped sense of importance? Does it have anything to do with restlessness or unsatisfactory pay days which frustrates them into beating up ordinary civillians who have – in this particular case, been systematically excluded from recourse? Such tyranny. There surely can be no amount of justification for the protector turning into the tormentor.

What makes a citizen give up his power? The power accruing to her or him through the social contract?

Our minds have been colonised by fear.

Our will by complacency.

We stood aside today because we were afraid, it did not concern us, we were not angry enough and besides, who were we to do anything when the Police themselves were turning a blind eye? What happens tomorrow then when the soldiers beat up my brother, your father, my mother our mother and our grandmother, because they can and we have allowed them to? What happens when your child, niece or nephew is initiated into that culture of hooliganism because it is the one that obtains in the community and country in which they live in? Will the same reasons for complacency obtain? Will the discourse take up new and different meaning when the protagonists are closer to our bossoms?

We must never forget that Hwindis are honest (most times anyway) men and women, you and I trying to make a living and to fend for their families by trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents split many ways among the Police, Council, Zimra , Zinara, fuel, ZBC, rentals, fees, livelihood……. and that when we stand aside we are waiting in line.

Our kids and grandchildren and generations after them will one day ask us why we stood aside and let our country degenerate to levels of no return like this and we will have no answer but to face the truth, the fact of our cowardice.

The bells may today toll for our neighbour but tomorrow, they will toll for us.

Engendering the Constitution: A call to action for the Zimbabwe women’s movement


by Natasha Msonza

Yesterday the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development together with the women’s movement in Zimbabwe hold a constitutional conference intended to map strategy moving forward, in terms of aligning existing laws to the ‘new’ constitution. This, we are informed, is to ensure that the numerous gender sensitive provisions therein translate into tangible benefits for women. This is especially important given that there is no formal structure in Zimbabwe charged with overseeing the implementation of the Constitution. Among the objectives of this meeting are the endeavours to ‘sensitise’ women on the gender provisions in the Constitution as well as facilitate the sharing of regional best practices and lessons learnt on making the constitution work for women. 

The idea of learning from regional experiences is noble, and recently the UN Women facilitated a meeting where experts from Kenya and South Africa shared some important lessons to note and be wary of when undergoing such processes. Among other things, they pointed out that:

  • In seeking to strengthen implementation of gender equality in the constitution, it may be imperative to advocate for the institution of a body responsible for the implementation of the constitution, specifically with a broad mandate to monitor, facilitate and oversee the development of relevant legislation and administrative procedures required for effective implementation of the constitution.
  • The need to ensure that the Gender Commission is well and properly constituted, is extremely independent and with enough mandate to effectuate equity and equality provisions as provided for in the supreme law. This calls for the need for the women’s movement to itself make submissions of criteria to be considered for the selection of commissioners and what they want to see in this commission, including advocating for the proper financing of this and other key commissions.
  • Implementers may not be in a hurry to implement, and excuses not to implement gender matters may foreseeably be brought to the table, with arguments such as that there are no specific laws or policies. Women must be prepared to develop drafts of laws that will complement the process, or strengthen the capacities of the people charged with making the process possible.
  • The implementation of affirmative action, a concept not well understood even among women – will need to be carefully thought through and clear guidelines developed.
  • Civil society strategy may need to shift a gear up from lobbying and advocacy to monitoring and facilitating implementation, including the use of the tool of public interest litigation. There is also need to create a monitoring system within the women’s movement to oversee implementation. This includes monitoring appointments to commissions and seeing that these comply with constitutional provisions and any quota systems that may be in place.

The objective of ‘sensitizing’ Zimbabwean women on the provisions of the constitution though noble comes with its attendant challenges. Foremost, it must be said that before the 2013 referendum, the women’s movement worked extensively to cascade constitutional literacy among women – from holding conferences to translating and simplifying the document, all mainly in a campaign to influence a ‘Yes’ vote. It is critical to define what ‘sensitization of women’ now means in the context of seeking to re-align laws, particularly considering the prevailing context in Zimbabwe where people are pre-occupied with survival and just keeping body and soul together.

There is still a multiplicity of problems, where there is worry about where to get salaries for civil servants, the high levels of unemployment and high costs of living, among other things. In such a context, the Constitution becomes so remote, that it’s not an everyday bread and butter issue for ordinary people. How to rally people together and talk about the constitution again, and putting up a gender commission where the state is failing to provide basic services for the people can be a tall order. It’s generally difficult for an ordinary person to link the lack of service delivery to the constitution. The challenge is in finding creative ways of rallying people around the constitution, while they are seized with a multiplicity of problems and other competing and more immediate priorities. A clear and practical strategy will therefore be needed.    

Is women’s participation in elections darned, damned and doomed?


by Kudakwashe Chitsike

In July 2013, Zimbabweans went to the polls for elections that were set to end the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed in 2008 and the subsequent inclusive government. This election was a winner takes all event; and there was a lot of excitement about the future from all political parties, but also a sense of trepidation as the previous elections had been riddled with violence. Civil society groups and the media had labelled the 2008 election, the most violent election period in Zimbabwe’s history. 

Women were particularly afraid of the violence as they suffered both as primary and secondary victims. In many instances, when there were threats of violence, the men would run away, but, because of their domestic responsibilities, women were not able to go as they had to look after children, the sick, and the elderly. In previous RAU reports, we documented women’s experiences with violence during elections which included arson, assault, destruction of property, rape, political intimidation, and threats.  There was enough evidence for women to have good reason to fear another round of elections.  During the existence of the inclusive government, the main political parties were preaching non- violence and peace, but there were reports of violence regardless.  The parties were aware that the world was watching, and specifically looking out for acts of violence during the 2013 elections. They were also aware that violence would discredit the elections as was the case in 2008, particularly the period leading up to the run off; thus, it was in their best interests to be seen to be advocating for non-violence.  There was very little overt violence but reports of intimidation before and during the elections were reported.

To explore the nature of women’s experiences during the elections in 2013, RAU conducted three focus groups discussions with participants from Masvingo, Bindura, and Marondera.  The study looked at the general operating environment, which included voting, the special vote, assisted voters, indelible ink, the vote counting and the results.  With regard to violence, most of the women who participated in the study stated that they voted in a relatively peaceful environment. Below are some of their statements:

In Masvingo we did not encounter the problems we encountered in 2008. There was no violence the same way there was in 2008, in fact people really voted in peace and people reflected their choices peacefully.

I met with a new but very pleasant experience where young men from different political parties would share glue for sticking campaign posters.

We were happy because the prayers we took part in worked. There was peace everywhere. I was an agent and I was happy because it was not as hard as it used to be in the previous years.

The women were from different political parties, but their sentiments on violence were similar; though they varied on other areas such as the registration process and inspection of the voters’ roll. The differences were clearly on party lines, where women from one party found it easy to register and inspect the voters’ roll and others found it near impossible.  The full report is available for download here on our website.

Farewell to Wilfred Mhanda


By Tony Reeler

Elaborating on Kant, Karl Popper, whom Wilf did not like much, he once said that when a man dies a universe dies, and you know this when you know that person.  This seems wholly appropriate for Wilfred Mhanda, and, after all has been said about his remarkable contribution to the liberation of this country and the protection of our nascent democracy, we should not lose sight of the man himself.

Indomitable would be the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Wilf. Exuding a power that belied his tiny stature, he was indomitable in his pursuit of truth, and rigorous in his pursuit of the knowledge that could drive truth. Scientist and soldier, he made it a point of learning throughout his life, his bookshelf filled with philosophy, political science, books of all kinds that would help him develop personally and publicly.

As to the obvious evidence of his indomitable strength, just remember shaking hands with Wilf: that hard slap and grab, you always felt him there – he was making contact in no uncertain fashion.

Remember too his greatest strength and simultaneously his greatest weakness: his insistence on the truth and his utter failure to lie. Never the one to edit the truth and never to shirk the consequences, Wilf was never going to be an easy person. If he thought it, he said it, and, in the highly dissimulating socio-political climate that is Zimbabwean politics, he would inevitably be controversial: he didn’t court it, he didn’t do it for effect, but he did it because he thought it was right and he had a right to his opinion. This was why he was so publicly insistent about the values of the freedom fighters and what the uncompleted struggle was about.

His views would just burst out of him: when many would think carefully about what others might think about them, Wilf would just say it. I remember vividly Wilf telling a very senior Afro-American politician that he was a disgrace as a black man for saying that he would find it hard to publicly condemn Robert Mugabe. His outbursts were not always impetuous, but came from his endless thinking about the nation and its politics: his life from his earliest days was that of a patriot, always concerned about how the nation should serve the common man and his deep contempt for elitism.

He lived an immensely humble life, not for him the trappings of power and prestige. He needed none of these to be effective. Everyone will remember Wilf coming into meetings wearing one of his extraordinary caps. He did not care about what he looked like, and, no matter where he was, you immediately felt his bristling energy, tied up in that rock hard little body. Anyone who hugged or was hugged by Wilf encountered a rock!

He never bemoaned his lot in life: no whining from Wilf. You dealt with the problems and got on with sorting things out. That we would all agree that he was shamefully treated was of no real consequence to Wilf, and he merely continued the struggle for what he believed was right. In the two highly active phases of his political life – the Liberation War and the post-2000 crisis – there was a great consistency to his views, and his great courage gave strength to all around him. Civil society in the post-2000 crisis has been immeasurably strengthened that the “commander” stood amongst them with his steadfast positions on right and wrong in the Zimbabwean polity.

And so Comrade Dzino is gone, and his last struggle has ended, and he is at peace, but the lessons he tried to teach us by example remain and cannot be wished away by ignoring him. The failings that he saw around him can be seen by all, and perhaps are expressed so eloquently by T. S. Eliot:

“I see nothing quite conclusive in the art of temporal government,

But violence, duplicity and frequent malversation.

King rules or barons rule:

The strong man strongly and the weak man by caprice.

They have but one law, to seize the power and keep it, and the steadfast can manipulate the greed and lust of others,

The feeble is devoured by his own.”

(Murder in the Cathedral)

Dealing with the past: Considerations for Transitional Justice and setting up the National Peace & Reconciliation Commission


by Tony Reeler

RAU has just released two new reports about the ways in which the gross human rights violations of the past could be managed.

  •   RAU (2014), The Development of a National Transitional Justice Strategy. A P Reeler, Senior Researcher (RAU), & Njonjo Mue (Advocate of the High Court of Kenya). April 2014. HARARE: RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT;

  •   RAU 92014), Suggestions for setting up the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC. Governance Programme. April 2014, HARARE: RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT.

There are a number of key conclusions that emerge from the consideration of a Transitional Justice process for Zimbabwe and the possible course of action that the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission might adopt:

On Transitional Justice

Any strategy will have to consider four decades of violations in order that no section of Zimbabwe’s population is alienated. Four decades must be included if the victims’ perspective is to be taken seriously: no victim is more important than any other, and all deserve redress and rehabilitation.

A transitional justice process that brings healing and a deeply democratic society will need the whole scale involvement of the citizenry, and this will take time. In a country with such an unhappy history as Zimbabwe, haste may create more problems than it solves, given that there are multiple eras of violations and quite different views about the significance of each of these eras. For example, younger people feel little attachment to the violations of the pre-Independence period, and people from Matabeleland feel that the Gukurahundi has a greater significance for them than any other period.

It will be crucial that a “Transitional Justice Strategy”,and/or a “National Peace and Reconciliation Strategy”, are both truly “national” in character, and hence include a consideration of all human rights violations in the country’s history.

It cannot be claimed that there is any coherent view amongst Zimbabwean citizens about what form a transitional justice process should take, and many areas where significant segments of the population disagree on fundamental issues. This suggests that there is need for much wider public consultation about transitional justice before any comprehensive policy is put in place.

On the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission’s mandate:

The provisions dealing with the NPRC, whilst adequate, will need to be fully fleshed out with the enabling legislation, and this will require great care in order to not restrict the Commission too unduly, nor to create a mandate that is impossible to implement

In a first phase suggested for the NPRC, the health service will be a critical partner, both in assisting the NPRC in understanding the scale and nature of the problems, and then in building into its existing services the services needed by victims and survivors.

It is suggested that the NPRC deals initially with two activities that are overlapping, and based on the view that NO transitional justice process can take place without very broad consultation with Zimbabwean citizens. Thus, two processes are suggested:

  •   A national “story-telling” exercise, and

  •   A national “healing” exercise.

A national “story-telling” exercise and a national “healing” exercise combined can have salutatory effects in bringing ordinary Zimbabweans together in sharing their understandings of what went wrong at any one time. Healing will be critical to the success of the initiative as “victims” transformed into “survivors” see the world very differently when healed, and the vision for reconciliation needs the imagination of “survivors” and not the anger of “victims”.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that there is little that has happened since 2003, when the 2004 International Symposium, Civil Society and Justice in Zimbabwe, made its recommendations for transitional justice in Zimbabwe that has made those recommendations inappropriate or dated. The point is that we can build on an enormous base for understanding as well as very clear views about what needs to be done. 

Download the full reports from our website:

The Development of a National Transitional Justice Strategy

*Suggestions for setting up the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission

#CSW58- MDG 8: Developing Global Partnership for Development


By Rumbidzai Dube

As the era of the MDGs draws to a close-(2000-2015) – one of the things that need paying attention to is; why did we fail to achieve the milestones? Why did Zimbabwe fall short on so many of the indicators? Central to these questions, is the issue of resources. This is because no policy, however brilliant, cannot be successfully implemented without the required financial and human resources. These resources can be attained where there is a clear fundraising strategy. Usually states fundraise through sustained economic growth in areas such as taxation, trade and consequently decreasing debt.

Zimbabwe has seen a steady growth of the GDP since 2009 recovering from the terrible 2007-2009 period of economic decline. However this growth has not translated into increased income in the home. External debt remains high, pegged at 113 % of the GDP. Overall availability of vital medicines has increased although there is low production of drugs, with CAPS-the leading pharmaceutical company- almost shutting down.  There is general improvement in access to cellular networks and internet with about 20% coverage. 65 in every 1000 people have access to a laptop. However the uptake of ICT’s remains largely centralised to the young and urban population. The lack of ICT legislation continues to hamper access.

What have we done well?

  • The Economic Recovery Programme implemented by former Finance Minister, Tendai Biti, emphasised economic and governance reforms which brought stability and recovery to the economy
  • Overall availability of vital medicines has remained stable because of the local production of drugs, enough to actually export some of the drugs.
  • Our creation and use of technology continues to improve; both mobile penetration and internet usage have significantly increased.
  • We are linked to both the Seacom and the EASSy undersea fibre optic cables, developments that have significantly improved our country’s internet connectivity.

What have we not done well?

  • We have no industry to talk of. Our manufacturing sector is still underproductive because of the many challenges it faces such as electricity load shedding and the liquidity crunch.
  • Domestic policy such as indigenisation and land reform, whose implementation is unclear continue to pose a threat to investment resulting in low foreign direct investment
  • Our proud and arrogant stance in our engagement with the international community continues to alienate possible allies in spearheading economic recovery.
  • The health sector still relies heavily on foreign funding, with our main donors being the Unites States, the European Commission, the United Kingdom and Australia. Our own government has not dedicated enough money to fund our health system.
  • We have not taken full advantage of our membership to regional integration initiatives such as COMESA, SADC and EU-ACP; for instance, we have not utilised the fact that SADC is a Free Trade Area which represents a large market to our goods and produce.
  • Although we are producing and exporting vital medicines, they are still expensive for the average person on the ground; as there is a leaning towards protecting the interests of the pharmaceuticals above those of the patients who are just ordinary citizens
  • We do not have an ICT policy to regulate the ICT industry resulting in stunted growth in that area.

What more can we do?

  • We need to re-engage the international community understanding that we live in a global village where we need allies and partners. Re-engagement should not mean begging, we do not need donations- we need good trade relations in which we bargain for the true value of our goods, both processed and raw.
  • We need an ICT policy to cater to the needs of a constantly changing technology landscape
  • We must learn lessons from the region. Rwanda is a good example, especially where the health system is concerned. In just 19 years Rwanda;
    •  increased its life expectancy from 28 years to 56 years;
    • decreased the size of its population living below the poverty line from 77.8% to 44.9%;
    • decreased child deaths from 18% to 6%;
    • increased the size of the population with health insurance from almost 0% to 90.6%;
    • maternal mortality dropped by 60%;
    • HIV,TB and Malaria deaths decreased by close to 80%;
    • The poorest pay nothing to access health care.

We have so much potential as a nation. We do not need aid! We have enough resources. If we deal with corruption, work to redistribute our resources equitably ad ensure that everyone, and not just the big fat-fatty cats continue to benefit, the challenge of failing to implement the MDG’s will cease to exist and be another old archive in the history books.

#CSW58 MDG 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability


By Rumbidzai Dube

The environment is our most valued/priced natural asset because in it exist all the elements that make our lives what they are; air, water, sun, wind, rain, food among others. The conservation of the environment is hence a priority area as failure to conserve it could spell our demise or extinction. Yet, more often than not, the protection of the environment is relegated to the least of our priorities. Even at the global level, recognition that environmental protection is needed is there but the political will to do so is as good as non-existent. The big powers, whose greed and reckless quest to grow their economies is largely responsible for the rut we are in with climate change, refuse to take up responsibility in mitigating further damage and stopping further degradation by reducing their emissions and giving financial assistance to the countries affected by climate change already to adapt to the current climatic trends.

Yet in all this, the poor suffer more. How, one would ask; climate change affects the environment and in doing so poses the biggest human security threat to the poor and the vulnerable. The majority of our women in Zimbabwe live off the land, vana gogo vanorima (women farmers), vana tete vanochera mbambaira (sweet-potato harvesters), madzimai emusika anotengesa maveggie (vendors), makorokoza echidzimai (female gold panners) they all live off the land.

Climate change could bring either droughts or floods. Droughts will mean that the farmers, who depend on consistent and sufficient rains, will be affected. The failure of the rains to come means their failure to produce food (crop failure); which means there will be food insecurity, which will bring hunger, which in turn causes malnutrition. Poor yield means increased poverty and with poverty come health risks. Droughts also mean less water available, the less clean water we have available, the more our chances of being exposed to contaminated water which will result in the contraction of terrible diseases like cholera and typhoid, something that Zimbabwe has already experienced.

Climate change could also mean floods. As the experience of Zimbabwe with the Tokwe-Mukosi disaster illustrated, floods bring many issues: displacement, homelessness, food insecurity, disease, poverty and a general drawback to the development agenda.

Our main energy source in the rural areas, firewood comes from the land and results in the cutting down of trees, the very same forests we need to mitigate against climate change. But what other alternative do they have; gas is expensive, electricity is scarce-and although solar is readily available and can be successfully converted for cooking, it is slow and is hardly a favoured option in many households.

What have we done well?

  • Although in the SADC region, Botswana, Mauritius, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, Seychelles, Swaziland, Malawi and Lesotho are doing better than us, we are ranked number 100 in our carbon dioxide emissions. This makes us one of the lowest net emitters of greenhouse gases. One could argue that this is the case because we have no industry to talk about as most of our factories and plants have closed and are largely dysfunctional.
  • However, should we begin boosting our exiting efforts at adopting green energy, this could prove useful in maintaining our emissions really low and preserving our environment.
  • We are producing ethanol fuel which is home-grown and in the process creating jobs, developing our economy and preserving the environment.
  • We are improving our solar technology to reduce the use of wood in rural areas.

What have we not done well and how can we improve?

  • There is increased deforestation. This is because of the increased reliance on firewood for energy both in the rural and urban areas. With increasing power cuts, populations have turned to firewood for cooking. Until we address our energy deficit by increasing and improving electricity supply as well as exploring alternative energy sources such as gas, our forests will continue to deplete.
  • There is increased environmental degradation through veld-fires.
  • The existence of the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) in itself is a positive development. However, this government body is underfunded and is hence plagued by corruption. Anyone can pollute as long as they can pay some in the EMA.
  • There is increased poaching of wildlife in our national parks (especially in Hwange), and again this is being made possible by the rampant corruption in that sector. The lack of resources to patrol the parks makes poaching easier.
  • There is increased desecration of valuable environmental sites such as vleis, sanctuaries and wetlands. This cannot just be a case of ignorance of the need for environmental protection as most of the desecration is sanctioned by government. It is clear the problem is corruption; those who stand to benefit from the building of malls on wetlands or the allocation of residential stands on wetlands are the real culprits that need to be weeded out. (And I am glad that the ugly-Chinese-mall-built-on-the-wetland-is-cracking-up-proving-it-was-built-on-a-wetland).
  • Our water and sanitation situation is pathetic. The housing backlog and the overcrowding in urban areas does not help the situation either. And it must be pointed out that the housing problem is a man-made disaster, a consequence of the demolition of houses by government in Operation Murambatsvina in 2006 and the subsequent failure to replace those destroyed homes.
  • Climate change has begun to show its presence with seasonal changes and drastic changes to our weather patterns. The impact that this has on our environment and our food security is something that has little talked about. We need to increase dialogue around the meaning, cause, consequences and impact of climate change to improve our adaptation strategies.
  • We are destroying our conservancies (such as Save) all for the love of money. Are the diamonds not enough nhaimi?
  • We need to have more public-private partnerships on sustaining the environment. Most environmental degradation affects the public but is caused by corporates accessing resources be it minerals, land or forestry.
  • Above all, this goal needs us to do three things; the first is to deal with Corruption, the second is to deal with corruption and the third to deal with corruption. That green eyed monster called corruption that’s being passed off by those who practise it and being substituted with the s (for sanctions)-word which I dare not pronounce, needs to be dealt with effectively. Until and unless we do that, we are a doomed nation.

#CSW58 MDG 6: Combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases


I saw a headline in one of yesterday’s papers which said: “MDC official succumbs to Malaria.” Yes, Malaria, as a disease only becomes topical when it kills a prominent individual. Outside such circumstances, the media pays it very little, if not, no attention. Yet malaria remains one of the biggest health problems our country has to deal with. Did you know that 50% of our population is at risk of Malaria? And, did you also know that 1 in 12 children die before their 5th birthday of Malaria? Do you now see why we must pay malaria as much attention as HIV/AIDS?

Another disease, well known and feared but with hardly any statistics to tell us what it is and how much it has affected our people is cancer. All we know is that the number of death certificates, with the cause of death written down as cancer, are dramatically increasing. Women are being diagnosed with breast and cervical cancer while the number of men with prostate cancer is also increasing. We have many cases of individuals seeking donations to have surgery done on growths in the stomach, jaws, throat abroad and a vast number are also succumbing to lung cancer. Costs of getting cancer treatment are steep, estimated at $500 per session and government no longer subsidises the patients because they says government has no funds.

Typhoid and Cholera are also killing many people. The annoying thing about the scourge of these diseases in Zimbabwe is that it was purely man-made. Yes, I said that! We brought cholera and typhoid unto ourselves through the failure of our government to provide us with clean water and ensure sanitation for its citizens. Meanwhile, the bosses at the municipal councils responsible for collecting our rubbish bins, repairing our sewer pipes and providing us with clean water were always whining that there was not enough money for it while they paid each other $35 000 salaries.

Tuberculosis is also killing many of our people. Fortunately, the drugs are available for free in our public hospitals so once diagnosed; an individual can be helped and healed. Although about 79% of the people treated of TB in 2011 also had HIV/AIDS, 21 % were just cases of TB-something that a lot of people have lost touch with; assuming that only HIV positive individuals can suffer from TB.

We have been doing well in our fight with HIV/AIDS. Infections reduced from 30% in 2000 to 15% in 2011. However it is worrying to note that HIV/AIDS affects more women than men as prevalence is 6% higher among women (18% prevalence) than men (12% prevalence). And so it is perplexing to understand why some people JUST don’t get what we mean when we speak of the feminisation of HIV/AIDS, or the need for addressing gender relations in ending HIV/AIDS. Can she negotiate for safe sex [with her HIV positive partner]? Can she say no to sex with her [HIV positive] husband? How many of the women will get HIV/AIDS from their [HIV positive] husband in that polygamous marriage? How many of the women will contract the disease from that serial rapist? And so the nature of the relationships [where women have less power] determines the risk [higher] of getting HIV/AIDS and reflects in the prevalence [higher among women].

What have we done well?

  • HIV/AIDS testing has significantly improved. It takes less time to get tested and the counselling services have improved.
  • The roll out of the Anti-Retro Viral Treatment (ART) has been largely successful, with free drugs being provided for patients in public hospitals.
  • The successful implementation of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) has helped reduce new infections in children.
  • The availability of malaria and tuberculosis (TB) drugs for free in public hospitals has helped the fight against both diseases.

What have we not done?

  • We only have 2 public hospitals treating cancer – Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo and Parirenyatwa in Harare.
  • These hospitals have very little in the form of radiation therapy equipment, drugs and manpower in the form of specialists.
  • We have not opened our eyes to the reality of the increase in cancer detections enough to take steps to prevent its outbreak.

What more can we do?

  • We need to allocate more funds to addressing all these diseases. Relying on external partners’ support is unreliable and risky and as proved by the withdrawal of funds by the Global Fund, the plug on such funds can be pulled off any minute. Government must adequately budget so that donor funds become surplus, not the core.
  • More focus needs to be paid to dealing with cancer as cancer deaths are on the increase. Further, awareness efforts on what causes cancer and how it can be cured need to be scaled up.
  • Above and beyond the policy and practice, we need to address our ethos as a people. The reality of the high HIV infections among women lies in unequal gender relations where women are unable to negotiate for safe sex. Without addressing these gender relations, women will remain vulnerable.
  • We must address corruption; Salary-gate is part of the reason why people died of cholera and typhoid. Those who sanctioned and those who took fat salaries home while some poor people drank infected and dirty water to their death bed have blood on their hands.

#CSW58-MDG 5: Promoting Maternal Health


By Rumbidzai Dube

When I reflect on the risk and sacrifices that women make in this world, it makes me wonder when, why and how it came to be that in many parts of the world, they are regarded as second class citizens. What am I saying?

According to the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS) of 2011, at least 10 women die every day due to pregnancy-related complications. Did you hear that, 10 women die every day while giving birth to children, some of them sons, who will then turn on their mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces and cousins and treat them as second class citizens. Isn’t that ironic?

Millennium Development Goal 5 is definitely one of the goals that Zimbabwe will not be able to meet. With maternal deaths estimated to be above 960 deaths for every 100 000 live births, the target of reducing maternal deaths by three quarters can remain an aspiration for now. Given that the 960 deaths are official statistics, which God knows how accurate they are, with the way our government is out of touch with the issues on the ground on so many levels, the rate is possibly even higher.

Let us assume for a minute that these statistics in fact are right, I am still perplexed by the worrying trend that factors such as education, class, location and age are no longer critical in determining who is affected. Uneducated and educated, poor and rich, rural and urban, and older and younger women are all dying in child birth. Clearly there are nuances to the problem and successfully dealing with maternal health needs exploring these. For instance, cases of celebrities who passed on in child birth, grabbed the headlines, raising the need for a more concerted effort into addressing the issue of maternal mortality.

What are some of these nuances?

  • We simply do not have enough trained health professionals to deal with the delivery of our babies. Our nurses left and we are not doing much to motivate those who remained behind to remain in our service and to be motivated at work.
  • The private health-care system has not been effectively regulated. Just in the past year I have had 2 friends and a relative who have had nasty encounters with private health practitioners. The first friend went to a reputable women’s health centre where she was told she had a growth in her uterus and needed to have her uterus cleaned. Fortunately for her, she chose not to do that and sought a second opinion. Guess what-the supposed ‘growth’ in her uterus was a baby. And to think these people have advanced machines for scans and all that other fancy stuff!!

Another friend elected to deliver her baby through a Caesarean and informed her gynaecologist of her choice. However, he kept pushing the dates for the performance of the Caesarean forward, in what she feared was an attempt to create complications in her delivery, leading to her increased stay in hospital and increased bill=more money for the doctor.

My other relative had had two babies, delivered through normal births without any complications. However for her third baby, the doctor dramatically chose to ‘induce’ her labour prematurely. She could not understand why he did so when her labour was not delayed and her pregnancy was advancing normally. Eventually she found out why when the bill came with a breakdown of:

  1. Costs for inducing labour
  2. Costs for delivering the baby
  3. Costs for doing the ‘stitches’ on the mother
  4. Costs of medication to clean the wounds

She also complained that the same doctor had developed a reputation of forcing women whose babies he delivered to have more ‘stitches’  or proclaim non-existent complications requiring caesarean delivery because doing so meant he would charge more for sewing them back together and performing the surgery. It seems the love for money far exceeds the observance of medical ethics these days.

What have we done well?

  • Our implementation of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission programme (PMTCT) has significantly reduced cases of HIV/AIDS infections in children at birth. HIV testing has improved and the responsibility lies with the mothers to choose life for their children.
  • The adoption of the National Campaign to Accelerate the Reduction of Maternal Mortality (NCARMM) directly corresponding with the African Union (AU) Campaign on the Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa in itself is an important development as it affirms government’s recognition that maternal mortality is a serious problem that needs addressing.

What have we not done well?

Government admits that most maternal deaths are a result of time taken to seek healthcare because of ignorance or lack of funds to pay for hospital care; time needed to reach a healthcare because hospitals are too far and there is no easily accessible transport to and from the health facility or the cost to do so is high and unaffordable and time taken to access care at the health facility-where there is generally an air of neglect of women in health-care facilities by highly unmotivated nurses.

Generally health services are inaccessible particularly in rural areas where hospitals and clinics are not within easy reach and the transport networks to the major clinics and hospitals are not easily accessible. Increasingly, the service in hospitals, particularly public/government hospitals, has deteriorated and has become poor. Pregnant women suffer neglect in hospitals resulting in some avoidable losses and deaths. Socio-economic challenges, related with the current economic environment significantly impact women’s access to medical services as they cannot afford to pay the user fees. There has been reduced uptake of contraception for inexplicable reasons.

What more can we do?

  • We need to adequately fund all our health institutions. Although a government policy stating that women should not pay user fees exists, it is impractical. If clinics do not make women pay, then they will not have the gloves, medication and swabs to attend to the women at child birth. Until and unless government adequately funds these facilities then the assertions that user fees have been scrapped will remain what they are; mere rhetoric!!
  • We must address religious and traditional practices that deny women access to medical facilities or that delay until patients are in critical condition. Zvitsidzo (Apostolic sects’ version of maternal wards), located in bushes in the middle of nowhere, secretive and denying access to the public, are an example of how maternal care is being compromised. Because of the veil of secrecy that these sects throw over these spaces, it is not clear how many women actually die and whether there are any complications that women have to live with for the rest of their lives for failing to give birth in certified maternal health care facilities.
  • We must maintain our reliable supply of contraception BUT we must find out, through comprehensive research, why there is reduced uptake of contraceptives.
  • We must take measures to motivate our nurses to do their jobs effectively. Without the necessary incentives, women will continue to lose their lives in avoidable circumstances.

#CSW58-MDG 4: Reducing child mortality


by Rumbidzai Dube

In 2013 we are losing 57 children for every 1000 children that are born alive. These children are dying because of neonatal causes such as birth complications (34%), others from HIV/AIDS (20%), Pneumonia (10%), Malaria (9%), Diarrhoea (7 %)), Injuries (3%), Measles (1%), Meningitis (1%) and other causes. One famous (and hot) actor recognised the source of the problem as lack of political will and conscience and stated;

“Let us be the ones who say we do not accept that a child dies every three seconds simply because he does not have the drugs you and I have. Let us be the ones to say we are not satisfied that your place of birth determines your right to life. Let us be outraged, let us be loud, let us be bold.”-Brad Pitt

He is right. The major reasons why our children are dying are circumstances that can be avoided and addressed with the relevant political will to do so. We would have less babies dying in child birth if our hospitals were more accessible and affordable. Women are already doing a national duty in giving birth; should they be made to pay for it as well? If anything, should they not be given allowances for allowing our nation to grow? Service fees must be scrapped; however the reality at the moment is that this is not a viable option because government is not allocating enough funds for the public clinics and hospitals to run efficiently. How about switching that defence budget and making it the health budget, dear government?

The high levels of diarrhoea are a direct consequence of the poor sanitation (where 35% of our population has no proper sanitation) and unsafe water (with 20% of our population having no access to safe and clean drinking water). When will our government get its priorities right; to address corruption within local councils, to cut those $35 000 salary pegs for top municipal bosses and reallocate the funds to purchasing water treatment chemicals instead? When will our rural district councils stop buying fancy land-rovers and prioritise sinking and maintaining boreholes so that the 50% of the rural population who have no safe drinking water can have their needs met?

Malaria can be prevented with the availability of mosquito nets, mosquito coils, and mosquito repellents, fumigation of households and swamps and ingestion of anti-malarial tablets. It can also be cured if the drugs for curing it are made available, readily and easily. How about government allocating all its available funds to address malaria to ensuring its prevention and cure-more practical efforts, less printing of Ministry of Health with the ‘Let us prevent Malaria message at the back’ t-shirts that I see people brandishing at the gym?

Previously it was almost like a death sentence for a child to be born to an HIV positive mother but technology has shown that mother to child transmission can be avoided during pregnancy and during birth as well. Government should increase its efforts at rolling out the PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission) programme. We want an AIDS free generation as soon as yesterday and as long as we do not prioritise preventing the birth of HIV Positive babies; that will remain a pipe dream.

What have we done well?

  • Zimbabwe has been doing well with its voluntary HIV testing of expectant mothers. PMTCT has significantly reduced HIV/AIDS infections in young children.
  • We have successfully vaccinated the majority of our children with BCG, Whooping Cough, TB, Polio 1, Polio 2, Diphtheria and Measles vaccines being administered.

What more can we do?

  • To succeed in significantly reducing child mortality, we need to get rid of malnutrition and that is possible when we improve food security broadly and have supplementary feeding programs for children in schools and at clinics;
  • We need to scale up our PMTCT;
  • We need to have free and accessible vaccination of children from curable diseases;
  • We must improve our water supply and sanitation to avoid avoidable deaths from diseases such as cholera, dysentery;

We should never forget that the solution to adult problems tomorrow depends on large measure upon how our children grow up today. (Margaret Mead)