Of Spot fines and public accountability


By Lloyd Pswarayi

The Zimbabwe Republic police (ZRP) reacted (angrily?) to Justice Bere’s remarks that collection of spot fines by the police was illegal and not supported by the law. Jonathan Moyo waded into the debate and insinuated that the learned judge was out of line. Though the leaned Judge was expressing a legal point that there is no provision for ZRP to collect spot fines, from a citizen point of view, his remarks are welcome and a reflection of the negative perception the institution has that it is synonymous with bribes/corruption. This is just the reality which the Police Commissioner General has to deal with. Perhaps the police would argue that it is easier to collect the fines on the spot to avoid unnecessary chasing around for defaulters. Fair enough. The problem for me is not the in collection of fines but how the police account for them. Never mind that many of the officers take the opportunity to abuse the practice and line their pockets with daily collections.

Former Finance Minister, Tendai Biti was on record claiming that the fines collected by the police never reached the treasury and was not accounted for and wanted them remitted. After failing to address this anomaly he even speculated that these funds supporting a parallel government. So whom do they account to? Who will police the police if Members of the House of Assembly raise questions and there is no action to rectify matters raised? The problem with the powers that be is that they do not regard public opinion seriously and are quick to use the heavy hand when they feel the citizens are questioning their actions. From a citizen point of view spot fines are a scum.

The truth of the matter is that the public is being forced to continuously support the fancy lifestyles of ‘fat cats’ who are not even accountable, when the ordinary man and woman on the street continues to suffer. Policy makers don’t listen to concerns of the public and do exactly the opposite. The introduction of toll gates for instance was viewed with suspicion but these concerns were easily dealt with because there was some effort in rehabilitating the country’s roads. Just when the public had accepted that these toll gates were a reality, Minister Obert Mpofu doubled the fees to an already over-burdened tax payer. Mpofu went on to further add insult to injury by increasing the number of Toll gates on the highway to such an extent that a return trip to Bulawayo from Harare would cost $20 in toll gate fees.

Mpofu continues to threaten to even add more urban toll gates. Seriously!! When is this going to stop? If one looks at the poor workmanship currently being demonstrated by the company awarded the contract to refurbish city roads in Harare we start to question why we continue paying toll gate fees. How do we justify seeing potholes and melting tar on newly surfaced roads? How does one justify the non-completion of the Airport Road almost a decade after construction began? How do we justify re-surfacing a resurfaced road at the Christmas Pass in Mutare?

We are continuously funding lavish lifestyles of a few chefs and this is beginning to resemble ‘pyramid schemes’. We demand that public officials be accountable to the citizens in the wake of poor service delivery, high unemployment, among other social ills affecting the citizens if a social contract is to be established.

When an elder’s fall becomes epic


mugabe 1
Picture Credit (The Telegraph UK)

By Rumbidzai Dube

Growing up, the cardinal rule of my existence was that elderly people-all elderly people- deserve respect, by virtue of being old. The sense of respect for the elders is a part of our African cultural values, centred in our belief that the elderly are repositories of wisdom and history, carrying the knowledge of the hidden trails of our journey as a people from centuries past. We respect and obey our elders, deferring to them to make critical decisions because we believe they inherently wise.  Aging is symbolic of personal growth, personal strength, and resourcefulness and as such is considered an achievement. Spirit mediums such as Sekuru Kaguvi were revered, and, in consulting them, my people believed they were consulting oracles, trusting in their wisdom and foresight to provide guidance and direction.

As Emeka Emeakaroha argues, quoting William Conton: “Africans generally have deep and ingrained respect for old age, and even when we can find nothing to admire in an old man, we will not easily forget that his grey hairs have earned him right to courtesy and politeness.”

It is uncharacteristic of this innate sense of respect for the elderly to ridicule them and worse still to openly laugh at their misfortune. That is why the reactions to Mugabe’s fall call for interrogation of why many people rejoiced at such a tragic event. Why, when we are taught to respect elders whether they are right or wrong, have many young Zimbabweans on social media found pleasure in poking fun at our leader? What happened to the unwritten rule that all old people deserve love, care and above all respect?

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Picture Credit (The Telegraph UK)

A number of things are clear to me. First; there is an expectation that the last years of the elderly’s lives should be less pressured. Elders are expected to retire and enjoy their last days reminiscing over their youth and years of past activity. Second; elders are expected to be wise enough to know when their time is up; ceding power and handing over certain responsibilities to those around them. This idea of kutonga kusvika madhongi amera nyanga is the reason why some people are finding this unfortunate incident funny and using it to ridicule the President.

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Picture Credit (The Telegraph UK)

Third, there is no shame in falling per se; in fact watching an elder falling should ignite feelings of compassion and empathy. Ordinarily, those in the vicinity should have rushed to prevent the fall, rather than getting as many pictures as possible. However the indignity that the fall attracts is linked to the fact that a 90 year old has been in power for over 34 years in which many things have gone awry. He has refused to let go of the power, including the option of letting a close ally succeed him, claiming he is as fit as a fiddle and has the energy of a 9 year old.  That fall showed that that may not be the case.

The trip and fall symbolises to many the downfall of an untouchable figure. In a moment of his weakness, those who ordinarily have no voice saw their opportunity to lash back. To mind comes the assassination of Julius Caesar. When he walked into the Senate Chamber, the plotters of his assassination surrounded him. As he attempted to get away, he tripped and fell; and lying defenceless on the lower steps of the portico, Rome’s most powerful emperor was stabbed 23 times to his death.

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Picture Credit (The Telegraph UK)

I find this whole incident around Mugabe’s fall and Zimbabweans on social media’s reactions to it, as sad as it is tragic. Sad because these are the years he should be reminiscing over the years of leadership past and reflecting on how the current leaders are getting it right or wrong.  Tragic because it is a reflection of who we have become as a society; bitter, vengeful, sadistic even as we derive pleasure from other people’s pain. Many will claim that it is the years of repression and censorship, death and destruction, violation of human rights, lawlessness and subjection to abject poverty that have made us who we are.

Whatever the case may be, when an elder’s fall becomes epic for its hilarity rather than its ill fortune then we know there is something really wrong with our society.

RAU staffer makes Washington Fellow


Video courtesy of the Presidential Precinct

Rumbidzai Dube, a Legal Researcher at RAU, is one of the fellows in the 2014 Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. She is a human rights defender and lawyer from Zimbabwe, with more than six years’ experience in legal research and advocacy work. Currently at RAU, Rumbidzai is involved in analyzing, critiquing, and contributing towards the transformation of public policy, legislation, and state institutions respectively. She is a published researcher whose most notable contribution has been a gendered perspective on the relationship between political freedoms and democracy in the IDASA Democracy Index, a measure of Zimbabwe’s democracy under the transitional government (2008-2013). Her work enables her to engage from the grassroots level, spending time in communities conducting research and public education, to high-level political forums. She is involved in numerous advocacy campaigns with politicians and policy makers in Zimbabwe, regionally with the African Union and globally with UN treaty bodies such as the CEDAW Committee and the Human Rights Council. Rumbidzai holds a Master’s Degree in Law (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa) from the University of Pretoria in South Africa and an Honours Degree in Law from the University of Zimbabwe. Upon her return, Rumbidzai will continue her efforts at legal education through her blog as well as launching her upcoming website, a project that will take law to the streets by simplifying the law in a way the layman can relate to. She will also continue her research work, holding state and government institutions accountable.

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)