Dude, Where's My House?

5 years ago today, the Zimbabwean government set out on a project dubbed “Operation Murambatsvina” (Restore Order). More than 700,000 people were left without a home or livelihood, or both, after the government of Zimbabwe began to destroy informal settlements all across the country. These forced evictions only exacerbated a situation already dire due to Zimbabwe’s economic crisis.

Today, hundreds of thousands of people still struggle to survive in plastic shacks since their eviction from these settlements, while the government does little, if anything, to help them. Efforts to provide some shelters to victims have been complete failures and seem to have been abandoned completely.

It is a scandal that five years on, victims are left o survive in plastic shacks without basic essential services. The needs of these victims are at risk of being forgotten because their voices are consistently ignored – Cousin Zilala, Director of Amnesty International Zimbabwe

4 years ago, we also began using new technologies to document human rights abuses when we released satellite images of the destruction of Porta Farm, a settlement on the outskirts of Harare which the government destroyed in 2005. This was one of the first times Amnesty used satellite images to provide irrefutable evidence of the destruction of an entire community and was used in litigation for redress efforts.

Satellite images taken of Porta Farm community in Zimbabwe. Copyright DigitalGlobe 2010. CLICK ON IMAGE FOR MORE INFORMATION

Satellite images taken of Porta Farm community in Zimbabwe. Copyright DigitalGlobe 2010. CLICK ON IMAGE FOR MORE INFORMATION

Randall Kindle, Africa Program, contributed to this blog post

License Free Dialogue in Zimbabwe!

Radio Dialogue Zimbabwe road show

Radio Dialogue Zimbabwe road show

On World Press Freedom Day, Amnesty USA is calling attention to fearless journalists fighting every day to tell the stories that matter and remind us how fragile freedom of expression remains. Repression of journalists, including imprisonment, violence and even death, continues frequently in many places around the world. In Zimbabwe, media repression opened significantly in the past year, with the government allowing foreign reporters to return to the country. But the government continues to lock down domestic reporting.

The only daily newspapers, radio and TV stations in Zimbabwe are state run. The Global Political Agreement (GPA), signed by Zimbabwe’s three main political parties in September 2008, provided for “the immediate processing of all applications for registration in terms of the Broadcasting Services Act”. Despite this, repressive legislation restricting the ability of the independent media to operate remains in place. More than a year since it was created, the new government has failed to honour its commitment to issue licences.

Radio Dialogue is a non-profit community radio station consistently denied a licence by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) since it’s foundation in 2001. The station aspires to broadcast to the community of Bulawayo and its surrounding areas, engaging in discussions of political, social, cultural and economic issues affecting the community. Their slogan ‘Giving You a Voice’ expresses their aim to enable all sections of the community to engage as a means of promoting tolerance, understanding and community relations.


WOZA Women Released: 5 nights in hell

We’re relieved to hear that the final four members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) have finally been released.

Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu have collectively been arrested more than 50 times for their peaceful protests, demonstrations and other activities designed to call attention to the grave injustices taking place in Zimbabwe.

But this most recent stint in jail ranks as the most hellish prison conditions that these two veteran activists have seen yet!  Here’s what WOZA is saying about the prison conditions in Zimbabwe.

Needed: One White Colonial Ruler for Zimbabwe

Prospective Colonial Ruler Sarah Hager (on left) with several potential minions.

Prospective Colonial Ruler Sarah Hager (on left) with several potential minions.

As a mostly white person, I have decided that I would like to be the next colonial occupier of Zimbabwe. It’s a great country-fertile land, fabulous people, rich mineral resources. I think I should be able to set up operations fairly quickly and I love to tell people what to do.  So my life’s ambition to be a benevolent dictator will be satisfied far quicker than I ever dreamed possible.

I always thought that to establish said benevolent dictatorship, I would have to buy a private island and import my friends to serve as my minions. So imagine my surprise at reading Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed in the New York Times last week where he reports that apparently every Zimbabwean he spoke with really wishes Britain, the former colonial power, never left.

In a week of surreptitious reporting here (committing journalism can be a criminal offense in Zimbabwe), ordinary people said time and again that life had been better under the old, racist, white regime of what was then called Rhodesia.

First of all, Mr. Kristoff doesn’t seem to be aware of the fact that foreign journalists have been allowed back into Zimbabwe for nearly a year. While said journalists are advised to operate with caution, and there have still been hiccups, the whole “cloak and dagger/new passport/kids as camouflage” routine was a tad overkill. Things aren’t great in Zimbabwe, but let’s not exaggerate the situation.

Second, Mr. Kristof admits to speaking to no government officials and he “can’t be sure that my glimpse of the public mood was representative.” I’m pretty sure, however, he didn’t bother speaking to any of the members of Zimbabwe’s civil society fighting for changed circumstances. Perhaps the leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise  who were arrested today protesting poor service and exhorbitant rates of the electric service. Maybe the lawyers of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights who promptly showed up at the police station and secured the release of many of those detained today. How about Jestina Mukoko of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, kidnapped and tortured for her efforts to hold the government accountable for its abuses. I bet every single one of them would gladly step aside and let me take over because I could do the job so much better than they.

I appreciate that Mr. Kristof chose to highlight these remarks as a way to sensationalize the situation in Zimbabwe because he has a job to do selling papers. The rest of his commentary about the West focusing on white farmers at the expense of black laborers, the state of the medical and education system and the need for free and fair elections are all accurate statements. But the reader is initially and predominantly captured by this idea that Zimbabweans feel that if the white people had never given up power, things would all be better, disregarding the thousands of Zimbabweans fighting on their own to improve their country.  

So while Zimbabwe is a bit tattered around the edges, her will is strong and her beauty is evident. So I will gladly resume colonial control and begin my benevolent dictatorship. All the civil society leaders mentioned above and Zimbabweans in general know where to find me when they are ready to cede their struggle. Until then, I will continue my efforts to stand in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe and help tell their story without unnecessary dramatic flourishes.

Arrest One of Us in Zimbabwe, Arrest us All!

Women of Zimbabwe Arise

Women of Zimbabwe Arise

[UPDATE: 61 of the 65 members arrested outside ZESA headquarters in Harare earlier today have been released. Four members, Jenni Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu, Clara Manjengwa and Celina Madukani, remain in custody and will spend the night in cells. They are being charged with participating in an illegal gathering.]

The leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu and seventy other people, including juveniles, were arrested today in Harare following a peaceful march. The peaceful protests were mobilised to put direct pressure on the Zimbabwe electricity authority (ZESA) to provide a more efficient service and fair and affordable billing system.

On Monday, one thousand WOZA members marched in Bulawayo to call attention to the electricity crisis in Zimbabwe. The protesters carried yellow cards, like those given out for penalties in a soccer match, citing poor service and high charges.  ZESA officials locked the doors and refused to come out. I am tempted to call them wusses, but let’s be fair-1,000 people on my doorstep singing and chanting about my terrible service would probably make me lock my door and hide under my desk as well.

Eleven police officers monitored the protest and tailed WOZA leaders Jenni and Mgodonga but no arrests were made and no attempts to halt the protest occurred. However, two WOZA members were arrested and briefly detained the following day at public meetings about ZESA’s high costs. During their interrogation, other police officers insisted the women be released because they also suffered under high electricity costs and said WOZA should be allowed to protest on the matter. See, I told you the police aren’t all bad in Zimbabwe.

When 500 WOZA members marched in Harare today, the ZESA officials there showed as little backbone as their Bulawayo counterparts, and had ZESA security guards insist that the riot police monitoring the protest arrest Jenni and Magodonga, who were trying to get ZESA officials to address the crowd. The police initially refused before giving in to pressure. However, when officers put Jenni and Magodonga into the police van, seventy women and men climbed in with them to arrest themselves. Now, THAT is what I call solidarity!

Unsurprisingly, the jail where WOZA members are being detained does not have electricity. Slightly ironic, no? So we are asking you to call Harare Central Police Station and demand that they release all the WOZA members detained. Tell them to immediately release all WOZA members, who were exercising their rights under the Zimbabwe Constitution and international treaties of peaceful assembly and freedom of speech. It’s not quite the same as jumping into a police car to arrest yourself, but its the best way that we can act in solidarity with the women and men of Zimbabwe who are fighting for their civil and human rights. Be a global citizen and tell Zimbabwe authorities that if they arrest one person in Zimbabwe fighting for a better life, they must arrest us all!

Harare Central Police Station can be dialed from the US by calling 011 263 477 7777 or 736931 or 725803 or 733033 or 721212. You can also call the Zimbabwe Embassy in Washington DC at 202-332-7100.

Southern Africa To Be One Country

Bono, South X' New Head of State

Bono, South Zamalawimbiqueothobabweibialand's new Head of State

I was very excited to read today that ten countries in southern Africa decided to join forces, eliminate borders and become one country. This will make it easier for many Westerners who already think the continent of Africa is just one country; or at least think all the countries are exactly the same and therefore propose the same “one size fits all” solutions over and over again to mostly Western created problems.

Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana and Angola will now be called South Zamalawimbiqueothobabweibialand. Recognizing this will be a challenge to fit on business cards, government officials have declared its ok to just call this new nation South Africa, since before the union it was the only country most Westerners could reliably find on a map.

It was quite a struggle to decide how this new nation would be governed, and there were points where it became quite ugly when dos Santos and Mugabe descended into vicious name calling, as both men are accustomed to longevity as heads of their prior respective states.  In the end, after many rounds of rock/paper/scissors, it was concluded that Bono would lead this new nation forward because it was felt to be the best way to secure debt relief, HIV funding and better coverage in People/US/OK magazine.

For similar reasons; Madonna will be Minister of Education (sorry to all those people who can now expect to lose their homes so she can build more schools), Oprah will be named Cultural Minister (her new talk show will launch in 2012), Brangelina will be appointed co-Ministers of Internally Displaced Persons  (expect lots of fighting between them and Madonna over those displaced for Madonna’s new schools as well as the best photo opps with their adopted children) and Mariah Carey will be Minister of Agriculture (good luck on that starvation diet Mariah!)

One of the first acts of this new nation will be to set up a large lion preserve to promote the image that lions roam free in the streets throughout Africa. Also, media relations will assure that news coverage focuses predominantly on anything bad happening in the region with an emphasis on promoting negative stereotypes, while ignoring positive stories. In particular, media will assure that any stories about the many amazing Africans working to improve conditions within their new nation will continue to rarely be printed because pictures of sad children are considered the only way to get people to care and stories of Africans helping themselves will discourage other celebrities from traveling to region for photo opps and establishing charitable organizations in an attempt to seem less self-absorbed.

Within Amnesty USA, the Southern Africa Co-group welcomes this new nation because it means much less work for us. It was getting very tiresome to lobby ten different governments about human rights conditions. Now, we only have to pester Bono. Oh, and happy April Fool’s Day.

Rockin Out the Valentines For Zimbabwe

Calling All Crows/State Radio Loves WOZA!

Calling All Crows/State Radio Loves WOZA!

I had a busy Valentine’s Day writing valentines to 75,000 Zimbabweans and a squadron of anti-riot police. It was quite exhausting. Fortunately, Amnesty’s good friends pitched in to help out-the members of the band State Radio, their uber cool non-profit Calling All Crows and some awesome fans made valentines at concerts and a pre-show action in Atlanta and Birmingham over the weekend.

Valentine’s Day is an important day for the grass roots organization Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). Founded on that day in 2003 with the mandate “the power of love is greater than the love of power,” it has grown to 75,000 women and men across the country that take to the streets every year in anniversary demonstrations to sing and dance as they march for greater human rights and civil liberties in Zimbabwe. These courageous women and men often face the violence of batons as anti-riot police disperse their marches. This year, Amnesty activists stand in solidarity with WOZA by sending valentines to the members showing our support; as well as valentines to the anti-riot police asking them to treat these non-violent activists with respect.

On Saturday, 700 WOZA members marched on the streets of Harare, handing out roses, valentine cards and copies of their new report about the status of democracy in Zimbabwe. Today, 1,000 WOZA members and other Zimbabwe citizens marched in Bulawayo, singing 

“We want to expose this delay in writing our constitution, which will delay our getting our social justice”; “we don’t want the Kariba Draft” and “we need a Bill of Rights that respects us; send me around the country to consult on the constitution as WOZA respects people.”

There was no violence during either demonstration and we thank the Zimbabwe police for showing restraint and allowing free space for civil protest. Even though WOZA’s main Valentine’s marches are over, keep making and sending in those valentines! WOZA will march again many times this year. Sending valentines of support to WOZA does so much to encourage them and keep up morale, knowing the world cares and supports their cause. And it’s equally important to continue sending those valentines to the anti-riot police to remind them to always treat the members of WOZA without violence. Keep up the good work Amnesty activists and special thanks to Chad, Jeb and Matt for all the support from State Radio and Calling All Crows.

Tell Zimbabwe Anti-Riot Police: Real Men Don't Beat Women!

Zimbabwe police officers © APGraphicsBank

Zimbabwe police officers © APGraphicsBank

Pig. Fuzz. 5-0 (as in Hawaii). These are some American slang terms for police. I won’t even get into some of the terms police are referred to around the world. (The Moustached Pagoda? Really Canada?) Despite our affectionate, or not so affectionate, appellations for police officers, they are an invaluable and indispensable part of society and do far more good than harm. Zimbabwe is no exception to this rule-really, the police are usually the good guys. Unless they are acting under order of unscrupulous persons desperate to hold on to power and squash dissent. Sadly, then you see events that have unfolded all to often lately in Zimbabwe; where club wielding anti-riot police go after protestors marching peacefully in the streets.

On a day to day basis in Zimbabwe, police officers go about their business preventing crime and protecting citizens; but these officers are also deployed to repress those same citizens. Students, lawyers, trade unionists, political activists have all felt the unrelenting force of anti-riot batons as they violently disperse Zimbabweans gathering in the streets to demand human rights, equitable treatment, and greater civil liberties.

Because they march so frequently, the members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) are often the target of this violent repression. WOZA is a grass roots movement of primarily women activists that demand a better life for all Zimbabweans through non-violent civic activism. They are grandmothers, sisters, daughters, aunts and cousins who sing and dance in the streets calling for a future for their children, families, friends and neighbors that incorporates strong human rights standards and civil liberties. And because of this, they are frequently violently beaten by the anti-riot police.

This Valentines Day, as WOZA marches in the streets, we are calling on the Zimbabwe anti-riot police to treat the ladies of WOZA as they would want their mother to be treated-with respect. As a police officer you may be ordered to disperse a protest, but you are not required to do so with violence. Send a valentine to the Zimbabwe anti-riot police during the month of February and remind them that real men don’t beat women. Ever.

Healing Hearts, Raising Spirits in Zimbabwe

Women of Zimbabwe Arise

Women of Zimbabwe Arise

Everyone has been blessed in their life with at least one strong, female role model that showed grace under pressure, kindness when facing adversity, strength when challenged. Whether a grandmother, sister, teacher, supervisor or friend, she was someone who inspired and guided you. Personally, I think my mom is pretty fantastic; but I have also been lucky enough to know many other strong, passionate women I consider role models and among those are the leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA).

 WOZA is a grassroots activist movement in Zimbabwe started by women, led by women and grown by women into a membership of more than 70,000 across Zimbabwe. Magodonga Mahlangu, Jenni Williams and Trust work to improve living conditions for all Zimbabweans as they promote the self-esteem of their members. They practice non-violent civil disobedience as they take to the streets demanding better schools, better hospitals, greater civil liberties, advancement of human rights, a new constitution that protects Zimbabweans and promotes the rule of law, responsible government that works for the people not for themselves and free and fair elections. Their marches are characterized by singing, dancing and complete passivism when faced by violent dispersal by the Zimbabwe police and anti-riot police. 

WOZA began on Valentines Day in 2003, inspired by their slogan “the power of love is greater than the love of power.” Every year they mark their anniversary with large scale marches in major Zimbabwe cities. As a matter of course, these protests are broken up by Zimbabwe police officers, usually with violence. Already in the four short weeks of 2010, thirty-five WOZA members have been arrested for marching for education or meeting to discuss constitutional reform.


Resolving Zimbabwe's Farm Crisis is Not Black & White

Gertrude Hambira, Secretary General, General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe

Gertrude Hambira, Secretary General, General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe

Thousands of news articles, scholarly articles and panel discussions debate Zimbabwe’s land reform program. Almost without fail, stark lines are drawn between black and white: colonial authority and indigenous population, owner and occupier, right and wrong. The problem with such a stark conclusion is it ignores all shades of gray.

The Commercial Farmers Union and elite political power players in Zimbabwe both play the martyr. President Mugabe’s former ruling political party, ZANU-PF, contends Zimbabwe suffered because the white minority owned the most fertile farmland and excluded the indigenous population from ownership. The Commercial Farmers Union argues ownership by valid land title and the violent land dispossessions contravene Zimbabwe and international law. Journalists, international governments, political observors and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) blame Mugabe’s policy of violent land reclamation for ruining the Zimbabwe economy and contend it is based on racism. The Commercial Farmers Union presses for restoration of property first and compensation in the alternative. There are elements of truth in all the above but it tells only part of the story.

At the end of colonial rule, only 50% of indigenous Africans claimed land ownership. Colonial relocation of this population to Tribal Trust Areas ensured black Africans were farming land characterized by poor soil, poor rainfall, poor roads and overcrowding. The systematic marginalization of black Africans under colonial authority is indisuptable and necessary to redress. However, the policies promulgated under the ZANU-PF regime to correct this imbalance were poorly managed and occurred primarily for political reasons (other liberation leaders such as Joshua Nkomo and Ndabaningi Sithole were some of the first to face dispossession to ensure Mugabe’s political survival). Violent land expulsions of both black and white farmers without respect for rule of law became the norm. Further, some of the white farmers displaced validly purchased their land post-liberation from the Zimbabwe government for a fair price.