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Monday, 15 September 2008

DW TV report on child labour

Today I watched a report on Deutsche Welle TV on child labour.

DW TV had billed it as a report on child slavery, but after watching it, I got the impression that the report was more about child labour than it was about child slavery.

Two DW TV reporters, Rebecca Gudisch and Tilo Gummel travelled to India posing as potential buyers and took video recordings which showed how some children are being taken from their families and are being made to work very long hours in stone quarries, with very little protective gear and for very little or no money at all. The report also shows how some families are working in the mines with their children.

None of the children who are featured in the report appear to be going to school or to have access to medical care.

On returning to Germany, the reporters confronted German wholesalers and companies that use paving stones imported from India. The reporters showed that children were involved in quarrying and processing the stones -- and most companies responded by cancelling the contracts they had with the Indian wholesalers and mines that supplied them.

Job done.

Excerpt the poverty -- which makes it possible for families to encourage their children to work very long hours for very little money -- remains. Also, I suspect that as the mines lose German contracts and revenue, this poverty will worsen for those families that work on the mines and who rely on the income that the mines provide.

Monday, 28 July 2008

An Abhorrent Form of Censorship

Two Zimbabwean journalists from the state-owned Sunday Mail and Herald newspapers -- Munyaradzi Huni and Caesar Zvayi -- have been placed on the European Union's sanctions list. The two, alongside other perceived supporters of the Mugabe regime, will have their assets frozen and will not be allowed into European Union territory ("Journalists added to EU sanctions list," SW Radio Africa, July 23).

This move is shocking because it is a blatant attempt at mind-control and is clearly aimed at muzzling all voices, other than those that are seen and heard to be supporting Morgan Tsvangirai.

I say the decision to place the journalists on the sanctions list is an attempt at mind-control because, early this month, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner stated that the EU would not recognise any government in Zimbabwe other than a government led by Tsvangirai ("EU wants Tsvangirai to head Zimbabwe govt", Reuters, July 1).

The EU, like the United States, tries to justify this position by arguing that because Tsvangirai 'won' the March 29 elections, he should, therefore, lead the country.

In all likelihood, the EU is aware that the argument it is advancing on who should lead Zimbabwe is deeply flawed. This would explain why it is now waging psychological warfare on writers and political commentators -- it wants to manipulate and control what journalists, writers and political commentators write and say about Tsvangirai.

I say the EU's position on Tsvangirai is flawed because it is not and should not be up to the EU to decide who should have what position in the Zimbabwean government. That decision should be left to the people of Zimbabwe.

In addition to that, the EU's position on who should lead the country is flawed because it is based on the embellishment that Tsvangirai won the March 29 elections. The truth of the matter is that Tsvangirai got 47.9% of the votes and this fell short of the 50% (plus 1) that both the MDC and Zanu-PF had agreed were needed in order to determine who should lead the country.

Based on the results of the March 29 elections, it can actually be argued that the majority of the people in Zimbabwe (52.1%), do not have confidence in Morgan Tsvangirai as a leader.

Had Tsvangirai taken part in the June 27 presidential run-off and had he received 50% plus 1 of the votes, then yes, he would have had the right to lead the country. But because he unilaterally pulled out of the elections, he left Robert Mugabe as the sole candidate. And, because Mugabe was the sole contestant in the June 27 elections, he won and is, therefore, the legitimate leader of Zimbabwe.

Also, Zvayi no longer works for the Sunday Mail and I doubt that Huni, like the bulk of those working within Zimbabwe's state-owned media, can afford to travel to any part of the EU. It is also highly unlikely that any of them have assets in the EU.

In placing these two journalists on the sanctions list, the EU is actually trying to instill fear and create a psychological block on all writers and commentators who have an interest in Zimbabwe and who have an alternative take on what is happening there. This is further evidenced by the fact that, currently, among other things, Peter Mavhunga -- a court probation officer and part-time newspaper columnist who has been living and working in the U.K. for the past 30 years -- is now being subjected to a witch-hunt by British authorities because he writes for the Zimbabwean state-owned Herald newspaper ("UK bars Zim DJs," Journalism.co.za, July 15).

While I believe that a solution needs to be found to the country's political and economic crisis, I do not believe that threatening, harassing and intimidating writers in this manner will do anything to resolve the crisis.

Behaviours like these are an abhorrent form of censorship and are an attack on the freedoms of speech, thought and association. They are no different from the treatment repressive regimes all over the world routinely mete out on writers they see as expressing views that deviate from and which threaten the regimes' interests.

In placing Huni and Zvayi on its sanctions list, the EU is, in effect, threatening, not only journalists who work for the state-owned media in Zimbabwe, but all people who have an interest in the future of the country and is telling them, "If you are seen to be supporting anyone other than Tsvangirai, we will make life uncomfortable for you."
 
Instead of threatening writers and political commentators, if the EU truly wants a feasible solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe, it should support the mediation efforts that are currently being overseen by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

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An earlier version of this article has been featured on OhmyNews International.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Drew Gummerson: a natural storyteller

This evening I attended the launch of Drew Gummerson's latest novel, Me and Mickie James.

The event was held at Waterstone's on Market Street in Leicester and was the first book launch I've attended in the five years that I've been in Leicester. It was very well organised and was, in itself, a very pleasant experience.

There was quite a gathering there. And some of the people who were present had come from quite far afield.

Drew read three extracts from the novel and then answered questions from the audience about the book, about how long it had taken him to write the novel and about how he approaches the stories that he writes.


The man is a natural storyteller and entertainer.

I first met him about three years ago. We'd both taken part in the Leicester and Leicestershire Library Services' first annual short story competition. His short story, "Teeth", took first prize. (Even though it's been three years since I heard him read the story, I can still remember it. I can still hear the narrator's voice and I can still see some of the action that drove the story. It was also the funniest story that I'd heard in a long time.)

I met Drew again about a year later at a writers' workshop which had also been organised by the Leicester and Leicestershire Library Services and we have, sort of, kept in touch since. From time to time, I visit his website and blog to see what he's been up to and to read some of the short stories he's written that have been published online.

A few additional notes:
  • The photos above have been reproduced with the kind permission of the one and only, Ivory Fishbone, a.k.a. Alison Dunne.
  • There's a chance to win a copy of Me and Mickie James on Pulp.net.
  • One of the very first reviews of the novel is available on GaydarNation.

Related books:

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12 Steps to Get Into Office (Without Winning an Election)

  1. Have no plan, other than to get into office.
  2. Contradict yourself often.
  3. Blame the other parties for all the problems in the country.
  4. Treat your party like it's your farm.
  5. Treat members of your party like they are your farm workers.
  6. Repeatedly ask members of your party to use violent tactics to get you into office.
  7. Get the biggest bullies in the playground to take you under their wing.
  8. Ask other countries to impose sanctions on your country.
  9. Ask other countries to invade your country.
  10. If it looks like you are going to win an election, pull out. Refuse to participate in the elections.
  11. Say you are not going to negotiate, then negotiate.
  12. Say you are not going to take part in a 'government of national unity', then make efforts to be included in such a government.
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Related books:

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Thursday, 28 February 2008

[Interview] John Nyamande, Zimbabwean opposition political party activist

Between June 25 and 29, 2007, I had a wide-ranging interview with the veteran Zimbabwean opposition political activist, John Nyamande in which he talked, among other things, about the Save Zimbabwe Campaign’s visit to the U.K.; the talks that were then still going on in South Africa and about the conditions under which Zimbabwean asylum seekers are living in the U.K.

The following is a lightly edited version of the interview:

During one of MDC president, Morgan Tsvangirai’s last visits to the U.K., he held a rally in Luton. What was the purpose or significance of the visit?

The rally in Luton, on June 23, 2007 was purposeful and had lots of significance.

At this rally Morgan Tsvangirai and Lovemore Madhuku were able to address the people. The President [Tsvangirai] spoke about the talks in South Africa and asylum issues in the U.K.

Lovemore Madhuku talked about a new constitution.

The party travelled under the Save Zimbabwe Campaign (SZC) and the delegation comprised of Morgan Tsvangirai, Prof Arthur Mutambara, Paul Siwela of ZAPU, Lovemore Madhuku, Rev. Levee Kadenge of the Christian Alliance and Miss Mudehwe for Zinasu.

The purpose of the SZC was to lobby the diplomatic community in Europe, about a new constitution before free, fair and internationally supervised elections take place.

They visited Belgium, Germany and France and were able to have fruitful talks with the governments of these countries. I understand the campaign is going to be taken to the SADCC countries, Central and West Africa, Canada, Australia, United States and other progressive countries in the world.

It is only fair for the progressive groups like the SZC to have their views regarding problems in Zimbabwe heard as well. However, on the sidelines of these diplomatic manoeuvres, members of this group had an opportunity to meet their members to listen and brief them about progress regarding talks in South Africa. Tsvangirai met his group at Luton and, Mutambara met his at a hotel in London and I hope Siwela did the same. It was fair for them to meet their supporters because a lot of Zimbabweans are now in the Diaspora as refugees and need to hear about developments at home from their leaders.

In the U.K., many Zimbabweans have had their applications for political asylum refused. How would you describe the conditions under which they are living?

The position of the MDC is that under the UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Zimbabweans who are seeking asylum and currently in the U.K., must be treated with dignity and humanity.

These are people with skills, who are trainable and hard working. Evidence shows that the health and social care sector is immensely benefiting from Zimbabweans who are legally and illegally working in this country. This group is contributing to the GDP of this economy.

Those who have been refused political asylum are not allowed to work and do not receive any government benefits at all. Some have committed suicide and others have children.

Surely the government of the U.K. is a champion in condemning other governments that violate such kinds of human rights. The U.K. government must reconsider its position and give asylum seekers temporary work permits that become invalid as soon as the situation in Zimbabwe is resolved. However, the MDC does encourage its members to be law abiding and does not support those who break the laws of the host country.

What is the background to the talks in South Africa? How significant are they?

Mismanagement of the Zimbabwean economy, bad governance that has left 80% of the population unemployed, price madness with inflation galloping at well over 5000% [at the time of the interview], hunger, reduced life expectancy to 37years for men and 34 years for women, politicized judiciary and police, human rights abuses, amending of the Constitution and other issues have forced the opposition, civic groups and even SADCC to speak their concerns.

Zimbabwe is having Presidential elections in 2008 and ZANU (PF) which is in government has amended the constitution so that Robert Mugabe, whose term had expired would extend his term, increase the number of constituencies in the assembly and also increase the number of senators who were introduced only last year.

The view of the majority is that Robert Mugabe is afraid to face a challenger under the same constitution he has been enjoying for the past 25 years. If Mugabe is still popular, Zimbabweans are demanding impartiality in the conduct of elections, according to SADCC protocol, conduct and conditions laid down by himself and other members of the community.

Before the elections in March 2008, Zimbabweans at home and Diaspora are demanding a new Constitution designed by all groups, which would then address issues of repressive laws like AIPPA, POSA, and voter registration, delimitation of constituency boundary and composition of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

If these talks succeed and elections conducted and supervised by a neutral body, surely, there is no reason why sanctions should not be lifted and Zimbabwe slotted back into the progressive community. Sanctions should not be lifted before an agreement because (ZANU (PF) is not faithful when it comes to negotiations of such a nature. He did this when Mbeki was engaging them during the first initiatives of talks.

What will be needed for the talks to succeed?

The ZANU (PF) government must start by re-orientating its attitude towards opposition movements, civic groups. They must also listen, respect the views of the ordinary people who are facing the price madness, and shortages of basic commodities.

ZANU (PF) has failed to tell Mugabe the truth about the hunger, disease, poverty and suffering on the grassroots level, because of the patronage system of governance he has entrenched. His cronies are afraid to tell him in case they lose the farms, business contracts, houses and food they receive. It is high time Robert Mugabe starts listening to the opposition and other civic groups if he has the country at heart. Time is running out.

The ZANU (PF) government must stop harassing the opposition, trumping up charges of petrol bombing and terrorist training. These are cheap charges, bogus and can easily be laughed at by any person on the street. A government must treat its people by dignity and humanity irrespective of their political affiliations.

The other factor that I hope will force the talks to succeed is: the state of the economy that has reached rock bottom.

A number of MDC activists have been accused of bombing various institutions and places in Zimbabwe. What do you think really happened?

Zimbabweans are peace loving people and all the bomb accusations are tactics that were used by Ian Douglas Smith and have been borrowed by Robert Mugabe.

Ian Smith had the Selous Scouts that disguised themselves as freedom fighters and killed villagers to discredit our freedom fighters who were doing a sterling job. Now we have a clandestine group of youths who are on the payroll of Gideon Gono masquerading as MDC youths. This is cheap propaganda and people are fed up of it.

I think there is some congruence and relationship with what was said by Shadreck Chipanga in the Herald a month before this spat of bombings started. Shadreck Chipanga chronicled how he was trained to make petrol bombs in Gweru, ran away from Rhodesian intelligence and crossed into Zambia for guerrilla training. It seems to me that this is by no means coincidence. His chronicle has something to do with this.

And was there really a coup attempt in Zimbabwe?

I do not believe there has been any coup attempts in Zimbabwe. As I have mentioned earlier on, Zimbabweans are peace loving, and they would not like to experience the killings of innocent civilians like what happened during the wars of liberation. I believe it is a tactic that is used by Mugabe time and time again to shift people’s attention on real issues of hunger, disease, poverty, unemployment. The country is bleeding and Mugabe is good at creating situations that draw people’s attention from the real issues.

Lookout Masuku, Dumiso Dabengwa, Joshua Nkomo all were accused of having arms caches in Matebeleland that Mugabe said were going to be used to overthrow the Government. Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole was accused of trying to kill Robert Mugabe at Heroes Acre on his way from Zvimba. Bishop Abel Muzorewa was arrested on his way from America and accused of having plans to overthrow his Government. The Bishop was tortured at Goromonzi and that is why the bishop went silent for a very long time. Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested and charged with planning to eliminate Robert Mugabe in a case that in the end embarrassed the government.

It seems to me that the Zimbabwe intelligence are going to torture and force the victims to sing statements that are going to implicate the opposition groups. This is a ZANU (PF) ploy that is aimed at disturbing the MDC and other groups in making preparations for the elections in 2008.

What do you think is going to happen during the March 2008 elections? Are they going to be free and fair?

These elections were supposed to be Presidential Elections but the ZANU (PF) Government, as usual has shifted the goal posts by bringing forward parliamentary elections in the name of harmonization. Most rural forks are going to be confused and in this confusion the state machinery will rig the election. There are players in this game who have got an unfair advantage over other players who do not have control over the state machinery.

At the moment ZANU (PF) has already started campaigning for the elections. Village headman are now receiving a salary, War vets allowances have been increased to Z$3.5million and Gono is funding a project that is going to see more than 300,000 Scotch carts distributed to the communal farmers and at the same time disturbing the activities of the opposition by banning all meetings and rallies.

Institutionalized torture, abductions of opposition members is taking place daily. It is sad that this is all happening when talks in South Africa are taking place and Thabo Mbeki and SADCC not cautioning ZANU (PF) at all. Thabo Mbeki and Robert Mugabe have a game plan and the negotiating team has got to be careful especially Tendai Biti who is representing Morgan Tsvangirai. It seems to me most SADC countries are not comfortable with a government born out of a trade union movement. Trade Union movements have structures already and if they decide to form political parties, they can easily use the structures to launch the party. They also represent the working class who always suffer when governments mismanage the economies. Most SADCC leaders believe that if this happens in Zimbabwe, the next country could be South Africa (COSATU) or Namibia. Even in South Africa, COSATU played a very important role in bringing down apartheid.

ZANU (PF) has already started rigging the elections and will stop the beatings, torture, bans and abductions when observers start coming into Zimbabwe. Surely, SADCC and other interested bodies who have been monitoring elections in Zimbabwe should be aware of this ZANU (PF) strategy.

Robert Mugabe has already started instilling fear ahead of the crucial elections. He should also not be allowed to choose observers like he did in the last elections. Any observers from bodies like SADC, AU, UN or Commonwealth should be allowed and be deployed now if the exercise is going to be credible. However if Mugabe is allowed to do what he likes, only those he feel are his friends would be allowed [to monitor the elections]. By that time he would have finished vote buying, torturing and putting rigging systems in place.

Will the two factions of the MDC ever unite?

As far as I am concerned, the fact that Tsvangirai, Mutambara, Siwela, and others have accepted to work under the Save Zimbabwe Coalition its enough evidence to show that people are united in trying to set the atmosphere for free and fair elections. The party’s priorities is to set the ground for free and fair elections. Time is not on their side to engage is serious talks on unity.

As far as I am concerned, the issue of uniting will naturally fall in place as soon as the conditions for the elections have been agreed and finalized. After all, the groups agree on the fundamentals for free and fair elections; a new constitution, which would solve the issue of repressive laws; and, elections supervised by international observers.

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