Category: Business

Harare demolitions: Residents say they’re not going anywhere

A Chitungwiza resident at what used to be her home. (Pic: Kumbirai Mafunda)
A Chitungwiza resident at what used to be her home. (Pic: Kumbirai Mafunda)

Eleanor Magaya was close to tears as she narrated how she has been continuously duped of her hard-earned cash by land barons.

“Shuwa ndongoita mari yekurasa veduwee?” (Should I keep on pouring money into waste?) she asked. Her house is one of the thousands that were razed down by authorities in Chitungwiza, 25km north of Harare. Residents say their homes were built legally but authorities disagree. Many were evicted while others had their homes destroyed.

In September, the Chitungwiza Municipality authorities razed down 70 residential and business buildings at midnight. On the other end the Harare City Council served 324 settlers in the high-density suburb of Glen Norah with eviction notices. So far, the demolitions in Glen Norah have not proceeded as residents armed with axes and knobkerries faced off with the police, forcing them to withdraw. Residents in Epworth (15km outside Harare) also had their houses destroyed and are facing eviction from the local authorities.

Chitungwiza town clerk, George Makunde, highlighted the demolitions were set to rid the town of illegal structures which were built on undesignated areas. “As long as people continue to illegally occupying council land, the demolitions will continue,” says Makunde.

However, the Zimbabwe High Court ordered the government to stop the unconstitutional evictions and demolition process. On October 9, Judge Nicholas Mathonsi ruled that the authorities would need a court order to demolish any more houses. Hundreds of people have been left homeless as a result of this government exercise, and it is unclear whether they will be compensated for their loss of property or be relocated.

Illegal or not?
A government audit of illegal structures carried out in December 2013 found that more than 14 000 residential stands in and around Chitungwiza had been illegally sold by housing co-operatives, councillors and village leaders. Much of the land where stands were illegally created were meant for the construction of clinics, schools, cemeteries, roads and wetlands.

Following the release of the report in January, Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Deputy Minister Joel Biggie Matiza was quoted in the state-owned daily The Herald, committing to a “well organised, humane” demolition process that would ensure all affected families were offered alternative land.

The residents of these “illegal structures” have vowed to remain at their stands and are threatening to fight back the move.

“I will not go anywhere, I paid for this land, I am not staying here for free”, Nomatter Matikiti, a Chitungwiza resident, said.

Housing backlog
According to the audited report, Zimbabwe has a staggering housing backlog of 1.3-million and government and local authorities are struggling to keep pace with ever-increasing urban housing demands.

The report fingered land barons and proliferation of housing co-operatives who came in as gap fillers, amassing wealth for themselves .

Dzimbahwe Chimbga, programmes manager for the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said the demolitions “are quite devastating and disturbing as most of these people have only these homes and no other place to seek refuge. They happened at a time when not only the economy is ailing but as rains have also started,” said Chimbga.

The demolitions are said to have conjured memories of the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina which left 700 000 people displaced across the country.

Justice Mathonsi’s ruling on October 9 castigated the September demolitions, quoting section 74 of the Constitution:  no person may be evicted from their home or have their home demolished without any order made after considering all relevant circumstances.

Mathonsi took a swipe at local authorities, saying that they have allowed illegal settlement to take root at the expense not only of the settlers but also organised urban planning and public health. He said local authorities are “now waking up and by force and power demolishing structures without regard to the law and human dignity“.

His decision has been applauded and although the demolitions have ceased for now, residents are yet to know whether they will still have a roof over their heads in the months to come.

Sally Nyakanyanga is a journalist in Zimbabwe.

Tough sell: Marketing Uganda to gay travellers

(Pic: Reuters)
(Pic: Reuters)

Uganda is probably the last place a gay holidaymaker would want to visit, but tourism bosses in the east African nation are nevertheless trying to achieve the seemingly impossible.

Earlier this year the country drew international condemnation after passing anti-homosexuality legislation – since struck down – that could have seen gays jailed for life.

Uganda’s tourism representatives and private sector businesses, however, have rallied to assure gay and lesbian travellers that they have nothing to fear.

“No one is actually being killed,” asserted Babra Adoso of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators.

“We are not aware of anybody who has been asked at the airport ‘what is your sexual inclination?’ or been turned away,” she told AFP.

In a move that raised eyebrows, members of the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and other industry representatives from Uganda met recently with the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), a gay-friendly global travel network.

The September 8 meeting, organised by the Africa Travel Association (ATA) and held at their New York headquarters, came a month after Uganda’s constitutional court struck down the anti-gay legislation on a technicality.

Still, under a standing colonial-era Penal Code, anyone in Uganda – including expatriates and visitors – can in theory still be jailed for “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”. Ugandan MPs are also attempting to reintroduce the tougher bill in parliament.

Two Britons living in Uganda have been deported in the past 18 months for homosexuality-related crimes.

Adoso, however, is adamant that Uganda – known as the “Pearl of Africa” and before the outcry over the law designated by Lonely Planet as a top travel destination – is safe for gays and lesbians and that the country had been “misunderstood”.

The legislation, she said, was for the “protection of children” against paedophiles.

“Children have been recruited into acts,” Adoso said. “We’ve had stories of how children were forcefully taken to Kenya and recruited into the act and forced to actually, you know, pose nude and everything else.”

Gay rights groups, she said, were “possibly using exaggerated stories” about their own predicament in order to get funding from overseas.

Serious image problem
The Ugandan Tourism Board admitted the country was now battling a serious image problem.

Sylvia Kalembe, the UTB’s officer in charge of product development, said she and others who attended the meeting in New York were “in shock at how people perceive us”.

“Someone has turned it around and used it against Uganda,” she said of the international condemnation – which included US Secretary of State John Kerry likening the law to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany.

John Tanzella, the head of the IGLTA, said the body appreciated being invited to meet with Ugandan authorities, but added that their 90-minute discussion was a “starting point only” – signalling the country still had a way to go if it wanted to attract gay and lesbian tourists.

“As with other destinations that have struggled with issues of homophobia, we advise LGBT travellers to exercise caution if they decide to visit,” he told AFP.

Ugandan gay rights activists are equally sceptical on the initiative, saying the country should first look at how it treats its own citizens who happen to be gay.

“It’s very difficult for us to even move from one town to another,” said activist Pepe Julian Onziema, adding that the pronouncements by Uganda tourism representatives gave the impression there was one law for locals and another for foreigners.

“The freedom has to begin with us,” he said.

Selling Uganda to gays is one of several curious initiatives the Ugandan Tourism Board has come up with this year as it tries to counter a drop in tourism – a key earner for impoverished Uganda that accounts for 8.4 percent of GDP.

In March, Stephen Asiimwe, chief executive of the UTB, announced a plan to create an “Idi Amin Tourism Trail” for those interested in Uganda’s murderous dictator who was ousted in 1979.

“Idi Amin is the most popular Ugandan ever but no one is making use of him. We have to develop this trail,” he was quoted as saying in the New Vision newspaper, saying this could rival other global tragedies-turned-tourist-spots like Holocaust sites in Germany and Poland or the genocide museum in neighbouring Rwanda.

More recently, the UTB has been promoting a Ugandan coming-of-age festival involving the traditional ritual circumcision of boys aged between 13 and 18 years of age.

Amy Fallon for AFP

Ebola taking toll on West African economy

Locals in a market in Kenema, Sierra Leone. (Pic: AFP)
Locals in a market in Kenema, Sierra Leone. (Pic: AFP)

The worst-ever outbreak of the Ebola virus is taking a heavy toll on West Africa’s economy as crops rot in the fields, mines are abandoned and goods cannot get to market.

The epidemic has ravaged the region since it erupted in the forests in the south of Guinea earlier this year, killing 1 427 people and infecting thousands more.

On Friday health officials said the fever had spread to every corner of Liberia, the worst-hit country in the grip of the epidemic where 624 people have died so far.

But beyond the mounting death toll, the disease is also undermining the region’s economic growth and threatening the long-term development of some of the world’s poorest countries.

“It is a total catastrophe. We are losing lots of money,” said Alhaji Bamogo, who sells clothes in the market in the Liberian capital Monrovia.

“All those who are coming to the market come only to buy food or products for the disinfection of Ebola,” he said.

Economic crisis
Across the resource-rich countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, companies are suspending operations due to fears of the haemorrhagic fever, which is spread through contact with bodily fluids.

Steel giant ArcelorMittal this month said the contractors at its expanding iron ore works in Liberia had suspended operations and were pulling out staff.

Several international airlines have halted their flights to west Africa in a move that Moody’s ratings agency warns “will exact an economic toll” on the region.

And in Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer and most populous country where 15 cases have been identified and five people have died, experts warn that the impact for the regional economy could be dire if the disease takes hold.

“The Ebola epidemic is not just a public health crisis, but an economic crisis… affecting many sectors of activity,” the president of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka warned this month.

Too dangerous to invest
Philippe Hugon, Africa research director at the French think-tank IRIS, said the biggest threat for west Africa is a long-term pullout of global companies that the region relies on.

“Everything depends on whether this stays limited or whether the epidemic continues to spread in a prolonged way. The heads of foreign businesses on the ground are very concerned,” he said.

The epidemic may “reinforce the idea that Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are countries where it is dangerous to live — because of diseases like Ebola and AIDS — and thus to invest in,” he said.

The disease is also exacting a direct economic toll on the countries where it is spreading by sapping already stretched government budgets.

Moody’s warned it will squeeze state coffers from all sides, by forcing both “increased health expenditures, and… an Ebola-induced economic slowdown on government revenue generation”.

This month the African Development Bank pledged $60 million to support the over-stretched health systems of the four affected countries.

Critics have accused west Africa’s governments of being slow to admit the extent of the problem because of the cost of deploying resources to fight the disease.

Amadou Soumah, a trade union official in Guinea, which only last week declared a national emergency despite being at the epicentre of the outbreak earlier this year, said the government had played down the crisis “to stop investors fleeing”.

And now “Guinea is going to deploy its forces along the border to rack up even more spending,” he added, referring to the closure of its frontiers with Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Food shortages
For people on the ground, the epidemic has created an even more pressing problem: food shortages.

In the markets, supplies of staple commodities such as rice are already dwindling, with only the bravest traders willing to venture far afield to buy stocks.

In quarantined zones in Sierra Leone and Liberia, key cash crops such as cocoa and coffee have been left rotting in the fields as farmers fear to stray far from home.

“People are going to move around less and less,” said Philippe De Vreyer, a specialist in west African economics and professor at the University of Paris.

“For instance, the man who usually goes to the local market to sell his vegetables will decide to stay home. People are not going to get their supplies, with all that entails.”

In Nigeria, even though it is the least hit by the epidemic, Ebola fears are already keeping people indoors.

So far the epidemic has not threatened the economically vital oil industry, which is centred in the southern Niger Delta about 1 000 kilometres from Lagos, where the cases have been found.

The service industry is feeling the effects, however.

“Bookings to hotels have dropped by almost 30 percent so far this month, as have orders for food and drink for large social gatherings like weddings and funerals,” said Bismarck Rewane, head of the Lagos-based Financial Derivatives Company.

Zoom Dosso for AFP

Chido Govera: Transforming lives in Africa by growing mushrooms

Chido Govera. (Pic:
Chido Govera. (Pic:

When she was 10 years old, Chido Govera was offered a way out. A relative walked many miles to see her and said: “You know, I see that you’re suffering and I would like to help you. The only way I can help you is my husband has a friend and he’s around 40, he’s been struggling to find someone to marry and he thinks if you marry him, it would be a chance of escaping all this poverty and abuse. So you should come and meet him next Wednesday.”

Other girls in Govera’s position in rural Zimbabwe might have acquiesced. She never knew her father and lost her mother to Aids when she was seven. She was left to care for her grandmother, who was virtually blind, and her five-year-old brother. She would often wake up at 4am, search for firewood, walk at least a mile to fetch water, work in a field, attend school and go to bed hungry. She was also physically abused by members of her extended family.

When it all became too much, aged nine, she dropped out of school, abandoning her mother’s dream for her of boarding school and studying in America. “It was tough,” she recalls. “I remember I cried many days after that and I used to watch other kids going to school that I used to run around with, and it was painful. But it was more painful to go to school and spend the whole time thinking about what’s going to happen when I get home. Getting back home to watch the hungry faces of my granny and little brother. It was unbearable.”

So when next Wednesday came, the young girl with few prospects was expected to meet the man 30 years her senior who would become her husband and provider. “The reason why I was supposed to find it attractive to marry him was because he had two sisters that were going to South Africa to buy clothing and coming back to Zimbabwe.”

She chose a different path: “I did not go because I realised if I got married, then I was leaving my grandmother and my little brother alone and I wouldn’t be able to help them any more.

“When I was eight years old I’d told myself, ‘I want to help other young orphans so they do not have to experience what I was experiencing.’ I thought, ‘If I get married, am I achieving that or not?’ And it was clear that was not the way to go. I didn’t go to meet the guy and my relative told me, ‘I tried to help you, you turned that down and from now on you’re pretty much on your own.'”

Green fingers
Today things looks very different for Chido Govera. At 28 she is a successful farmer, campaigner and educator with her own foundation, The Future of Hope. She has trained nearly 1 000 people in communities in Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Cameroon, Tanzania and South Africa. Her work has reached schools and communities in India, Aboriginals in Australia and entrepreneurs in the US and around Europe. The key to this one-woman revolution is mushrooms.

A year after turning down the stranger’s marriage proposal, Govera was among 15 orphan girls in Zimbabwe invited to receive training in mushroom cultivation, supported by the Belgian environmental entrepreneur Gunter Pauli. She had been accustomed to harvesting mushrooms in the bush but this was different: “My grandmother was so knowledgeable that even when she couldn’t see any more she could smell which mushrooms were edible, inedible, poisonous … But to grow them was very strange.”

The group received bags of waste mixed with spores and learned how to manage a mushroom house. In less than a week, mushrooms were growing. When Govera took her first taste of one, it came as a shock. “They were completely different from mushrooms gathered from the forest,” she laughs. “It was a bit like eating a snail. It had sliminess to it and the crunchiness of a snail.”

Soon the group was producing enough to sell, earning money to buy food and pay for the school fees of orphans including Govera’s brother. “You realise that if you can work, you can actually get there step by step, you can put food on your plate,” Govera says. “In this case it was converting waste into food, creating food for the community, but also doing something that no one else in that community was doing. We were unique in that time, doing something that was highly scientific without having studied at all. In my case I’d only done five years of primary-level education. It was like magic.”

The girls’ success made them attractive marriage material and of the 15 taking part, 13 quickly fulfilled society’s expectations by finding husbands. Again, Govera did not. Instead, from the age of 12 to 16, she was to be found in a university laboratory taking advanced studies in what she describes as both the art and science of mushroom cultivation. She continued to hone her expertise during spells in Colombia, Serbia and China.

And in Pauli, she discovered the father figure that had always been missing in her life, most notably when she was being abused and had no one to turn to. “One of my biggest dreams, of course, never having met my father, was to actually have a father.

“The lady who was teaching us in the laboratory sent a message to Gunter Pauli saying, ‘You know what Gunter, we have a girl who’s got green fingers, mushroom fingers, and unlike the others she doesn’t want to get married.’ Then he says, ‘Well, what does she want?’ He was told she needs a father and that’s how he became my daddy.”

‘We are not what happened to us’
As Govera travels the developing world teaching mushroom farming to women and orphans, she is also pioneering new techniques, for example growing mushrooms from coffee grounds for commercial use.

Otherwise she divides her time principally between South Africa and Zimbabwe, a country many still associate with 90-year-old president Robert Mugabe’s authoritarian regime and its ruinous economic policies. “I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing now in Zimbabwe if I didn’t believe there is a possibility for a change,” she says.

“I strongly believe that, regardless of what is happening in politics – not just in Zimbabwe but in many different parts of the world – if we want to change things, we will need to go to the grassroots and teach them to stand up for themselves, because if we can empower them beyond being a victim of a political situation, then we are making change happen.

“The reason why I go into communities, select groups of young orphans, empower those and bring them back into the communities to inspire change there is because we need to change the way change is viewed. People say politicians or the grownups or the successful ones are going to change things in the country, but I think everyone has a part to contribute.”

Zimbabwe’s politicians are sometimes accused of being imprisoned in the past. This is not something Govera herself could be accused of as she looks back on that 10-year-old who, one Wednesday, decided to take the road less travelled.

“I learned to redefine myself regardless of what happened to me when I was a kid,” she reflects. “I’ve been able to reclaim myself. This is something that’s required for every individual. We are not what happened to us.

“From those experiences there’s some kind of lesson that inspires me to do what I do now, but I’m not back in the moment when I was 10. I’ve dealt with that. I just look at the future with a new hope. I’m 100% sure that I am not going to be one of those women who say, ‘Things are the way they are because I grew up as an orphan.'”

David Smith for the Guardian

Survivors enlisted in Sierra Leone’s Ebola battle

An MSF medical worker feeds a child at an MSF facility in Kailahun on August 15 2014. Kailahun along with Kenama district is at the epicentre of the world's worst Ebola outbreak. (Pic: AFP)
An MSF medical worker feeds a child at an MSF facility in Kailahun on August 15 2014. Kailahun along with Kenama district is at the epicentre of the world’s worst Ebola outbreak. (Pic: AFP)

Hawa Idrisa was visiting her father-in-law in an Ebola ward in eastern Sierra Leone when his drip snapped out and his atrophying veins spurted thin, uncoagulated blood into her eyes and mouth.

She had been carrying her infant daughter Helen but luckily she had laid the child down, otherwise the baby would almost certainly be dead by now.

A single droplet of blood smaller than a full stop can carry up to 100 million particles of the deadly Ebola virus, yet one is enough to end a human life.

“The blood got all over me, and people were running away. So I took a bucket of chlorine and poured it over myself,” Hawa said.

She returned home to forget her ordeal, but a week later she began experiencing fever and headaches, the early symptoms of the Ebola.

Her 12-month-old mercifully tested negative, but her husband Nallo was infected and he and Hawa checked into the Doctors Without Borders’ (MSF) treatment facility in the eastern district of Kailahun.

Hawa spent four weeks drifting between life and death at the centre, in the district capital Kailahan city, a trading post of 30 000 in the Kissi triangle linking to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“I didn’t know what was happening to me. I didn’t even know where I was. I don’t remember anything from that time,” she told AFP of the ordeal she survived.

Ebola kills more than half of the people it infects, putrifying their insides in the worst cases until their vital organs seep from their bodies.

It is highly infectious but not particularly contagious, meaning that once you are exposed, your chances of escaping the fever are extremely low, although it can only be passed on through bodily fluids.

The good news is that when patients are caught early enough, given paracetamol for their fevers, kept rehydrated and nourished, their chances of survival increase dramatically.

Hawa proudly shows off a certificate saying she has recovered fully, and she is preparing to return home.

“I know there is nothing wrong with my daughter, but my mind and heart will be at the centre with my husband,” she says.

Hardest-hit districts
Already more than 2 100 people have been infected across four west African countries, and 1 145 people have died, dwarfing previous Ebola outbreaks.

The epidemic is perhaps worst of all in Sierra Leone, which has registered 810 cases, more than any other country.

A sign warning of the dangers of Ebola outside a government hospital in Freetown on August 13 2014. (Pic: AFP)
A sign warning of the dangers of Ebola outside a government hospital in Freetown on August 13 2014. (Pic: AFP)

The hardest-hit districts, Kailahun and the diamond trading hub of Kenema next door, have been sealed off to ordinary members of the public.

Around a million people in the two districts are in effective lockdown, and locals say soaring food prices are pushing the region towards a crisis.

Local doctors and nurses are fighting not just the disease, but also the distrust of locals who fear modern medical practices.

Relatives have been known to snatch infected loved-ones from clinics to die in their own villages, exacerbating the spread of the virus.

They have even attacked treatment centres – as armed men did in neighbouring Liberia at the weekend – convinced that Ebola is a Western conspiracy against traditional African communities and that foreign healthworkers are in on the secret.

Some 1 500 police and soldiers have been deployed to prevent raids, but they are powerless faced with the suspicion and fear of poorly educated traditional communities.

Many tribespeople at the epicentre of the outbreak either don’t know how to prevent and treat Ebola or do not believe it exists at all.

This, says MSF, is where the survivors come in.

Survivors returning home
Ella Watson-Stryker (34), a health promoter with the aid agency, is part of a team taking Hawa and other survivors home to their villages.

She will gather their neighbours and family members around, answer their questions about the virus and try to reassure them that Hawa poses no danger.

“This is very exciting for us. It’s also really beneficial to the overall response to the outbreak because when survivors go home, they can explain about their stay at the centre.

“They give people hope that it is possible to survive and it really builds trust between the community and MSF,” she says.

Watson-Stryker also says that when survivors go back to their communities, people begin to understand that treatment centres are not just “a place where people go to die”.

They are surprised to learn that patients are fed, given unlimited soft drinks, access to toilets, showers and medicine, and that their families are encouraged to visit.

“We try to assuage the fears of the community, because there are a lot of rumours out there, that as soon as you come to the treatment centre you will just be left to die.”

Back at the MSF centre, Nallo enthuses about his future with Hawa and their baby girl, despite remaining in grave danger in the high risk area.

“At first people thought that when they got here, they were going to have all their blood removed and they would die,” he says.

“They have been giving me drugs and I am much better, so when I get back to my community I will tell people that if it ever happens that they get Ebola we advise them to come here.”