Tag: Robert Mugabe

On Bryan Adams in Zim: Let us have our concerts and dance

Tonight Canadian rock musician Bryan Adams performs at a sold-out concert in Harare which has, over the last few days, become less about the music and more about Zimbabwe’s strained political relationships with the west.

According to reports, the approximately 3500 tickets sold out within ten hours of going up for sale late last year.  They are said to have ranged in price between US$ 30 and US$ 100.

Under normal circumstances, such modest figures might be overlooked. But this is Zimbabwe and if the reports coming out of the international media are anything to go by, Adams’ concert has the power to significantly assist in legitimising the autocratic leadership of the Zanu-PF government which returned to one-party rule through last year’s controversial elections.

This all sounds a little peculiar to me, especially considering that every now and then – contrary to what these recent media reports state – Zimbabwe has been known to receive a few international stars of repute. Joe Thomas, Sean Kingston, Ciara, Sean Paul and Akon have all visited Zimbabwe in the last five years. R Kelly is rumoured to be set to perform in Zimbabwe later this year.

Some of these artists’ performances in Zimbabwe, Sean Paul and Akon’s for instance, have been directly linked to campaigns led by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), a parastatal which works closely with government ministries and is headed by Zanu-PF loyalist Karikoga Kaseke. In 2010 ZTA,  working with other local initiatives, is rumoured to have invested over $1-million into hosting Sean Paul and Akon, who played at a once-off concert to an audience of over 20 000.

Interestingly the two came in for little, if any, scrutiny for being involved in this controversial concert. During the show, Sean Paul performed a rendition of Zimbabwe, a song written and performed for the nation by Bob Marley at Mugabe’s 1980 inauguration as prime minister.

Bryan Adams. (Pic: AFP)
Bryan Adams. (Pic: AFP)

From what is available online, it appears that Adams’ agent took advantage of the South Africa leg of his tour to explore the possibility of a performance in Zimbabwe.

The motivations thereof are unclear and I am not the right person to say whether or not they are political. But I will say it is unfortunate that so much effort has gone into angling what is – for the ordinary Adams fan –  meant to be a good night out.

But can the ordinary Zimbabwean afford these tickets?

The insinuation again is that the auditorium will be filled with an audience of political bigwigs and Zanu-PF supporters because it is only those actively moving the party’s agenda  who can afford to part with US $30 or more for this concert.

Every year, one of the biggest international festivals, the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa), takes place in Zimbabwe. With most tickets ranging in price from $5 to $20, the average arts aficionado can expect to spend at least $50 on tickets alone over the duration of the week-long festival. Over the years, Hifa has had to answer many questions around the elitism of the event and its accompanying exclusion of the majority of Harare, and Zimbabwe. The festival – which attracts a large audience of white Zimbabweans – also brings into focus issues around race, access to resources and the arts in Zimbabwe.

It is therefore an unfortunate and reductive analysis of the state of affairs in Zimbabwe to assume that none besides the flag-waving and slogan-chanting can actually invest in having a good time. This analysis is not meant to gloss over the very real fact that the majority of Zimbabweans are living in the direst circumstances of poverty owing to Zimbabwe’s political and economic decline. It is not also not meant to cover up the many sins of those in political leadership who are looting and plundering the nation’s resources for personal gain and self-interest.

But it is intended to nuance the debate a bit. Because Zimbabweans can and do still enjoy and crave normal pursuits outside of the heavily politicised realm of party politics and sovereignty.

The idea I get is that this concert, through the person of Adams, will significantly alter the dominant narrative of autocracy and strife in Zimbabwe. But in case it was in doubt, US President Barack Obama this week sent a timely reminder that this won’t be the case soon, by ruling out Zimbabwe’s participation at the US-Africa Summit in August.

It’s not that simple.

So what is it about Bryan Adams that has attracted so much attention, and for such a small show?

The only difference I can make out between him and the other stars that I previously mentioned is that he is white.

Is there more at stake when a white international musician runs the risk of legitimising a black-led government that is known for delegitimising the rights of its white population? How did the Akon and Sean Paul case, with much clearer political links, attract less attention when they performed in Zimbabwe? Was it because that was when Zanu-PF was still within the power-sharing agreement with the MDC?

I hate to come up with conspiracy theories, but something about the coverage of tonight’s concert is off. And it has been off for many friends whom I have had this conversation with.

Many Zimbabweans aspire to more than being political pawns in a game of chess they neither sought nor control.

Let us have our concerts and dance.

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for women, Her Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter


Robert Mugabe the star in off-Broadway thriller

Fresh from a controversial election win, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is now the focus of an off-Broadway play in New York that delves into the mind of one of the world’s most vilified leaders.

The 89-year-old Mugabe, in power for 33 years, is regarded by critics as an iron-fisted oppressor who has rigged multiple elections and driven his once-prosperous nation into the ground.

Robert Mugabe (Pic: AFP)
Robert Mugabe (Pic: AFP)

But in British playwright Fraser Grace’s “Breakfast with Mugabe,” the veteran leader, who was also a hero of the struggle against colonial rule, is a depressed patient – albeit a very dangerous one.

Grace happened upon an article in the Times of London around the time of Zimbabwe’s very tense 2002 election, which Mugabe narrowly won against longtime political rival Morgan Tsvangirai, in a vote observers and the opposition claimed was rigged.

The report said Mugabe was holed up in state house being pursued by the malevolent spirit of a dead comrade and had called on a white psychiatrist for help.

Whether the article was true or not, the concept – along with the crossover between western-style psychology and African spiritual beliefs, and the enduring post-colonial puzzle – piqued Grace’s interest.

“When Mugabe was in the news, he was portrayed entirely as a monster. And my starting position was that monsters are made, not born,” Grace told AFP in a telephone interview from London.

“There is little doubt some of the ways he behaves are monstrous, but interestingly he had many of the same experiences as Nelson Mandela: liberation, prison, both suffered terrible humiliations and oppression under colonial rule.”

However, Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, is credited with uniting his country after apartheid rule.

The play has only four characters, Mugabe and his wife Grace, bodyguard Gabriel and white Zimbabwean psychiatrist Andrew Peric, all of them trying to gain the upper hand.

Peric, played by actor Ezra Barnes, first runs into the formidable Grace Mugabe, largely known as the secretary-turned-mistress who married Mugabe shortly after his first wife died and who lives a lavish lifestyle that has earned her the nickname “The First Shopper” at home.

Alternately warm and menacing, Grace, played by actress Rosalyn Coleman, goads Peric as he waits for her husband, assuring her his intentions in treating the president are pure.

“And what in Zimbabwe do you think is pure?” she scoffs. “Do what you are told or you will not be treating your patient for long.”

Mugabe, in a hauntingly accurate portrayal by Michael Rogers, sought help from the psychiatrist, yet he fights against being vulnerable to a white man, and their interactions are tense, electric and emotional.

As the psychiatrist probes Mugabe about the ghost – known as a ngozi – haunting him, the president hits out angrily with his trademark sharp tongue about Peric’s white ancestors robbing Africans of their land and their voice.

Peric, who has a keen understanding of Shona culture, is described by actor Barnes as “post-racial” and tries to defend himself. Like many whites whose forefathers moved to the continent, he considers himself African.

Their sessions bring up Mugabe’s possible demons: his betrayal of his first wife, his abandonment by his father as a boy and the death of his own child during his 11 years of imprisonment by Ian Smith’s white minority regime.

The leader of then-Rhodesia would not allow Mugabe leave to attend the funeral of his four-year-old son.

The play takes a thought-provoking look into the nature of political power, where losing it can mean losing everything.

“I am scared of the future,” the first lady admits at one point.

“Robert and I stayed with these people one time in Romania, the Ceausescus … look at what happened to them,” in reference to that country’s brutal leader Nicolae, shot by firing squad along with his wife in 1990.

However, the threat of danger for Peric is also always there.

As a result of Mugabe’s controversial land reforms, which saw hundreds of white farmers lose their land, some killed or chased off in violent rampages, so-called war veterans have camped on his tobacco farm.

Unfortunately for Peric, his association with Mugabe has a chilling end for him and his family in the play, which has been praised for its Shakespearean dimensions.

The play first appeared in a London theatre in 2005, made it to the West End and now the bright lights of New York where it will run until October 6.

“It is astonishing to find the show coming out just as another election has gone by. Things in many ways have gone backwards,” said Grace.

Fran Blandy for AFP


‘Life goes on’ for women in Mugabe-led Zimbabwe

Everyday Tendai Phiri* (32) wakes up early to set up her cardboard stall along one of Mabelreign suburb’s main roads where she sells airtime, biscuits, cigarettes and savoury snacks to passing motorists and pedestrians.

Beside her makeshift stand, she unwraps the swathing she uses to bind her nine-month-old daughter to her back. She then lays a sheet of canvas onto the ground before carefully placing her baby onto it. Wrapping the child in thick fleece blankets, Phiri attempts to cushion her from the remnants of a winter cold laced with uncertainty about Zimbabwe’s future.

With more than a week having passed since the announcement of Zimbabwe’s election results, reality is now sinking in for Phiri and many other Zimbabweans: another guaranteed term of office for 89-year-old President Robert Mugabe. While Phiri won’t say which party or presidential candidate she supported or voted for, her general fears of a return to economic mayhem point to dissatisfaction with the outcome of the polls.

“The things we lived through all those years back are just painful to remember,” she states softly. “We have already been through too much.”

Harare West, the constituency in which Phiri lives and voted, was an electoral anomaly for many reasons. It was one of the few that fielded two female candidates from the main contesting parties of Zanu-PF and MDC-T; one of the few in which a female candidate – Fungayi Jessie Majome – won a contested seat; one in which the MDC won one of its 49 seats in Parliament, and also a constituency with one of the youngest parliamentary candidates, 25-year-old Varaidzo Mupunga, representing Zanu-PF.

Posters of two female candidates in the Harare West constituency. (Pic: Fungai Machirori)
Posters of two female candidates in the Harare West constituency. (Pic: Fungai Machirori)

With Zanu-PF having amassed a majority of more than two thirds within the incoming Parliament, the party has gained the authority to make amendments to the new Constitution that Zimbabweans voted into power in March this year.

“It’s most unlikely that the Zanu-PF party will use its two thirds majority to enhance women’s rights by, for example, inserting a proviso to the effect that the quota for women’s seats should only fall way when gender parity will have been attained in the seats that are up for contestation,” said Majome who also served as deputy minister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development in government’s previous term.

Quotas for female parliamentarians are one of the gendered reforms within Zimbabwe’s new Constitution that were promoted by the women’s lobby prior to the constitutional vote.  Sixty seats – distributed via proportional representation based on votes won by parties within Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces – have been allocated to female politicians for the life of Zimbabwe’s next two Parliaments.

Another key reform put forward in the new Constitution is the establishment of the Zimbabwe Gender Commission to investigate and secure redress for gender-related rights violations. Also, the new Constitution dismantles a patriarchal legality that previously made it impossible for a woman to apply for a birth certificate and/or passport for her child without the consent of the child’s father.

President Robert Mugabe addresses a rally on July 28 2013. (Pic: AFP)
President Robert Mugabe speaks at a rally on July 28 2013. (Pic: AFP)

In the run-up to the presidential elections, Zanu-PF attempted to appeal to the female electorate by highlighting the sexual misadventures of main opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, through an advertisement broadcast on national television. In it, a woman recounts her story of being dumped via SMS by the former prime minister who is referred to as “a bad example” with “a lack of decency”.

But Mugabe himself has not recently endeared himself to women.

Last year at the official announcement of Zimbabwe’s census results, the president attracted critical commentary for blaming women for the nation’s slowing population growth rate. In his speech, he asked why women had been given wombs if they were not utilising them and implored them to give the nation more children. In the run-up to the elections, Mugabe again drew large criticism internationally for referring to SADC’s facilitation team spokesperson, Lindiwe Zulu, as a “stupid” and “idiotic” “street woman” for raising concerns about Zimbabwe’s readiness for elections on July 31, a date only confirmed weeks before the polls.

But discussions such as these still speak little to the immediate needs of women like Phiri.

To earn a profit on her bulk airtime purchases, she needs to sell at least US$92 worth of stocks daily. For now she is making, at best, US$50 a day.  With her limited mobility – owing to the baby she has to bring to work and tend to – she is not as vigorous in selling as some of her male peers who often venture into the middle of the road to entice drivers to buy their wares. And so Phiri is now looking for a job as a maid.

Like Phiri, Angela Dhewa (28), a sales consultant with a local manufacturing company, is more concerned about the decisions she has to make about her immediate future.

“Does the fact that I can get a birth certificate for my child without my partner protect me from dying in a labour ward with no electricity, water, medication and birth attendants?” asks Dhewa who has no children and is considering the prospect of leaving the country for fear of what may follow. “If those sorts of matters are not first taken care of, there will be no child for me to register, whether or not I have a partner.”

A poster of Tsvangirai, still clings to the broad-necked tree that Phiri sits under for shade at lunchtime. Some sections of the glossy paper with Tsvangirai’s face have peeled away from the hold of the plastic tape and are tattering away on the same wind that seems to have blown all hope of his assuming leadership of the nation.

I make this observation to Phiri.

“What can we do?” she asks rhetorically. “Life goes on.”

*not her real name

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for womenHer Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter

Zimbabwe elections 101

Zimbabwe is holding general elections today, which brings to an end the power-sharing government between President Robert Mugabe and his long-time rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Robert Mugabe (L) and Morgan Tsvangirai. (Pic: AFP)
Robert Mugabe (L) and Morgan Tsvangirai. (Pic: AFP)

Here are some key facts about the vote:

  • Some 6.4-million Zimbabweans, out of a population of 12.9-million, are eligible to vote at 9 670 polling stations across the country.
  • Voting centres will be open from 7am to 7pm.
  • Most voters will vote for presidential and parliamentary candidates.
  • There are five presidential candidates: President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Dumiso Dabengwa, Welshman Ncube and Kinisoti Mukwazhe.
  • There are 210 parliamentary constituencies.
  • 60 seats are reserved for women.
  • 37 108 police officers and military personnel have already voted.
  • Voters will need to be 18 years and above to vote and will have to present a national identity card or a valid Zimbabwean passport.
  • The results are expected within five days.
  • If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, a runoff will be held, likely in September.

View the Mail & Guardian’s special report on the Zimbabwe elections here.

Baba Jukwa, ‘Zimbabwe’s own Julian Assange’

His name is whispered in buses, bars and on street corners by Zimbabweans eager for the inside scoop on President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party. One avid follower even climbs a tree in a rural village for a signal to call a friend for the latest tidbits from the mysterious yet stupendously popular character.

Baba Jukwa, or Jukwa’s father in the local Shona language, is a Zanu-PF party “mole” who says on his popular Facebook page that he is disheartened by the “corrupt and evil machinations” of Mugabe’s fractious party.

Since its launch in March, the Baba Jukwa page has at least 230 000 Likes – more  than Mugabe’s and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s.

Baba Jukwa's Facebook page.
Baba Jukwa’s Facebook page.

The page reveals what it claims are exposés by well-connected insiders of Mugabe’s health secrets, murder, assassination and corruption plots, and intended intimidation and vote-rigging ahead of upcoming elections scheduled for the end of July.

Zimbabweans who are fans of Baba Jukwa’s page now say they have unfettered access to what they have always wanted to know but never dared ask for fear of being arrested. Under the nation’s sweeping security laws, it is an offence to undermine the authority of the president and national security operatives.

Baba Jukwa claims on the page that there is a bounty on his head, although it is believed there are several authors behind his name because the writing style of the posts changes from day to day.

Inside info
After state-run media loyal to 89-year-old Mugabe said the president made a trip to Singapore for an eye check-up, the Baba Jukwa page stated: “When we welcomed him at the airport yesterday early in the morning our old man, ladies and gentlemen, looked weaned and very weak. It was clear that the chemotherapy process he went through in Far East Asia was still having effect on him.”

The page also said Mugabe was suffering from a severe recurrence of prostate cancer.

With the catchphrase “tapanduka zvamuchose,” a Shona term meaning he has “gone rogue”, Baba Jukwa gives details of secret venues and times of undercover meetings.

Zanu-PF insiders have reported they are afraid to leave important meetings to go to the bathroom in case they are suspected of firing off smart phone texts to Baba Jukwa. The page has reported getting tip-offs from the midst of meetings of Mugabe’s politburo, its highest policy making body, and other confidential gatherings.

Zimbabwe has an estimated 12-million mobile subscribers with 60% estimated to have direct access to the internet through their cellphones, according to commercial company reports from the three main mobile networks.

McDonald Lewanika, director of Crisis Coalition, an alliance of democracy and human rights groups said the Facebook page has provided ordinary Zimbabweans with a platform to access information on secretive state security operations. Lewanika said Baba Jukwa remains anonymous because of the dangers associated with what he is doing.

“It is a bad sign for the country that there’s no free flow of information,” Lewanika told The Associated Press.

The faceless Baba Jukwa vows to end Mugabe’s rule by exposing the alleged involvement of his top officials, secret agents, police and military in the violence that led to disputed elections in 2008 and corruption and internal plotting ever since.

Baba Jukwa says Mugabe won’t be able to withstand a gruelling election campaign.

‘He fabricates lies’
Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said that his party does not know the identity of Baba Jukwa and other possible contributors.

The posts are factually incorrect, he said. However, some have proven to be correct as events unfold. The distribution of private and secret telephone numbers of security agents and forecasts of political developments have been corroborated in later public statements by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.

“Whoever he is, he fabricates lies and is not doing any good to the morality of our society,” Gumbo said.

Baba Jukwa claims Mugabe’s Zanu-PF is incensed by the page, is making desperate efforts to establish his identity and has put a $300 000 bounty on him or other contributors being unmasked. That claim could not be verified.

“They are wasting their time as I am extremely careful and working from within the country and will never go anywhere as long as these evil old people exist I will continue fighting. My blood will water freedom and democracy for Zimbabweans if I die for this cause,” he posted recently.

Asijiki“, a word in the local language for “we do not retreat”, is the sign-off Baba Jukwa uses at the end of all the posts.

Baba Jukwa has been dubbed “Zimbabwe’s own Julian Assange”  by his followers, but he describes himself in the local Shona language as “mupupuri wezvokwadi” (the harbinger of truth).

Leaked information
A former minister from Mugabe’s party was killed in a car wreck on June 19 after a post from Baba Jukwa had warned of an assassination plot against him several times. The page claimed Edward Chindori-Chininga was suspected of being a Baba Jukwa contributor who leaked inside information on infighting in Mugabe’s party.

“I told you there will be body bags coming this year … The war has begun,” Baba Jukwa posted on his wall.

His posts have detailed the correct private phone numbers of police, intelligence chiefs and under-cover intelligence officers and urged readers to call them.

Saviour Kasukuwere, the nation’s black empowerment minister, publicly admitted to receiving least 50 insulting calls a day. Some even went to his children and aging mother.

He said the calls were taking a toll on his family but added: “It’s a price we have to pay for our country”.

Baba Jukwa has promised to revealed his identity in time.

“I assure you will know me in a new Zimbabwe where our government will be transparent,” he said. – Sapa-AP