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My shitty country

(Pic: AFP)
(Pic: AFP)

You should walk down First Street in Harare just before summer starts. You should smell the scent of the purple jacaranda flowers, it is a mixture of petrol and sugar, a scent that excites my senses. You should meet a Zimbabwean vendor at Avondale flea market, trying to sell you a wooden knobkierie of NyamiNyami , the River God. His charisma only will make you part with your hard-earned 25 dollars. His humour will make you want to know him more. He will tell you about Chido, his 14-year-old daughter with more brains than her father. He will tell you about her aspirations to study medicine at the University of Zimbabwe.

You should take a kombi from Fourth Street to the nearby town of Chitungwiza. You will hear about Tapiwa, Lisa’s boyfriend, who keeps calling her incessantly, checking if she has arrived at the bus stop yet so they can go and fondle each other under the Musasa tree before Lisa has to go home and start cooking. You will hear about how the electricity always goes off except on Mondays. You will see the whindi (conductor) paying off the traffic police more times than you can count.

You should take a walk down Sam Levy’s Village, a shopping paradise. There you will see people who do not experience water or electricity shortages. You will see people who have never used KK and Munga buses or any form of public transport. You will hear talk about Tin Roof and H2O, the hottest night spots in town. You will see teenagers who dress like Drake or Nicki Minaj, children who look like they stepped off the pages of Vogue. You will meet people who do not know that Zimbabwe went through an economic crisis in 2008.

You should fly to Victoria Falls. There you will truly realise that nature’s beauty is ineffable. You will hear thunder that will remind you of twenty vuvuzelas being blown at once.  You will meet people who have learnt to use their hands to craft masterpieces that travel the world. You will talk to the supermarket cashier who has never been to see the “beautiful” falls even though she has stayed in Victoria Falls all of her life.

You who think you are an expert on Zimbabwe’s political and economic situation. You who so causally paint a picture of hunger, strife and misery without having set foot in my country. You who are so ready to dish out advice from the comfort of your sofa on exactly what should be done to “change the course of Zimbabwe”. Visit us and we will show you all we have to offer. Only then, after you have come to know us, can you casually call us a shitty country.

Keith Mundangepfupfu is a student at The African Leadership Academy, who identifies himself as a writer and activist. He is currently chasing down his dream of becoming an author. Follow him on Twitter: @whiplash16

Ubuntu is dead and greed killed it

(Pic: AFP)
(Pic: AFP)

Botho is dead.

There, I said it. And quite frankly, it is about time somebody did. It’s about time we walked to the funeral of our most beloved product and allowed ourselves a few moments to come to terms with the reality that it is gone.

Botho or Ubuntu or African socialism or whatever name is now fashionable has always been a cornerstone of African societies or, to be more accurate, Bantu societies.

But now it is 2015. And in Botswana, Botho is a word so strong and loaded, that it has become the greatest political tool in the arsenal of the ambitious leader. A national address is incomplete without the speaker finding a way to praise us for upholding this core tenet of our civilisation and simultaneously admonish us for letting it slip away. It is the multi-purpose screwdriver in the toolbox of the mass manipulator.

Leaders in power shame us for having “lost” it, while leaders with ambitions to gain even more power praise us for upholding it. And this is not only a Botswana phenomenon, for South African leaders are also known to admonish wayward followers for losing their “Africanness”.

All over Africa, our culture, painted in the fantastic light of glamourised pasts, is waved in the faces of the ordinary Africans as some reminder that a different behaviour than that natural to all humans is expected from us.

Politically active youths demanding opportunity are said to be behaving without Botho, without respect for elders. Women asking for equal rights are said to be acting in their own interests and dismissing the needs of the community. Economically ambitious people are said to be thinking selfishly when they should be using their wealth to make the lives of their people better.

Well, I’m here to say that all of that is [expletive].

It is time we faced facts. We cannot foster societies that enable the greed of our leaders to be the driving force of our economies, and at the same time be expected to behave without that very same selfishness that is supposed to be at odds with our supposedly perfect pre-colonial societies.

At some point we have to choose between fulfilling the destiny Steve Biko believed was Africa’s responsibility (to bring a human face to civilisation) and following the rest of the world in letting capitalist aspirations shape our societies. And I’m afraid we have made that choice.

If the recent bouts of xenophobic attacks in certain parts of the continent are any indication, we, as African people, have chosen greed over Botho. We have chosen greed over idealism, over what Biko claimed was our special place in history. And we’ve done it without even knowing it.

At what point will we realise that our present acceptance of leaders who will do whatever it takes to gain as much personal wealth as possible at the expense of their people, is the very cause of the erosion of our belief systems? When will we realise these very same leaders are in no position to manipulate us with shame?

It is when we realise that greed is what is stripping our societies of their core beliefs, that we will see that the only way to move forward is to reject it.

We, Africans, have to ask ourselves everyday if this is what our ancestors fought for. Is this the freedom they died for? The freedom to steal? The freedom to kill? The freedom to die poor and without dignity? Is the right for politicians to steal without consequence, what Lumumba, Sankara, et al., died for? Is the right for the poor to murder each other over the crumbs of our GDPs what Nkrumah, Nyerere, et al. dreamed of?

Are the lives of the first Africans who died at the hands of colonialists to be honoured by our own individual obsessions with material wealth? Are their lives to be carried forward by ancestors who care more about emulating their warped view of western life than upholding the principles of societies that were alive for centuries before western interference?

Did we go through all of this for this? We have to ask ourselves these types of questions everyday if we are to arrive at the correct conclusion: Africa has to fight greed harder than we have ever fought anything else. We have to fight it like we fought off cruel colonialists, we have to fight it like we fought for freedom, we have to fight it harder than we have ever fought anything, because greed is Africa’s greatest problem.

And it begins today, by refusing to accept corruption. By demanding harsher anti-corruption laws, by seriously thinking about what role mindless consumerism has played in the decaying of our cultural principles, by a number of ways we have yet to discuss.

We have to fight because Botho is dead, and only our actions can bring it back.

Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a 21-year-old mathematics major at the University of Botswana. She is currently slumming it in Finland. Follow her on Twitter: @SiyandaWrites

The mlungu in the room

A mosaic of Leo and Makhosi. (Supplied)
A mosaic of Leo and Makhosi. (Supplied)

So this is the place she had always called home; a jumble of houses, shacks and unpaved roads in between the beautiful rolling green hills of KwaZulu-Natal. My parents and I are probably the only white people in a 20km radius. I feel like an intruder. Even at the burial, as I closed my eyes and listened to the singing of the choir coupled with the rhythmic sound of spades filling up the grave with sand, I felt their eyes watching me. Was it really my place to be here?

But as I stepped into the room, I forgot all that. It didn’t matter because this room smells exactly the way her room used to smell. The staff quarters at the back of our house and this room in the middle of Zululand, 300kms apart, are one and the same. I know how terrible it is to say this but I literally cannot describe the smell. It is simply a thousand memories of my other mother.

“This is Makhosi’s mfana”, Mabel tells the other gogos sitting in the room. I feel seven pairs of eyes looking at me, sizing me up. There’s a laugh and a smile and everyone waves at me. I feel a bit more relaxed and looking down I have to smile as well. Laid out on the floor are bowls of rice and dark purple beetroot, plates heaped with butternut and pumpkin and two big pots of stew. And this is just for seven old ladies; there are another fifty people outside all being served plates of food. Everything looks like it was made by her, everything smells like it was made by her; but of course it wasn’t.

We hand over the gifts we’ve brought for the family: a big bunch of flowers and a framed collage of photographs my mom had made. For the first time I really do have to cry. The four pictures of me and Makhosi are handed around the room for all the gogos to have a look at and everyone laughs, smiles and points at me again. No one can believe how big I’ve grown. The mood seems to sway between cheerful hopefulness and total sadness.

There’s someone hurrying around trying to organise a plate of food for me. I keep getting asked if I want some of this or some of that. I keep trying to explain that it doesn’t matter, that I’ll eat whatever I’m given. The Zulu whirls all around my head and of course I can’t understand it, but I do catch one word that I know: mlungu. I finally sit down and take a look at my plate: a mountain of rice covered in gravy and beef, large spoonfuls of mash and butternut and chakalaka. To top it all off, I am offered a chicken drumstick from a bowl that’s being passed around. It’s time to tuck in.

I hear the cow that’s walking around outside moo as I bite into a piece of beef and I feel kind of guilty. The feeling only lasts a few moments, because the stew is amazing. Every bite of rice covered in rich gravy reminds me of being asked to try whatever Makhosi was making, to tell her if it was all right. It was always better than all right and so was this. I turned to the mash and the butternut that had also been soaking in sauce. I was surprised by a sudden burst of sweetness as I discovered little peas tucked away every now and again. I remember the times she used to babysit me when my parents were out and ask me what I wanted for supper. Mashed potatoes were a popular response.

I remember her trying to convince me to eat my vegetables so that I could grow up big and strong. I didn’t need convincing this time as I attacked the bright orange butternut. It was warm and sweet and silky smooth. The rice, the gravy, the mash and the potatoes seem to conglomerate into one big ball of flavour that is chewy and smooth, sweet, savoury and a little bit spicy all at the same time. The spiciness I realise, is from the chakalaka that I haven’t even tried yet. Why is everything so good? The combination of beans, tomato and chili is an explosion of tangy flavour followed by a mild heat.

Someone has handed me a plastic cup filled with some bright yellow, fizzling drink and a sip of the cold, sweet juice is the perfect counter to the heavy, humid heat. I was never allowed this kind of thing as a child, but she sometimes let me take a sip of her coke when my mom wasn’t watching. The drink seems to accentuate the flavour of the food and the tastes are suddenly much sharper. My dad loves to tell me which two hundred rand wine pairs well with the perfect rump steak but I bet he doesn’t know how well Pine Nut Cream Soda goes with beef stew. I finish off the last bits of succulent fat and hunt down a couple of runaway peas until my plate is almost empty.

There’s just the drumstick left. I picked it up with my hands, ignoring the fork I had been using and ate my chicken the proper way; the way she taught me. The crispy skin, the tender flesh and even the knobbly bits on top; I ate everything. All I was left with was the bone and I knew what I had to do. Biting into the bone was my final goodbye. Exactly the way she used to, sitting in her room, with its wonderful aromas, and biting into chicken bones. I found the crumbling, dark brown marrow hidden inside and let the memories consume me.

I thought about everything I had experienced today and had to smile in amazement. The brightly coloured dresses, the beautiful singing and the abundance of food; this was not a mourning of death, but a celebration of life. It was not tea and sandwiches after a depressing service, it was love and warmth put into feeding a hundred people. They hardly have money to live, but there’s money for Makhosi’s umngcwabo. It truly was a special way to remember a special person.

Sibongile, Makhosi’s sister, is walking us to the car; it’s time to go home. “You’ve got a little one as well, don’t you?” my mom asked. A shout and a woza later a little albino boy is running up to us to say hello. “God gave me a mlungu, just like you!”

I’m not sure why I put the Lego man in my pocket this morning. I suppose it was some sort of keepsake. I’d wanted to put it at her grave, but it hadn’t felt right. I bent down onto one knee, “Makhosi and I used to play with these together. But I’m big now and I don’t need it anymore.” I placed the little yellow figure in the milky white hand.

I turned around one last time before getting into the car and saw the little albino boy running to show his friends the little yellow man.

Leo Karamanof is a Grade 12 student at the Deutsche Internationale Schule Johannesburg. This story was an English essay on the topic ‘A remembered meal’ , and was inspired by his visit to Makhosazana Dlamini’s family home in Newcastle for her funeral.

Kenya demands UN remove Somali refugee camp after Garissa attack

An aerial view shows an extension of the Ifo camp, one of several refugee settlements in Dadaab. (Pic: Reuters)
An aerial view shows an extension of the Ifo camp, one of several refugee settlements in Dadaab. (Pic: Reuters)

Kenya has given the United Nations three months to remove a camp housing more than half a million Somali refugees, as part of a get-tough response to the killing of 148 people by Somali gunmen at a Kenyan university.

Kenya has in the past accused Islamist militants of hiding out in Dadaab camp which it now wants the UN refugee agency UNHCR to move across the border to inside Somalia.

“We have asked the UNHCR to relocate the refugees in three months, failure to which we shall relocate them ourselves,” Deputy President William Ruto said in a statement on Saturday.

“The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa,” he said, referring to the university that was attacked on April 2.

Emmanuel Nyabera, spokesperson for the UNHCR in Kenya, said they were yet to receive formal communication from the government on the relocation of Dadaab and could not comment.

The complex of camps hosts more than 600 000 Somali refugees, according to Ruto, in a remote, dry corner in northeast Kenya, about an hour’s drive from Garissa town.

The camp was first established in 1991 when civil war broke out in neighbouring Somalia, and over subsequent years has received waves of refugees fleeing conflict and drought.

The United Nations puts the number of registered refugees in the chronically overcrowded settlements of permanent structures, mud shanties and tents, at around 335 000. The camp houses schools, clinics and community centres.

Macharia Munene, professor of international relations at USIU-Africa, said the logistics of moving hundreds of thousands of refugees across the border would be “a tall order”.

But he said there were now safe areas within Somalia from where Islamist al Shabab militants had been chased out by African Union forces in recent years.

“Kenya is in an emergency situation… Each country has an obligation to look after its people first,” he told Reuters.

‘We must secure this country at all costs’
Funerals of the students killed in the campus attack were taking place across the country. Pictures of their grieving families dominated the media, reminding Kenyans of the attack.

Ruto said Kenya had started building a 700-km wall along the entire length of the border with Somalia to keep out members of al Shabab.

“We must secure this country at whatever cost, even if we lose business with Somalia, so be it,” he said.

On Tuesday, Kenya closed 13 informal money remittance firms, hawalas, to cut off funding to suspected radicals. Ruto said any business that collaborated with al Shabab would be shut down.

Al Shabab has killed more than 400 people on Kenyan soil in the last two years, including 67 during a siege at Nairobi’s Westgate mall in 2013, damaging tourism and inward investment.

On Monday, the Kenyan air force launched air strikes against al Shabab targets in Somalia, a country where it has been militarily engaged against the Islamists for several years.

Giant rats sniff out TB in Mozambique

This picture taken in March 2005 shows one of nine rats who helped Mozambique sniff out landmines. (Pic: AFP)
This picture taken in March 2005 shows one of nine rats who helped sniff out landmines in Mozambique. (Pic: AFP)

Giant rats may strike fear and disgust into the hearts of homeowners worldwide, but researchers in impoverished Mozambique are improbably turning some of them into heroes.

At Eduardo Mondlane University in the capital Maputo, nine giant rats are busy at work – sniffing out tuberculosis-causing bacteria from rows of sputum samples.

These are no ordinary rats, as they have undergone six months of training in Tanzania. Their most distinguishing asset is their impeccable sense of smell.

Placed inside a glass cage, a rat darts from sample to sample, then stops or rubs its legs, indicating that a sample is infected with a TB causing bacteria.

Once the task is complete, it is given a treat through a syringe for a job well done.

“Within 30 minutes, the rat can test close to a hundred samples, which normally takes a laboratory technician four days,” said Emilio Valverde, TB program director at APOPO, the organisation leading the research.

The project, which started in February 2013, has brought hope to thousands of TB sufferers who sometimes receive false results and test negative using the standard laboratory system.

In 2006, tuberculosis was declared a national emergency in Mozambique, with 60 000 people in 2014 said to be infected, according to the ministry of health.

That number was a 10 percent increase from 2013.

Samples delivered to the university for testing are collected from 15 health centres across Maputo.

Rats in training

Belgian group APOPO is planning to expand the program to other parts of the country, while working on getting the system approved by the World Health Organization.

The organisation claims rat testing is more cost effective than other conventional methods.

Each rat costs around $6 700 to $8 000 to train, with a six-to-eight-year life span.

The cost is lower compared to rapid diagnostic test GeneXpert, which costs up to $17 000 per device, setting the state back between $10 and $17 per test.

The kitten-size rats are also used by APOPO to detect landmines by sniffing out explosives.

They are light enough to cross terrain without triggering the mines, and are followed by de-mining experts who reward the rats with bananas.

The rats weigh up to 1.5 pounds and are said to be “easier to catch and train” – according to Valverde.

Samples pointed out by the rats to contain TB bacteria are then sent for further tests using fluorescence microscopy, a more sensitive laboratory technique.

The results are sent back to health centres, allowing patients to start treatment early.

Although TB is a treatable disease, in underdeveloped countries like Mozambique it can be deadly if left untreated and is particularly harmful to people living with HIV.

Mozambique is one of the countries worst affected by TB and 1 in 10 adults is HIV-positive.

With World Tuberculosis Day being marked on Tuesday, the Mozambican Ministry of Health said it was cautiously monitoring the APOPO work.

“This technique has to be compared to others that are available and already WHO approved, such as GeneXpert or LED microscope,” said Ivan Manhica, who heads the national programme for tuberculosis at the health ministry.

According to the WHO, TB killed 1.5 million people in 2013.