Zimbabwe’s Second Independence: The rebirth of a nation?

Zimbabwe is pregnant. And this week she is ready to give birth at the polling stations. Her midwives will come from Beitbridge, Harare, Bulawayo Matebeleland, Masvingo and Mashonaland. Others will drive or flight in from lands near and far to ensure a successful delivery of baby democracy on the 30 July 2018.

Given Zimbabwean’s penchant for giving their children “interesting” English names, the baby birthed this week will be called: Second Independence or New Zimbabwe.

She will succeed First Independence who was born 38 years ago and went mad and rogue after his addiction to power. He sucked the country dry until there was nothing left. He ate his own people and drove many to foreign lands for peace and survival.

Today, on the eve of the rebirth of a nation, former president Mugabe gave what is reminiscent of the biblical patriarchs transitioning speech. First he waxed indignant about his painful demise from power and how guns have been used used to direct politics. He spoke as frankly and eloquently as we have always known him to be, with the characteristics ramblings of old age.

Then he delivered his “Blessings of Jacob” to the 23 successors who have availed themselves to birth the country’s miracle baby.

He declared fervently that he will not vote for his party’s candidate, Mnangagwa. “I said I can’t vote a party or those in power who are the people that have brought me to this state. I can’t vote for them.”

Of the other candidates he stated: “I have said the 2 women presidential candidates don’t offer very much. So what is there? It’s just Chamisa.”

Thus the patriarch’s proverbial “blessing” went to the only other viable candidate: the MDC’s 40 year old Nelson Chamisa, who is the youngest presidential candidate in Zimbabwe’s history.

He implored the good Lord to help bring a better day for Zimbabwe tomorrow and declared that guns never again be used to change governments.

We who bear witness to the prolonged labour pains and anguish of our sister country have no say on who Zimbabweans choose to birth their second liberation. We can only hope that many will rise early, travel far and wide to the labour rooms of the nation and cast their votes. We pray that their decision will be informed by their hopes and not their fears. That they will be led by their conscience and that peace and freedom will prevail.

May tomorrow bring a better day for the refugee mothers that I pass begging for survival on the harsh streets of Johannesburg, bearing toddlers as sympathy props.

May tomorrow bring a better day for graduates and professionals who have turned to menial work that undermines their true potential.

May tomorrow be a red sea parting moment that signals for those who have been scattered afar to return to the warm fires of home and rebuild the ruins.

May tomorrow be a cutting of ties with the past and birth a new future. Indeed, may tomorrow bring Zimbabwe and Africa good news.

Ishe komborera Afrika!

Pearl P Mashabane

Advertisements

An African Woman’s Winter Song.

It is July and Johannesburg shivers in winters icy grip. I lie cocooned in shrouds of blankets, nursing memories of summers past.

Winter is often harsh in South Africa. The freezing air creeps through our thin house walls and crevices, piercing through the body like needle pricks.

Families huddle around electric, gas and paraffin heaters. Many resort to coal stoves that release lulling toxic fumes and never awake from their sleep. Others are aroused by angry flames engulfing their homes, leaving them to battle it out with nothing but the clothes on their backs . Such is the depressing legacy of our winters.

It is amidst this gloom that a summer’s song bursts forth from my garden. I am startled. What is there to sing about when the cold chills down to the bone?

I wiggle out of bed, drapped in a thick duvet and shuffle myself to the window. I wonder if this morning has birthed a miracle. Perhaps summer has arrived in the long hours that I spent hibernating in blankets, awaiting spring to resurrect me back to life.

Through the sheer curtains, I see her sitting on a bony branch of a fig tree. Her melody reaches the heavens.

I look around and the sky still hangs grey and the sun has still gone absent without leave. The day is as dull and discouraging as it has been the past week. The air near the window feels like I am standing in front of a freezer. I feel irritated at the hollow promise of a miracle. The simple bird must be deranged. It must have totally lost its mind for singing a song of joy in a dry and gloomy season.

I return to bed and cling to my blankets for comfort. The yellow bird amps up its long trill, oblivious to the comatose world around it.

I wonder why it has not migrated like other birds and like other things in my life that have died or migrated in the past season. Things that have let winter creep straight into my heart, leaving me with a sense of desolation.

And I wonder why she is singing in my yard as if to intentionally taunt me. I return to the curtain and the bird has moved to the skeletal mulberry tree near my window. I can see her more clearly, puffed in her yellow plumage with black and white stripes. She jumps with energy through the dry, gray branches. She is definitely high on something.

Yet I am transfixed by her unseasonal song.

It then dawns on me that the yellow bird is singing a song of thanksgiving. It is giving praise in a season where waking up early yields no fat worms.

Yet it doesn’t surrender to depression. It doesn’t mute its melody. It is sure it will have enough for the day. A verse blossoms in my heart:

  • Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
    Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life“. Matthew 6: 26-27

I feel the coldness in my heart suddenly thawing. I shed off my heavy drappings and lift my arms up and join in her song.

I often sing English songs. But today the song that germinates from my heart is an old Sotho worship song sung by many African mothers.

“Hale mpotsa tshepo yaka

Ke tlare ke Jesu…

Le re ke boneng ho yena,

Ke bone phomolo

Thabo eleng ho Morena

Ha ena phetoho”

(When you ask me the reason for my hope, I will point to Jesus. You ask what I have found/seen in Him? I say I have found peace. The joy found in God is unchanging)

The bird gives praise from a barren tree and I offer mine from a barren soul. We both praise God in our storms. As she flies off, my heart swells with gratitude for the gift of life, daily bread and the strength to sing. And often in life, that is miraculous enough.

As strength begins to fire my soul for the day ahead, I count my blessings and think about the millions of African mothers across the country who wake up from makeshift homes at the birth of each day and have to commute long distance to work for meagre wages.

Others wake with the birds and bake fresh cakes to sell to labourers in the morning. They don’t have the luxury of sleeping in a few more hours on an icy morning.

I marvel at their resilience against the brutal bites and cuts of winter. I wonder if they each have a yellow bird singing them into life every dodgy morning. I suspect they have memorised a song of hope for all of life’s seasons. A song that gives them strength and courage to keep going and put bread on the table every day.

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength

Isaiah 40: 29-31

God bless Afrika!

Pearl P Mashabane

In search of new leaders: We are the messiahs we seek.

Leaders are dealers in hope. This is something I have been learning in the past few years of working with transformation challenges at different organisations. However, no matter what social space we are in, there is a similar cry about “lack of leadership” in society, companies and particularly in politics.

The hunger for leadership is echoed everyday by the rich and poor alike in the streets, media and around family meals. Academics are becoming paralysed with their analysis of this topic, while books on leadership dominate bookstore shelves.

Thus it comes as no surprise that the new leadership in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Angola et al in the past few months is like a dawn of a messianic moment for many.

These changes have brought a new sense of optimism. The level of hope imbued on the new leaders is almost overwhelming. They are seen as the new saviours. The ones who are going to deliver miracles that eluded their predecessors. Here in South Africa, “Ramaphoria” is the new term used to describe the dizzying highs people are feeling with the presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa after the murky years of Jacob Zuma. Expectations are soaring high.

However history has taught us that we dare not put our hopes in politicians or personalities anymore. Whereas they have a duty to inspire and create an enabling environment for the realization of the growth and development of their people, at times to a point of peoples very lives depending on their “graces”, we have to tread carefully.

Real power, agency and the ability to organise and hold public representatives accountable rests in our hands. We should not forget that. Putting too much hope in positional leaders is to gamble with our destinies. It also has elements of conferring supernatural powers on mere mortals who can only do so much. Power belongs to the people. Me and you.

Collectively, we are more resourceful, resilient and powerful than we think. Nelson Mandela put it aptly when he said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

I am aware that I am writing from a position of privilege as I type these words. I am relatively cushioned against the dire effects of bad leadership, though I have my own shocking tales to tell. Yet I dare say them because I have seen countless of people making it beyond all odds. The odds of political upheavals, racism, sexism, violence, poverty and trauma.

I am sometimes convinced that those who have the most odds stacked against them seem to rise out of the proverbial ashes more often than those who are accustomed to being cushioned. This is not a glorification of struggle, but a praise of the strength of the human spirit. It is a testament that we have what it takes to create a preferred reality to a certain extend.

So even as we take a gulp of fresh air welcoming our new leaders in Liberia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Angola and in some institutions, I hope we have become a little wiser. We are the leaders and saviour we seek. Our fate rests mostly in our own hands.

We dare not outsource our souls and lives to the messiah’s of our own fantasies.

May God bless Afrika!

With love

Pearl Pebetse

So long Uncle Bob…A new hope for Zimbabwe!

The 21st November 2017 marks a historic day in Zimbabwe. The world’s oldest president, 93 year old Robert Mugabe has resigned with immediate effect after 37 years in power. It is one of those moments that our grandchildren will one day ask us “Where were you when Robert Mugabe resigned”.

I am in Bloemfontein, at the University of the Free State. I am watching the news unfolding on TV.  Mugabe is on all media channels. One of my colleagues jokes that Mugabe is everywhere, she is afraid she will find him in the fridge too.

The streets of Harare are swarming with people. There is jubilation and songs of freedom. There is unbelief that this has happened in their lifetime. People are screaming New Independence, even in the face of uncertainty about what the future holds.

Earlier in the day, a Zimbabwean colleague remarked that it doesn’t matter if a  baboon or a dog steps in. At this moment, anything would be better than a lifetime under Mugabe. It was a tough and brutal journey. They are ready for change. And today Zimbabweans have gained the freedom they longed for; patiently and peacefully.

I am excited for the people of my sister country, many of whom have been forced to flee the untenable conditions into nearby countries. Many of them are well educated, but they had to learn to scramble and settle for anything  that ensure their survival. They watched their country, once known as “Africa’s bread-basket”, turning into a basket case; the only country without their own currency and unemployment at 90%.

Today marks the end of an era, a turning of a new page.

I must declare that a part of me has mixed emotions. I had developed an affinity for “uncle BoB’s” smarts and eloquence. I saw him as one of the unapologetic pan-africanist  who spoke uncomfortable truths to some world powers. I seldom missed an opportunity to listen to him delivering speeches at the UN General Assembly.  He was at one point a revered revolutionary and visionary leader who ensured Zimbabweans had the highest literacy rate on the African continent.

Obviously somewhere along the line things went terribly wrong and it was downhill thereafter. That’s when he should have bowed out, when his legacy was still intact. Now he will be remembered as a dictator. An addiction to power never ends well.

I am glad he has bowed out or pushed out. It was long overdue. It came at high price for the people of Zimbabwe who have lost life and limb and thousands being scattered all over the world.

I am especially mindful and hopeful for the many mothers and children who have been reduced to beggars on the street corners of Johannesburg and the gifted civil servants who have had to swallow their potential and be exploited as cheap laborers. The day you have been waiting for has dawned.

May this day mark a birth of new miracles as you start the hard work of reimagining a new future and restoring “Africa’s Bread Basket” to new levels of glory. May you find your voices and life’s song again.

Long Live Zimbabwe! May God bless You!

pearl pebetse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of South Africa’s Political Tremors…

courtesy @ ginagallery.com

On April 3rd, 2017, an earthquake measuring 6.4 shook Gaborone in Botswana. The tremors were felt through South Africa and Mozambique.

Being the humorous nation that we are, we were quick to paint the social media with quips that President Zuma is reshuffling the provinces and maybe the whole of SADEC. Others concluded that the late struggle heroes of our country, Mandela, Sisulu, Tambo and Kathrada are starting a new underground political movement.

This comes after the shocking events of the past week where President Zuma announced a midnight cabinet reshuffle, which saw brazen political divisions within the ruling party (ANC). The surprise reshuffle further sent shock waves through out the country, with civil society organizations, opposition parties and trade unions calling for the President to step down even as the rating agency Standard & Poors down-graded the rand to junk status, citing lack of political and institutional stability.

It seems that as the earth moves beneath us, there is also a rattling and shaking of our politics. Others are calling it a crisis and an unraveling of our democracy, while some see it as a moment of renewal.

From my viewpoint, it feels like we are sitting on a runaway horse that needs to be reigned in, lest we find ourselves lost in an unfamiliar place. Where do we want this democracy to take us? We surely need new, honest dialogue about issues that matter the most. These include choosing ethical and visionary leaders, social transformation, building an inclusive economy, curbing corruption and proper governance of our institutions amongst others. Our plate is full and the people’s hope is wearing thin.

We are at a watershed moment where we as citizens are going to have to assert our place in the direction our country is taking. In the sea of competing agendas ravaging our national discourse, what is our own voice and conscience telling us? What tangible actions are we willing to make, lest we find ourselves having sold our souls?

So as others fiercely defend the President and some take to the streets and the courts, declaring a national shutdown, which side of the tectonic plates will we be?

I hope whatever side we choose, it is one that puts the constitution, justice, and human rights first. The collective interests of the people and the future of our country need to take precedence over any political party, factions and personalities.

I navigate the events of this moment singing “Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika”, an anthem that is also a prayer for God to preserve Africa. I have a firm hope that the earth moving beneath us will not swallow us but usher us into a new place that truly affirms our collective dignity, unity and development.

God bless Afrika!

Pearl Pebetse.

 

 

Rape Culture in South Africa: Why are progressive men silent?

Have we grown complacent of the rape culture as a society? Have we grown weary of activism and accepted that the war on women’s bodies in South Africa is an inevitable part of our make-up? Moreover, why are men silent amidst the brutality that continues to haunt women? Women who are easily our sisters, friends, colleagues and daughters?

These are some of the questions that have dominated the media space this past week as reports of women being gang raped while using taxis (cabs) emerged. The most traumatizing tale, being that of a mother being gang raped for 4 hours in front of her 10 year old son. She was brave enough to reveal her ordeal on radio.

The most unsettling question for me, is the question on the silence of men, progressive men in particular. When the topic under discussion is anything else, men hog the conversations with their views. Yet for some reason, only a few men raise their voice when the topic involves sexual violence against women.

It could be that they are also shocked into silence. It could be that they think this is a “women’s issue”, even though women don’t rape themselves. I am of a view that some men keep quiet because they know they are complicit. What do I mean?

Well, you have the “garden variety” type of rapists; the strangers that prey with violent methods and brutalize their victims. These are the ones we are all scared and wary of. The ones society condemn with vigour. And then you have the “sophisticated rapists”. These ones wear suits, drive expensive cars, hold respectable positions in the private sector, government and academia. They profess to be progressive, feminist or pro-women empowerment. They are invited to speak on important social/national platforms and say all the right things.

Yet they move amongst women as trusted wolves in sheep skin. Their crime does not involve knives and guns. I am talking of men who use their economic and social status and power as weapons. These are men who sexually harass students or young women in the workplace. These are men who do not take No! for an answer from their secretaries, interns, girlfriends or the girl next door. These are men who are public heroes but private criminals.

They bank on several things; they enjoy the respect of society and a lax justice system. Secondly, they use the element of trust and familiarity to cause confusion and shame for their victims. Thus many of these men are never reported, the assault remains a private hell for the women and girls involved. How can they speak out against an “esteemed” man? A father, teacher, pastor, CEO, policeman, professor, politician or boyfriend?

Of course, we women and are also complicit in propping up this scourge with our silence and culture of shaming each other. We wonder out loud if “you were flirting with him, what were you wearing, why were you at his place?” We are quick to cast doubts on victims before we out known “respectable offenders”.

However the silence does not erase the fact more women and children get sexually assaulted by people they know and trust than those who are attacked by total strangers. The culture of rape ferments in these spaces of trust and intimacy.

Hence when radio talk show hosts ask why men are not speaking or acting against this war on women, I am not surprised by the silence.

How can these men speak against themselves? They have a lingering fear that the defense mechanisms they use to justify their behavior and differentiate themselves from the “street rapists” might not hold. They might expose themselves for either being perpetrators or accomplices protecting the brotherhood code.

What will it then take to change this culture that is becoming abnormally normal? What should women do when the men who should be allies are turning a blind eye and a deaf ear? When the police send victims from pillar to post? How do we expose the wolves lingering in the chicken coops?

I suspect we might have to engage in the type of radical activism last seen in August 1956 when thousands of women marched to the seat of power at the Union Buildings to protest the unjust pass laws. We might have to bring the country to a standstill again.

Meanwhile, ‘good’ men can continue to stand up, speak up and act to end the war on women’s bodies. It is the humane and right thing to do.

God bless Afrika!

Pearl Pebetse

Dlamini-Zuma’s legacy as AU Chair: Women will lift the sky.

 

au-chairperson
Dr Nkosana Dlamini-Zuma.

The term of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as head of the African Union came to an end at the end of January 2017, after turning down a bid for a second term. The jury is now out on her legacy for her four year tenure.

I personally don’t know enough about what was expected of the AU chairperson to make an informed opinion on her legacy. I would rather leave that assessment in the capable hands of the scholars and analysts of African politics. On the other hand I wonder if my limited knowledge is a product of my  ignorance or a testament  of the workings of the AU being far-flung from ordinary people. Perhaps it is both.

The other day I listened to radio 702 where a panel of scholars were weighing on her legacy. Their views were predictably opposed with some vehement that she leaves nothing to write about, while others pointed to agenda 2063 and the successful democratic transitions of power in several countries as hallmarks of her legacy. However, what caught my attention when the panelists were asked about her legacy, was the fact that two of the men opened their remarks with; “As a woman, she…”

That statement was telling about how society relates to women as leaders. Clearly, her performance should have been about her as a person, given her many years of professional and political leadership. Despite the fact that she was there to hold the other half of the sky, significant attention was paid to her biological make-up. I am not advocating that we should over look her gender, infact it matters because women are still second class citizens in many countries.

Yet the statement left me wondering about what impact her navigation of the AU in a female body affected her leadership of the male dominated institution. I know she has traversed many battles in her many years in politics and can stand her ground. But, is that experience enough to shield one away from a culture still steeped in patriarchy?

I wonder if  she felt included, respected and heard. I wonder if she felt taken seriously by those accustomed to a culture that privileges the male voice and reveres men as “natural” leaders? Was she expected to perform wonders and magically wad off the developmental and governances challenges that have plagued the continent  under male leadership?

Did she have to work twice or thrice as hard to prove herself? Is that why she did not stand for a second term, the same way that many women who finally make it to the decision making seats in boardrooms don’t stay long? Did we expect her to be Africa’s Atlas?

On the contrary, she may have had a welcoming and affirming experience at the AU. Perhaps her early departure has something to do with what some analysts speculate as her  using the position at the AU as leverage to position herself as South Africa’s  first woman president in 2019. I don’t know.

What I do know is that Dlamini-Zuma’s presence as the first woman to head the AU is of significant interest. It was a historic feat and a powerful symbol of the space and role of women in the leadership of our continent. I personally wish she had served a second term and  strengthened any positive tractions she may have made. I particularly lament the fact that she could have continued to champion the women’s development agenda more, but alas, she had other mountains to climb.

Perhaps Mme Dlamini-Zuma will host a round table soon and speak for herself because we have many questions. Regardless of the jury’s verdict on her legacy, I applaud her courage to stand and make a historic representation in the lifespan of the AU.  She may have given women more courage to rise up as an army of Atlases that will one day hold up the African skies in places where it really matters.

God bless Afrika!

Pearl Pebetse