|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
Spray can protest
JOHANNEBURG, 7 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - They
are best known for the audacity of their campaigns: protest messages stamped on
condom packets, bank notes, and pithy postcards to President Robert Mugabe - but
who they are is less apparent.
An underground group of anti-government activists, Zvankwana-Sokwanele - "Enough!" in Zimbabwe's two main languages, Shona and Ndebele - do not operate out of offices with a nameplate on the door. Their only regular presence is a website in cyberspace, or the graffiti-splashed billboards and road signs exhorting people - in the words of Bob Marley - to "Get up, stand up".
Zvankwana-Sokwanele, formed after President Mugabe's raw-knuckle 2002 presidential election victory, say their aim is to "achieve democracy" through non-violence. The government, on the other hand, has dismissed them as a "western front", bent on destabilising the country.
The authorities were particularly incensed when "mischievous political slogans" appeared on banknotes at the beginning of the year. The government said defacing the currency was a crime, and the culprits would face "the full wrath of the law".
Zvankwana-Sokwanele contends that the strict laws governing public assembly and free speech mean that it must use unorthodox methods to get its pro-democracy message across.
Its new campaign is a protest aimed squarely at what the group regards as an already stolen legislative poll, due to be held on 31 March. The activists are urging voters to spoil their ballots by choosing "none of the above", rather than selecting any of the contesting candidates.
"By spoiling your ballot you will not legitimise an illegitimate election. This is an active way of saying the electoral process is cockeyed," the group announced on its website.
Leonard Tsunga, chairman of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said Zvankwana-Sokwanele's campaign was a militant response to the alleged lack of free speech. He stressed the atmosphere in Zimbabwe was so charged it prevented genuine debate and the opposition's access to the public.
"It is criminal to criticise the government in Zimbabwe - calling for action against government is a 'capital offence', bordering on treason. In that atmosphere, the only alternative is to opt for underground campaigns," said Tsunga.
A member of Zvankwana-Sokwanele told IRIN that, with anti-government papers closed and their journalists hounded, spray cans and graffiti were the only effective way left to register public protest.
"Our action brigades are in every little town and city, armed with sprays to put up our messages wherever the public can see them. We are giving the public a voice and regular updates on the national crisis," she said.
Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena described the protest group as an illegal organisation bent on inciting the public against the government. "They are as illegal as their activities. The police are still looking for the people behind the organisation. They have to account for all the offences they have committed in the last three years - defacing walls and banknotes is a criminal offence."
Tomorrow, Tuesday 8 March, is International Women’s Day.
International Women’s Day originated from the trade union movement in America in the early 20th century, particularly in the activism of the women who worked in the clothing industry “sweatshops” of the time. In 1907 the women held a “Hunger March” in New York in protest at the dangerous working conditions and very long working periods, and calling for a ten-hour working day and improved wages. The police attacked the march, and the following year on March 8th 1908 a commemorative march was held, which became a milestone in women’s history. This date is what we now celebrate as International Women’s day.
The Charter of the United Nations, signed in San Francisco in 1945, became the first international agreement to proclaim gender equality as a fundamental human right. In 1975, during International Women's Year, the United Nations began celebrating International Woman’s Day on 8 March. Two years later, in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions. In adopting its resolution, the General Assembly recognized the role of women in peace efforts and development and urged an end to discrimination and an increase of support for women’s full and equal participation.
The United Nations today argues that no enduring solution to society's most threatening social, economic and political problems can be found without the full participation, and the full empowerment, of the world's women. The UN theme for International Women’s Day this year is "Gender Equality Beyond 2005: Building a More Secure Future".
We enclose below a message from the United Nation’s Secretary General, Kofi Anan, for International Women’s Day:
This year marks a milestone in the movement for gender equality and the advancement of women -- the 10-year review of the Beijing Conference and Platform for Action. In 1995, women gathered in Beijing and took a giant step forward on behalf of humankind. As a result, the world recognized explicitly, as never before, that gender equality is critical to the development and peace of every nation. Ten years on, women are not only more aware of their rights; they are more able to exercise them.
Over this decade, we have seen tangible progress on many fronts. Life expectancy and fertility rates have improved. More girls are enrolled in primary education. More women are earning an income than ever before. At the same time, new challenges have emerged. Consider the trafficking of women and children -- an odious but increasingly common practice. Or the increasing targeting of women in armed conflict. Or the terrifying growth of HIV/AIDS among women -- especially young women.
Yet as we look back on the past decade, one thing stands out above all else: we have learnt that the challenges facing women are not problems without solutions. We have learnt what works and what doesn’t. If we are to change the historical legacy that puts women at a disadvantage in most societies, we must implement what we have learnt on a larger scale. We must take specific, targeted action in a number of areas.
This year offers a precious opportunity for doing that, as the world’s leaders prepare to gather for a summit at the United Nations in September to review progress in implementing the Millennium Declaration, agreed in 2000 by all the world’s governments as a blueprint for building a better world in the twenty-first century. As part of that process, I would urge the international community to remember that promoting gender equality is not only women’s responsibility -- it is the responsibility of all of us.
Sixty years have passed since the founders of the United Nations inscribed, on the first page of our Charter, the equal rights of women and men. Since then, study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, or to reduce infant and maternal mortality. No other policy is as sure to improve nutrition and promote health -- including the prevention of HIV/AIDS. No other policy is as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation. And I would venture that no policy is more important in preventing conflict, or in achieving reconciliation after a conflict has ended.
Whatever the very real benefits of investing in women, the most important fact remains: women themselves have the right to live in dignity, in freedom from want and freedom from fear. On this International Women’s Day, let us rededicate ourselves to making that a reality.
For more information on International Women’s Day, please visit the following websites:
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Monday, March 28, 2005
12:00 PM (Luncheon to follow)
Featuring the author, Craig Richardson, Associate Professor, Department of Economics, Salem College, with comments by Roger Bate, Fellow, American Enterprise Institute, and moderated by Marian Tupy, Assistant Director, Project on Global Economic Liberty, Cato Institute
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Zimbabwe’s general election comes at a time of unprecedented political and economic crisis. With the opposition violently suppressed, it is very likely that the government of Robert Mugabe will once again rig the March 31 poll. In the early years after its independence, Zimbabwe, with its vast wealth of minerals and rich farmland, seemed poised to be an African success story. Today it is one of the most rapidly deteriorating countries in Africa. How did that happen? According to Craig Richardson, President Robert Mugabe's decision to seize commercial farmland in 2000 sent the country on a downward spiral, with foreign investors fleeing, unemployment skyrocketing, life expectancies dropping, and inflation reaching 500 percent. Please join us for a discussion of a book that Hernando de Soto called "crucially important… [in] letting us know how badly the ignorance of the role of property rights in development can hurt a nation."
Cato book forums and luncheons are free of charge. To register for this event, please fill out the form below and click submit or email email@example.com, fax (202) 371-0841, or call (202) 789-5229 by 12:00 PM, Friday, March 25, 2005. Please arrive early. Seating is limited and not guaranteed. News media inquiries only (no registrations), please call (202) 789-5200. If you can't make it to the Cato Institute, watch this forum live online.