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Q&A with Fidelis Fengu- Chombo’s special interest councillor

LOCAL Government, Rural and Urban Development Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo in December 2012 appointed special interest councillors to represent persons living with disabilities in local authorities around the country. In Bulawayo, Fidelis Fengu was appointed but the Bulawayo City Council refused to swear him in accusing Chombo of exceeding the number of special interest councillors. A disabled Bulawayo resident, Jack Matshazi two weeks ago obtained a High Court order barring the local authority from swearing Fengu in following threats by the minister. jessie04 (R) spoke to Fidelis Fengu (FF)who is also the Deputy Chairperson of the Special Advisory Board in the Ministry of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment.


R: What was the process leading up to your appointment?

FF:This appointment came after negotiations, we approached the office of the prime minister where we met Jameson Timba who is the minister of state in the prime minister’s office. We made representations as young people with disabilities who were coming from the special advisory board that advices minister Saviour Kasukuwere. Our point was that people with disability need to be represented across the board, not just in government but in any decision-making position so that we allow integration. After this meeting,a letter was written to minister Ignatious Chombo and was copied to the permanent secretary Mupingo, this letter was saying that minister Chombo should meet with us and discuss the issue of appointing special interest councillors to represent people with disabilities. That meeting happened in late November and on the 22nd of November we were appointed special interest councillors at a press conference that was held in Harare. We have young people with disabilities who were appointed in more than five cities, Simba Mumbengegwi in Masvingo, Gift Mabhaudi in Harare, Clever Mukwazi in Gokwe and a number of other places. Special interest councillor for Harare, Clever Mabhaudi has been sworn in. Simba Mumbengegwi, Masvingo special interest councillor was sworn in on the 5th of December. This is how the issue of special interest councillors came to being. It is a national issue, it is not a Bulawayo issue.

R: According to media reports, the Bulawayo City Council had before the court order refused to swear you in saying Chombo has exceeded the limit in the number of special interest councillors that he can appoint to council. What are your thoughts on why the council has taken such a stance?

FF: My understanding is petty politics, in the sense that you can’t question the issue of disabled persons having representation; that is clearly defined in the Disability Act of 1992. Why would the Bulawayo City Council be the only council to reject the appointment of a special interest councillor? Harare, Masvingo, Gokwe and others have these young people with disabilities and it has only been Bulawayo that has rejected it. Fair and fine, they were within their rights to question the minister. The issue of the other eight (special interest councillors), if they were appointed in 2009 and were never sworn in up to 2012, can you be in office without being sworn in? They were only appointed, so you cannot say the minister exceeded his limit when they were not sitting in meetings, by right they were not even councillors. The minister wrote to council telling them to disregard the list of eight that they had been given. As of now, I am the only special interest councillor who has been appointed to Bulawayo.

R: You have mentioned negotiations which included the prime minister’s office were conducted before your appointment, were there any efforts to engage organisations for and of the disabled people in Bulawayo prior to the appointment.

FF: We have been in the special advisory board that advises minister Kasukuwere on the empowerment of young people with disabilities, we have worked with a number of disability organisations, but what we did not do was to become tribal, regional and petty. We decided to operate at a national level and because of the results that we had given, the minister said, ‘lets have these young people become special interest councillors. The Urban Councils Act does not question or state how the minister should appoint or what criteria he should use, it’s up to the minister’s discretion.

R: Do you admit that there were no consultations with disability organisations?

FF: At a national level there was, because in everything that we were doing we were working with the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH). So by consultation do you mean that he (Chombo) should have sought permission to appoint?

R: By consultation,I want to understand if there was dialogue with disability organisations prior to your appointment since you are supposed to be representing them in council. Do you admit that there was no dialogue with these local groups before you were appointed.

FF: I am not minister Chombo, I do not know who he spoke to and who he didn’t speak to, all I know is what we have done and how we got it to be done.

R: Are you an active member of any disability organisation or group in Bulawayo?

FF: I am not a member of any organisation and I choose not to be because there is something that is called disability politics that is going on. These organisations are fragmented and I refuse to be part of this fragmentation, I would rather stand for everybody, work with everybody that wants to work with me.

R: How do you feel about the controversy surrounding your appointment?

FF: It is fun, politics is a game and so far they are playing on it, let them play we will see who emerges the winner. At the end of the day, the key thing is what results are we delivering to the people who matter the most: ratepayers and persons living with disabilities. For so long there has been talk of representation, representation has come and yes we can debate on the modalities but the fact is that it is there. I would rather be criticised for wearing an oversized shoe than walk barefooted. Inside or outside council, I am still going to continue with the work that I have been doing, in the coming few days, we are going to be distributing empowerment forms to people with disabilities and make sure they get empowerment funds from the 5% quota that we negotiated with minister Kasukuwere.

R: Are you going to be contesting in the Zanu PF primary elections ahead of the next general election?

FF: No, I am not going to stand in the primary elections, I choose not to stand but I am going to contest as an MP for Bulawayo East constituency as an independent candidate. I am going to contest as an independent because at the moment it makes more political sense. I think the current political parties have their strengths and weaknesses but I haven’t found the one that I clearly identify with in terms of my personal beliefs. I agree with indigenisation and empowerment, I have my issues with some of the modalities in terms of implementation. MDC T’s JUICE has its own weaknesses and strengths, it is not a perfect project but there is some good that we can borrow from.

I am not in any political structure of any political party.


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Mixed Biblical interpretations on homosexuality

homosexuality_is_a_sin “The Bible has been misused to fight homosexuality, it is not against homosexuality as we know it today, the Bible is against some aspects of homosexuality which was practiced by the Cannanites in their shrines and its called cultic temple prostitution where the priests performed anal sex as a way of conferring blessings to the worshippers,” says Reverend Michael Kimindu.

The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is amplified as a lack of hospitality, so it is not right to use the Sodom story as a reference against homosexuality in the Bible. It has been misinterpreted, mistranslated and misapplied.”

Homosexuality remains a thorny issue in most traditional and religious communities as these groups in society battle to disassociate themselves from homosexuals but of note is how religious writings are being interpreted to either condemn or fight for sexual minority rights.

Anglican ordained Kenyan Reverend, Michael Kimindu says most Christians tend to misinterpret the Bible in condemning sexual minority groups particularly homosexuals quickly pointing that they lack proper understanding on what the ‘holy book’ says on homosexuality.

Kimindu, president of Other Sheep Africa, runs a church open to ‘social outcasts’ at the Gay and Lesbian Coalition Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. The church under the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) has had 1000 visitors since its formation in 2008.

Sexual minority groups said all they were getting from their churches were insults, not being reached and they made demands that we start something for them,”

Together with other affirming individuals, a congregation was started in my house,” Kimindu says.

Kimindu who makes reference to Biblical verses (John 10 verse 16) says faithful sexual minority groups deserve a place within local churches. He says clergymen and women should embrace ‘Jesus’ Other Sheep.’

John 10 verse 16 according to the King James version reads, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”

However, Bulawayo based Pastor Anglistone Sibanda of Word of Faith International Ministries is quick to dismiss Kimindu’s interpretation of the Bible as “actually a violation of the rules of Bible Study interpretation, completely cut out of context.”

Homosexuality has become an old social problem that is as a result of sin, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of that sin which marked the fall of man,” Sibanda says.

Romans 1 makes reference to this because it speaks of how man knew God but did not want to honour him, the sheep Jesus refers to in John 10 are the Gentiles and not homosexuals.”

Romans 1 v 26-27 reads, “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.”

Reverend Kimindu who says he belongs to the sexual minority group by affirmation accuses several world religious leaders particularly Western preachers for encouraging homophobia through misinterpreting the Bible. He says while most of the African community is convinced that homosexuality is an imposition of the Western culture, the importation of homophobia from the West has reached alarming levels.

I am shocked at the level of the importation of homophobia from the West as opposed to the importation of homosexuality, what the West is bringing to Africa is tragic homophobia through a group called the Evangelical Christians, the likes of Pat Robertsons, Joyce Meyer and other televangelists through use of the Bible,” Kimindu says.

Several critics of homosexuality in most African Christian societies tend to make reference to the Bible in condemning this section of the sexual minority group. In 2010, televangelist, Joyce Meyer criticized Uganda’s Homosexuality Bill saying she has a moral and ethical duty to speak out against injustice. In a statement released then, Meyer said,

As a global society, we do not have to agree, endorse or condone the lifestyle choices of others. However, history has taught us that we equally cannot and should not excuse those who would hide behind religion or misuse God’s word to justify bigotry and persecution.”

Kimindu is of the view that people within the sexual minority community in churches are not being fully reached because of lack of skills, religious bigotry and ignorance.

Reverend Judith Kotze, a Cape Town based lesbian minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, speaking at a German Foreign Affairs ministry organised conference on the Lesbian Gays Bisexual Transgender and Inter-sex (LGBTI) community said homosexuals and others within the sexual minority community should be accepted in the same manner as heterosexuals as “God created them.”

Speaking at the same conference attended by sexual minority activists, a gay South African Muslim worship leader, Muhsin Hendricks says he has been doing research on what really happened in Sodom and Gomorrah as well as what the Quran says about homosexuality.

The conference was attended by activists from South Africa, Germany, Nigeria, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi and Lebanon.

In Nigeria, there have been reports of homosexuals being chased away from church services and in other churches stopped from participating in church activities that include the choir and Bible studies once their sexual orientation is discovered and made public.

Dorothy Aken’ Ova, a human rights activist in Nigeria says, House of Rainbow Fellowship, another church under the MCC now provides a safe haven for members of the LGBTI community to worship without fear of persecution.

Tim Kuschnerus, director of the Joint Conference Church and Development says in Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s anti gay sentiments have been a source of influence for stances that have been adopted by the church since the early 1980s.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), a local coalition of churches has already said they will not accept a new constitution that lacks clarity on homosexuality. According to media reports, EFZ president Goodwill Shana has been quoted saying,

As the church, we have never been for homosexuality and we want it clarified in the draft constitution that it is outlawed.”

Kimindu whose Other Sheep Africa has ties with a church in Bulawayo says church leaders should desist from “living our lives for us.”

Does different mean unacceptable? The church continuously wants to manage our sexuality and prescribe our lovemaking because once you join a church you cease being yourself.”

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Media self regulation, statutory regulation: Which way for Zimbabwe?

The Zimbabwe Media Commission recently launched the Zimbabwe Media Council which is expected among other ‘professional’ duties to monitor media conduct, a move that has angered independent media groups raising concern on whether the political parties in the inclusive government are sincere in calling for media reforms as they is already an existing press council body.

The new media council was created in line with the requirements section 42A of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). AIPPA has since inception been described by human rights activists as a ‘draconian’ piece of legislation meant to muzzle the media.

Media professionals are arguing that there is already in existence their own institution, the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe create for the purposes of advancing self-regulation necessitating no need for government interference. Pedzisai Ruhanya, a PhD candidate at the Communication and Media Research Institute at the University of Westminster in London, in a report published by the Zimbabwe Independent, says the establishment of such a council is aimed at serving the interests of power rather than the democratic role of the media.

“The code is being proposed in circumstances where the history against the democratic practice of journalism in Zimbabwe is littered with numerous cases of media stifling and muzzling by the state in order to impede its key role of making public and private corporate institutions and their leaders accountable,” Ruhanya says.

The media situation particularly the concept of self-regulation in Zimbabwe is far from what is happening in developed countries. Cornelia Hass, the director of the German Journalists’ Union and a member of the press council, says governments should never be allowed a place in controlling the media.

The freedom of the press is part of our constitutional right and government has no right to influence self-regulation of the press, there should not be any media laws which cut down the freedom of the press. It is part of our constitutional right to form a self-regulatory body, to develop rules and to work together with publishers, that is very important for our system,” she said.

Hass revealed that German journalists in the early 1960s refused to recognize government efforts to implement new media laws as they felt it was likely to negatively affect media freedom.

“We do it ourselves, we set up our own regulatory system, our own rules and we decide how these rules look like and how they are implemented.”

The Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) in a statement released prior to the Zimbabwe Media Council launch described the move to establish the statutory council as undemocratic. Takura Zhangazha, VMCZ executive director believes the inclusive government is not doing enough to reform the media.

“The government has generally undertaken an incremental and largely quantitative approach to reforming the media in Zimbabwe. The democratic and qualitative aspect of it has been left out primarily due to the fact that government has not decriminalized freedom of expression and has not repealed repressive legislations that curtail media freedom,” said Zhangazha.

VMCZ was launched in 2007 on the premise that it was the best democratic practise to formalize self-regulation for the media. This was largely influenced on the backdrop of government’s regulatory body, the then Media and Information Commission enabled by AIPPA.

Zhangazha says compared to other countries, the Zimbabwe government has demonstrated minimal commitment to implementing freedom of expression and access to information in the best democratic interests of the country.

“It has sought to present freedom of expression as a privilege and not a right, a development that is undemocratic in principle and in practice.”

The Media Monitoring Project in Zimbabwe (MMPZ) is like the German Journalists’ Union convinced that governments have no role to play in controlling the media and its activities and on deciding codes of conduct beyond an administrative role. MMPZ says the presence of the VMCZ, to adjudicate and resolve disputes relating to unprofessional conduct by media personnel is adequate.

The VMCZ has however come under attack by a section of activists and the Zimbabwe Media Commission for lacking enough powers to tackle self –regulation. Ruhanya says the VMCZ has simply adopted a co-regulation approach as he claims most of its constituents are not journalists.

“However, the problems of statutory regulation do not mean the alternative, which is the VMCZ, offers the best practice. There is also misguided appreciation of statutory regulation in this group to connote state interference when numerous examples both locally and abroad show a professional body can be statutory, but still remain autonomous of the state,” Ruhanya said.

Matthew Takaona, one of the ZMC commissioners says Zimbabwe is not yet ready for self-regulation hinting that the presence of the VMCZ for the past five years has not created any changes in the unprofessional conduct by the media.

“At the moment when we look at the media environment, we are in transition mode, so it is not possible to practice voluntary regulation without first applying a system of statutory regulation,” Takaona says.

The reason why the statutory council was put in place is because, as a commission we were receiving numerous complaints from politicians particularly parliamentarians who believe voluntary regulation has not been effective enough in addressing media misconduct. We are all clamouring for self-regulation but we are not yet ready.”


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Justice delivery system: A pipe dream for Zimbabwean women

Emilia Madziwa looks older than her 33 years.  “I have been married for over ten years and I have four children, three boys and one girl,” she said slowly. “I have known no other life apart from looking after my children and husband.”

Madziwa like many women in Zimbabwe has been a victim of gender based violence at the hands of her husband for the past three years. She has made up her mind to take her young children and walk out of the marriage that has caused  her untold suffering.

“I want to leave, I cant go on like this but it is difficult because I’m unemployed. How will I sustain myself and the kids,” she said with glassy eyes. “Where do I start, where do I get help?  This is what is giving me sleepless nights.”

Several decades ago, Madziwa’s case would have been addressed in the private realm of the family and in other instances, the community but in present day her case can be heard in the public domain of the court of law.

A section of Zimbabwean women are beginning to appreciate the efficiency of formal law in cases not limited to maintenance claims, deceased estates, property sharing and in Madziwa’s case divorce and maintenance.

Madziwa is among several women not only in Zimbabwe but in the region whose access to justice has been hindered by financial constraints. Organisations that represent women’s rights have noted that accessibility to financial resources are among the major reasons why women tend to shy away from seeking legal services and the justice system.

Disadvantaged groups have been identified as those sections in society that are likely to face problems in accessing justice systems. While reasons for difficulties in accessing these institutions may range from them being remote, slow, biased and in some instances discriminatory, for women issues related to affordability have remained tops.

Matshobana Ncube, a Bulawayo based lawyer with Abammeli Bamalungelo Abantu Lawyers Network said the greatest challenge faced by women is the fact that they do not own the means of production, which loosely means they cannot afford to take care of themselves financially let alone meet the expense of engaging legal services when faced with a problem.

“The prime challenge is that the bulk of the women in Zimbabwe are still to access or to enter the economic sphere, that is to own the control of the means of production, very few women are in control. The nature of the political economy in Zimbabwe is that it is skewed towards men; it is the men who go to work whilst in most instances the women stay at home to take up their reproductive responsibilities,” Ncube said.

“In some cases, these women are single mothers who are not gainfully employed and worse still in an economy like ours where the last estimates indicate that 90% of the people are not working, the bulk of these are women.”

Ncube said culture has contributed to women making up the highest number of people who find themselves without jobs. He says local families have always preferred sending a boy child to school over the girl-child making it difficult for women, in a modern economy, to get employed without proper education qualifications.

“But the reality is, for one to access the justice system, one must have money because you have to pay for legal fees and lawyers charge quite exorbitant sums of money, for instance, I charge $210 per hour and very few people can afford this, worse still women who are already finding it difficult to cater for their other daily needs,” he said.

The human rights lawyer said the very few women who have managed to penetrate into the economic sphere have created and or helped in the formation of organisations that provide free legal representation for disadvantaged women.

According to Ncube, Musasa Project and Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) primarily serve women’s interests by assisting women who have become destitute to access the justice delivery system.

ZWLA members said while they believe they have played a key role in assisting women in accessing justice particularly those who cannot afford lawyers in private practice, women still find it hard to pay some of the money that is required by the courts in the justice system.

Sethulo Ncube of ZWLA said most women often place the financial needs of the family ahead of their own leaving them with little if any at all to feed into the financial obligations of the courts of law.

“At times in terms of finance, women may want to institute,but while we provide free legal services, they will have to pay the monies that are required at the courts for them to have a record opened, they have to pay the messenger of court or deputy sheriff for that office to serve the relevant person,” Ncube said.

According to ZWLA financial challenges in accessing the justice system for women is not only a thorn in the flesh for Zimbabwean women, but for most women in various countries in the region.  Ncube said this is evidenced by the numbers of indigent women against the number of organisations and or institutions that provide free legal representation.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2007 said regardless of the particular reason, access to justice system mechanisms has become a major cause for gender disparities. If women are unable to equitably access justice mechanisms, they are not adequately protected from discrimination as is mandated by the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

However, for activists and social commentators, lack of knowledge should be addressed in a linear process of ensuring that women assist themselves to acquire legal services as well as justice system mechanisms, an assertion that is supported by women’s organisations.

According to Kudzai Kwangwari, a social commentator, women need to be fully empowered financially and socially to enable them to access the justice system speedily.

He said women who are enlightened particularly on rights based issues usually reach out to such justice institutions without any difficulties.  Kwangwari believes tailor made programmes to reduce women’s reliance should be employed.

“There is need for an affirmative approach but care must be taken on how far it is taken lest it weakens and disempowers women because they may relax thinking that such laws will address all their issues without their participation.

“Such approaches should address sectors such as access to education, health, access to and information dissemination and other basic needs, there should be a deliberate effort to ensure women have access to things that can empower them,” Kwangwari said.

Article 7 of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development which pays attention to equality in accessing justice says state parties should by 2015 put in place legislative and other measures which promote and ensure the practical realisation of equality for women. According to the protocol, there should be equal treatment of women in judicial proceedings in customary, traditional courts and in national reconciliation processes.

Member states are also expected to ensure that women have equal legal status and capacity in both civil and customary law, full contractual rights, the right to  acquire and hold rights in property, the right to equal inheritance and right to secure credit. The protocol also says state parties should by 2015 ensure that women have equitable representation on and participation in, all courts, alternative resolution mechanisms and local community courts as well as accessible and affordable legal services for women.

Women who have engaged ZWLA for representation have revealed that while the organisation has presented a ray of hope for financially disadvantaged women, waiting for months to be attended to makes it more ‘expensive.’

“Sometimes, as women we cannot wait, we want to be attended to immediately as is the case with women who engage lawyers in private practice,” said a young mother currently engaging ZWLA in a property sharing dispute.

Such is life for a Zimbabwean woman, particularly the one who dwells in the rural areas, justice delivery system is still a privilege rather than a basic right for her yet statistics show that women make up to 52 percent of the country’s population.

Zimbabwe ratified the SADC protocol on Gender and Development in 2009 but has remained silent on making efforts to ensure a conducive environment for women to fully access justice.

And government has remained arms akimbo not doing anything about this state of affairs. Perhaps one would say gender parity between men and women by 2015 is more of an imagination if justice remains a preserve for the rich!




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