Thursday, February 7, 2013

Damaging linguistic development while promoting indolence

Over the years I have come to a sad realization. Am I the only one who thinks nowadays a bad thing by virtue of being done by a vast majority becomes a good one? The very thing you knew to be bad while you were growing up has suddenly become so widely used its even gone past the stage of being the ‘in thing’ but is very common and somehow good, correct or acceptable. A million examples spring to mind but I will stick to one.

During the early 2000s, while I was at boarding school, I would write a letter to my parents; dot the I’s and cross the T’s hell even punctuate properly. Somehow that all changed when I would write notes to my friends; you turned to u, I to i, for to 4…the list was not endless back then. It’s 2013 and one can now write a complete sentence whose construction is entirely made up of abbreviations and the world will have no problem reading and understanding in the wink of an eye. It was improper, back in the day, to pride yourself in writing or speaking slang. I would not dare speak slang if my parents were within earshot lest they heard me and instructed me to grab a book by Jane Austen, Harper Lee, Charles Dickens or Emily Bronte to name a few of the writers whose books were ostentatiously exhibited on my father’s overburdened bookshelf.

There was a time when people took pride in learning shorthand or taking typing speed tests. In the long run, this benefited professionals differently in their lines of work. But now who cares about shorthand when two can hold an entire conversation without spelling a single word correctly but enjoy more or less the same convenience as would those using shorthand.

Now that millions have taken to writing in slang and textese (also known as txt-speak, txtese, chatspeak, txt, txtspk, txtk, txto, texting language, txt lingo, SMSish, txtslang, or txt talk) which urban dictionaries have augmented this improper way is now viewed by many as ‘proper’. Textese language varies from place to place and is largely affected by dialects of the users. For instance Ndebeles and Zulus would write sure as sho while Pedis and Tsongas type xo. The list of vernacular words that have been caught in the textese whirlwind is endless. Textese language has turned bad grammar into good and defeated the purpose of writing correct spellings. I grew up under the impression that construction of a text is as important as the message it bears. As a result I cringe at messages such as ‘luv u’, ‘miss u’, and ‘hud’. If what you are saying matters then have the decency to write it correctly. What reason is there for shortening a three or four worded sentence? Unless of course you are sending an SMS via mobile phone and you have used all 160 characters.

Towards the end of 2012 I visited a renowned bookshop in Polokwane’s Savannah Mall. I must say every bookshop is different from the next and for me that is where their distinct beauty lies. As I walked out of that bookshop I made a vow that from every country or historical city that I visit I will buy a book and dedicate it to my future children and treasure them with the hope that they will do the same one day. At the rate at which use of correct English is fading away I hope that one day my children will read books that I have and those that I am still to collect. This way they will have a better appreciation of the queen’s language, something which this generation lacks.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Engagement of debt collectors tormenting

Numerous schools in Bulawayo have handed over defaulting parents to debt collectors in a bid to compel payments. The engagement of debt collectors leaves struggling parents of pupils who fail to pay school fees and levies accruing huge debts and living in perpetual fear of having their properties attached. Parents are at the brink of losing household property and other valuables.
Parents, served with letters from debt collectors after some failed to pay fees and levies, take responsibility for not being able to pay fees but do not approve of the measures taken by schools in an effort to squeeze money out of the offending parents. Some of the debt collectors’ charges were astronomical considering that parents had failed to settle the levies without an additional debt collector’s commission. Parents are struggling to survive and provide for their families on the meagre salaries they earn. Some of the government ministers are on record blasting workers, including civil servants, and unions for demanding higher salaries. How then are these ordinary citizens expected to fend for their families when they earn salaries that are way below the poverty datum line.
A letter from a debt collector to a parent reads: “Your account has been handed over to us for collection. An amount of US$96 in respect of levy/fees is now overdue and payable. In the circumstances, we have been instructed to demand as we hereby do, payment of the sum of US$96 at our offices within 48 hours, failing which we will instruct the messenger of court to attach and sell your property without further notice.”
The letters threatening attaching parents’ property or taking legal action against them give notices ranging from 24 hours to seven days. For most people the initial seven days they were required to visit the offices of the debt collectors expired before they got the notices that were sent through Zimpost. Disappointingly, the debt collectors would still insist on the penalty for coming after the seven days had elapsed. Debt collectors have also revealed that they want the payment in full and if partial payment was made, there would be interest added to the outstanding balance. It is a burden to parents to pay money that kept on accruing interest until the whole outstanding balance is cleared.
The engagement of debt collectors has a dismal effect on the rural populace. Some rural schools have descended on villagers seizing livestock, grain, farming implements and other valuables over outstanding school fees and levies. It is alleged that in some instances this is being done outside the law as the schools do not have court orders to that effect. The actions by the schools are illegal as they could be confiscating valuables from parents without following proper procedures. The majority of the parents and guardians are peasant farmers who depend on crop and livestock sales. It is also of paramount importance to consider that the recurrent droughts are most likely to affect payment of schools fees in rural schools.
The government seems to lend a deaf ear to the plight of parents some of whom have their children enrolled at government schools. Government run schools are expected to be more lenient and concerned about the right to education more than generating income. Not much effort has been done to completely thwart the involvement of debt collectors.
In response to parents’ grievances over having their property and valuables attached after schools ordered parents to top-up fees and demanded higher levies the Minister of Education, Sports Art and Culture, David Coltart, said admission fees government announced were enough while schools and parents needed to agree on levies. The fees were set at US$10 for secondary schools and US$5 for primary. Rural schools were exempted from charging fees. What school authorities were required to do was to determine levies that should be collectively agreed to by parents and guardians in a meeting. There is a need for school authorities to consult with parents in coming up with reasonable amounts that should be paid as levies. These amounts should be affordable even to the poorest members of the community. Child headed families, orphans in the care of grandparents or relatives that are not employed and do not have regular and reliable sources of income and other disadvantaged children face a bleak future as education, under the government’s watch, slowly turns into a preserve for the elite. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Revitalisation of recreational facilities a necessity

There is a need for the renaissance of community recreational facilities in Bulawayo. These facilities have in the past been used to keep unemployed youths occupied and to avert social strangulation. Elderly citizens also used these amenities to convene social clubs while women held skills promoting workshops. The recreational facilities have been beneficial to various groups in the society and their role cannot be overlooked. Communities without recreational facilities are most likely to be poverty stricken, have a high HIV/AIDS prevalence and very little development. The local authority is therefore urged to resuscitate recreational facilities.

The youth in Bulawayo have been blamed for perpetuating political violence. In pursuit of economic favours, youth fall prey to politicians who prey on their plight and offer them money. This is common towards elections because the youth are cheated into thinking that taking part in the national process is a form of employment. Most of them resort to this as they are desperate for money while for some it is because they are not occupied. To avoid having an increasing number of youths embarking on corrupt and immoral activities the city council should revive recreational facilities so that youths’ attention is diverted. The recreational facilities offer an escape for youths interested in various disciplines like soccer, drama clubs and fashion designing.

Most residential areas are marred with moral decadence. This is reflected in the rising number of school drop outs, teenage pregnancies, crime, vice and cases of alcohol and drug abuse among the youth. The municipality has neglected playing fields that were set aside as urban recreational parks. The local authority has limited community gardens that do not accommodate all those that may need them. School leavers remain idle because they lack social activities to occupy them hence most of them resort to aforementioned social decadences. Recreational facilities kept social morals intact, without them society has a bleak future.

With the restoration of Bulawayo’s status as the cleanest city in the world in mind, it is imperative for communities to decide which lands to protect for recreation, community character, the conservation of natural resources, and open space. In an attempt to attain Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7 of ensuring environmental sustainability residents, assisted by the city council, have a vital role to play in conserving the environment. Community members have to be actively involved in the restoration of the environment. Parks were a habitat for fish, ducks and ponds which to a certain extent balanced the natural eco-system. Under the current situation lack of recreational facilities contributes somewhat to the depletion of the ozone layer.

Urban parks, gardens, and recreational open spaces do not only benefit the youth but also stimulate commercial growth and promote inner-city revitalization. The city council used to hire out council halls and the money generated was used to revitalise other essential services offered by the local authority. This in turn determines where solid development will occur. Zimbabwe can learn a lot from the state of New Jersey which leads the way in open space preservation. $1.4 billion has been generated by New Jersey's Green Acres land acquisition program in 34 years with $1 billion more expected to protect another 1 million acres which is 50% of New Jersey's remaining open space. There is need to conserve natural resources as these can contribute to the development of communities. Parks and open spaces create a high quality of life that attracts tax-paying businesses and residents to communities. Across the U.S., access to parks and open spaces has become a measure of community wealth - a tool for attracting businesses and residents by guaranteeing quality of life and economic health.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Shortage of funds to pay nurses insincere

Recently the government announced that it does not have the capacity to remunerate more than a thousand of state registered nurses who were then issued with their diplomas as government has suspended the programme of bonding nurses. This assertion which amounts to acceptance by the government that it is abdicating in its duties has some bad taste in it especially in view of the fact that it is premised on the spurious excuse that the government no longer has resources to pay nurses. The move paves way for nurses in the country to not only seek greener pastures in neighbouring countries but put at risk the lives of the residents who have to go to ill-equipped and ill-manned hospitals. Initially government would withhold diplomas for nurses who completed their training arguing that they were supposed to be bonded to Government health institutions for at least three years.

While this is clearly an easy exit for the government which usually finds it easy to run away from its responsibilities (remember the teachers’ incentives), this move puts pressure on the already overburdened patient-nurse ratio. It is also a perpetuation of the old syndrome where patients are left to suffer because there are no nurses to attend to them and the results have been very glaring considering infant, child and maternal mortality. At a time when HIV/AIDS has depleted the health sector the government needs to find a way of harnessing all the resources at its disposal.

In its insincerity the government of Zimbabwe wants Zimbabweans to believe that it cannot continue bonding nurses, who have played a pivotal role in as far as reducing the health crisis is concerned, because of lack of resources. This cannot be so because Zimbabweans are aware of the diamonds being looted at Marange and the leakages that have become the order of the day in most of Zimbabwe’s border posts. While money is available to pay Members of Parliament, senators and councillors who are ill-equipped for governance tasks (judging from the little that the GNU has done) it is tantamount to betrayal for government to claim inadequacy of funds. More so the public service commission conducted an audit in January 2011 which revealed that there are between 45 000 and 70 000 “ghost” workers on the government payroll. The people who could not be traced impact heavily on the state’s already dry coffers. The national treasury and Public Service Commission should ensure that these people are removed from the payroll as the salaries accorded to them could benefit hospitals that do not have adequate nursing staff manning them.
The flimsy resources argument cannot stand the test of reality especially in view of the fact that Zimbabweans are aware that wall of police stations are awash with advertisements of vacancy notices in the security forces. Clearly if they are resources to continue recruiting for the army and the police forces why should the government fail to allocate resources to an essential sector like health.

The Zimbabwean government is indicating left and turning right in its purported fight against the brain drain. History is replete with statement of complaints about the brain drain and the many steps that the government is taking to avert this. Its actions on the nurses indicate that the brain drain argument is superficial and a political excuse for failure to provide essential services. The nurses will benefit countries like Botswana, South Africa and Namibia where they will not only be appreciated but also paid handsomely. The government invests a lot into the development of nurses’ skills but instead of making use of the nurses so that they plough back into the nation’s coffers through tax and also assist in improving service delivery.

The importance that the government should attach to the revival of the health sector cannot be over emphasised. The contribution of nurses towards achieving that feat is also blatant. The expectation is that government should be business as unusual. Efforts should be made to ensure that the money leakages in our economy are blocked and recovered resources channelled towards the health sector. In addition to that alternative means of resourcing like public-private partnerships should be employed. Otherwise even major referral hospitals will be reduced to clinics.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Let’s prioritise security sector reform

Concerns related to unlawful police action in the country, police unrestrained behaviour and brutality, intimidation of civilians, human rights activists, legal practitioners, trade union leaders and non-governmental organisations have left masses without trust in the police force. The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has abdicated its constitutional functions, responsibilities and obligations. Ironically police officers are by the law responsible for upholding human rights and the rule of law.

Allegations against the police are that they are partisan, corrupt, harass civilians and routinely disregard the basic rights of detainees. This has led to fears the country is becoming a police state. Recent months have seen a significant increase in the numbers of riot police patrolling the Central Business District (CBD) and various suburbs in the city. In addition, the police block rallies and meetings by civic organisations, political parties and residents associations. This subversion of freedom of expression and assembly by the police in Bulawayo and other areas across the country has become a major concern.

The activities of the police in recent years has displayed that the force is partisan and affiliated to ZANU PF. This is shown by the fact that while rallies by other parties are routinely blocked, those by ZANU PF are allowed to go ahead. Similarly, the police have been accused of harassing and arresting residents expressing their opinion on political issues and apprehending journalists for taking photographs and recording newsworthy events. This deprives people of information on critical political and social issues.

The clampdown by the police on freedom of assembly and association has hindered the operations of community driven and membership based organisations whose main thrust is to provide a non-partisan and issue-based platform for effective public participation in local governance. This compromises democracy which is dependent upon the free flow of information and the ability for people to gather and discuss issues affecting them.

Zimbabwe has a history of violence that has been perpetrated by uniformed forces during elections, the constitution making process and various government operations such as Operation Murambatsvina. This is in direct violation of international laws and the country’s laws that stipulate that the police must maintain public order, respect private property, and honour individual liberties.

The ZRP has seemingly abandoned its constitutional mandate of ensuring public order and security in the country. The police continually label government opponents and critics as ‘agents of the West’ or ‘enemies of the state’ and routinely violate rights during policing operations. Biased policing further polarises society and heightens insecurity and political tension. However the country’s laws call for equal application of the law.

Meanwhile, the Bulawayo Traffic Police have been criticised for corrupt activities ranging from soliciting for bribes to the harassment of motorists. In February this year, a complaint was forwarded to the Officer Commanding Traffic in Bulawayo, Superintendent Henry Mhlanga expressing dismay with the conduct of traffic police in the city. The letter expressed displeasure with the altercations that took place at Egodini on two occasions in January and February 2011 between police officers and kombi drivers.

The altercations emanated from the traffic police operation targeting commuter omnibus operators and fining them up to $80 for traffic offences. To avoid these fines, kombi drivers take longer routes to evade police, inconveniencing and putting commuters’ lives at risk. More so, traffic police chase them in their patrol cars, worsening the already volatile situation. Part of the letter requested an end to the impasse as it believed the traffic operation had become excessive and was caused more harm than good. In the letter it was suggested that defaulting commuter omnibus operators be handed over to the courts as the concept of spot fines is shrouded in mystery, compromises transparency.

Little evidence of internal disciplinary action being taken against police and no public condemnation by the President, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Home Affairs, the Police Commissioner and other senior government officials irks me. I, therefore, urge the ministry of home affairs to take measures to ensure that the police fulfill their mandate as opposed to harassing residents and depriving them of their rights.  It is time Zimbabweans enjoyed freedoms due to them in accordance with international conventions the country recognises. There is need for reforms and reorientation within the police force to bring Zimbabwe’s policing into conformity with constitutional, regional and international human rights standards. As corruption of the police force goes corruption haywire the need for security sector reform is vital.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lets say it like it is

Dear friends, readers and fellow bloggers
So much has kept me busy to the extent that I had to set aside some of my responsibilities for a while. Unfortunately the blog also had to suffer. Nonetheless I am here now with so many issues set on the agenda I just hope my keyboard will survive this. It pains me to think of the number of things that have happened yet I did not use this apace to share ideas with the rest of the world. Anyway, it is never too late.
Brace yourself for versatility on this blog. Previously the main focus was political news, how politics of the day affected the ordinary person out there and how the rest of us assessed the events. This time however I have made attempts to broaden the platform so that there is no limit to what can be raised.
I have been missing in action for a very long time now and have come back with a bang so watch the space. Now what happens is simple, we say it like it is. The plan is to speak out to the best of our ability. Not only are we countering media laws that stifle information dissemination but we also open up on issues that society deems as taboo to even talk about. With a smile I sign off. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Zimbabwean constitution. Is there light at the end of the tunnel...?

The constitution making process played a fundamental role in the democratisation of Zimbabwe, a significant constituent in the national agenda for the year 2010 which most citizens approached with urgency. Towards the constitution outreach meetings I was part of an association that played a pivotal role in raising residents’ awareness so as to capacitate them to contribute to the making of a new Zimbabwean constitution. The residents association (BPRA) held meetings across the city’s 29 wards encouraging residents to take part in the constitution making process. The association noted the essence of having a constitution that reflects the views of the people and one that caters for the needs of the people.
 As a way of mitigating against apathy in a region that is allegedly known for shunning a lot of political activity, the association held focus group meetings that were specifically targeted at community leaders.  These were organised with the notion that the community leaders would disseminate information, in their respective communities, highlighting the importance of having a constitution that captures the views of all citizens. The meetings conducted at ward level guided the residents on the talking points that steered the outreach meetings.
During the meetings residents stated the non-negotiable matters that the people of Matabeleland and Bulawayo are most passionate about. The non-negotiable matters include:
  • Gugurahundi as part of the Preamble
  • Devolution of power                          
  • 50/50 representation of men and women in parliament
  • Dual citizenship
  • Freedom of expression
  • Equality before the law
  • Independent and non-partisan attorney general and governor of the RBZ
  • Independent commissions
 A constitution that excludes these would be deemed as unacceptable not only by Bulawayo residents but the nation at large. To emphasise on the importance of including these issues in the constitution, a position paper was compiled and submitted to the COPAC teams during outreach meetings.  The position papers highlighted the residents’ minimum demands with regards to the constitution. Bulawayo residents signed the papers as a way of authenticating the demands.
As one of the Information Secretaries of the Matabeleland Civic Society Consortium (MCSC), I was part of an organisation that is made up of a group of Bulawayo based civic society organisations which are Bulawayo Agenda, Christian Legal Society (CLS), Habakkuk Trust, Matabeleland Constitutional Reform Agenda (MACRA), National Youth Development Trust (NYDT) and Radio Dialogue. These organisations, which make up MCSC, collaborated in monitoring the constitution making process in Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South and Bulawayo specifically. This made it easy to monitor and evaluate the outreach process in various places. The role played by these associations was not only limited to the period of the constitution making process but will continue in relevance until the new constitution is functional.
After the series of outreach meetings held in Bulawayo, BPRA went back to the residents to evaluate the constitution making process so as to determine whether or not the constitution would be a people oriented one. Most residents expressed discontentment towards the unethical conduct of the outreach teams, their failure to keep time, poor facilitation, intimidation and poor translation among other concerns. These factors contributed immensely to the residents’ doubt that the draft constitution would be people driven. However, residents are anticipating the draft constitution and referendum as this will award them an opportunity to democratically accept or denounce the draft through the ballot.