January 27, 2018.
Today is Saturday, and the morning is off to a quiet and pleasantly warm start in Harare. This means that many organizations in Zimbabwe are closed for the day, and the roads, which are still shocking me with their width and quiet pace after the narrow, packed, and lively roads of India, are sleepy, filled with waiting gaps in traffic.
Still, it was a morning of reluctant early risings at It’s a Small World Hostel, where I’m staying along with a group of students (and new friends) from Africa University (located a four hour bus ride from Harare in Mutare) who are here for the duration of a leadership conference. Last night was a late one for the crew spent working on a next day presentation proposing a sustainable strategy for maintaining and improving infrastructure in Zimbabwe.
It was fun to hang out, listen to and discuss the issues the group was presenting on, as well as stay up in spirit of late night solidarity that is truly the essence of college (it also made me kind of, fleetingly, miss school…).
This morning, we were all tired- but, just past 6:30 a.m., a first tid bit of news came in while everyone was struggling to get out of bed to get ready for their early start. Some post wake up phone scrolling led one guy, Takudzwa, to speak out about news of the commencement of Operation Fiela 2, or policing of undocumented immigrants in Johannesburg, South Africa- many of whom are from Zimbabwe. The operation is focused specifically on removing criminals without documentation, but in its sweep will also seek to force out all undocumented or falsely documented foreigners and send them back to their countries of origin. The first Operation Fiela began in 2005, and this second phase launched by the Police Minister on Tuesday is creating a lot of fear among Zimbabweans living in South Africa without documentation, according to Zimbabwe news platform Bulawayo24.
In just the couple of days I’ve been here, I’ve heard a few people mention the large number of people who immigrated to South Africa after the huge economic downturn that escalated from around 2000 with its peak at 2008. Many have family members there or know folks who have relocated, so for many Zimbabweans, this crack down on documentation is a very important and worrisome issue. Here’s a link to the story, below:
“Zimbabweans unsettled as SA police launch ‘Operation Fiela 2’.” By Staff Reporter. Bulawayo 24. January 25, 2018.
Though immigration from Zimbabwe seemed to increase across the early 2000s, South Africa has cracked down by issuing visa limits in recent years. The Zimbabwean Special Permit (ZSP) was extended in 2014 to allow approximately 200,000 Zimbabweans to remain on in the country until December of 2017; however, an estimated 1.5 million- and likely many more- undocumented Zimbabweans are living in South Africa, according to an Organization of Migration report in 2012.
All of this is linked to decades of economic stagnancy- according to a Financial Times article, real per capita incomes are down 15% from 1980. Zimbabwe had to abandon its currency in 2009 and adopt the dollar as a means of exchange, which created an initial increase in income recovery but has since become flat- this means that cash shortages are a very present problem and makes the economy dependent on the flow of dollars in and out of the country. As such, the issue of the equivalent of a missing U.S. $15 billion in diamond mining revenue is a huge issue; where the money went is still a big question mark that went up for discussion among ministers and members of Parliament on January 23.
According to Farai Maguwu, Director of the Centre for Natural Resources Governance quoted in this piece: “the people who are investing in Zimbabwe through mining are overprotected and that leads to corruption and unfair treatment of the citizens.
‘When we talk of the mining operation in Mbada Diamonds, there are private unknown investors who have a 50-50 shareholding with our government. Those investors treat Zimbabweans as animals so I urge President Emmerson Mnangagwa to address such issues to ensure that citizens are treated with dignity.'”
“Let’s All Investigate the Missing US$15 Billion Issue: MLISWA.” By Joyce Mukucha. Spiked. January 24, 2018.
The site that this article is coming from, Spiked, seeks to highlight articles which received little attention in mainstream media and circulate important stories. According to the Spiked website, this is what they seek to do: “we call it SPIKED cause stories in the mainstream media (newspapers) which do not find their way to print for various reasons are called SPIKED stories. In a polarized media like ours stories get SPIKED because of the political reasons, advertorial and even the editorial policy of the paper.
Politics- the editor could be friends with the politician whose story is incriminating or the media house would be subscribing to different political views altogether or should I say pushing a political agenda in which the story will be contradicting the agenda, so it gets SPIKED.”
That said, the stuff this site (which is the self-described baby of a reporter based out of Moto Republik) publishes appears to more regularly go beyond the typical coverage of politics, hard news, opinions, business, and entertainment beats here and into territory like press censorship and agriculture.
For example, one such story recently published tells of The Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) launching an investigative journalism fund for reporters, with the goal of motivating journalists and providing mentorship and support for in-depth reporting. In the words of VMCZ Programmes office Faith Ndlovu: “After the elections, we are going to select best elections reporters, best gender-marginalised group reporters and best rural elections reporters. Online content creators are also going to be included since they are influential players in dissemination of credible information.”
The questions here become how the VMCZ will define “the best” journalists, and how political alignments of media houses and consequently reporters will play out in selection of funding recipients. What defines “the best” reporting? The article goes on to say, quoting VMCZ board members, that journalists should “not give general statements… and to report evidence-based facts,” as well as exhibit the “three E’s”- enthusiasm, enterprise, and energetic- and the “three C’s”-commitment, coordination and cooperation.” These adjectives lie more in line with professional development and general skill building rather than journalistic ethics, so I would be interested to see what the balance of mentoring/career growth and quality of pitch and investigation looks like in practice.
“VMCZ Introduces Investigative Journalism Fund.” By Joyce Mukucha. Spiked. January 26, 2018.
Similarly, Spiked also covered the recent heat wave that’s left Zimbabwe without rain for the past few weeks. It’s been a dry and long stretch of time, and this is already the hottest time of year, I’m told.
This piece also includes reported coverage on the issue from two rural areas, Chimbuwe village near Mt. Darwin, which has received less than 40 mm rainfall this season, and Domboshava, 30 kilometers from Harare and quotes from two different rural areas particularly impacted by the drought:
“Our maize crop is a complete write-off. Up to Christmas and the New Year our crops were blooming in some areas around this district. The rains have been good since the start of the farming season around October although we were unfortunate to receive very little rains here. However, our little hopes for a good harvesting are slowly dissipating,” Headman Chimbuwe said.
“Domboshava is an agricultural and horticultural hub but this dry spell leaves us with the possibility of a great famine if we don’t receive rains in a day or two. As traditional leaders, we thing it’s necessary to hold a national pray for the rains,” Headman Nyakudya, under Chief Chinhamhora in Domboshava, said.
“Heat Waves Spell Disaster for Zimbabwean Agriculture.” By Byron Mutingwende. Spiked. January 24, 2018.
Finally, I listened to a couple of episodes of a podcast called Politics & Beyond.With episodes coming out approximately every other week, it’s a relatively new platform that zeroes in on recent policy decisions and politics of the moment through conversation between the show’s hosts, interview with politicians, activists or other figures, and general debate. I’m currently in the process of back tracking to listen to old episodes of this, as it provides good insight into developments over the last few months. Their website is currently down, but here’s a link to the Facebook page– I found about this podcast through an Al Jazeera Listening Post video, which featured the alt-media sites in Zimbabwe to follow.
One of the publications in India I was very lucky to spend time learning about on-the-ground was the People’s Archive of Rural India. Started in 2014 by P. Sainath, a widely renowned journalist who’s spent the better part of a near 40 year career covering rural India immersed in living and reporting outside of urban areas, the People’s Archive seeks to serve as a “living archive” providing documentation of the present, as a means of preserving traditions, voices, and stories that have otherwise not been documented, and think it terms of reflections in the future on India at this very moment. I’ll explain more in another post about the processes, history of, and amazing current projects underway with PARI, but in brief: a visit to PARI’s site today led me to this article which puts human faces to the consequences of Aadhaar, a currently widely contested topic in the news. Aadhaar is the government-run, mandatory digital identification system that’s seen by many across India as both a significant infringement upon and threat to personal security, as it provides the government with access to information such as mobile numbers and bank accounts.
As explained in this article, Aadhaar details have also been linked to ration cards, granted to low income families and individuals, so that finger prints are required as identity proof whenever people go to receive rations each month. This piece reports that below the poverty line (BPL) ration cards have been connected with Aadhaar since June 2017, with an estimated impact on 8 million cardholders in Karnataka, a southern state in which the elderly couple featured in this story live. The issue of Aadhaar functioning and accessibility is multi-leveled, and this piece provides several perspectives of the differentiated and lived realities of people- the elderly couple whose finger prints do not read properly at the slot machine near their house, a shopkeeper, and a child forced to take on work delivering milk to make up for rising expenses and denied ration access- experiencing the consequences of a biometric and digital Aadhaar system.
The stories on PARI often present difficult realities- they’re stories that are not often not covered in depth in mainstream media, and intimate in the sense that they often detail the day to day lives and perspectives of individuals (“every day people” or non experts, as I’ve seen it, are rarely quoted in major media)- in a way that many other publications don’t. It seems that this story could be particularly powerful, perhaps in providing a thorough walk through, in changing the minds and hearts of people adamantly behind the policies of Aadhaar.
“When the man knows you, the machine doesn’t.” By Vishaka George. People’s Archive of Rural India. January 24, 2018.
I also read a blog post by M. Rajshekhar, who is an independent journalist whose generous help I’ve been fortunate to have in finding contacts, thinking through my project, and breaking down India media, and a very talented reporter. I first came across his work by way of a meeting with an editor at Scroll.in, who told me about a series he’d recently completed called Ear to the Ground. Shekhar was a long time reporter for the Financial Times, focusing on development and often times rural issues, but eventually came to a point where he felt like he didn’t understand his country anymore- and this, was in large part, because he felt there were many areas of the country which were rapidly undergoing change and many places which he knew only from a removed perspective. So, he conceived of a project in which he would spend 15 months living in 6 different states-Mizoram, Punjab, Bihar, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and Gujarat. He’d spend thorough time and report in depth news features from across each state and report on a mix of topics, with the hopes of capturing the real stories and issues shaping each area. The stories themselves are brilliant and present a mix of both close reporting and in depth research (seriously, check it out). I also found his approach incredibly inspiring and thought provoking in the way of journalistically breaking down a country as large as India into reporting, and moving, state to state rather than being consistently stagnant in one area or even focusing in one theme across all those places. Instead, he produces portraits of each state as it is, and what he finds over the course of a few months.
To that end, he wrote a great blog post that links back into the thinking behind this project- it also includes many photos he took over the last three years.
“Power. The ignorance it engenders. And some photographs.” By M. Rajshekhar. Fractured Earth (blog). January 25, 2018.
I’ll be honest- my attention to Nepali politics has been totally lacking and my mind and heart have been pretty completely trained on India for the last couple of months. So, this new reading log initiative is part of an effort to improve that and catch up, or figure at least how to sustainably keep up with the day-to-day news of multiple places. Since I don’t feel like I’ve kept up very thoroughly with the scene after parliamentary elections were held in November and December, I went back to re-read this piece (remember coming across it on Twitter a while ago) on The Record- a Nepali publication that publishes long form- to get my brain back into thinking about Nepal. It talks about how the left alliance won, and provides an interesting analysis of the reasons for the communist parties’ joint emergence on top.
“How the Left Alliance Won.” By Supriya Manandhar. The Record.
I also came across this story in Al Jazeera and was interested in reading this since the issue at hand- stimgas surrounding menstruation and a Hindu practice called Chaaupadi where women must remain in isolation during their periods- was written about in different publications and angles while I was in Nepal. This time, it’s written by Zaheena Rasheed (a former Watson Fellow I met in Kathmandu) and another reporter about the first death report after chaaupadi became illegal.
“Why menstrual stigma continues to claim lives in Nepal.” By Zaheena Rasheed and Roshan Sedhai. Al Jazeera. January 17, 2018.