News & Current Affairs

March 7, 2010

Bitterness and unease in bankrupt Zimbabwe

Filed under: Latest, Politics News, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 3:48 pm

Bitterness and unease in bankrupt Zimbabwe

Courtesy BBC

After 30 years in power, Zimbabwe’s veteran leader Robert Mugabe said this week he was ready to stand for another term as president. BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding finds Mr Mugabe’s party in angry mood, and others – the white minority and the former opposition MDC party – full of foreboding.

People on the street in Harare

The law intends to redistribute more wealth to the black population

It has been a grey, drizzly week here.

In the wealthier suburbs of Harare, Zimbabwe’s shrinking white population is once again feeling nervous.

Pat, who runs a small hairdressing salon, and whose family has lived here for four generations, is finally planning to leave.

They don’t want us “whiteys” here any more she says. The writing is on the wall.

Pat has been spooked by a new law, introduced this week, which is supposed to correct the enduring economic legacies of colonialism, and give black Zimbabweans a controlling stake in almost all companies.

The main focus is Zimbabwe’s rich mines and its industry.

But the indigenisation law also seeks to prevent white people from owning things like hairdressing and beauty salons.

In a few years, says Pat, we will be like an extinct species. They will come for our houses next.

The reaction may well be extreme.

Many white Zimbabweans have been slow to acknowledge the debt they owe to the black majority here. Economic empowerment is clearly necessary.

But after a decade of economic chaos, horrific violence, and the brutal seizure of white-owned farms, it is easy to understand why so many Zimbabweans – of all colours – are hair-trigger tuned to expect the very worst.

Bitter words

Saviour Kasukuwere, ZANU PF Party member
Our children are dying because of sanctions
Saviour Kasukuwere, Zanu PF

Saviour Kasukuwere does not exactly try to smooth the waters.

“You people,” he almost spat at me, as I sat in his office on the ninth floor of the squat grey building that houses President Mugabe’s Zanu PF Party.

Mr Kasukuwere used to be a member of Mr Mugabe’s notorious state security.

He is a hardliner and a rising star.

“You British, you could learn a lot about democracy from us,” he says with a thin smile.

Mr Kasukuwere, a tall, heavy-set man, was at primary school when his country won full independence from Britain 30 years ago.

Unlike Mr Mugabe’s generation, he did not fight and suffer for freedom. But, full of passionate intensity, he seems to wallow in his bitterness.

In his eyes, and words, everything can still be blamed on what he calls the “genocidal” West.

Zanu PF’s current preoccupation is with what it calls “Western sanctions”.

The state media makes it sound like some overwhelming economic blockade.

“Our children are dying because of sanctions,” says Mr Kasukuwere.

But as diplomats and economists here point out, the reality is less extreme.

The European Union is currently imposing a travel ban on 198 individuals. Thirty-five companies are also frozen out.

“This is about Mrs Mugabe not being able to shop in Paris,” one diplomat put it. “Zimbabwe can’t borrow money, not because of sanctions, but because it owes $6bn, and can’t pay it back because it systematically wrecked its own economy.”

Train smash

Within Zimbabwe’s unity government, sanctions are a poisonous issue – one of many.

The unity government, formed after bitterly disputed elections, has survived a year now – President Mugabe’s Zanu PF sharing, or at least pretending to share power with its enemy, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

“It’s a train smash, warfare every day,” one MDC minister told me.

But the government has survived and on some issues is clearly making progress.

The MDC is hoping now to water down the new indigenisation law in order not to scare away foreign investors and potentially plunge the economy back into chaos.

Posters for President Robert Mugabe are covered with graffiti for  the opposition Movement for Democratic Change June 27, 2008 in Harare,  Zimbabwe

The 2008 elections saw MDC supporters beaten and killed

Both parties are now gearing up for new elections – possibly next year. It is the only way to settle Zimbabwe’s political deadlock once and for all.

The sanctions issue and the indigenisation law, are key campaign themes for Zanu PF.

If the MDC tries to question either of them – it is accused of being a stooge for colonial Western interests.

The MDC can probably handle that sort of criticism. It has got a strong support base, and at least one recent opinion poll showed it would crush Mr Mugabe and his party at the polls.

Any credit for the economic stability achieved here during the past year, seems to have gone to the MDC.

But the party is not nearly as well organised or ruthless as Zanu PF.

We are floundering, one MDC insider told me dejectedly. And of course, past experience in Zimbabwe shows that elections here are won by intimidation, not popularity.

Unless we have foreign peacekeepers to protect us, it will be another bloodbath
Senior MDC official

In 2008, Zanu PF orchestrated a campaign of terror – killing and beating MDC supporters – in order to hold on to power.

Now at the age of 86, after 30 years in office, President Mugabe has announced he is planning to run for yet another term.

Elections could be held next year, he says.

Mr Mugabe controls the police and the army, and under the current constitution, most of the electoral infrastructure.

Will he play fair this time?

We are heading towards another big fight, a senior MDC official told me anxiously.

Unless we have foreign peacekeepers to protect us, it will be another bloodbath.

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July 3, 2009

Photographer on Jackson rehearsals

Filed under: Entertainment News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:48 pm

Photographer on Jackson rehearsals

Renowned rock photographer Kevin Mazur was at Michael Jackson’s final tour rehearsal in Los Angeles last week.

Several images from the practice runs have now been released, showing the star dancing and smiling against large neon letters reading “This Is It”.

Mazur, who first took pictures of Jackson during the 1984 Victory tour, told the news about the “magical” show that was being prepared before the entertainer’s untimely death on Thursday.


Michael Jackson during last show rehearsal at Staples Center in Los Angeles (Kevin Mazur/AEG/Getty Images )

The pictures were taken on 23 June, just two days before Jackson died

How much of the rehearsal did you see?

I was there for a couple of days. I was there on the first day when they built the stage, and I took photographs of the dancers and the back-up singers for the tour book. Then, the next day I was taking casual shots of the band and the dancers rehearsing when Michael arrived.

I was like an expectant father waiting for him to take to the stage, I was so excited. And when he came out, I was even more excited because Michael was back.

He was happy, he was energetic, he was full of life. I had such an adrenaline rush. It was like the first time I had photographed him, when he moonwalked.

People were saying he wasn’t ready, and the first shows had been pushed back because of his health. Did you see any evidence of that?

A photo tells a story. Michael was physically fit and performing the same way that I photographed him through the years. You can look at the photos. I documented it, I was there.

So how did you feel when, four days later, you were told he had died?

I was so shocked, because from what I saw on Tuesday night, he was full of energy and full of life. I couldn’t wait to see this show at the O2 arena with all the fans there.

How much of the production did you see? Were there any big surprises?

There were still certain elements that they had to put into place, but I saw them rehearse about a dozen songs. And Michael never stopped. He worked right through. He did 12 songs and he only paused a couple of times to tweak some stuff with the music and a little bit of the choreography.

They had a screen that ran the full length of the main stage and was maybe about 50 feet high. And, supposedly, I heard they were doing some 3D things. I’ve been shooting shows for 25 years and I’d never seen anything like that before. I was very curious to see how it would all come together.

Michael Jackson during last show rehearsal at Staples Center in Los Angeles (Kevin Mazur/AEG/Getty Images )

The series of 50 concerts was due to begin in London on 13 July

So you could say the concert was really in the final stages of preparation – with all the individual songs coming together into a coherent show?

Yes, well… everything was pretty much staged and built. There were certain things they were still waiting to get – they had chandeliers they were going to put into the set. But musically and dancing-wise, I got to see it all. But I didn’t get to see things like aerial lifts and a few other elements in the show.

And when Michael was done rehearsing, he and Kenny Ortega [choreographer and show producer] went off the stage and they were looking at a bunch of props they had for Thriller and they had a puppeteer using zombie-type creatures that were going to go through the audience. It looked really, really cool.

This was going to be like no show anyone had ever seen.

The picture that has gone around the world today is of Michael in a grey suit, pointing into the centre of the auditorium. What do you remember much about that shot?

That might have been Black Or White – but I don’t remember. It’s so hard for me to keep track of the songs while I’m shooting, because it’s such an adrenalin rush for me. I’m just too excited, and I’m juggling round numerous cameras. But I do know this, it was magical.

There are rumours today that the rehearsals had been filmed and that segments of the concert will be released as a tribute. Were you aware of that?

Not specifically – but everything was documented. That’s why I was there. I was there to keep a record photographically, and they also had videographers. He’s Michael Jackson and, as you know, he documents everything.

September 16, 2008

Palin’s appeal to white women

Palin’s appeal to white women

What is it about Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin that appeals to women voters? The BBC’s Paul Moss has been finding out in the US state of Illinois.

Sarah Palin in Anchorage, Alaska, 13 Sept

Many women admire Mrs Palin for her hard work as a mother-of-five

It was hard to tell who was most disappointed. A torrential downpour meant the American football game at Barrington High School had to be canceled.

The kids stared at the cloudy skies and grumbled. But some of their mothers seemed even more crestfallen.

“We look forward to the game,” one told me. “Everyone gets really into it, screaming, yelling. It is disappointing.”

I had traveled to Barrington, out in Cook County, Illinois, to meet some of America’s “football moms” – the army of women who turn out every weekend across America, to cheer on their sporting sons and daughters.

They are loyal, they are dedicated. And now, many of them are also big fans of Sarah Palin.

“She says it like it is,” I was told, a common description of the young governor from Alaska. “She’s hard-working, and I think she has strong moral values.”

Mrs Palin’s large family formed the basis of many compliments from the “football moms”.

“She’s doing great things, supporting her church and supporting her family. Five children is a lot in this day and age.”

‘Pioneer woman’

This is all sweet political music to the ears of the US Republican Party. The choice of 44-year-old Mrs Palin as its vice-presidential candidate was always meant to secure the support of women voters, as well as religious conservatives.

WHITE WOMEN VOTERS’ SWING
ABC/Washington Post: 7 Sept – 53% for McCain, 41% for Obama (20 point swing to McCain since 22 Aug)
NBC/Wall Street Journal: 9 Sept – 52% for McCain, 41% for Obama (11 point swing to McCain since Aug)
Quinnipiac University: 9 Sept – Pennsylvania, 5 point swing to McCain since 26 Aug; Ohio, four point swing to McCain since 26 Aug; Florida, two point swing to Obama since 26 Aug

And since she appeared on the scene, some polls have shown white women swinging away from Democrat Barack Obama to Republican John McCain.

One, an ABC/Washington Post poll conducted earlier this month, suggested Mr McCain’s standing with white women had improved by 20 points since Mrs Palin was brought on board.

“Women see themselves reflected in her image,” according to Christine Dudley, a long-time Republican campaigner, based now in Chicago.

She argues that to understand Mrs Palin’s popularity, you have to realise that the US still sees itself as a nation of frontier dwellers.

“Here is a woman in the most remote of states, she shoots guns and fishes… she really is a pioneer woman in the modern sense.”

Sore point

But Mrs Palin’s claim to champion the position of women is not universally welcomed among America’s feminists.

It is true that some have argued the very fact of her candidacy is a step forward for women’s equality.

Nancy Matthews

Nancy Matthews says Mrs Palin appeals to American notions of individualism

But Nancy Matthews, a professor of Women’s Studies at Illinois University, sees her appealing more to American notions of individualism.

“You have people who say they believe that women should have the right to be in all kinds of positions in government, but that won’t carry over into the ideology of the women’s movement,” she argues.

The fact that Mrs Palin is against women’s right to an abortion (unless the mother’s life is at risk) is a particularly sore point for Professor Matthews and other feminist writers. Mrs Palin, they argue, stands for traditional values, not for social change.

But faux-feminist or not, Sarah Palin undoubtedly presents a challenge to the Democratic Party.

It is really impossible to that at the end of the day, Hillary [Clinton] voters or independent voters are going to look to Sarah Palin as somebody they believe in
Lisa Madigan
Attorney general for Illinois

It normally polls better among women than men, a trend that Mr Obama was continuing. The party needs to win them back, if they are going to have any chance of victory in November.

“What’s critical, as far as Democrats are concerned, is that they stay focused on issues,” says Lisa Madigan, attorney general for Illinois.

The war in Iraq, energy policy – these are the areas she believes will expose Mrs Palin as lacking sufficient knowledge for the job.

“It is really impossible to believe,” Ms Madigan says, “that at the end of the day, Hillary [Clinton] voters or independent voters are going to look to Sarah Palin as somebody they believe in.”

But it is not so impossible to believe, if you listen to the football moms of Barrington High. I asked Mrs Palin’s supporters there if there were any specific policies of hers they admire. None could name a single one, but that did not seem to dampen their admiration.

“She’s interesting, she’s hard-working,” I was told. “I think she’s going to do a great job.”

September 10, 2008

The white priestess of ‘black magic’

The white priestess of ‘black magic’

Bent double by age, the high-priestess of Nigeria’s Yoruba spirit-world shuffles forward from under the trees, reaching out a white, blotchy hand in welcome.

Susanne Wenger and her adopted daughter Doyin Faniyi

Mrs Wenger resurrected the traditions of the river-god Osun

Half a lifetime ago, Susanne Wenger dedicated herself to reviving the traditions of the pre-Christian Yoruba gods, “the orishas”, and left Austria to make Nigeria her home.

The frail 94-year-old artist, with one seeing eye, has been a driving force in Osogbo town, where she is in charge of the sacred grove, a place where spirits of the river and trees are said to live.

In an upstairs room of her house, surrounded by carved wooden figures of the gods, she receives well-wishers and devotees, who she blesses in fluent Yoruba.

When she arrived here, she found traditional culture in abeyance, all but destroyed by missionaries who branded it “black magic” or “juju”, a word Mrs Wenger reviles.

Friends paint a picture of a dedicated, tough and far-sighted leader who has helped revive a culture thought destroyed by Christian and Muslim evangelists, and secured protection for one of the Yoruba tradition’s most sacred sites.

But she is very humble about her achievements.

Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove Festival

“Osogbo is a creative place, it is that by itself, it didn’t need me,” she says.

Followers say she has channeled the river-god Osun into her body, learning the knowledge of pre-Christian deities like no other European has ever done.

Orisha worship is a controversial belief. In the past it involved human sacrifice and there are rumours that still happens at secret shrines elsewhere in the country.

Devotees of the orishas can worship either good or evil gods in order to get what they want.

But thanks to Mrs Wenger, the town’s annual festival of Osun has grown in size and popularity and thousands of Yorubas come every August to renew their dedication to the river-god.

Sacrifice

Mrs Wenger arrived in Nigeria in 1950 with her then husband, the linguist Ulli Beier and traveled widely in south-western Nigeria.

Sangodare Gbadegesin Ajala
Maybe you can call Susanne our saviour
Sangodare Gbadegesin Ajala

In 1957, she fell ill with tuberculosis in an epidemic in which many thousands died.

Friend Ajani Adigun Davies says Mrs Wenger believes the illness was a kind of sacrifice, in return for the knowledge she was receiving about the gods.

“The Yoruba beliefs all depend on sacrifice, that you must give something of value to get something of value, you must suffer pain to gain knowledge,” he says.

In her early years in Nigeria she met Adjagemo, a high-priest of creator-god Obatala.

“He took me by the hand and led me into the spirit world,” Mrs Wenger told a French documentary maker in 2005.

“I did not speak Yoruba, and he did not speak English, our only intercourse was the language of the trees.”

She divorced her husband and moved in with Adjagemo in Osogbo, where she resolved to live for the rest of her life.

Mrs Wenger believes that the spirit world has long been neglected by Western culture, and spirits can appear to anyone as long as they are willing to accept them.

“You need special eyes to see them,” she says.

Traditions

Enemies in churches and mosques have tried to smash her sculptures of deities and burn down the forest that shelters them.

But artist Sangodare Gbadegesin Ajala, Mrs Wenger’s adopted son, says many local people accepted her eagerly.

Ajani Adigun Davies
Susanne’s knowledge of the behaviour and character of all the deities means she has actually become Yoruba now
Former curator Ajani Adigun Davies

“Maybe you can call Susanne our saviour,” says Mr Ajala, now the high-priest of Sango, the lightning-god.

“Was Christ an African? Muhammad was an Arabian. Why can’t our saviour be European?”

The first time he met her was the day of his initiation into the cult of Sango, when he was 11.

His father was an unapologetic devotee of the old gods, and refused to let his child be baptised or go to schools run by Christians or Muslims.

But Mr Ajala wanted to learn to read, and he thought a white woman would let him.

“I saw some children reading books, and I wanted to be able to go to school to read these stories.”

But six months after he moved in with Mrs Wenger, he asked her if he could go to school.

“She shouted: ‘No! you cannot go to school, they will turn you into a Christian and your life will be over!'” he remembers.

Mr Ajala is still illiterate, but has a deep knowledge about the traditions of Yoruba spirit gods and says his adopted mother has made him see how important it is that Yoruba traditions have been preserved.

Yet he is now working to build a school where children can go and receive an education and also learn about the traditions of the orishas.

‘Tug of war’

Mrs Wenger’s ideas about the preservation of the forest have become central to the survival of the traditional beliefs.

Mr Adigun Davies, a former curator with the government museums directorate who first met Mrs Wenger in 1989, says the battle to save the grove was a “tug of war”.

He recalls her lying down in the path of a bulldozer brought by a man who bought the grove from a relative of a traditional leader and wanted to build a house on the land.

“It’s a disgrace to the Yoruba that the person who came to save our culture was a European,” he says.

“But Susanne’s knowledge of the behaviour and character of all the deities means she has actually become Yoruba now.”

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