Africa, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs

ZIMBABWE: Time To Do The Right Thing

Ephraim Nsingo

HARARE, Oct 16 2008 (IPS) - At least 5,000 people are expected to gather in Chitungwiza today to demand improved access to water, sanitation and health services as part of the Stand Up, Take Action Against Poverty campaign.

The event in this sprawling satellite town about 30 kilometres south of Harare is under the auspices of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO), which brings together all humanitarian and civil society organisations registered in Zimbabwe.

Because of the political polarisation in Zimbabwe, this year the Campaign has chosen to reach out to the population through a seemingly neutral agenda – environmental sustainability. Hundreds of schools and corporate organisations have already been recruited to take part in tree planting events.

This campaign, coordinated worldwide by the Global Coalition Against Poverty, has long been active in Zimbabwe. The results on the ground have however not been so encouraging. Poverty continues to ravage the southern African nation, once referred to as the breadbasket of Africa. Close to half of Zimbabwe’s 12 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Set to feature prominently in this year’s activities is the water situation, which has deteriorated unabated in Harare and other major centres. The ever-worsening humanitarian conditions, the country’s world-record inflation of 231 million percent, and the plight of orphaned and vulnerable children will also be under the spotlight.

“Zimbabwe is no exception to the scandalous condition of poverty in an opulent world. At the event, we will stand in unity with the rest of the world sending a message to our leaders that we can no longer tolerate the injustice of poverty,” said Fambai Ngirande, who is coordinating the Stand Up and Take Action Against Poverty Campaign. He is also the advocacy and public policy manager for NANGO.

“Our main focus would be on the water situation in urban areas, where years of neglect by the authorities have resulted in millions of people failing to get safe drinking water. We are calling on the government to do the right thing by providing safe drinking water to residents, and improving the provision of all social services.”

This year’s event will feature free open-air performances by three celebrated Zimbabwean musicians – Victor Kunonga, Stanley “Pastor G” Gwanzura and Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave. The musicians are well known not only for their clean cut mass public appeal, but for lyrics that reflects an interest in social issues.

“It is remarkable that these iconic artists have chosen to volunteer their talents to spread the message of the fight against poverty” noted Ngirande, “The plight of the poor has so often been ignored, but I am sure that the powerful voices of these three superstars will resonate throughout the country as a rallying call for all Zimbabweans to Speak Out and Take Action Against Poverty.”

Kunonga, who has performed at previous Stand Up and Speak Out events, said it was a good opportunity for musicians to contribute to the emancipation of the communities that nurture and support them.

“As musicians, we owe a lot to the people who have always been with us through difficult and good times. The event allows us to plough back to the communities, and contribute to their empowerment,” said Kunonga.

A concert alone, noted Ngirande, can however not resolve the humanitarian crisis,

“It is clear that the resolution of the complex humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe will take more than a concert, however the sheer significance of thousands of citizens mobilised under one common cause is a bright light in a very dark situation,” he said.

Ngirande said, “There has never been a more opportune time to mobilise people to demand greater action for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals than now. Our people are suffering.”

Faced with the reality of a population that is increasingly disempowered and distracted by the struggle for daily survival from effectively taking part in such mobilisations as the Stand Up and Take Action Against Poverty, Ngirande lamented the restrictive conditions in Zimbabwe, which are not permissive of social action.

“While it would be important to mobilise our people in their millions to peacefully and symbolically stand up to send a powerful message to leaders to do more to fight poverty, the highly politicised and volatile environment has ingrained a fear and helplessness in our people,” decried Ngirande.

Taking the campaign beyond the event, could be another hassles for NGOs, as there are still remarkable barriers in accessing certain constituencies like the rural areas. NGOs are also censored from the state media.

There are others who do not seem to get the theme of the commemorations clearly. One such is Clever Mutukwa, a war veteran who is also a senior civil servant in Chitungwiza.

“The government has always been doing the right thing, but most efforts have been in vain because of sanctions imposed on us by western countries. If you take a closer look at the trend, you will notice that the crisis is directly linked to the imposition of sanctions. Although I am not saying the government has done everything possible, they have tried under the circumstances.”

Instead of calling on the government to do the right thing, Mutukwa said it is the NGOs “and their allies in the opposition who should do the right thing and call for the lifting of sanctions.”

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