My friends at Kubatana – an organization that provides training and support for the NGO sector in Zimbabwe – have started blogging on their website. This is pretty exciting – Kubatana has already been a great source of information on goings on in the Zimbabwean NGO and activist sector on their main site for years now. It’s not entirely clear to me whether Kubatanablogs.net is a space exclusively for Kubatana staffers to blog, or whether it will be a space for anyone within the civil society sector of Zimbabwe to raise their voices – I’m hoping for the latter, at least in the long run.
Like many Zimbabwean bloggers, the authors on Kubatanablogs aren’t signing posts with their names… but they are speaking bluntly on controversial topics. A recent post looks at the US Embassy in Harare’s decision to move the US visa process online… which means it’s very difficult for people without access to a computer or online skills to apply for a visa. The commenter observes:
The introduction of the EVAF might well be just another tactic in pre-selecting the â€œtypeâ€ of person who is an acceptable visitor to the United States.
Maybe itâ€™s time to scrub off the pedestal on the Statue of Liberty. And rewrite it.
Give me your wealthy, your comfortable,
Your educated elite yearning to spend money,
The select technocrats who can fill out our forms.
Send these, the privileged, fortunate few to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Whether bloggers are speaking critically about the US government or the Zimbabwean, it’s great to see another space where people can speak freely. It will be very interesting to see what sort of reaction Zimbabwe’s government has to the Kubatana blogs. Kubatana is not an underground organization – they’re well know, easy to find, and could certainly experience some pressure if online speech starts crossing written and unwritten lines.
Other types of speech remain tightly controlled within Zimbabwe, which means the most interesting news frequently comes from outside the country. The Mail and Guardian – my favorite of South Africa’s papers – has a story about a DVD smuggled out of Zimbabwe showing footage of ZCTU protesters being beaten by Zimbabwean police. Produced by the labor group, the Solidarity Center, the video is intended to document the violence with which the Zimbabwean authorities responded to a peaceful protest – unfortunately, I can’t get the links from the AFL-CIO weblog to the video to work, so I haven’t this footage yet.
There’s another video, produced by SW Radio Africa – one of the radio stations broadcasting from ourside Zimbabwe into the country – that shows interviews with ZCTU protesters, including some who are recovering from their injuries in hospital. The video is hard to watch, but incredibly important – about 3 minutes in, there is footage of one of the very small protests by ZCTU broken up by the authorities, followed by violent beatings of the protesters as they’re forced into the police truck.
Unfortunately, bandwidth within Zimbabwe is so poor that it’s unlikely many Zimbabweans will be able to see this footage. In an ironic twist, it’s easier for Zimbabweans to speak to people outside Zimbabwe than it is to speak to their countrymen.