• Rio+20: We Are Not Colonies Anymore

    The planet is in a mess, and climate change is perhaps the biggest threat to both prosperity and political stability worldwide. It is always the poor who suffer most; and yet the battle continues to be led by those who do not have the best interests of the most vulnerable at heart. But why? Perhaps it is time, instead, to mobilise the people.

    I cannot say it better than one Brazilian activist I met at Rio+20. “The developed world must realise we live in the 21st century,” he said. “We are not their colonies anymore. Power has shifted in the south and east – it is time they stopped thinking they are Masters of the Universe; that they can lecture us and decide on the future of the world.”

    I could not agree more.

    Rio+20 was meant to evaluate the progress we made on political commitments made at the Earth Summit of 1992, and to take decisive steps to avert a global climate crisis that threatens the very existence of our planet and its citizens. But to my enormous disappointment, I do not believe it will meet the expectations of our people – because the people’s voices are not there.

    The global leadership involved in these negotiations carry the responsibility for destroying the hopes of our children and the future generations. That is a heavy load I hope they are prepared to bear.

    As I travel to the villages and slums in my work around the challenge of hunger, I see the desperation of mothers unable to plant the crops that will feed their children, because extreme weather brings flooding and prolonged droughts. It is all very well for those in power to continue in their pursuit of wealth at the expense of the environment; meanwhile, the climate crisis tightens the noose of poverty around the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.

    Household food insecurity is an epidemic; malnutrition grows; poverty and disease explodes; millions of our children are born underweight and become stunted or die of preventable causes. The scramble for Africa becomes furious as the economic powers of the world grab our arable lands to feed their own populations. Climate change will be the source of biggest social, political and economic wars of the future. The crisis in the Horn of Africa, and now in a growing area around Niger, strangles the life out of our communities. Conflicts start over access to water and grazing lands Africa, with the least capacity to deal with this challenge, will face the brunt of the impending disaster. The developed world will benefit, and Africa will pay.

    But, although it is most pronounced here, sadly it is not only in Africa. This staggering inequality, and the battle for food on an increasingly broken planet, is also what I see in villages across India, Bangladesh and Asia. In this growing human catastrophe, our emperors fiddle while Rome is burning. The heads of state, in their ‘blue light brigade’, speeding through the streets of Rio, sitting in the air-conditioned Rio Centre, do not have the political will nor the passion to understand the extent of this humanitarian crisis. The odd representative that they bring into the conversation remains a token: either representing the development industry of poverty experts, or the rare face of a rural woman or indigenous leader who will provide the photo opportunity. But once it is snapped, it is forgotten.

    For my part, I sat with the leaders of the Rural Women’s Movement in Southern Africa, representing tens of thousands of small-holder farmers. Our discussion was about the real issues of improving agriculture yields, ensuring that their children have access to nutritious food, water, education and health. It was about improving women’s rights, empowerment, leadership and incomes. 

    What it was not, was about carbon trading or the ‘green economy’.

    “These people who are negotiating on our behalf have been doing this for 20 years, and our situation is getting worse. Where do they get a mandate? How do we fire them so that we can speak for ourselves?” asked Emily, a battle-hardened activist. It is voices like hers that should be leading us.

    But in civil society we are fragmented and divided by policy, tactics and ego. We are as guilty as the powerful economic and political elites we accuse. We have our own emperors. And in this environment, I fail to see a strategy that harnesses the ferment I see in the world.

    People are outraged and are taking to the streets. They want a new world. They embrace a bold vision of social justice, human dignity and freedom. They are frustrated by the new apartheid that grows in the world that divides us into the global rich and the majority of global poor.

    It is time we listened to these voices; they are powerful and, more specifically, they are right. There is a battle to be fought, and we cannot just whitewash over it. The sceptics of climate change that face us are highly organised. They are fighting a war that will protect their vested interests, which put profits ahead of our people and our planet.

    They buy governments, scientists and civil society leaders to challenge the science and evidence that tells us we are in crisis. In the inadequacy and injustice of our governments’ response, there is an urgent need for unprecedented unity and mobilisation across global civil society to avert these crises.
    In the light of this global apartheid, Rio is a fascinating place – and a peculiarly apt choice to host the summit that highlights these ongoing inequalities. It has all the pretentions of being the metropolis and centre of politics of Brazil, as well as the carnivals of culture. It has history and beauty on its side. But the rich, installed in their fortresses, emerge to parade their bronzed bodies along the wide boulevards of Ipanema and Copacabana and mingle with the ordinary people, while their servants, the poor, live in the precarious favelas high on the hillsides with magnificent views – but in the line of fire for any disasters caused by climate change.

    So, the contradictions of Rio parallel the contradictions of the Rio Summit. The rich and poor nations made it their battlefield, leaving discussions paralysed by the impasse and strong divide between developed and developing countries.

    Many key issues remain outstanding. 

    But perhaps most worryingly, the negotiations to produce an outcome document saw a backtracking on a central equity principle in the 1992 Rio summit – namely to commit to finance and technology transfer to address the crisis the developed world has caused.

    Many developing country governments and activists fear that the debates on the ‘green economy’ will replace sustainable development, which is prioritising our fight against poverty. But as a senior advisor in a developing country said to me, “We see attempts to drive a commodification and financialisation of nature, life and ecosystems. We have always lived with nature in a sustainable way. We fear that the proposed market financial mechanisms to address climate change will lead to the same financial crisis that enriched speculators in the developed world.”

    I look at the texts and agree. The whole battle has watered down to the ‘voluntary transfer of technology on mutually agreed terms’, which implies the sale of equipment on commercial terms, contrary to previous commitments. Also, the original commitments of developed countries to provide new and additional financial resources to meet the previous agreed aid target of 0.7 percent of their gross national product (GNP) the developed world has been rigorously resisted by countries like the United States and Canada.

    The debate on the Sustainable Development Goals is likewise bogged down. The developing countries have accepted this concept and have put forward principles, including the idea of common but differentiated responsibilities. Simply put, this means that the developed world must pay the historical debt for the mess they have created.

    Another key contested area is how the post Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reviews process and how these new goals are linked. Developed countries want the United Nations secretary-general (UNSG), Ban Ki-moon, to take charge of a process for experts to come up with the goals, whereas the developing country governments want to drive the process with inputs that can be given by the UNSG and experts.
    Ultimately, the summit should launch a process to negotiate these goals, but this time in an open and transparent way, and backed up by concrete action plans, with details on the financing and technology transfer aspects to implement these plans.
    But herein rests the opportunity for civil society, social movements and labour to campaign for a seat at the main table. If they fail to achieve this, then they must consider seriously the option of withdrawing from a process that has no meaningful role for them. The history of the current negotiations process revolves around power and many of the civil society representatives have been sucked into a process in which they do not have the power.

    As the Civicus Report on Civil Society says, “The space granted to CSOs [civil society organisations] is always a gift rather than a right, often contested, sometimes ceremonial… For us as civil society, the pressing need arising from this is to assert our voice and our right to be included. To do this we need to organise ourselves, in more comprehensive, inclusive and multifaceted ways than we have managed before. We need to learn from the new social movements which rose to prominence in recent years like in the ‘Arab Spring’, to not just advocate, but to model alternatives in the way we organise, convene, act and speak.”

    There is global recognition that, with crises lingering on many fronts, a drastic reshaping of social and economic structures and relations with the environment needs to happen now, and fast. Civil society organisations and people’s movements must call on their governments and multilateral bodies at the global and regional levels, to uphold and pursue the principles and framework of sustainable development that give primacy to human rights, equity, democracy and social and environmental justice in the discussions towards Rio+20 and beyond.

    That is the bold vision that our people demand. That is what we have to organise towards. And what we need now – non-negotiably – is a fearless and courageous group of leaders who can demonstrate passion and humility when they speak on behalf of our people.

    - Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, former minister in the Mandela Government and chair of GAIN, a global foundation fighting malnutrition in the world. Also refer to
    Jay Naidoo
  • There's Not an App for That

    The United Nations' agency for ICTs, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), marks today, 17 May, as World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD). The purpose of the day is to “help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide”. This year the theme of the day is “Better life in rural communities with ICTs”.

    It is a vital - if optimistic - theme. Over three quarters of the world's poor live in rural areas. They lack economic opportunities, have difficulty accessing basic services, have a limited voice in governance and remain extremely vulnerable to shocks. In Sub-Saharan Africa they account for 67% of the total population and rural poverty in this region is deepening. Rural areas in South Africa share similar characteristics. (IFAD Rural Poverty Report 2011)

    But the extent to which information communication technologies (ICTs) have the ability to improve the lives of the rural poor is debatable. There is no doubt that the use of ICTs among poor people is growing rapidly. Coverage reaches further than roads, electricity, sanitation and clean water. ICTs - and in particular mobile technology - provide access to information and communication, complement successful development initiatives, drive innovation, and empower communities and individuals to co-create new solutions.

    On the other side, however, is an understandable reaction to the inevitable hype.  Competitions and challenges have created a slightly unrealistic environment - at once hypercompetitive and unsustainable - perhaps a case of the ICT4D sector mirroring the commercial tech bubble?

    The slightly snarky – but usefully cynical - talks amusingly of recycled presentations – tweaked slightly from pitches to VCs to Apps4Dev competitions to grant applications. This - and the more constructive's methodology (undefensively talking through ICT4D failures) suggests that it is difficult to actually understand the difference between a great plausible idea, and something that actually works.

    Maybe. But there are some exciting and effective ICT4D projects. And it is not atypical of deeply innovative phases for there to be a flurry of projects, prototypes, pilots – and the non-profit equivalent of exuberant venture capital – inflows of grants to the field of ICT4D. And maybe it takes a crowded podium/appstore/innovation lab, etc. to separate (and the agricultural analogy is deliberate) the wheat from the chaff.  And perhaps one of the most exciting aspects is that much of the hype - the events, the formation of app labs, techno-hubs, living labs and the solutions themselves - is happening in the countries and regions most affected by rural poverty. In India, here in South Africa, and even more so just up the road in Nairobi where “technology” and “technology for development” don't sound like completely different fields.

    And sometimes the hype is really just a question over-promising. The pragmatic assistance of existing workflows while saving money and improving efficiencies -maybe not by an order of magnitude, but incrementally. Surveys, field logistics, event and training management, appointment reminders, crowd-sourced mapping are all achievable, useful and scalable – in the context of existing well-designed programmes. A dose of humility is useful: deploying an app that tracks and maps treadle pump sales and installations is cool (Forms! GPS! Photos!) and ensures useful information to the NGO supplying them. But it is not the app that is irrigating previously rain-fed fields...

    Larger-scale successful uses of ICTs in rural development include improved access to markets, financial services and employment; increased access to education and healthcare; improvement in emergency and disaster relief; and improvement in transparency and public participation through the use of mobile phones in citizen journalism.

    Ciara Aucoin has put together a great list of some of the interesting “Human Development” Apps.

    And it is easy to throw around the names of projects and products that have made the field seem so exciting and full of potential - m-Pesa, Ushahidi, e-seva, eSoko - or the nascent projects just starting to bubble to visibility like

    But how can we try and measure the value and impact of these tools in support of rural development, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa?

    So, as we celebrate WTISD today, with the emphasis on “Better life in rural communities with ICTs”, SANGONeT is pleased to announce that its 7th annual conference will focus on Information Communication Technologies for Rural Development (ICT4RD) with a theme titled, “Rural Realities, Real Solutions.”

    The conference will be held from the 1-3 November 2011 at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg, South Africa.

    Amongst other things, the conference agenda will include a critical review of three keywords that are constantly thrown around in conference presentations and grant applications - scale, sustainability and replication. What is the status of existing ICT4RD projects? Why are so many ICT4D/ICT4RD projects stuck in pilots? What are the secrets of those projects and products that have broken free and are successfully scaling and replicating? Is there a “development innovation curve where we can map successful methods and projects?

    The conference will bring together more than 250 key innovators, implementers, social entrepreneurs and thinkers from across the developing world to explore how ICT innovations can benefit rural populations in Sub-Saharan Africa. It will assess the current state of ICT4RD projects, products and policies; create an environment for matchmaking and deep knowledge-sharing; and contribute to the successful use of ICTs in response to the realities of rural development.

    The real success requirements of many ICT4RD projects depend less on great software development and more on good research, effective local capacity, influence, great networks and relationships - the types of things a good NGO does well and has done well through many developmental, technological and methodological phases.

    And there's not an app for that.

    Click here for more information about the 2011 SANGONeT Conference or assist us in shaping the conference agenda by sharing your views and comments on Facebook, on Twitter, or by replying to

    Matthew de Gale manages SANGONeT’s “Mobile Services for African Agriculture” programme.

    David Barnard is the Executive Director of SANGONeT.
    Matthew de Gale
    Matthew de Gale
    David Barnard
  • ICT4RD 2011: Information Communication Technologies for Rural Development

    To bring together, government, investors, NGOs and social entrepreneurs from across the region - and beyond - to understand the realities of rural development, explore the innovative use of information and communication technology and to catalyse the growth of ICT4RD solutions for scale

    ICT4RD 2011 will look at the current state of ICT4RD projects, products and policies but also create an environment for matchmaking, and deep knowledge-sharing; and to fundamentally contribute to the successful use of ICTs in the realities of rural development.

    Mobile phones create more than 5 billion human touch points around the world. In the developing world, mobile cellular penetration rates will reach 68% at the end of 2010. Between 2000 and 2008, the rate of growth in mobile penetration was fastest in Sub Saharan Africa. Waves of liberalisations in mobile networks has led to 87% of the world’s mobile markets being either partly or fully liberalised. Competition among mobile operators has resulted in the rapid extension of mobile networks, falling prices of services and mobile handsets, and innovative business models. Given efficient markets, it is estimated that by 2015, only 4.4% of populations across Africa will live in the “coverage gap”.

    How are ICTs used to support development?
    • To improve access to markets, fi nancial services and employment
    • To improve access to affordable, quality services such as education and healthcare
    • To improve service delivery by governments, the private sector and NGOs, and to make these services more responsive to citizen needs
    • To improve security , emergency/disaster relief and efforts to protect human rights
    • To support improvements in accountability, transparency and participation, by allowing citizens to publicise their concerns, share ideas, and hold governments to account
    • Technology is an important education tool for large, dispersed, income populations with limited budgets.
    ICT4RD 2011 will bring together key innovators, implementers, social entrepreneurs and thinkers from across the developing world to explore how information and communication technology innovations can benefit rural populations in the region?

    The audience will include:

    • Governments looking to learn from policy and programme success in other countries
    • Investors and funders looking for evidence based results and opportunities to scale solutions that generate both social and financial returns
    • NGOs looking for innovative ideas to strengthen existing projects - looking for the secrets of scale
    • Corporations interested in quantifying the opportunity at the base of the pyramid and strategies for tapping into its potential
    • Social Entrepreneurs looking for partnerships and investment necessary to take successful pilots to scale
    • Researchers seeking evidence of impact to demonstrate the impact of mobile phones on the lives of the poor.
    For more information, click here for the conference brochure.
    Event start date: 
    Event end date: 
    Event venue: 
    Johannesburg, South Africa
    Event type: 
  • Land Redistribution Needs Back-Up - PLAAS

    The Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) says President Jacob Zuma’s latest plan to address stagnating land reform is a positive move, but clarification of the details, the input of all stakeholders and government support for black farmers is crucial to its success.

    PLAAS senior researcher, Ruth Hall, says that while Zuma is conveying the right message, ‘a severe and detailed debate’ is necessary to flesh out the finer details.

    Hall is of the view that relevant sectors of society need to be involved in developing a workable plan, including the agricultural sector, civil society and NGOs.

    To read the article titled, “Land redistribution announcement needs back up,” click here.
    West Cape News
  • NGO Helps Subsistence Farmers

    A Zimbabwean NGO is working with villagers to increase farm production in a bid to improve living conditions for the subsistence farmers who mostly rely on agriculture for sustenance.

    Environment Africa programmes director, Innocent Hongere, says the group that is working in conjunction with other NGOs such as Practical Action is also looking to help link farmers to markets where their products are in demand.

    "As NGOs, we want to build capacity within the small scale farmers and improve production and link farmers to market. We provide monitoring, evaluation and documentation," explains Hongere.

    To read the article titled, “NGO helps Nyanyadzi farmers,” click here.
    The Zimbabwean
  • Call to Involve NGOs in Allocation of Land

    The Tanzania Forest Conservation Group has warned CSOs implementing the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) pilot projects have asked the government to engage the villagers before allocating land to investors.

    The group’s executive director, Charles Meshack, points out that this will help the villagers to have ownership over the carbon benefits derived from reduced deforestation on their land.

    He adds: "Classifying forests on village land as general land could encourage village land grabbing by unprincipled elite or investors or even transfer of REDD benefits from villages who are reducing deforestation to the government or private sector."

    To read the article titled, “Involve locals in allocation of land – CSOs,” click here.
    All Africa
  • Emerging Farmers Kept Off Municipal Commonage Land for the Benefit of White Commercial Farmers

    Small scale farmers on commonage land owned by the Hantam Municipality are up in arms about the awarding of a tender by the Hantam Municipality of Brandvlei. The tender committee of the municipality decided to disadvantage emerging farmers currently on the commonage land in order to benefit white commercial farmers. According to the minutes of the tender committee meeting of 29 September 2010 emerging farmers will only be allowed on commonage land if they farm together with white commercial farmers.
    An example of this is the farm Driekop. The tender was awarded to M Kastoor (emerging farmer) on condition that she farms together with a white commercial farmer. Another example is the farm Remhoogte. It was awarded to two emerging women farmers on condition that they farm jointly with a disabled white commercial farmer.
    Appeals for an urgent meeting about this issue were made to the Hantam Municipality by emerging farmers in the Regional Emerging Farmers Association and the Food Sovereignty Campaign.
    As the Food Sovereignty Campaign we will resist these actions of the municipality that want to reinstate Apartheid in the region. We will evict commercial farmers from the commonage land.
    For more information contact:
    Rosina Secondt (task team convener)
    073 2822465
    Patrick Steenkamp (Hantam task team representative)
    083 528766 
    Katharina Demas  (Hantam task team representative)
    083 4597885
    Date published: 
    Food Sovereignty Campaign
  • Zille Commended Over 50/50 Equity Share

    Agriculture Minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, has congratulated Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille, for suggesting a 50/50 equity share scheme between farmers and their workers.

    Speaking at a two-day farm workers’ summit in Somerset West outside of Cape Town, “If Premier Zille is saying 50/50, then it is radical and she deserves a round of applause for that.”

    Zille said in her speech equity share schemes are ‘desirable’ as a model of genuine broad-based black economic empowerment, adding that “When equity share schemes work they are productive, sustainable and offer real empowerment.”

    To read the article titled, “Agriculture: ‘50/50 equity way forward’,” click here.
  • Government Warned Against ‘Drastic’ Land Reform

    Agri SA, a national farming body, has reiterated previous requests for urgent and in-depth discussions with the government on the elimination of obstacles hampering land reform.

    Agri SA president, Johannes Moller, says it was in no one's interest, especially the poor, to introduce drastic measures that would undermine confidence and have an adverse effect on food security.

    In a press statement, Moller maintains that, "Deficiencies in the implementation of the existing policy should instead be addressed and partnerships should be formed with the private sector to ensure sustainable and accelerated land reform."

    To read the article titled, Agri SA warns against 'drastic' land reform,” click here.

    Mail and Guardian
    Article link: 
  • Women and Food Insecurity in Zimbabwe: Stuck between Gender Norms, the Economic Downturn and Climate Change

    The combination of climate change and the global economic downturn means that most African countries, including Zimbabwe, face food insecurity. Droughts, floods, poverty and unemployment result in high levels of uncertainty and anxiety about where the next meal is going to come from. Like many other matters, the concept of food insecurity in Zimbabwe is also characterised by gendered dimensions, in that women usually bear the brunt of food insecurity at household level (3). Zimbabwean women are often the ones responsible for feeding their families and a lack of food is therefore their problem to solve.

    Food insecurity varies according to context, which means that definitions of the phenomenon need to fit the specific context they refer to. The term ‘food insecurity’ can refer to food supply, access to food and adequacy and utilisation of food and food processes (4). Due to rural location, poverty and climate change, Zimbabwean women often resort to subsistence farming and their food insecurities are therefore relative to food production. The politicisation of landownership and food aid by the Government and NGOs alike have been a major cause of women’s struggle to produce enough food for their households.

    The majority of Zimbabwean women play the role of breadwinner because thousands of men have migrated to neighbouring countries in search of improved political and economic circumstances. In their absence, women have faced abundant food production and access problems, and have thus started resorting to informal trade and risky behaviour, including trading sex for food aid. Food insecurity in Zimbabwe has deterred those men who had the means and will to leave, and driven many of the women left behind to prostitution. Sadly, desperation for money and food means that women who resort to sex work are at the mercy of their male clients’ demands. In other words, the state of food insecurity directly exacerbates women’s vulnerability. This tragic situation is a direct consequence of the combined impact of the country’s eco-political state and the normative gender roles that favour males and still govern land matters.

    Gender roles, land reform and politics

    Zimbabweans have suffered from hunger for a decade and 2010 has already been declared a ‘hunger year’ after all crops wilted at knee level. According to Gaidzanwa (5), women did not benefit from the land reform programme which Government embarked on during its land redistribution mission. She notes that only elite women benefited from land reform, because the political economy in Zimbabwe still subscribes to the ‘Victorian ideology’ which perceives men as the main breadwinners who should have access to land and food supply. Ironically, elite, well-off women in political circles were therefore the only women who benefited from the land reform programmes intended to help the disadvantaged. The fact that women are most affected by food insecurity in the country can therefore be partially explained by the norms that govern the gender roles that men, women and their societies adhere to.

    In practice, these dominant gender roles in Zimbabwe mean that, even though women now perform the previously male role of household heads and breadwinners, they do not have the normative male claim to land or the male power to influence land issues. They can be likened to soldiers without weapons – they want and are expected to feed their families, yet the Government seems unwilling to provide them with the means to do so, namely free and fair food aid and access to land.

    Women in the rural areas have focused mainly on subsistence farming rather than commercial farming or farming for national consumption. They struggle to produce enough food for national consumption because of the partisan distribution of farming inputs. In an effort to empower ‘new’ farmers, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe embarked on a five year policy in 2008 to distribute tractors and other heavy farming equipments on credit and with zero deposit. It is striking that this Government which has reserved a quota for women in Parliament and politics did not implement the same quota in its five-year agricultural plan, considering that so many women are trying to survive by farming. Ultimately, women in Parliament benefited most from the equipment, whilst women in the rural areas remained neglected and impoverished. In addition, farming inputs such as seed and fertiliser were not distributed to every woman in the rural areas; instead those few men and women in politics had access to the inputs and were able to hoard them. They reportedly proceeded to resell them at exorbitant prices beyond the reach of many. The voice of rural women could furthermore not be heard in the media or in speeches made at any national conferences. The odd instances where rural women were mentioned distorted their experiences of food insecurity to suit Government campaigns.

    A recent survey (6) indicated that when food aid from Government or NGOs is distributed, the headman is expected to take on the responsibility of aid distribution. The distribution of food aid is a political task and recipients of aid are determined along partisan lines. Rural women who do not support the correct politicians then need to seek out extra-marital affairs with, and/or perform sexual favours for either the headman or food aid distributors. This sexual behaviour becomes necessary because of the politicised nature of land and food aid distribution and will increase the spread of HIV and AIDS amongst Zimbabweans.

    Sex work to cope with food insecurity

    Women use their agency to negotiate obstacles and find solutions to their troubles, but they also need to navigate the given set of circumstances in which they find themselves. Women in the rural areas of Zimbabwe and many of those who seek livelihoods outside the country, deal with the challenge of food insecurity, although in some cases in an arguably immoral way. Nyangairi (7) found that some Zimbabwean women who cross the border engage in sex work, mainly for financial benefit. The women then remit their earnings to their families back in Zimbabwe. The women’s narratives reveal that they feel like they have no choice but to engage in risky sexual acts because it is the only way for them to support their children. Although the women usually use condoms, some clients are willing to pay more for sex without a condom. Zimbabwean women who struggle with food shortages thus resort to sex work (sometimes unprotected) inside and outside of the country in order to obtain food aid and money.

    Again, normative ideas of masculinity expose women to HIV infection. Unprotected sex is perceived by some men as ‘real sex’ which is masculine in nature, referred to as kurova nyoro in Shona. Interestingly, the women say they are aware that they are vulnerable to HIV and AIDS, but they refer to their situation as similar to that of soldiers who have been deployed for war: one can die, but survival is possible if you adhere to the rule of the game, which is condom use at all times.

    Government’s Responses

    The Zimbabwean Government’s failure to address food insecurity and its causes has largely affected women’s lives in terms of their access to land and other food related resources, such as food aid. The Legal Age Majority Act of 1982 clearly states that women are citizens equal to men, but social and material inequality has continued at national and household level. Instead of comprehending women’s situations and supporting their needs, the Government has simply clamped down on their survival strategies.

    Gaidzanwa condemns the Government’s deployment of police unit, Operation Chinyavada (Operation Scorpion), around beer halls, sheebens and brothels, which arrests any woman seen in and outside those buildings at night. Of course, only women are arrested by Operation Scorpion; their male clients are not considered ‘criminals’. Gaidzanwa argues that the operation and arrests are a violation of women’s rights to freedom of movement and choice. The Government seeks to combat sex work and HIV and AIDS with the criminalisation of sex work, a sign that it does not understand the broad and complex nature of the phenomenon, which is much more than simply women who sell their bodies for money.


    The Government needs to recognise and acknowledge that a large number of households are now female-headed and start mobilising support for them to access land and fulfil their social responsibilities. It is questionable, however, whether the Government will be motivated and able to do so, considering that it is probably largely driven by ‘traditional’ patriarchal ideas itself. Instead of addressing the symptoms of poverty and patriarchal thought systems, the Government needs to first rid itself of this thought system and then put tremendous effort into supporting the mothers of the nation.

    NGOs and other aid distributors need to have the same mindset, however. What use is aid when it is simply absorbed by the usual crevices and creases of corruption instead of flowing to those who really need it? Development programmes and so-called ‘interventions’ need to keep in mind the contexts that their beneficiaries live in as well as the power structures that regulate those contexts. This is complicated and certainly much harder that simply throwing money or food at the issue, but a sustainable solution to food insecurity and its impact on women’s lives is more than necessary – it’s the right thing to do.


    (1) Godfrey Maringira is an External Consultant for Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Gender Issues Unit.
    (2) Charlotte Sutherland is Research Manager: Gender Issues for Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Gender Issues Unit.
    (3) UN-HABITAT. 2009. The state of Sub-Saharan Africa. Implications for poverty reduction.
    (4) Crush J. (2006) HIV & AIDS, Migration and Population Mobility.
    (5) Gaidzanwa, R. 2004. Women and Land rights in Zimbabwe. UZ publications, Harare.
    (6) October 2009: Distribution of food aid and farming inputs in rural areas of Zimbabwe.
    (7) Nyangairi, B. 2010. Migrant Women in Sex Work: Trajectories and Perceptions of Zimbabwean sex workers in Hillbrow, South Africa, MA thesis by Dissertation submitted to Forced Migration Studies Programme. University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

    - Godfrey Maringira is an external consultant for Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Gender Issues Unit and Charlotte Sutherland is Research Manager: Gender Issues for Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Gender Issues Unit.

    This article is republished here with permission from Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI), a South African-based research and strategy firm with a focus on social, health, political and economic trends and developments in Africa. For more information, see or Alternatively, click here to take advantage of CAI’s free, no obligation, 1-month trial to the company’s Standard Report Series.

    In addition to topical discussion papers and tailored research services, CAI releases a number of fortnightly and monthly publications, examining the latest developments in Africa, across a wide range of interest areas. Interested parties can click here to take advantage of CAI’s free, no obligation, 1-month trial to any/all of the CAI publications.
    For more information, see or

    Godfrey Maringira
    Charlotte Sutherland
Syndicate content