Friday, 28 July 2006

[Interview] Matthew Nyashanu, Zimbabwean journalist

Matthew Nyashanu is a Zimbabwean teacher, journalist, political analyst and media commentator currently living in the United Kingdom.

He is a member of the Zimbabwean Association of Journalists in the Diaspora.

He writes for a number of newspapers, particularly zimbeat, and since 2002 he has been a contributor to SW Radio Africa where he presents a political commentary program.

Nyashanu is also the U.K. spokesperson of the Zimbabwean opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

In addition to this, Nyashanu is one of the founding members of, and spokesperson for, the Diaspora Vote Action Group, which took the Zimbabwe government to court in an effort to secure the right to vote for Zimbaweans living outside the country.

In a series of ongoing emails and telephone conversations that started in January 2006, Matthew Nyashanu spoke about the Diaspora Vote Action Group and the hardships journalists are facing in Zimbabwe.

What motivated the Diaspora Vote Action Group to take the Zimbabwe government to court?

We were motivated by the fact that despite getting independence in 1980, many Zimbabweans living in the Diaspora were unable to exercise their basic fundamental right of choosing the leader they preferred. Other countries in the region, countries like Mozambique, for example, have been able to put such arrangements in place.

Who else was involved in these efforts?

The court case was actioned by seven people namely Matthew Nyashanu, Makusha Mugabe, Emily Madamombe, Lincoln Makotore, Jefta Madzingo, Brian Makuzva and Farai Maruzani.

How did you go about it?

We set up a website and we received a lot of support in the form of signatures from Zimbabweans in the Diaspora. We also had a very wide press coverage, which helped us to reach far and wide in terms of building a support base. The only problem we had was that of paying legal costs but we managed to fork the money out of our own pockets.

Although the Zimbabwe government still would not allow Zimbabweans living abroad to vote, I believe that our campaign was successful. Our action exposed, to the world, one of the many ways the Zimbabwean people are being oppressed by President Robert Mugabe's regime.

How did your participation in this affect you and your family?

The participation further strained my relationship with the Zanu PF administration and I am viewed as a traitor especially for suing them from U.K., the former coloniser and number one enemy to Zanu PF. Because of that and because of my broadcasts and writings I am one of those not allowed in the country by the regime.

What would happen to you if you returned?

Anyone trying to fight for justice and anyone trying to inform the international world about the dark side of President Mugabe's rule is likely to face the wrath of the ailing regime.

In Zimbabwe just before Christmas, last year, a number of journalists were arrested. More journalists have been arrested again this year. What, in your view, is the Zimbabwe government's motivation for these and other arrests?

The journalists were arrested because the Harare administration is under immense pressure following their unplanned land seizure and the establishment of political thuggery in the country. Zanu PF is looking very insecure especially after demolishing the shelters of poor urban dwellers and moving them to remote and unsanitary places like Hopely Farm.

These arrests are a well-calculated strategy to put on hold the free flow of information -- especially the information disseminated by the independent press. The government is hoping to create a vacuum of information on Zimbabwe and, in this way, make sure that the inhumane way, in which it is treating its citizens, remains a secret. This is also meant to induce fear in all journalists and human rights activists wishing to square up with the regime.

Although these arrests may induce fear in the media fraternity, in another way they will make journalists to grow stronger in their quest to expose the wrong activities of this despotic regime.

What would you advise journalists currently living and working in Zimbabwe?

The way forward for journalists in Zimbabwe is to keep the pressure on by reporting all the abuses coming from this regime. The journalists should also, where possible, file stories with international media organizations to make sure that the regime is exposed for what it is.

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.

Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Child Trafficking in the UK

She was a teenage orphan living on the streets of Nairobi when a man approached her and promised her work in the United Kingdom. He told her she would be working as a house girl.

True to his word, her "savior" brought her into the U.K. -- but instead of placing her with a family the man took her to a brothel, where she was systematically raped, beaten, and forced to work as a prostitute.

Three months later, when the 16-year-old Kenyan girl became pregnant, she was forced to continue sleeping with a succession of men until she was almost due to give birth. The heavily pregnant teenager was then removed from the brothel, driven out of the town where she had been held, and dumped many miles away on the streets of Sheffield.

"It's been a painstaking process but we now have a clearer picture of when and how the girl arrived in Sheffield and the terrible ordeal she has been through," said Detective Inspector Matt Fenwick of the South Yorkshire Police. "As you may expect, she is still extremely distressed. All interviews have been conducted entirely at her pace, and she is now being looked after by specialist carers.

"The sequence of events that has emerged during those interviews is both shocking and tragic. It involves imprisonment, beatings, and systematic rape over a lengthy period. Anyone who can subject a teenage girl to such abuse needs to be caught as a matter of urgency before they can do the same again. I'd ask anyone who thinks they may have encountered this girl or her captors to come forward -- even if they were one of her clients."

The 16-year-old girl's ordeal is similar to that of more than 4,000 other women who have been trafficked into the U.K. A Home Office study in 2002 suggested that the scale of trafficking of women may range anywhere from a hundred to several thousands annually.

End Child Prostitution, Pornography, and Trafficking (ECPAT), U.K., is a children's rights organization that represents a coalition of nine U.K. organizations working on children's issues. It says the true scale of human trafficking is unclear because no updated statistics are available on the problem in the U.K.

In an effort to determine the scale of the problem and to assess the level of awareness and mechanisms for dealing with it by the social services and other authorities, ECPAT U.K. conducted research in 2001 and 2004 into the trafficking of children into the U.K.

In "Crossing Borders: The Trafficking of Children into the U.K.," a briefing paper published last year, ECPAT U.K. says the 2004 research indicates that girls, in particular, are being brought from Africa and Eastern Europe for purposes of domestic servitude and prostitution:

"There were 35 cases of child trafficking with the 17 boroughs of London, including nine children under 16 years of age; there are many more reported cases that the social services did not disclose. Increasingly, an influx of young Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai children, particularly boys, has been noticed by various agencies. In addition, ECPAT U.K. has received reports indicating the issue is not confined to London."

Current efforts by the government to come to terms with the problem of child trafficking seem to be focused on legislation and law enforcement.

The Nationality, Immigration, and Asylum Act of 2002 covered the offence of trafficking. This was later replaced by the Sexual Offences Act of 2003, which defines a child as someone below the age of 18 and criminalizes trafficking for sexual exploitation. It also makes it an offence to traffic into, within, and out of the U.K., imposing a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Additionally, the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act of 2004 makes it an offence to traffic in all forms of labor exploitation and imposes a maximum penalty of 14 years.

Organizations working with victims of trafficking say these measures are not enough. They point out that victims of trafficking are rarely willing to testify because of threats the victims and their families receive from the traffickers.

ECPAT U.K. gives as an example what happened between 1995 and 2001 when West Sussex Social Services took into its care a number of unaccompanied minors, many of them Nigerian girls, who were claiming asylum as soon as they arrived at the airport.

Many of the children went missing within days or months of being in care. There were indications that they were being further trafficked to other parts of Europe. Those remaining in care were not considered safe: some of them were suspected of having contact with their traffickers and being prostituted or made to deal drugs.

"Police assistance was considered ineffective in cases where social workers reported suspicious or abusive characters around children. Some felt that police viewed the children only as asylum seekers and not as child protection cases," ECPAT U.K. said.

The organization emphasizes that strategies for tackling child trafficking issues need to concentrate on child protection and prevention, not just law enforcement.

"On a wider regional and international level, greater synergy and cooperation is vital. The implementation of existing legislation is necessary, as is including effective protection measures for victims in national plans of action," the organization says.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International U.K., said:

"Currently, victims of trafficking have almost no rights in the U.K. In the eyes of the law, they are simply illegal immigrants and are routinely detained and deported.

"The government should sign the European Convention Against Trafficking -- something it could do tomorrow. Signing would turn the system around, so that trafficked women are recognized as the victims and not the perpetrators of crime."

This article was first published by OhmyNews International. A podcast of the article is available at

Tuesday, 4 July 2006

[Interview] Conrad Nyamutata, Zimbabwean journalist

Over the past five years, the Zimbabwean government has been routinely detaining, torturing and harassing journalists as part of an on-going campaign to stop them from reporting on human rights issues, the economic crisis in Zimbabwe and the escalating opposition to President Robert G. Mugabe's rule.

Repressive legislation such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (2002) has made it a crime to practice journalism without a government license.

At the same time, journalists who include Geoff Nyarota, Nqobile Nyathi, Lloyd Mudiwa, Basildon Peta, Caroline Gombakomba and others have been placed on a list of people whose passports are to be seized should they try to leave or enter the country. The Mugabe regime accuses them of being traitors and of threatening the country’s national interests.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa reports that in June last year, President Mugabe signed the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill, which allows journalists to be jailed for up to 20 years for publishing falsehoods. The law, among other things, prohibits the making, publicly and intentionally, of any false statement about or concerning the President or Acting President if the person knows or realises that there is a risk or possibility of engendering feelings of hostility towards or causing hatred, contempt or ridicule of him, whether in his official or personal capacity.

In addition to all this, the ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs are currently deliberating on draft regulations that will require Zimbabweans to obtain exit visas before they can be allowed to travel outside the country.

Critics say the new passport laws are aimed at immobilizing journalists, human rights activists and opposition political party leaders in order to prevent them from highlighting government repression and human rights violations. The laws have been described as a serious and unacceptable assault on people’s freedom of movement.

The Index on Censorship, (November 2005) reports that at least 90 Zimbabwean journalists, including many of the country’s most prominent reporters, now live in exile, making them one of the largest groups of exiled journalists in the world. Some of the exiled journalists left as a direct result of political persecution, others because the government’s crackdown virtually erased opportunities in the independent press.

Ambrose Musiyiwa interviewed Conrad Nyamutata, one of the journalists, via email.

How long did you work as a journalist in Zimbabwe?

I worked as journalist for about 10 years. First, for The Herald and then for The Daily News. I was a correspondent for a few other external organisations as well.

While at The Daily News, I was arrested and charged with criminal defamation; threatened by Joseph Chinotimba, the war veterans’ leader; and, our offices and printing presses were bombed.

Fortunately for me, Chinotimba accosted and attacked the wrong person at the Harare Magistrates' Court, thinking it was me.

I have no idea what became of the criminal defamation charge as I was released and told I would be called by way of summons. All this was a result of a perfectly legitimate and accurate series of stories, about [opposition political party] Movement for Democratic Change members suing President Mugabe before a court in the United States.

There were just too many happenings at The Daily News because we crossed swords with the mighty.

How did all this come about?

The Daily News was the first media institution to mount a sustained campaign against Zanu PF leadership. We took the regime head-on and without fear, on a daily basis. Our sales and readership shot up because what we were doing was unprecedented.

And of course we paid the price.

The arrests, I talked about, the beatings and the bombing. And ultimately being shut down. But as staff we remained united. Adversity created firm bonds amongst us; it was like huddling in a corner during a fierce thunderstorm and springing back into action after the storm.

What made you decide to leave the country?

I left Zimbabwe because I didn’t feel safe working in such an environment anymore.

I had just carried out an investigation, which heavily implicated the C.I.O. and the police in the bombing of the M.D.C. offices in Harare a few years back.

The trouble is that, with such a partisan or, to be more precise, complicit police, you could not feel safe or protected at all as a citizen. My informants told me it was time to go. You ignore such intelligence at your own peril.

Are you still working as a journalist?

Today, I work remotely from the media. I work for the British Red Cross' refugee support services in Leicester [in the United Kingdom].

But I must mention that I am exceedingly proud to have worked for The Daily News, which, historically, will always be a landmark in the democratisation project. That project is continuing, and I salute all who are taking it further. Zimbabwe will be free again.

Do you see yourself ever working as a journalist again?

Maybe in the long term.

I see myself back in the communications and media field, but serving the voluntary sector.

You were working on a documentary recently. How did that come about?

A few months ago, I was invited by Safe Media, a new film production company in Leicester, to produce a three-minute documentary. It was to be part of a set of four documentaries produced by refugees and asylum seekers about their own experiences in this country or related themes.

The theme of my documentary embodied a few strands: the general perception of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants by the media, local people and employers. I was challenging the how immigrants or foreign professionals now settled in the U.K. are perceived. I was poking at, not the proverbial glass ceiling, but the "glass wall" that bars such skilled persons from jobs they can perform. It challenges prejudice.

The documentary was naturally premised on my own experiences as a foreign journalist now settled in this country. It is about many other journalists, very good journalists for that matter, from abroad now living here, who have failed to secure employment in the field simply because they are foreign. It is about all skilled migrants denied top jobs in top companies because of prejudice.

I absolutely abhor the sentiment that dirty jobs should be reserved for foreigners or migrants, no matter how skilled or educated they are.

What were the other documentaries about?

One was about the controversial issue of tagging of asylum seekers, and the other was about problems encountered by a refugee/husband in reuniting with his wife. The other was about a musician Ebi, an Iranian asylum seeker. Sigli Ahmed, a Ghanaian, did the one on tagging. Boris, a Serbian did the one about Ebi and Idil (family reunion).

How are refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants perceived by the media, local people and employers in this country?

There is a deliberate misrepresentation of the refugee and asylum seeker by certain section of the local media.

For instance, there were outrageous claims in the past about asylum seekers killing the Queen's birds, the swans, and also false reports that they were eating donkeys. All were found to be untrue.

But even more serious is the wilful blurring of lines between who is an asylum seeker, a refugee, an illegal immigrant or a terrorist. The media seeks to band them together to create confusion and generate animosity against anyone who is foreign.

Why do you think this is happening and what effect is it having?

It's all about the ideological construction of the immigrant by the media. That inevitably results in racism, xenophobia and social exclusion.

Because the immigrant, whatever his status, would have been constructed as unworthy, that exclusion extends to employment; immigrants are then seen as people deserving of the lowly paid jobs. Jobs which local people do not want to do. And yet many foreigners are better educated than some local people.

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.