The Bulls win the lottery

•June 4, 2008 • Leave a Comment

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By MATT MEDVED

Hey Chicago. Long time, no see.

I’ve been MIA for awhile, trying to launch my DJ side career (judge for yourself at my inevitable shameless plug: www.myspace.com/djsicarii). But I’m back, and what a time it is to be back here. The Cubs have the best record in baseball, the Bulls have the number-one draft pick and Cedric Benson is now being as useless off the field as he was on it.

Chicago Wins the Lottery:
I don’t think anyone saw this one coming. With a longshot 1.7% chance of landing the top pick, the Bulls jumped up from a projected 9th selection spot to snag the NBA lottery losers’ most coveted prize. Maybe this nightmare of a season will pay off yet.

Like last year’s Oden-Durant dilemma, the Bulls now have the enviable task of choosing between two star freshman prospects: Kansas State’s Michael Beasley and Memphis’ Derrick Rose. Beasley, a talented power forward, would provide the low post scoring that Chicago has desperately needed as well as size and a consistent double-double presence. Rose has drawn comparisons to fellow point guards Deron Williams and Chris Paul and has leadership intangibles that suggest he could be the better player as he develops further.

Despite being far less flashy than Heat rep Dwayne Wade, Chicago’s VP of business operations Steve Schanwald had the Midas touch. It’s already clear which player the Miami Heat, who landed the second pick despite only winning 15 games last season, desire. The front office has already sent out signals that should the Bills select Rose, they would be open to trading the pick in lieu of snagging Beasley.

It’s a debate that will rage in Chi-Town until June 26th, but I’m already feeling conflicted. My first instinct was to grab Beasley and put Chicago’s low post phantoms to rest. But watching the playoffs, it’s clear how key the position of point guard has become to raising the play of teammates on the court. If you think for a minute that the Hornets and the Jazz would have made it nearly as far as they did without Paul and Williams, you’re kidding yourself. Steve Nash is the lynchpin of the Suns’ high octane offense and the Spurs have relied on Tony Parker plenty of times. Talented point guards do not grow on trees, and now that the Bulls have the chance to select one that new Knicks coach (and eternal betrayer of the Bulls) Mike D’Antoni described as “Jason Kidd with a jump shot,” it’s hard to see them passing Rose up. (Must be hard for D’Antoni to believe he passed up the Bulls job; the Knicks landed the 6th pick). This would leave Hinrich the odd man out. Would Paxson pull a trade trigger?

Then again, the teams that have made it to the conference finals also have big men complementing their point guards. Parker has his Tim Duncan, Rajon Rondo/Sam Cassell have their Kevin Garnett. One concern about Beasley is that his relatively smaller size could keep him from reaching their levels of play, but can the Bulls afford to neglect addressing the position?

Whatever the choice, the undeserving Bulls have landed an equally unexpected bounty that will help put the miserable 2007-2008 season behind them. Now they just need a coach…

Benson Tries to Leave Blunders Behind: When Bears running back Cedric Benson arrived for the team’s first organized team activities, he had to know he would field more questions about his drunken joyride on Lake Travis than the rest of his offseason workouts.

A slimmed down Benson at least said the right things at practice. He said he intended to meet with Bears GM Jerry Angelo and did not take his starting job for granted.

“I would hope I’d have to do something to keep [my job],” Benson said. “Nobody wants to be given anything.”

There’s little chance he will be. The boating incident, during which Benson was pepper-sprayed for allegedly resisting arrest, came only a week after the Bears drafted Tulane’s Matt Forte in the second round. The move should come as a wake-up call for the underachieving former Texas star, who has failed to live up to expectations after the Bears drafted him 4th overall in 2005.

Should be an interesting training camp at running back for the Bears. Lord knows they need some drama alongside the yawnfest that the Grossman-Orton quarterback derby will no doubt prove to be. Just as it was last year. And the year before that.

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Snapshots of Harare: A City on Edge

•April 18, 2008 • 1 Comment

Published in two parts in The Zimbabwean newspaper on April 13, 2008 and April 17, 2008.

By MATT MEDVED

On April 3rd, 2008, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvanigrai declared victory in the Zimbabwean presidential elections. On the same day, I boarded a bus in Johannesburg and barreled through Limpopo with Harare on the horizon.

The first man I encountered outside the Beit Bridge border station moved like a broken toy. He wore a red sweater, frayed and filthy, with rolled up khaki pants that drooped to the square of asphalt he squatted upon. He appeared to have some sort of nerve ailment, twitching his face and contracting his neck involuntarily while rolling a can of Coca-Cola repeatedly along the ground in jerky twiddling motions. He paused in this strange routine only to scratch at the lopsided tuft of hair on his scalp and scan the buses unloading their human cargo, as though waiting for someone, gesticulating to phantom listeners.

A Zanu-PF campaign poster for Robert Mugabe in Harare.

A Zanu-PF campaign poster for Robert Mugabe in Harare. / MATT MEDVED

Harare was also on edge, yet the residents were still rooted in their daily routine. Those whose salaries could outweigh the exorbitant transport costs made their way to work. The children whose teachers were not on strike went to school. The daily churn of life went on, as deliberate and repetitive as the man’s nervous Coke can ritual. But Harare was also anticipating the arrival of something, though the residents seemed unsure of what form it would come in. A Morgan Tsvangirai victory and an end to the 28-year reign ofPresident Robert Mugabe? Or another rigged election, the most blatant one yet by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party? Harare, too, was scanning the crowds with an ear to the cold asphalt. Harare was waiting with bated breath.

* * * *

On the afternoon of April 4th, I am met at the bus station on the corner of Robert Mugabe and 5th street by my friend David Matongo, a Harare resident who has offered to host and drive me around the city during my stay. It is a searing hot day in Harare’s bustling streets, which are still dotted with election posters five days after the vote. Currency dealers hawk huge wads of Zimbabwean currency, hoping for Euros and US dollars in exchange. There is also a heavy police presence, with large groups of officers in light blue uniforms and riot gear making their rounds. But news has just broken of a possible runoff vote that morning and Harare seems abuzz with excitement.

“There should not be more than 21 days before the rerun,” says Matongo, as he kicks his truck into gear.

“Delays can only mean that he is rigging the election.”

We drive down a heavily guarded street in Borrowdale, Brook, past the looming white gates of Mugabe’s personal 30-bedroom mansion. Guards with submachine guns stand alongside signs stating that the street is closed from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am. Matongo tells me that whenever Mugabe drives anywhere, the security guards shut down traffic on the entire street until his convoy passes. By the same token, if Mugabe travels by air, via the national airline Air Zimbabwe, the route must shift to accommodate his stop before continuing to its previous destination.

Turning back towards the heart of downtown, we find ourselves caught in a traffic conundrum. The traffic light does not appear to be working, resulting in multiple cars crowding the intersections in a free for all.

“They ignore the laws because at times there is no power,” says Matongo.

“But you can see people are excited.”

We pass empty petrol filling stations where the advertised prices have been left blank because they change daily with the inflation and limited availability. Matongo says that government officials are given preferential deals on petrol, creating a shortage. He says he never lets his tank fall below a quarter full because he is not always sure where he will be able to fill it up next.

“You have to get things through connections. I must keep an ear on the ground and know what is happening here,” says Matongo.

“Some can afford petrol but for others the cost of transportation alone is higher than their salaries. You cannot tell people when you plan on meeting them anymore if you don’t have your own car.”

Empty shelves at a Harare Spar supermarket.

Empty shelves at a Harare Spar supermarket. / MATT MEDVED

Passing an abandoned roadblock and a rock with “Vote MDC” scrawled in red paint, the next stop is a local Spar supermarket. The prices reflect the abject state of Zimbabwe’s economy. Z$75 million for toothpaste. Z$40 million for Zambezi, the local beer. Half the shelves are empty and the supermarket is sold out of meat products. Instead, Matongo says, people have taken to using dried soy and fish to replace beef in their diets.

As we leave the Spar, Matongo’s wife Laura is just entering.

“There are no vegetables, there is nothing,” she says to me, laughing.

“You have to eat grass here.”

* * * *

The house of Gibson Tandare is well guarded. It takes almost five minutes for him to unlock the doors, barbed and electric wire gate and hush his barking security dog before inviting us in.

Tandare, a friend of Matongo’s, is a schoolteacher who ran one of the urban polling stations in the past weekend’s elections. Although his modest home looks respectable, Matongo informs me that schoolteachers are now the lowest-paid civil servants in the country.

“After independence in 1980, schoolteachers could afford to buy houses here,” he says.

“Now they can’t even afford 10 litres of fuel on their salaries.”

Tandare describes the results at his polling station as “overwhelmingly” in favor of Tsvangirai. While he did not personally witness any irregularities at his own station, he says there have been multiple reports of voter intimidation over the weekend. Many civil servants voted for Mugabe out of fear of being removed from their posts or relocated to the rural areas.

“My brother-in-law is an educated man,” says Tandare.

“But when he came to vote, the policemen at the polls told him he was illiterate and so they would have to accompany him to vote. He told me he was scared so he had to vote for Mugabe. There is no arguing with them.”

* * * *

We stop at a one-room bar that looks like it may have once been used as a storage garage. The walls have been colorfully painted with advertisements for drinks, condoms and cigarettes. At least thirty-five men lounge in the torn up couches, passing around brown plastic jugs of a rice and corn beer called Chibuku and playing draughts, a game similar to checkers, with bottle caps on a scratched up board. A television hangs above the crowd enclosed in a barred metal cage, displaying the national channel ZTV, which cheerfully alternates between cartoons and a speech by Mugabe.

They are eager to discuss the unreleased election results. The general consensus seems to be a mixture of excitement and uncertainty about the future.

Movement for Democratic Change campaign posters for Morgan Tsvangirai in Harare.

Movement for Democratic Change campaign posters for Morgan Tsvangirai in Harare. / MATT MEDVED

One of Matongo’s friends tells me that he believes it will be more difficult for Mugabe to rig this election because the votes are counted at the polling stations now, unlike in 2002 when army trucks would pick up the boxes and count them at an undisclosed location.

Another man says he thinks the delay in reporting the election results can only mean that Tsvangirai has won. He is adamant that Mugabe will not dare take part in a runoff vote.

“If he tries to run again, he will be humiliated,” he says, taking a gulp from his cup of Chibuku and passing it to me.

“He will lose and he will be embarrassed.”

Matongo agrees with him, on the condition that the runoff election is administered fairly.

“There are many people who did not vote in the elections because they did not think Tsvangirai had a chance, they thought Mugabe would just rig it again,” says Matongo.

“So these people will now turn out, and you must add in the people who voted for Simba Makoni. If he does not rig it, Mugabe cannot win.”

* * * *

The Matongos are fairly well off by Zimbabwean standards. Both he and his wife have decent jobs and although their family is large, they can afford food, a computer and DSTV, which allows them access to international media like BBC World.

But even their home does not have running water. Matongo shows me how they use the bathtub as a reservoir on the rare occasions that water does flow and how they store it in separate buckets for drinking and washing. The used bathwater is then conserved to flush the toilet with.

But they do have electricity, unlike some of the other Harare suburbs that have been without power for over three months. One of the men in the bar told me he had grown accustomed to using candles and had not even bothered to call about the service failures because he “knew nothing would get fixed.”

The Matongos have multiple children, including a young infant and Laura is very concerned about the quality of their education.

“The teachers are still on strike and the private schools are full,” she says.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do come the 29th of April, when school is back in session.”

The Matongos have not always lived in this house. She tells me that they once had a farm of their own that was taken away from them after a government minister expressed interest in it.

“I used to keep 2,000 chickens there,” she says, wistfully.

“We were given one week’s warning. We had to leave everything behind.”

* * * *

“There is something I want to show you.”

Matongo parks next to the Chitungwiza General Hospital outside of Harare an hour or so after the sun has set. Each ward inside is divided into seven sections, each of which is cluttered with six or seven beds. The hospital is at full occupancy and the families of many of the patients are gathered at their bedsides, holding hands and sharing prayers in Shona and Ndebele. Cardboard signs reading “God Heals” and wilted flowers are the only personal touches added to the stark ward walls.

“It is usually even more crowded and people have to sleep on the floor,” says Matongo.

A frail yet young-looking woman huddles underneath a blanket and reads the Book of Matthew. She says she was picked up a week ago after she was found with open wounds on her legs, which flies were eating at. However, she says she has still not received treatment.

Another woman lies very still on an adjacent bed. Matongo speaks to her and punches a number into his cellular phone.

“I am calling one of her relatives for her,” he says, shaking his head.

“They told her that tomorrow, even in the condition she is in, they will take her bed and make her sleep on the floor if she does not leave.”

Suddenly, the power flashes out, leaving the ward in eerie pitch darkness. After a moment, the luminescent squares of peoples’ cell phones appear and the room is filled with hushed chatter. I follow Matongo to a nurse’s table, where he uses his cell phone to help illuminate the patient files she had been going through.

“She says they cannot afford candles,” he says, a look of disgust seizing his face.

“There is no secondary generator. This happens frequently.”

As I follow him down the shadowed hallway back to the exit, Matongo’s anger is palpable.

“They are saying to her ‘you must go home and die’ because they can’t treat her anymore,” he says. “You saw the state she was in.”

“What about the patients in surgery?” I ask. “Or childbirth?”

Matongo opens the exit door, revealing a brilliant star rich sky. The smoky tendrils of the Milky Way Galaxy are visible behind the clusters of bright pinpoints, a sky that should never be seen above a city, let alone a nation’s capital. Matongo sighs and shrugs, looking helpless in the moonlight.

“Tough luck.”

Note:

Federal and local government representatives did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

All names have been either changed or omitted for the protection of the individuals involved.

All pictures by Matt Medved.

Zimbabwean refugee journalist’s take on Zim election eve

•March 29, 2008 • Leave a Comment

By MATT MEDVED

On the eve of the Zimbabwean general election, Frank Gundz is restless.

Pacing the floor of a near empty newsroom in Cape Town, South Africa, the 26-year-old Zimbabwean ex-patriate gulps from a bottle of Windhoek beer. His eyes dart over yet another headline about President Robert Mugabe, accompanied by a picture of him laughing with his wife Grace. He sighs and takes another swig.

“My wish for tomorrow is for Mugabe to go,” Gundz says. “If he goes then certainly we can map out our own future as a nation. He has put everyone in prison, he has hijacked my nation. Zimbabweans are living in a jail cell of their own every single day.”

Mugabe is attempting to win his sixth term as President since ascending to the nation’s helm in 1980.

But Zimbabwe currently has the world’s highest inflation rate of over 100,000% and a meager one-in-five adult employment rate.

Additionally, Mugabe faces two opponents this time around. Long-time opponent Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is also in contention with newcomer Simba Makoni, an ex-finance minister in Mugabe’s Zanu-PF now running as an independent.

Tsvangirai has claimed to have won 67% of the vote 24 hours after the polls closed, a victory claim that a Zanu-PF spokesman denied and likened to a “coup de’tat.” But Gundz is skeptical even about the intentions of Mugabe’s challengers.

“The MDC is also corrupt,” Gundz says. “Everyone is excited about change but they overlook the fact that the MDC could easily become what Zanu-PF is, like a little pup becoming a lion if we’re not careful. If Makoni is true, then perhaps he can be a source of change. But I don’t believe in him. I don’t believe in any politicians unless they deliver.”

The same questions of ghost voters and ballot stuffing that have plagued past elections still surround the current one. The delays in releasing the election results have done nothing to dispel Zimbabweans’ fears of another stolen vote. The MDC has previously charged that the vote will be rigged, which Mugabe’s government has denied.

Gundz did not vote in the 2003 polls because he believed the election to be a joke. When asked about the legitimacy of this year’s vote, he rolls his eyes and arches his eyebrows.

“What do you think? We have to face the fact that Mugabe is going to win tomorrow no matter what,” Gundz says. “But tomorrow I think is the beginning of a new era where we have to face reality. We are going to be like Ground Zero from tomorrow onwards if he wins. Every man should stand up. Politicians can’t free the world, but they can put the world in prison.”

Gundz knows from experience. He was detained a year ago by Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) for documenting the forced removal of slum dwellers as part of Mugabe’s Operation Murambatsvina (Operation Drive Out Trash). He was tortured for more than 24 hours before he was finally released, conditional on his continued cooperation with the CIO.

But Gundz realized he could not follow through on his extorted promise. He decided to leave behind his girlfriend, his nearly completed university studies and his family for a shot at freedom.

“How could I spy on my own people who are dying of hunger?” Gundz asks. “We have kids with dreams in Zimbabwe. Look at all those dreams that went down the drain. The youth of Zimbabwe are frustrated, they are disillusioned.”

Gundz crossed the border into South Africa in June, posing as a bus conductor.

“It was a choice that I made,” Gundz says. “I’m young, I do not have a family and journalism is more than a job for me. It is a calling. Sooner or later someone may get me down and say ‘we must kill this one man.’ But I am not afraid.”

Gundz managed to make it to Cape Town, where he spent weeks sleeping on the streets while trying to get his working papers from Home Affairs. Since obtaining them, he has been covering the plights of fellow refugees for the Cape Argus newspaper there.

“I feel like I’ve let a lot of the guys on the frontline down,” Gundz says, idly tearing the newspaper across Mugabe’s bespectacled features. “I’m here writing my refugee stories and I feel like I should be there. I feel I have a burden on my shoulder. But I am representing the guys suffering here in South Africa. I write about the Zimbabweans and the Congolese, the black South Africans who are refugees in their own country. If I don’t help speak for the voiceless than who will?”

Gundz says he still believes he will one day see Zimbabwe again, although the current administration would “arrest him on the spot.” He finishes ripping Mugabe’s face out of the paper and crumples it in his hands.

“This thing is eating up at me,” he says. “The probability is high that he’ll be President again and we’ll have the slow genocide of millions of Zimbabweans for the next five years with people living in airtight cages of poverty and dying of HIV/AIDS.”

Gundz has finished his beer, which he sets down on a desk with a clang. He closes his dark eyes and leans back in a chair. When he reopens them, bloodshot and blinking, he appears wearier than before.

“I’ve grown to believe in civil disobedience and constructive violence,” he says. “My hope is that there will be high drama if Mugabe is ‘reelected’. There are going to be a lot of hungry people.”

“And the hungry man,” Gundz finishes, tossing the shredded picture of Mugabe into a nearby trash basket. “Is an angry man.”

Note: The subject’s name has been changed for his protection.

Roy G Biv: Radiohead’s latest is stellar and, literally, priceless

•October 18, 2007 • Leave a Comment

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By MATT MEDVED

October 1. With no advance warning other than a few cryptic updates to their “Dead Air Space” blog, the Radiohead Web site was replaced with a choppy Technicolor page. It informed the reader that the band, sans record label, had finished a double album called In Rainbows, and that the first disc would be exclusively available in ten days from their Web site.

The shocker? The “pay what you wish” download marketing model, which sent an electric charge through the hordes of Radiohead faithful starving for the band’s first album in four years – and a collective shiver down the spines of music industry bigwigs across the globe.

October 10. After generating an enormous amount of buzz in over a week – with rumors of Nine Inch Nails and Oasis following their DIY distribution example, causing some straining ears to swear they could hear the record industry’s funeral knell – the album finally dropped shortly before 12:30 am CST.

The message boards on the Green Plastic Radiohead fansite immediately crashed from the traffic as fans worldwide hit play. Gigwise.com reported that Radiohead had sold 1.2 million copies of In Rainbows by Oct. 11. An online market survey found that the estimated average price paid for In Rainbows was £4 ($9.10). I paid £2.50, but it’s certain there are plenty of heavyspenders and freeloaders to pad each extreme.

In any case, it all adds up to over $10 million going directly into Radiohead’s pockets within 34 hours of the launch, lending immediate legitimacy to their novel approach.

Whether In Rainbows has irreparably changed music remains to be seen, but it is evident from the onset that it is a departure from the conceptual classics of OK Computer, Kid A and Hail to the Thief. Radiohead albums take time to digest. They require repeated listens to carefully settle into cerebrums, and even after 17 listens I’m still hesitant to write anything in stone.

With the exception of the chugging “Bodysnatchers,” In Rainbows is a softer and more stripped down album than its predecessors with an emphasis on atmosphere, ethereal vocals and subtler guitars.

“15 Step” opens the album with a schizophrenic 5/4 dance beat while “Nude,” a haunting gem from the 1997 OK Computer sessions, is Radiohead’s most beautiful track since “Motion Picture Soundtrack” and “True Love Waits.” The brooding “All I Need” is another standout track with dissonant synthesizers over a stark bare bones drumbeat.

“Faust Arp” is a short stream-of-consciousness beat poem against sweeping strings in the vein of “A Wolf at the Door” that leads into the powerful “Reckoner.” But the highlight of the album may be the eclectic “Jigsaw Falling into Place” which builds to a crescendo before the post-mortem piano ballad “Videotape” closes out the album in brilliant fashion.

In Rainbows may lack the cohesive chemistry of previous Radiohead releases, but it is, rather simply, an assortment of very good songs that should satiate the fanbase until the discbox orders arrive in December. The songs discretely worm their way into the listener’s psyche – a Radiohead trademark – and should ensure that In Rainbows is regarded as approaching their lofty level and remains on international play lists in the foreseeable future.

Life is tough for the broken kids of Long Street

•September 16, 2007 • Leave a Comment

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By MATT MEDVEDpage_7967783

Weaving through the gaps in the constant stream of tourists that walk down Long Street, Lwando “Popeye” Nwalpo is on autopilot.

With 10 of his 17 years spent scrounging on the Cape Town streets, Nwalpo has the routine down to an art form. His frame, small for his age, is draped in a ragged beige coat from which his large smile protrudes. He flags down a passing couple with a thumbs-up gesture and a checkerboard grin. A brief chat rewards him with a R2 coin.

“When approaching people, I usually start with geography,” says Nwalpo.

“I ask, ‘where are you from?’ I try to be honest.”

Nwalpo says he learned the approach from other children and adults he met on the streets. He had to learn quickly after travelling cross-country from Soweto in 1997 with his mother, drawn by the promise of a job and a place to stay with a family friend.

But the promise fell through. Nwalpo’s mother began working as a parking guard on Kloof Street, the intersecting avenue with Long that has become both where the family works and sleeps. Nwalpo says they have been saving for bus fare back to Johannesburg since a cardboard box became their bed.

“Too old,” says Nwalpo when asked his mother’s age. “She relies on me now.”

On an average day, Nwalpo wakes up between 10am and noon and roams the street begging until midnight, though he stays out later on weekends.

He says the nights are the most lucrative because of the active nightlife, and on a good night he will take in as much as R80. But nights vary, and on this particular night he claims he has only been able to wangle the R2 from the couple earlier.

He usually confines his activities to Long Street and its immediate area because other areas are governed by unwritten turf rules.

“Long Street is anyone’s game,” he says.

“But in other areas I have been threatened by street kid gangs. I don’t want any trouble, I don’t fight.”

Besides rival factions, Long Street children must also brave freeloading security guards. Nwalpo says many demand “taxes” of R2 or R4 and threaten to kick them off the streets if they do not comply.

“I don’t pay the security guards, though a lot of the other kids do,” says Nwalpo, glaring at the guard by the door of the Long Street Superette.

“I work hard for my money.”

The Long Street security guards have a different take on their interactions with the street children.

“We are supposed to chase them away but it’s hard to do it every day,” says a security guard who has been assigned to Long Street for two months.

“We usually just let them do what they do.”

He says sometimes preventing street children from pestering pedestrians for “small change” is in their best interests.

“Sometimes they hassle the passers-by and people don’t like it,” he says.

“They are going to get hurt if they keep doing it. By chasing them off, we’re protecting them.”

He also denies ever taking money from the children and glares at Nwalpo, who remains silent.

As we leave the superette, a snaggletooth man with a scarred face approaches us and tries to hustle me for money.

When I refuse, he kicks at my feet and curses at Nwalpo, who tries to duck behind me.

Nwalpo is shaking as the man turns back up the street.

“That man tried to fight me once, but I refused and he bit me,” says Nwalpo, showing me a scar on his left index finger.

“He does tik and he is always trying to get money from the kids on the street, though he hasn’t been here long.”

Nwalpo says he has never engaged in drug use, but that “many kids” do. He points towards the crumpled figure of a boy lying on a corner clutching a plastic bag. “He is doing glue,” Nwalpo says.

“It is common on the streets. I see others doing drugs but I’ve never tried.”

Patric Solomons, the director of child rights organisation Molo Songololo, says “a large percentage” of street children are substance abusers.

“On some level they create the illusion they are providing protection for the children, but they are usually manipulating them. Gangs will also often try and recruit them to push or courier drugs or to carry out thefts and break-ins for them.”

Solomons confirmed that street children often organise themselves in their own gangs and compete with other street children for panhandling turf.

“Street children also experience quite severe levels of violence – both by police officers and security companies who are trying to the keep the city clean.”

Solomons says when street children begin to outgrow their cuteness and handouts decline, they often turn to crime. Lacking education and vocational skills, crime becomes their only means of income. Prostitution is a common business for homeless females, while males frequently find themselves in gangs and drug rings.

Dylan Okkers, a 25-year-old parking guard, found this doomsday forecast to be all too true.

Okkers fled his Elsies River home at age 15 after getting sucked into a gang war raging between the Dixie Boys and Americans.

“I had become a small gangster for the Dixie Boys, stabbing and shooting at Americans,” Okkers says.

“It was much better on the streets; I no longer had to carry a gun.”

Fending for himself on the CBD streets, Okkers began sniffing glue and performing services for members of the notorious 28s prison gang.

“They were using us to beg and rob for them, we’d meet them on the street corner and they would tell us what to do,” Okkers says.

“They didn’t give us anything in return. They would beat us up if we refused.”

Okkers was arrested for stealing a woman’s bag and sentenced to three-and-a-half years, which he served in Pollsmoor, Victor Verster and Helderstroom prisons. While inside, Okkers became heavily involved in gang activity and rose through the ranks of the 28s.

Since his release, Okkers has tried to put his gangster past behind him

“I don’t ever want to go back to prison, so I’m using my brain to get by now by parking cars,” Okkers says, fingering the XXVIII tattoo on his wrist.

Victoria Falls’ misery reflects Zimbabwe’s fall

•August 31, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Original Permalink

Tobias / MATT MEDVED

"Tobias" works as an elephant trainer in Victoria Falls and has to cross the border into Zambia regularly to purchase food for his family. / MATT MEDVED

Street traders battle for survival in the tourist town holidaymakers no longer visit, writes Matt Medved
August 31, 2007 Edition 1

For decades, Beit Bridge, over the Limpopo, was the gateway into Zimbabwe and Africa. Today, desperate Zimbabweans cross it, daily, heading south in search of food and work. A similar situation now exists at Zimbabwe’s border with Zambia.

“The next time I catch you taking pictures here …”

The Zimbabwean border guard did not need to finish his sentence; the glare he fixed on me as he fingered his AK-47 spoke volumes.

As he left the side of my bus, I scrolled past the pictures of my face that I had taken to reveal the border photographs I had hidden from the guard.

Anticipating that I would raise the ire of some authority while snapping shots of the Livingstone-Victoria Falls border, I had turned the lens on myself to create a buffer between the series of pictures.

As expected, the gruff guard halted my bus before the border station and approached me, shaking his head and pointing at my camera.

“You have to delete those photos,” he barked.

“All of them.”

I cheerfully complied and deleted the five pictures I had taken since my self-portraits.

When my smiling face graced the LCD camera screen, I grinned at the guard.

“The rest are just of me,” I said. “I’m a bit of a narcissist.”

With a humourless grunt, the guard delivered his warning and waved us through. My fellow passengers seemed to heave a collective sigh and I felt numerous stares and glares boring into my back. Troublemakers were not taken lightly here.

The border between Zambia and Zimbabwe was a vast outdoor waiting room in the sweltering heat. Bags of food were used as impromptu chairs by the sea of residents waiting to be processed.

Inside the border station, a framed portrait of President Robert Mugabe loomed over the long queues of people at the Immigration and Customs desks.

The last time I had crossed the border was on foot, in June, exposing me to the hustling of the street vendors who patrolled the road into Victoria Falls.

Although their dogged persistence was similar to their counterparts I had encountered in South Africa and Mozambique, their asking prices differed dramatically.

“I like your shoes man,” a trader in a ragged T-shirt told me, hoisting an ornate carving of a giraffe that would have fetched at least R300 in a gift shop.

“How about we trade? Sculpture for shoes?”

I laughed, but when I looked down at my filthy sneakers I saw that the trader was barefoot. It was no joke.

Another trader tried to convince me to give him the T-shirt off my back in exchange for a set of painted bowls. Their eyes harboured a desperate look I had only seen before on beggars’ faces.

The town of Victoria Falls was reminiscent of an amusement park in the winter. It contained all the trappings of tourism, despite being practically devoid of tourists.

The vast Kingdom Hotel sprawled by the town’s entrance, a garish facility complete with a casino, shopping centre and sculptures of Ndebele-Zulu warriors guarding the fountain in the front. A plaque outside read that The Kingdom was opened by “His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe” on August 6, 1999.

Almost exactly eight years later, the grounds were completely deserted. The bright array of slot machines inside stood unoccupied below an electronic display screaming of a possible jackpot.

Despite being elegantly set, the tables at the hotel restaurant were empty.

The town streets were sandy and dotted with warthogs, beggars and children. In June, a tiny boy covered in dust followed one of my companions for no less than 10 minutes begging for a handout. By the end of the encounter, he was not even asking for change anymore.

“Some jacket,” he said, gesturing towards the windbreaker my companion was holding, as if it could be broken into pieces and distributed.

“Please, just some jacket.”

The bus chugged on, passing a supermarket I had entered in June. At that time, the supermarket was fairly empty and the customers were mainly white.

The prices were self-explanatory. A box of cornflakes was priced at Z$198 000, while a one-litre Coke bottle was marked at Z$55 000.

According to a Victoria Falls resident whom I will call “Tobias” for his protection, that supermarket is now practically barren.

He said many other stores have followed suit since Mugabe ordered the prices of all basic goods to be cut in half in late June to battle inflation. The price cuts have made it impossible for store owners to make a profit on affected goods, including bread, salt and milk so many have stopped stocking their shelves altogether.

Born in Harare, Tobias left for Victoria Falls three years ago to work as an elephant trainer, ferrying tourists on elephant through the depleted wildlife of Victoria Falls that has suffered rampant poaching.

Tobias works from 6.30am to 6pm before making a daily trek into Livingstone, Zambia to purchase food for himself and his family.

“The trip is very difficult because of the $20 US it costs to cross the border and the time,” said Tobias.

“But in the supermarkets in Zimbabwe there is nothing. There are just shelves.”

A passport is required in addition to the fee, and Tobias said it takes between six and eight months to be issued one, assuming the passport office is not closed due to a lack of funds.

Tobias shook his head grimly and said he was the only member of his family that owned a passport, which makes him the only one keeping them from going hungry.

“We are suffering here,” Tobias said.

“No one will take our currency in Zambia and it is so expensive. But how else can we eat?”

SABC investigates Ncube smear report

•August 17, 2007 • Leave a Comment

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By MATT MEDVED

The SABC is investigating a report that alleges a relative of Robert Mugabe, who works as a correspondent for the broadcaster, used his SABC credentials to set up a sting interview with prominent Mugabe critic Archbishop Pius Ncube, which was made to look as if he had acknowledged having an affair.

The report, printed on Thursday in the independent newspaper The Zimbabwean, claimed the SABC was implicated in the sting when its correspondent Supa Mandiwanzira conducted an interview with Ncube.

A Cape Argus source on Thursday confirmed that Mandiwanzira is the nephew of Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace.

It is alleged Mandiwanzira later misrepresented one of his statements to implicate the archbishop in an adulterous affair with Rosemary Sibanda, a married woman who used to work as a secretary in the Archbishop’s office.

According to The Zimbabwean, sources alleged Mandiwanzira was privy to the plot and was instructed by upper level officials in Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) to arrange the interview using his status as an SABC correspondent.

It also reported Mandiwanzira was at the centre of a row in 2003 when he was hired to cover Zimbabwe by the SABC.

At the time, the Democratic Alliance said: “Our information on Mandiwanzira is that he is the nephew of Grace Mugabe and that he was given the farm Lang Glen in Mashonaland as part of the land grabs.”

SABC news and current affairs managing director Snuki Zikalala said on Thursday he was unaware of the allegations and would investigate the matter immediately.

“We are hearing this for the first time,” said Zikalala. “If there is any truth in what has been said then we will take the appropriate action.”

The Zimbabwean reported that Ncube, who has refused to grant interviews to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) in the past, citing a bias against those who criticise Mugabe’s regime, only agreed to the interview after he was told Mandiwanzira was the SABC correspondent for Zimbabwe.

Mandiwanzira, who previously worked for the ZBC, allegedly then provided SABC jackets to cameramen from Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH).

Mandiwanzira allegedly set up the operation with ZBH editor-in-chief Tazzen Mandizvidza and Twenty Four Seven station head Happirson Muchechetere.

According to the newspaper, the Harare-based broadcast journalists then allegedly approached and interviewed Ncube, under the guise of being from the SABC.

A journalist who was present at the interview said one of the initial questions put to Ncube was what he thought about Catholic bishops in the US who had broken their vows of celibacy, to which Ncube replied: “Everybody is a sinner, there is nobody who does not sin.”

The statement was allegedly later broadcast to appear as if Ncube had been responding to a question on whether he had engaged in an adulterous relationship with Sibanda.

Zikalala said Mandiwanzira was not a fulltime SABC employee, but owned an agency from which the SABC commissioned stories on a daily basis.

Zikalala also said he was not aware of the report that Mandiwanzira was a relative of Mugabe and that the SABC had plans to open its own agency in Zimbabwe.

According to The Zimbabwean, the country’s state radio reported that Ncube is currently facing a Z$20 billion (about R1,12-million) lawsuit filed by Sibanda’s husband Onesimus.

Ncube’s attorney Nick Matonzi reportedly said it was “some kind of orchestrated attempt to embarrass the archbishop”, who he said would deny the allegations in court.

The Cape Argus was unable to contact Mandiwanzira at the time of going to press.

The Zimbabwean also reported that, in 2002, Mandiwanzira produced a documentary on the sting operation launched by the CIO and Canadian-based Ari-Ben Menashe in which they attempted to implicate MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai on treason charges. After a lengthy trial, Tsvangirai was cleared of the charges.