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Workshop and meetings with secret police

February 2, 2020

Workshop and meetings with secret police

Like a frog with a cigarette in its mouth that slowly blows up from sucking the smoke while gasping for air, such is the way you get used to intimidation, being followed and overheard. First time you notice someone is listening in on your phone conversation, it’s weird. But you adapt. Same goes for sending emails or having meetings. We worked a lot with district administrations, so from a certain point in time it became normal so see one of the participants that you didn´t recognize, didn’t say anything and didn’t partake in any personal introductions. At times they also wore dark sunglasses indoors. Restaurants and coffee bars popular with foreigners were no different. There would always be someone sitting strategically reading his paper and drinking coffee for far too long. Either his coffee was incredibly hot or he lived there. After a while, it becomes easy to pick “them” out from the crowd. During workshops the slightest innocent mistake could be misinterpreted. Like when we had someone over from MDP (Municipal Development Programme), an acronym that the audience thought sounded suspiciously like MDC (Movement for Democratic Change), the opposition party. It took some explaining that although sharing two letters in the acronym, these were very different things. The word “Change” was also off limits, since it could indicate you wanted something to change. What needs to be changed? The government? The system? Careful there! A better word was improvement, since it assumes you are already doing great and want to do even better.

 

 

Most people are just that, people, who try to survive and adapt and do what is necessary to not get noticed by the dictatorial regime. For me it created a paradox, one where you know the work you are doing (improving service delivery in districts and municipalities, making people better at planning), also contributed to using those very same skills for very different and unhealthy purposes. Such as planning how to get rid of the opposition in a district in the most cost effective manner.

Staying non-political becomes very hard when it is either working with the system or if you don’t, the system assumes you’re against it.

Our national director was invited to a barbecue at Mugabe´s house. He was stressed about it. Going meant you support what was going on. Not going implied you put up your middle finger to the regime. He ended up going. In meetings we took part in, where all NGOs and civil society organizations were “invited” by the provincial government, the feeling from the other NGOs was that SNV was getting on the friendly side of the Zanu-PF.

 

 

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