“Bond notes” and the law: A further thought

Posted in Life & Law, Zimbabwe on May 12, 2016 by fadzayimahere

trill

Following the proposal by the Reserve Bank Governor, Dr John Mangudya, to introduce “bond notes” to operate “alongside” the multi-currency system currently in force in Zimbabwe, various legal experts have suggested that a legal framework may exist in terms of which the “bond notes” may be introduced.

I remain of the respectful view that the proposed introduction of “bond notes” by the Governor breaches the provisions of section 68 of the Constitution which requires the Governor, as an administrative authority, inter alia, to act lawfully, reasonably and in a fair manner. I have maintained that, currently, there appears not to exist a legal framework within which the “bond notes” will operate. Their introduction in my humble view would be accordingly unlawful.

The legal experts who have suggested a legal framework exists have relied on the provisions of Part VI of the Public Finance Management Act, the possible applicability of which I have discussed in a previous piece. In sum, I have argued that it is not lawful to introduce “bond notes” as envisaged by the Governor by the expedient of that Act. Its provisions to not contemplate what the Governor proposes to do through the introduction of fictitious “bond note” money.

Regrettably, Part VI of the Public Finance Management Act has in fact been repealed. It is no longer part of our statute books. Section 39(c) of the Public Debt Management Act [Chapter 22:21] repeals the whole of Part VI of the Public Finance Management Act. It follows, as observed by another legal expert, that the entire Public Finance Management Act argument does not arise.

It begs no mention that repealed law is no law at all. The law does not permit an administrative authority to purport to exercise a power arising from a law that no longer exists.

That said, it appears that no competent legal basis has yet been found upon which the Governor can rely upon to lawfully introduce bond notes as he proposes to do.

(C) Fadzayi Mahere. Not to be reproduced without the author’s prior permission.

“Bond notes” and the law: A response to Tawanda Nyambirai

Posted in Uncategorized on May 10, 2016 by fadzayimahere
A Zimbabwean street vendor sorts new coins in front of a bank in Harare, December 18, 2014. Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya introduced the new "bond coins" in December 2014. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

A Zimbabwean street vendor sorts new coins in front of a bank in Harare, December 18, 2014. Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya introduced the new “bond coins” in December 2014. (c)REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

The Nyambirai Argument

On the 8th of May 2016, Mr Tawanda Nyambirai, a respected banker and lawyer, proffered a view on the legality of the “bond notes” that the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Dr John Mangudya, has said (in a press statement) he intends to inject into the market in the near future. A copy of Mr Nyambirai’s opinion may be found here.

As a concerned citizen who stands to be affected by the recent announcements of the Governor, one is following the plans of the Reserve Bank closely. One would hate to be caught off-guard as most Zimbabweans were in 2008 when, among other Reserve Bank measures, foreign currency deposits held in commercial banks were unilaterally taken by the Reserve Bank on the back of a hazy and unlawful justification that was later to be impugned by the Supreme Court in the case of Standard Chartered Bank Zimbabwe Limited v China Shougang International. Exercising my mind without rest since the announcement was made is the question of whether Dr Mangudya’s plans are lawful. I have already, in a previous piece, opined broadly on this question. I am of the humble view that the proposed introduction of bond notes by the Governor breaches the provisions of section 68 of the Constitution which requires the Governor, as an administrative authority, inter alia to act lawfully, reasonably and in a fair manner.

In this piece, I seek to respectfully disagree with aspects of what I will term “the Nyambirai argument”.

Ripeness

My first point of departure with Mr Nyambirai’s argument is his contention that because the bond notes have note yet been issued, the question of the lawfulness of the Governor’s plans does not yet arise. The starting point here is section 85 of the Constitution which permits a litigant to approach a court alleging that a fundamental right or freedom is likely to be infringed. It is established even under the common law that a well-grounded threat of harm can constitute a basis upon which a court can prohibit an unlawful course of conduct, even before it has taken place (subject of course to all the requirements of an interdict being met). In short, a litigant does not need to wait until the horse has bolted in order to seek the interference of the court against an infringement of their right to administrative justice under the Constitution.

Additionally, it can be safely stated that the proposed issuance of bond notes is at an advanced stage. The Governor asserted at paragraph 13 of his Press Statement of the 4th of May 2016 that the Afreximbank facility which will “back” (whatever that means) the issue of the bond notes has already been established. The Governor has also set out in detail how the “bond notes” will operate. For instance, we know that the “bond notes” will be at par with the US dollar and will be in denominations of $2; $5; $10 and $20 and will. Crucially, according to the Governor, the bond notes “shall” (the wording here is peremptory) operate alongside the currencies within the multi-currency system. This means that there is a real risk and possibility that the use of the bond note will be foisted upon the transacting public and given to us in exchange for our hard currency, i.e. the United States dollar. Why should one take monopoly money (with respect) in exchange of real money? Why should one have to wait until the acquisition has taken place to approach the court?

The Governor is past the consultation and development stage – the introduction of “bond notes” can safely be described as a fait accompli in the mind of the Governor when one reads the press statement. In the circumstances, all the ingredients that would at law or in a court establish a well-grounded threat of harm and a likelihood that our rights to administrative justice under section 68 of the Constitutional exist – particularly the right to conduct by the Governor that is lawful, reasonable and both procedurally and substantively fair.

It bears mention that the strict legal argument aside, there can be no harm in the populace debating the legality of proposed administrative conduct. One does not have to wait until an illegality is in fact committed before asking questions as to the legal effect of a plan communicated by an administrative authority, in writing, is. Accountability and civic education in fact demand this.

Lawfulness – The applicability of the Public Finance Management Act [Cap 22:19]

In my earlier article, I took issue with the non-existence of a legal basis for the issuance of bonds notes by the Reserve Bank and/or the Governor. Section 68 of the Constitution requires that all administrative conduct be lawful. I remain of the respectful view that the Reserve Bank Act does not empower the Governor to issue “bond notes”. The measures that the Governor is empowered to take to address cash shortages are carefully delineated under section 42B of the Reserve Bank Act. These measures do not include a power to issue “bond notes.”

The question that then arises is: does another lawful basis exist? Mr Nyambirai suggests that a basis can be found under the Public Finance Management Act. I respectfully differ with Mr Nyambirai that the Public Finance Management Act has any application to the Governor’s plans to introduce “bond notes”. I am fortified in my view by the fact that the Governor has no powers whatsoever in terms of the Public Finance Management Act – to do anything. The administrative authority responsible for administering the Public Finance Management Act is the Minister of Finance. Accordingly, it follows that the Governor cannot purport to be doing or implementing anything under this Act. Nowhere in his press statement has he purported to speak on behalf of the Minister of Finance – he would have no authority to do so. The law does not authorise him to do so. To the extent that the Governor thus purports to exercise a function in terms of the Public Finance Management Act, he is in breach of his duty to act lawfully under section 68 of the Constitution. Any purported issuance of bond notes by the Governor  in terms of the Public Finance Management Act would be, in my respectful view, invalid on this simple basis.

“Bond notes” are not “bonds” as envisaged by the Public Finance Management Act

Mr Nyambirai loosely contends that “a bond note falls squarely within the definition of a bond” under section 2 of the Public Finance Management Act. In so doing, he unduly (with respect) conflates the concept of a bond issued by the Minister of Finance in terms of section 54(3)(a) of the Public Finance Management Act and the “bond notes” which the Governor has in mind – the fictitious money we will have to use in daily transactions in place of real money.

I am of the respectful view that “bond notes” as envisaged by the Governor are not the same as “bonds” as defined under section 2 of the Public Finance Management Act. As stated above, the law in any event would not permit this: section 54(3)(a) of the Public Finance Management Act reserves the power to issue bonds for the Minister, not the Governor. The Public Finance Management Act does not define a “bond note”. Section 2 of the Public Finance Management Act only defines a “bond”. A bond is defined as “a document issued in pursuance of Part VI acknowledging a debt and binding the State to pay a specified sum at a stated time or on special conditions, and includes a debenture or other form of certificate of indebtedness.” The definition of one cannot extend to the other, in the same way that the definition of “ice” cannot be conflated with the definition of “ice cream”.

Section 54 of the Public Finance Management Act which is the section which Mr Nyambirai argues forms a legal basis for bond notes could not have been the section relied upon by the Governor because this section relates to the manner of raising State loans. The Governor has not purported in his press statement to be raising a state loan. His motives for issuing bank notes are part of a cocktail of measures meant to deal with cash shortages while, apparently, stabilising and stimulating the economy.

Particularly, section 54(3) of the Public Finance Management Act provides that the Minister may borrow by way of the issue of bonds. This means that the bond would be a form of debt security – hence why it is, according to the definition under section 2 of the Public Finance Management Act, “a document acknowledging a debt”, a government debt. It would, among other requirements, have to be time bound and binds the State to pay back a specified sum at a stated time.

Let us try to apply the definition of a “bond” under section 2 of the Public Finance Management Act to be applied to the “bond note” scenario proposed by the Governor. If we assume that the “bond note”, is (according to the Nyambirai argument) an acknowledgment of debt, does this mean that once in circulation it is proof that the Government owes the holder the sum written on the face of it? If we are to be true to the definition, what is the stated period after which we can get the value of the bond? Does it mean that the government owes us US dollars which we will eventually get back? If so, when? If the measure is thus time bound, does it mean we will all eventually get our money back? If so – how is the problem of capital flight related to as the key basis for the measure ultimately resolved? It clearly won’t be because, after the time is up, we should get our money back, leaving the economy at square one. If this is the basis relied upon by the Governor, (which I doubt for all the reasons I have stated, with respect) it does not pass the constitutional test of irrationality and would also be a breach of section 68 of the Constitution.

There is also the added problem that the President has not authorised the Minister to borrow from anyone – a peremptory requirement under section 52(1) of the Public Finance Management Act. It is no answer as opined by My Nyambirai that he is likely to do so – this is a peremptory procedure that should be followed. If not followed, it invalidates the entire scheme. It has to be borne in mind as well that in order to borrow from a person (in this case the public who hold the USD that would be acknowledged in the bonds), one requires their consent. A lender, even to the government, has to agree to lend the government money before the government can borrow the money from one and issue one with a bond to acknowledge and confirm its indebtedness. One has to know when one will get their (real) money back.

If the “borrowing” for the purposes of Part VI was a loan from Afreximbank – then Afreximbank and not the innocent public would receive the bonds. Yet this is not what is planned to happen. All the scenarios I paint here confirm that the application of the definition of “bond” under the Public Finance Management Act as a possible legal basis for the Governor’s plans is a huge stretch which is not borne out by the provisions of the Act and the conduct of the Governor.

My view is that a reading of the Governor’s press statement shows that the Governor does not intend to issue bonds in accordance with section 2 of the Public Finance Management Act (which he in any event does not have the power to do) but he intends to inject into the market a form of fictitious money which would operate as a currency (though not in fact currency). Support for this view is found in paragraph 13 of the press statement where the Governor states that the bond notes “shall continue to operate alongside other currencies within the multi-currency system and at par with the USD”. A real bond under section 2 of the Public Finance Management Act cannot be forced upon a service provider or used in a supermarket – because all it does is show that someone, the Government, owes you money. It cannot satisfactorily replace money as a means of value exchange.

The Governor’s clear message is – treat the bond notes as money, like you do other currencies in circulation. No time limit is set. We cannot assume one will be set. It is not an acknowledgment of state indebtedness to one – it is a money substitute with no basis at law. I therefore remain of the view that the proposed introduction of “bond notes” is unlawlful, unreasonable and both substantively and procedurally fair in breach of section 68 of the Constitution.

Do not be fooled: Bond notes are exactly like bond coins

Mr Nyambirai states that bond notes cannot be open-ended like bond coins are. His argument in this regard is possibly informed by the fact that there appears to be no legal basis upon which bond coins have been created by the Governor, never mind some of their suggested economic merits.

The Governor does not mince his words. At paragraph 13 of his press statement states in no uncertain terms that the bond notes are “an extension of the current family of bond coins.” It follows that the bond coins and the “bond notes” to come are part of the same unlawful construct, as a matter of law. The same illegalities that afflict the bond coins, in particular their open endedness, the fact that they cannot be redeemed for real money after a particular period for real money, the fact that they are not in any way an acknowledgment of government indebtedness – all in breach of Part VI of the Public Finance Management Act – afflict the bond notes. I say this without accepting that the Public Finance Management Act in any way enables any part of the Governor’s conduct in this regard. I do not see any law that does. By his own admission, the Governor is not creating anything new – it is not a new fancy bond. He is just extending the bond coin regime to paper money, which signifies as I have opined before, an incremental return to the Zimbabwe dollar, regrettably.

Is the Afreximbank “facility” lawful?

Mr Nyambirai, in seeking a legal basis for the Governor’s conduct, further places reliance on section 7(1)(n) of the Reserve Bank Act which empowers the Reserve Bank to borrow money from a financial institution – an important caveat is that such money must be borrowed on behalf of the State and not on the Reserve Bank’s own behalf. It would appear that the Afreximbank facility already falls foul of this requirement because according to paragraph 13 of the press statement, “the Reserve Bank (not the Reserve Bank acting on behalf of the State) has established a USD200 million foreign exchange and import incentive facility which is supported by the African Export-Import Bank”. There is nothing in this statement that even mildly suggests that the Bank entered into this agreement on behalf of the State and not on its own behalf. Mr Nyambirai makes an (with respect) unsubstantiated assertion that he “assumes” that the facility will be concluded on behalf of the State. He further makes it clear that he assumes that the Governor is not entering the territory of quasi-fiscal activity. The basis of his assumptions is unclear – there being no evidence that the facility is taken on behalf of the State and that the Governor is not purporting to exercise powers he does not have.

When an administrative authority has a constitutional obligation to act lawfully, as citizens we cannot assume that he or she has done so. The administrative authority, in this case the Governor, is obliged to show that he has acted lawfully. The public is entitled to be satisfied of the lawfulness of any proposed conduct.

More fundamentally, there is confusion as to whether this unspecified ‘facility’ constitutes a loan from Afreximbank or whether the Reserve Bank has deposited this amount with Afreximbank who have “backed” the issuance of $200 million against such a deposit. Or is it the case that the Reserve Bank has the money but is keeping it safely somewhere to avert capital flight? The terms of the Afreximbank facility have to be disclosed to the public in the interests of public accountability. Section 62 of the Constitution enshrines the public’s right to this information. Where constitutional rights and administrative justice are concerned, we cannot be content to operate on the basis of an assumption. What happens if we are wrong on this assumption? Why should the Reserve Bank hide the information if everything is above board? The question of the precise terms of the Afreximbank facility agreement is not a sterile debate about form – if the facility is not shown to be a ‘borrowing’, the facility does not comply with section 7(1)(n) of the Reserve Bank Act and would on that further basis be unlawful and thus unconstitutional.

Conclusion

There can be no doubt that the Governor intends to purport to issue the bond notes so that they operate as a medium of exchange, a unit of accounting, and a store of value – a form of money that we are all meant to agree to accept it in making all manner of transactions. This, in my respectful view, is not a government bond in the Public Finance Management Act sense. I am yet to find a law that would permit such a course. To the extent that none exists, the Governor’s conduct offends the public’s constitutional right to administrative conduct that is lawful, fair and reasonable.

(C) Fadzayi Mahere. Not to be reproduced without the author’s prior permission.

(I must thank Mr Nyambirai for giving me that nagging legal tickle – an interesting bit of law to think about.)

A legal opinion on Mangudya’s decision to introduce “bond notes”

Posted in Life & Law on May 5, 2016 by fadzayimahere

bond note

Mangudya “creates his own version of the US Dollar”

On the 4th of May 2016, the Reserve Bank Governor of Zimbabwe, Dr John Mangudya issued a press statement wherein he indicated that “the Reserve Bank has established a USD200 million foreign exchange and export incentive facility which is supported by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) to provide cushion on the high demand for foreign exchange” in the country. The facility would be implemented through the medium of Zimbabwe “bond notes” in denominations of $2, $5, $10 and $20 and would be introduced into the economy in two months’ time. The bond notes are set to operate as an extension of the current family of bond coins which were introduced in December 2014 to address the challenge of obtaining small change in daily transactions. The Reserve Bank Governor further introduced a limit on daily cash withdrawals with the public now only able to withdraw a maximum of $1 000, €1 000 and R20 000 from their accounts, with immediate effect. He stated that the bond notes shall continue to operate alongside other currencies and at par to the dollar. Dr Mangudya  further announced that, with effect from today, 40 percent of all new US dollar receipts will be converted to rand, “in order to restore and promote the wide usage of currencies in the multicurrency basket.”

Following this press statement, the media has been awash with possible economic justifications for the decisions made by Dr Mangudya. There has also been a public outcry with most fearing a return to the hyperinflationary chaos that characterized the 2007 and 2008 era in Zimbabwe. However, missing in the discourse is a consideration of the legality of the announcement and proposed measures by the Governor.

I wish therefore to offer my legal perspective here.

Applicable Law

The office of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe is established in terms of section 14(1) of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Act [Chapter 22:15]. In terms of section 68 of the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, every (Zimbabwean) person has a right to [administrative] conduct by the Reserve Bank Governor that is inter alia lawful, reasonable, proportionate and both substantively and procedurally fair. His constitutional duty in this regard is echoed in section 3(1) of the Administrative Justice Act [Chapter 10:28]. According to section 3(1) of the Administrative Justice Act, “an administrative authority which has the responsibility or power to take any administrative action which may affect the rights, interests or legitimate expectations of any person shall act lawfully, reasonably and in a fair manner.” The term “administrative authority” is defined in section 2 of the Administrative Justice Act to include any person authorised by any enactment to exercise or perform any administrative power or duty. The Reserve Bank Governor, being the officer responsible for the day-to-day management, control, administration, operation and direction of the Bank in terms of section 19 of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Act, falls neatly within the definition of an “administrative authority”. The Governor is therefore subject to the provisions of section 68 of the Constitution and section 3 of the Administrative Justice Act.

Applying the above legal provisions to the contents of the Governor’s press statement, I am of the respectful view that his decisions and conduct offend our constitutional right to administrative justice.

Lawfulness

Section 68 of the Constitution as read with section 3 of the Administrative Justice Act require the Governor to act in a lawful manner. It is established under our law that all administrative powers, including those of the Governor, must derive from statute and the nature and extent of those powers are to be found in the statutory provisions granting these powers.  Simply stated, this means that there has to be a legal basis, in Statute or delegated legislation for any decision that the Governor makes. The question to be asked is: what law authorizes the Governor to create “bond notes”, which bond notes then replace lawfully deposited US dollars.

It is worth highlighting that the term “bond note” is not defined anywhere in the Reserve Bank Act or the Banking Act [Chapter 24:20]. “Bond note” is not a term of conventional economics but an invention on the part of the Governor. It is clear that the law does not empower the Governor to create this, with respect, fictitious money.

Incidentally, the Reserve Bank Act does carefully delineate what powers the Reserve Bank has in instances where there is a shortage of currency of any denomination. In particular, section 42B of the Reserve Bank Act authorises the issuance of “Reserve Bank vouchers”, not “bond notes” where the Reserve bank is of the opinion that there is a shortage of currency of any denomination to pay civil servants or employees of the State. The shortage must be shown to require urgent action in the interests of public order or the economic interests of the State.

What is clear from this provision is that the Governor does not have a blanket power to create any document he thinks up to replace properly introduced currency. He also does not have the power to create such an alternative medium of exchange except where the shortage is specifically in respect of the payment of civil servants and where it is shown to be a public order emergency. The justification given by the Governor for the creation of bond notes is, therefore, inconsistent with section 42B of the Reserve Bank Act. The Governor’s justification for the curious move  relates to “foreign exchange stablisation” and an unsatisfactory attemot to ease the cash crisis. Respectfully, the law does not permit him to create alternative “money” for these purposes. It is clear that the law does not empower the Governor to make any plan he deems necessary for the purposes of resolving a cash crisis.

It can therefore be argued with great force that the conduct of the Governor in creating bond notes does not have the force of law and is therefore unlawful contrary to the requirements of section 68 of the Constitution and section 3 of the Administrative Justice Act. His conduct in taking away depositors’ hard earned dollars also arguably breaches their right to property and their right to use and transfer their property as enshrined in section 71 of the Constitution.

Substantive and procedural fairness

Section 68 of the Constitution also requires the conduct of the Governor to be “substantively and procedurally fair”. I am of the respectful view that the policies announced by the Governor are not substantively and procedurally fair to the citizenry. To illustrate the point, it cannot be fair to take money that a person has banked in US dollars away and give that person “bond notes” which the Governor admits are not currency. If they are not currency, what are they? What use are they to the business community if they cannot be used to import goods? In terms of what law or economic principle has the Governor decided that one bond note will be equivalent to one US dollar? It is basic that a person cannot arrogate to himself the power to decide the US dollar value of a piece of paper and impose it as a medium of exchange and transaction. Such an approach offends basic economics and all known law and procedure.

With respect, it is no answer as is suggested in the press statement, to contend that the bond notes are guaranteed by an “Afreximbank facility”. What is this facility? What law authorizes this approach? What does the “guarantee” mean? What are the terms of the Reserve Bank’s agreement with Afreximbank? Is a person entitled, if the guarantee is a true suretyship as envisaged by the law, to approach this bank with the bond notes and redeem in their place United States dollars? If the answer is no, then there can be no substantive fairness in the decision. It appears that the Afreximbank explanation is a smokescreen to lull the country into a false sense of security when what we have for all intents and purposes is a re-introduction of the Zimbabwe dollar, in circumstances where the economy is unable to shoulder such a burden.

Additionally, section 3 of the Administrative Justice Act demands that an administrative authority must give any person whose rights, interests or legitimate expectations may be affected by his decision “adequate notice of the nature and purpose of the proposed action”. In this regard, it could be argued that in imposing cash limits on less than 24 hours notice, the Governor acted in breach of his obligation to act fairly. Procedural fairness, in particular the audi alteram partem (hear the other side) principle enjoins the Governor to consult all stakeholders widely and to allow affected persons an opportunity to be heard before making a decision concerning their property. It follows that the Governor has very likely acted in breach of his constitutional obligation to act fairly. It is no answer for the Governor to say that he had to ignore the obligation to give fair notice to avoid immediate cash withdrawals. The obligations imposed upon an administrative authority by the Constitution are peremptory anf cannot be derogated from.

Reasonableness

The Governor’s decision has to pass the test of rationality. It can be argued that the decision of the Governor to introduce bond notes is not reasonable in view of the fact that the fundamentals that have led to the cash crisis, i.e. diminished productivity and our weak GDP have not at all been addressed. No sensible policy has been put in place to improve our exports and thus reduce the trade deficit. No thought has been given to the prospect of a black market developing in order to circumvent the stringent policies. If the concern is that certain foreigners e.g. the Nigerians and the Chinese are mopping up forex and externalising it, there has been no explanation as to why ordinary citizens have to be punished for this. The decision may also be said to be disproportionate in view of the corresponding harm that the new policies will create.

In solving one problem, it can be said that the Governor has created several more. All that the press statement addresses are the symptoms of the country’s economic problems. The fundamentals, e.g. the need to improve productivity, the need to introduce land tenure and the need to make Zimbabwe an attractive investment destination have all been ignored. the Governor complains of a trade deficit created by foreigners but ignores the fact that just three weeks ago the Minister of Indigenization was on the verge of closing all banks and did everything he could to scare away remaining investors. These are fundamental problems that cannot be resolved through the creation of monopoly money. The root causes underpinning the maladministration ought to be addressed. A painkiller will never effectively cure a bone fracture, which is what the conduct of the Governor respectfully amounts to.

Conclusion

One cannot escape the conclusion that the press statement points to an incremental approach geared towards bringing back the Zimbabwe Dollar, a prospect which many will agree is too ghastly to contemplate. It is hoped that further consultation on the issue, and an examination of whether there is a legal basis for the decision will lead to a rethink of the decision. The essence of administrative law is to check and balance executive power. The law ought to be invoked should the need arise in order to prevent an unlawful course of conduct. Failure to do so may result in an abuse of the Governor’s powers in breach of our Constitutional right to administrative conduct that is lawful, fair and reasonable.

(C) Fadzayi Mahere. Not to be reproduced without the author’s prior permission.

Of Chris Gayle, sports journalism and the sideline Barbie syndrome

Posted in ...ranting & raving..., Feminism on January 7, 2016 by fadzayimahere

gayle

It is important to acknowledge the advances that have been made in the acceptance of women in sports journalism. It is reported that it has been about forty years since the first female reporter was allowed into a professional sports locker room Today, most media houses have multiple female reporters and anchors on their roster. It is fair to say that there have been cracks in the sports journalism glass ceiling: In 1981, Rhonda Glenn was the first woman to anchor ESPN’s famous SportsCenter franchise. Lesley Visser, although the only woman there, was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Progress?

Ish.

Notwithstanding these important gains, women are still overwhelmingly in the minority in this male dominated field (no pun intended). Although women are now generally allowed to conduct locker room interviews, frequent the clubhouse and write convincingly on sport, sexism still rears its ugly head often enough to warrant women remaining on their guard. Obviously, this is not a call to manufacture outrage, become militant or search for controversy. However, it does mean that women must be willing and able to speak out against inappropriate and sexist conduct when necessary.

Erin Andrews, an American sportscaster, has been vocal about the gender specific challenges and sexism women covering men’s sports universally face during their careers. Andrews became a sports journalist at approximately the time when the sports blogs started. In an interview conducted a couple of years ago, she remarked that she had been baptized into a world where the sports blogs dubbed her the “Sideline Barbie” or the “Sideline Princess.” Sexist double entendre?

Yes.

Writing for The Daily Beast about two years ago, Isobel Markham critiqued sport’s journalism’s ‘beauty curse’ and highlighted that for sports reporters, sexist comments about their looks – and ‘plum jobs for pretty girls’ – are as common as timeouts. It is no coincidence that women in sports journalism are predominantly dolled up ‘Barbie-style’, with focus often diverted from the content of their work to their physical appearance.

In addition to the demands of interviewing athletes in male-dominated sports, Andrews had to contend with male bloggers critiquing what she was wearing. “The sidelines aren’t as glamorous as everyone thinks” she said. “When halftime happens, you do the interview, and then you’ve got to grab a coach or a player. You don’t even have time to go to the bathroom. So I’m having a hot dog on the sideline, and people are taking photos and submitting them to the sports blogs. And it’s like, ‘How does she look eating a hot dog?’ It wasn’t about my reporting, it was, ‘What is she wearing, who is she dating?'”

Andrews is not alone. In 2010, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson had to apologize personally to TV Azteca reporter Inés Sainz after his players and staff directed lewd comments toward her in the locker room. Similarly, a Bills fan looked up a photograph of Jennifer Gish online after she had written a piece in the sports column for the Albany Times-Union back in September 2011. Instead of responding to the substance of her article as would have been expected, he scathingly wrote “You may want to consider plastic surgery or something, you are one god awful ugly looking female.”

Unacceptable? Yes. Uncommon? No.

When a professional woman goes about her daily work, she has every right to be taken seriously. The focus ought not to be her looks but her ability. Whether in the courtroom, the boardroom, the hospital or the pitch, she must be shown professional respect.

Imagine if in the middle of a political interview with a female journalist on an issue of national importance, Barack Obama ignored the question and asked the journalist out for a drink after remarking that she had beautiful eyes, on air. The world would be outraged. Obama would be accused of inappropriate, sexist conduct.

Imagine if during a board meeting, a male director ignored a question put to him by a fellow female director and instead asked the co-director out for a drink after remarking that she had beautiful eyes. He would be accused of inappropriate, sexist conduct.

Imagine if a female lawyer was delivering a court address and mid-sentence her male opponent ignored her submission and instead asked the female lawyer out for a drink after remarking that she had beautiful eyes. He would be accused of inappropriate, sexist conduct.

Rest assured, none of the men in any of the above scenarios would have been able to get away with calling the comments ‘a simple joke.’

I come now to Chris Gayle.

After his innings during a Twenty20 Melbourne Renegades match earlier this week, reputed West Indies cricketer  Chris Gayle was approached by Mel McLaughlin, a journalist for Australian broadcaster Network Ten for an interview. Gayle ignored McLaughlin’s questions about the match and chose instead to comment about her eyes, ask her out for a drink say, “Don’t blush, baby.”

McLaughlin, visibly uncomfortable, opted to continue with the interview. Upon its conclusion, she walked away as he attempted to touch her. McLaughlin later described Gayle’s conduct as “disappointing”. She went on to say, “I don’t really want to be the subject of such conversations, I like just going about my business and doing my job.” She said female sports presenters “want equality, we always want equality”.

The unacceptable and sexist nature of Gayle’s conduct ought to be immediately clear. Most regrettably, a strong reaction by viewers and certain commentators has been that ‘it was evidently a joke.’ Against the context of sexism against women in sports journalism set out above, of which Gayle would have been no doubt aware, his behaviour is nothing less than sexist and deplorable. It is improper to ignore the questions asked and make a pass on a woman on live television as she is conducting an interview about the game. It’s akin to saying, ‘oh shut up pretty face. I won’t talk sport with you but I will buy you a drink. Talking about the game is too technical let me concentrate rather on your eyes.’

If he was genuine about his intentions with her (which is doubtful given his reported marital status – a discussion for another day), then he ought to have been respectful enough to respond seriously to her questions, as he would have done a male interviewer, and reserved the approach for an opportune moment off-air.

Gayle would not have been able to get away with such conduct in the courtroom or the boardroom. It should not be tolerated on the sidelines of a cricket pitch: the location of sexism does not alter its nature. His explanation that it was a joke or that it was blown out of proportion would not be entertained in other professional settings. In the same vein, McLaughlin should not be made to feel as though speaking out against Gayle’s conduct during a sideline interview of a cricket pitch is an overreaction.

Society cannot accept that it was just ‘a joke.’ If anything, his conduct perpetuates the sideline Barbie syndrome which focuses on the beauty of a female sports journalist at the expense of her professional ability – and insists that she remains on the fringes of this male-dominated industry.

Forget quotas — a change in attitude is the ticket to the top for women judges in Zimbabwe

Posted in ...ranting & raving..., Life & Law, Powerful Women, Zimbabwe on July 16, 2014 by fadzayimahere

judges

In what is viewed by most citizens of Zimbabwe as a historic step, public interviews for the selection of Supreme Court judges were held in Harare yesterday. Of the ten candidates, four were women. Two of the women candidates failed to differentiate between a court action and a court application, an elementary aspect of Civil Procedure in Zimbabwean law, much like the distinction between debiting and crediting in Accounting. Their responses to the effect that the question was “too technical” and that they would “read up on it when elevated” were the cause of much hilarity for the gallery, which was mostly composed of lawyers, law students and journalists.

Yet, for any woman lawyer sat in the room, the reaction was more intricate – a melange of surprise, anger, embarrassment and shame.

It is accepted that the fight for gender equality in the legal profession in Zimbabwe – and throughout the world – is ongoing and vicious. This is not assisted by the fact that, until 1982, women in Zimbabwe were considered perpetual minors who lacked legal and contractual capacity. It is not surprising therefore that. at independence in 1980, there were no female judges in the High Court or the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe. The Supreme Court building was set up to house three male Justices only and had no facilities for female justices. There has never been a female Chief Justice or Deputy Chief Justice in Zimbabwe, nor has there ever been a female silk. To date, no woman has ever been appointed to the post of Attorney-General. Zimbabwe has never appointed a female Minister of Justice.

The injustice of this state of affairs is self-evident. There has to be a problem with a system that permits only male lawyers to be promoted to the top legal posts in this jurisdiction. At the same time, being a woman – in and of itself – does not not equip one with a sound legal mind. Confidence, intellectual and analytical ability, strong written and oratory skills, charm and integrity do.

Against this backdrop, the issue concerning how to achieve female representation in the judiciary in Zimbabwe without compromising on quality remains a vexed question. (This is obviously not to suggest that the women currently on the bench in Zimbabwe are of inferior quality – the record of several women jurists in Zimbabwe speaks for itself.) The Zimbabwean solution to ensure female judicial representation has been to implement a quota system. In terms of section 184 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, “appointments to the judiciary must reflect broadly the diversity and gender composition of Zimbabwe.” The intention of the legislature in enacting this provision is clear: quotas are the quickest way to ensure women are elevated to the bench. Quotas can remove some of the structural barriers that prevent women from being appointed as judges, so the argument goes.

Yet, quite unwittingly, installing a quota system for judicial appointments is akin to affixing a band-aid to a fractured wound: various underlying problems remain.

Most importantly, an unfair impression is created that the women who have been elevated to judicial posts are there merely because they are women. Quotas in general are offensive and create the impression that, unless a special dispensation is created for women, we cannot succeed. Women who are elevated to the bench are thus perceived to be substandard, incompetent, elevated only due to an accident of biology. Additionally, women elevated through quotas are seen as “token”, may generally be less respected and will have less influence. Quotas also set women against each other, competing for a certain number of “women’s seats”, which might destroy co-operation and unity. Equally, it can be argued with great force that quotas distort the idea of representation because they create the false impression that only women can protect the rights and interests of women. The quota system also implies that women are to confine themselves to branches of law where there the issue of gender is relevant such as family law and the law of inheritance, to the exclusion of other branches of law such as the law of banking and negotiable instruments, tax law, insurance law and the law of insolvency. With so much emphasis on gender quotas in the new constitution and the current government, women are still, in some cases, only ‘getting’ something because of their gender. Unfortunately, even to this day, if a woman gets elevated to the bench, it would still be questioned whether she was actually the best candidate.

There is only one answer: one must be, first and foremost, a judge, with all the poise, competence and disposition that comes with the role – not merely a woman holding judicial office. Those who push for quotas for women don’t understand that the jurisprudential x-factor and internalized principles are what make outstanding judges, male or female. Our attitude and approach in this regard has to change. The capabilities of junior women lawyers must be nurtured from an early stage. Having more and more judges, who so happen to be women, will not transform the legal landscape.

One cannot ride affirmative action, identity politics or third-wave feminism to reach the legal hall of fame.

There, I said it.

13 facts you did not know about Maya Angelou

Posted in Powerful Women on May 28, 2014 by fadzayimahere

maya

Today, the world  received with shock news of the untimely death of Maya Angelou. Many people identify with her because she was able to externalize and vocalize her trauma through her writing and poetry. Upon hearing of her passing, online publications and social media sites were awash with her numerous inspirational thoughts and musings. All one needed to identify with her was the instinctive need for some form of expression as a release in the face of adversity; all one needed was to be human.

Below are twenty facts about her life that paint a useful backdrop to her writings and provide context for the wisdom she so generously shared with the world.

1. Her birth name is Marguerite Annie Johnson. “Maya” is a nickname her older brother, Bailey Jr. gave to her when they were both sent to live with their paternal grandmother, Anne Henderson.

2. In her pre-teen years, her grandmother would whip Angelou for using the term ‘by the way’ in conversation, a blasphemy to her grandmother as ‘Jesus was the only way’.

3. When she was 7, Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. The rapist was found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison. The rapist served only one day of that sentence. However, the day after his release, the rapist was found dead after being kicked to death. Angelou contended that her voice had killed him.

4.  At age 17, Angelou became pregnant and gave birth just weeks after successfully graduating.

5. Angelou turned to prostitution at age 18 for a short period to support her family.

6. Angelou married her first husband, Anastosios Angelopoulos, in 1949. Drawing from her husband’s name, she adopted the surname ‘Angelou’ as a stage name. Angelou retained his name despite the termination of the marriage  in 1952.

7. Following the end of her first, Angelou fell in love with Vusumzi Make, a South African civil rights activist.

8. The assassination of Malcom X on her birthday in 1968 provided the catalyst for her first book, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’.

9. Angelou married Paul du Feu in 1971 and the marriage ended in 1980.

10. Her screenplay ‘Georgia Georgia’ (which she also scored) was the first filmed script written by a Black woman and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

11. In 1973 she received  Tony nomination for her Broadway acting debut in ‘Look Away’ and her work in 1977’s landmark TV series ‘Roots’ led to an Emmy nomination.

12. On 20th January 1993 she wrote and delivered the inaugural poem for President Clinton; ‘On The Pulse Of The Morning’. This poem won a Grammy and has since been translated into over 40 languages.

13. At the time of her death, she held over 30 honorary doctorates.

In closing, a thought by Maya Angelou herself:

“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

~Rest in Peace, Marguerite Annie Johnson~

Of success and stigma: The dilemma of the African alpha female

Posted in ...ranting & raving..., Powerful Women, The African Dream, Zimbabwe on May 9, 2014 by fadzayimahere

afr

Thirty years ago, the notion of an African alpha female might have been unfathomable. Africa had generally done very little to overcome the traditional view of a woman’s role in society. In many African states, women were regarded as chattels to be inherited. They were given no formal education as their primary purpose in life was to be given out in marriage. Women, despite their age were considered to be forever under the control of either their husband or male relatives. Women and girls could not inherit or own property nor could they participate fully in public life or any decision-making within their immediate community. They had no right over the children they bore and were commonly the victims of domestic violence.

Today, with varying degrees of success, African countries have overcome the notion that a woman is a perpetual minor, with no capacity to make any decisions of her own. A number of superficial attempts have been made to project an image of gender equality through, for instance, forced quotas for female representation in Parliament, an appearance of access to education and the promulgation of anti-domestic violence legislation. More African women have made it to Oxbridge and Ivy League universities. More women are becoming law, medicine, architecture, engineering and accounting professionals. More women are employed in all sectors of the economy. We even have the odd African female president. Notwithstanding these apparent gains, huge remnants of Africa’s discriminatory past continue to haunt the modern African woman, worse so if she is an alpha female.

To illustrate the point, I take the example of the modern, black, Zimbabwean alpha female. She is well-educated, financially secure and intelligent. The usual charge of a gold-digger waiting to be rescued by an upwardly mobile man simply does not apply to her. She is more than able to fund her taste for the finer things in life. Due to her fierce work ethic ingrained in her from a very early age, she is fairly accomplished. Rising steadily through the ranks of her career ladder, she has all the hallmarks of a success story waiting to happen. She is the kick-ass female who gets things done.

However, she, at twenty-seven, is unmarried. [Insert loud gasps, looks of disdain and feelings of societal pity here.]

One of the biggest dilemmas that confronts her is that her parents will not let her move out of home. Apparently, for a woman to live alone is ‘taboo’ and emblematic of loose morals – “hazina hunhu”, so they say. The real explanation for the reluctance of Zimbabweans to allow a right-thinking, financially independent, adult woman to move out of home lies in the hangover from traditional African culture highlighted above: according to the precepts of African tradition, an African woman is a perpetual minor. Throughout her life, she is required to fall under the guardianship of her father until she is married. Upon marriage, her husband takes up the role of guardian. Curiously, African culture does not appear to accommodate that middle-of-the-road situation where a woman is no longer dependent on her father for her livelihood but has not found an appropriate suitor (should she be minded to do so). Society frowns upon her for being alone.

The difficulties surrounding such an approach are myriad. At twenty-seven, an African woman has the maturity of a mother who can run an entire household. Focusing on one’s career often means subordinating the need to get married for a time – either to find the right kind of African man (the type which is self-assured but won’t feel threatened by female success) or to ensure all career objectives are met by the appointed time the alpha female has set for herself. Constantly and from a young age, the African girl is told – by her parents, mentors and society – how boys are bad and that she should focus instead on school. Even upon completing high school, she is told that having a boyfriend is somewhat shameful. Yet upon reaching twenty-five, there is an inexplicable, unspoken 180 degree shift in attitude. She has to get married – and NOW. Today, if possible but by the end of this year will also do. [Insert  all manner of expletives here.]

To the African alpha female, such a proposition is contradictory and patently nonsensical: her career has taken off, she wants to travel and see the world, world domination has become her focus in life and she realizes that there is more to life than becoming little more than a domestic appendage to a man’s life. Her bucket list now includes getting a book published, giving a speech to over 10,000 people, parasailing, swimming under a waterfall, learning to play a musical instrument and touring Prague and Paris.

And all society can do is ask  – why are you not married? [Snore.]

Her dilemma does not end there.

Feminism is a dirty word in Africa: it conjures up notions of women who disrespect the patriarchy. You know, the type of woman who will report her husband to the police for domestic violence instead of apologizing for what ‘she did’ to prompt the abuse and undertaking to be more submissive in the future. [Sigh] As a general principle, the traditional African male prefers to be treated as a demi-god, does not like to be questioned and views a woman as part of his accumulated wealth – after all, he paid a healthy quantum of lobola (bride price) for this acquisition. For reasons that are self-evident, this mindset is illogical and unacceptable to the African alpha female. She is not a domestic servant, though she may love to cook and clean on her own terms. She knows better than to take instructions on how to live her life. She chooses not to act without first interrogating the merits of such action. In short, she is looking for a partner who edifies and complements her not a master to dominate her. She has no hang ups about a man taking the lead but he must be competent to do so. Unfortunately for the African alpha female, the man described here is an endangered species in Africa.

Too old to be unmarried but not old enough to move out of home, she faces the grand dilemma – should she give in to the pressure to get married or should she suffer the stigma of remaining the sad, unattached woman for whom African society has no respect?

Sadly, many African women do give in to the pressure to get married – all at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons – on everyone else’s terms but their own. They sacrifice their dreams and ambitions to appease society. Outmoded African attitudes towards women condition the alpha female out of the African professional woman, steering her instead to a strictly nurturing role rather than world domination.

Surely the time has come however to accept that marriage, in and of itself, is not an achievement or the route every woman must be forced to take? A woman deserves respect in her own right – and this should never depend on whether or not lobola (itself a sexist practice) has been paid for her.

“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s. And guess what they might have planned for you? Not much.” Jim Rohn

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