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Betty Makoni on Question Time
Lance Guma, SW Radio Africa
December 08, 2010

SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma speaks to the founder of the Girl Child Network, Betty Makoni, who has been fighting for the rights of abused girls in Zimbabwe since 1998. Questions from the listeners centred on what motivated her to start the organization, why she left Zimbabwe for exile in the UK, allegations about misuse of donor funds and why she believes Zimbabwean women are determined to pull each other down.

Lance Guma: Since 1998 the founder of the Girl Child Network, Betty Makoni has been fighting for the rights of abused girls in Zimbabwe. Along the way of course she has had to deal with various controversies. This week on Question Time, Makoni is our guest and is here to take your questions. Thank you for joining us.

Betty Makoni: Thank you so much Lance.

Guma: Now we start the show with Memory from Masvingo who sent a text message wanting to know what inspired you to form the Girl Child Network, I believe it's in 1998?

Makoni: By then I was a schoolteacher at Zengeza One High School and I noticed that girls were not coming to school at all. It was like a class of boys. So having a background where I am a sexually abused girl at aged six and also I had fought all my life to ensure that my mother survived domestic violence, I had a strong feeling that if we don't catch the girls whilst they are young we lose getting the empowered women leaders.

So I started in very humble beginnings in a classroom where I said to girls, instead of going to the conventional club, let's meet as a girls' group. So after that I really felt the potential in girls. Girls have got the power to change themselves from victims to survivors to leaders.

So as I went along with my students they became very close to me and that really inspired me, each result I was beginning to see especially when they started excelling in school work, I said to myself I could continue to do more.

But what also inspired me is a 13 year old girl who came to me at Zengeza One High School and said Miss Makoni last night my mum's boyfriend who is HIV positive, raped me at knife point. This is when I said I should stop teaching and start touching the lives of girls so that's how I came to be. Since then I have worked with over 300 000 girls in Zimbabwe only.

Guma: And given the tense political environment in Zimbabwe, how difficult is it to be engaged in the sort of work that you do?

Makoni: What I've realised is that work which is like human rights, wherever you put the word human rights, you are mistaken to be a militant organisation, a western organisation that is coming to destabilise the country and also with the polarisation of Zimbabwe, there are some groups in Zimbabwe who are naturally lawless, they can do anything and when you touch them you know that it's going to be backlash.

So it's very difficult to even work around for instance high profile rape cases because these dominate my list of sex offenders and when they are not tried and when they are not arrested it evokes anger in me and the girls and we are not armoured to do anything and yet speaking out becomes illegal. So we are in a very tight corner where we cannot do certain things so we have to know the dos and don'ts working in a polarised country.

Guma: Now I think that ties in neatly with a question that has come from Samantha in Harare who wants you to talk about some of the high profile politicians you have had to expose who have abused young girls in the past. Who are some of these individuals, if you could name and shame them?

Makoni: Definitely naming and shaming becomes public verdict and it's the public standing up to say even though the courts are not going to take you we are also going to tell you that you are unfit among human beings. So the cases that I've dealt with, directly involved, are Reverend Obadiah Msindo.

Reverend Obadiah Msindo raped a girl and there was overwhelming evidence against him and up until now I don't understand why he is a free man. I know he manipulated everything about the justice system but to me he remains guilty because I'm the one who investigated the whole case. And then there's the case of Katsviru's case became very difficult when he raped a 13 year old girl in Zimbabwe and it was not sailing through the courts.

Guma: OK can you explain who Katsviru is?

Makoni: He is a member of an Apostolic church in Marondera and I think he is a member or a supporter of the ZANU PF. Katsviru's case was really difficult because one, it was a church syndicate and it was also politically linked with the Johanne Marange Church so it became so complicated and difficult.

And currently I'm dealing with the case of Doctor Munyaradzi Kereke who is advisor to the Reserve Bank governor, Gideon Gono. I have done my thorough investigation and I've listened to the voice of the child and I can say he is still an alleged rapist but my conclusions point to the fact that Doctor Munyaradzi Kereke has stooped so low.

He took a gun, pointed it to an 11 year old girl at 3am and this girl's mother is not in the country and the father is not in the country and his wife is actually auntie to this girl. It's a big shame that the child trusted him and he actually raped her and when I examined the whole case, the girl lost her whole hymen and right now she is locked in the house, she is afraid to go even into school since September 2010, it's horrible, it's unbelievable.

And I've got at least for instance you recall the case of Sadomba that popular traditional healer in Rusape? He raped his granddaughters for six years without even anyone touching him. So the list really goes on, you only get to connect that they are linked to all these political parties when you start on the case and then you discover that they are also linked to high profile people in police and everywhere.

Guma: And I see you have also started a FaceBook campaign exposing Doctor Munyaradzi Kereke the current advisor to Reserve Bank governor, Dr Gideon Gono. Tell us more about this campaign.

Makoni: This campaign first names and shames Dr Munyaradzi Kereke. I'm a very open person, I'm asking him to come to speak to us, we want an answer from him. Our client has got all facts about what happened and then the campaign is also meant to tell every Zimbabwean going to his post-surgery clinic - it's called Kereke Rock Foundation in Mount Pleasant - that if you support an alleged rapist and as a society you actually condone whatever he has done it means you are betraying the children in the country.

So the campaign is meant to conscentise Zimbabweans that we can also do our own punishments. If the justice system fails children, it's up to us as citizens to take it upon ourselves to do something. So anybody going to support him financially by paying his surgery to look after any patients, they are also paying him to stay out of jail and they are paying him to continue raping children.

Guma: Our next question comes from Reason Wafawarova and it is closely linked to what you have just been talking about. Reason Wafawarova of course is based in Australia, he is a well-known supporter of ZANU PF but our programme Question Time is of course meant for every Zimbabwean irrespective of political affiliations.

So Reason says - I just want to ask Betty what the policy of her organisation is when it comes to dealing with the politicisation of cases GCN deals with? This ranges from politicised reports of allegations of abuse, attributing criminal acts to political parties to outright politically-motivated interference to protect suspected perpetrators of girl child abuse?

And I think the second thread to his question is how easy is it to eliminate political bias and prejudices when dealing with cases related to the abuse of women and the girl child?

Makoni: Lance I just want to make every Zimbabwean understand that Muzvare Betty Makoni has never belonged to any political party. My work is purely supporting empowerment of girls and by supporting empowerment of girls I'm cognizant of the fact that there are so many political groupings in Zimbabwe and when a child comes to us, she does not know who is linked to which political party.

What a child simply knows is that I've been wronged and when we go out for public campaigns to talk about child abuse, we don't say when you are abused by ZANU PF or MDC or whatever, and then knowing that Reason belongs to ZANU PF, they should actually know that when I conducted my own survey, it's not only ZANU PF that I found out to be perpetrators and I don't know why they panic, I don't know why they hurl insults at me.

I found out that men in general are abusing children and I want that to be a clear statement. Political interference comes when somebody hi-jacks a political party to defend their own criminal activities especially rape. So that's what I've seen with Obadiah Msindo that's what I'm seeing with Dr Munyaradzi Kereke and the way political parties can stay from all this is just for them to be clear that if it is a criminal case and it's not a political case, the political party must stay away.

So I have dealt with men from all political divides. The only problem that I have encountered is when somebody in court goes on to tell a magistrate that Betty is targeting me because of political affiliations. I have nothing to fight against ZANU PF, I have nothing to fight against the MDC, I have nothing to fight against Mavambo.

Any member of their party who dares rape a child, we will call a spade a spade and normally we don't say ZANU PF or MDC or Mavambo raped, we simply say this man, so we want Reason to know that we don't target any political grouping in Zimbabwe.

Guma: Next question comes from Last Moyo in Bulawayo. He emailed the show and wants to know why you left Zimbabwe and living in exile in the UK. Is it true as alleged by state-owned newspapers that you were running away from cases involving misuse of funds?

Makoni: That's a very good question. What I want to tell that listener is that when I left Zimbabwe on 17th March 2008 it had become so, so terrible for me. Yes I want to be a hero but also let me be a living hero not a dead hero. My life in Zimbabwe was so terrible. A group of youths came into my office several times demanding cash and they wanted me to give them cash in order for me to stay in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is my motherland, I mustn't buy anybody or bribe anyone to stay in the country. And then on all the allegations people have written about I want also to tell everyone that Girl Child Network is managed by many layers. We have got the management comprising of a finance director, a human resource director and a programmes director. They operate from a different office.

I belong to what we call the directorate, I operate from a different office. There's also Girls Support Unit they've got a different office. So everybody plays their role and I think when the KPMG audited report came out it was very clear about our strength as an organisation, about our weakness but I'm happy to report that and I quote KPMG permanently no embezzlement of funds in Girl Child Network.

And as an organisation, we've picked up where we have got weaknesses. An audit is supposed to make us better and we picked up where we have got strengths and so many strengths are in that report. So a professional audited report is in place and that's what we focus on. I know a lot of newspapers were shamed because before the audited report came out they had written so many lies that they were quoting from one of our disgruntled employees called Ropafadzo Mapimhidze.

It is unfortunate that she abused the media because she works in the media circles to tarnish the image of the organisation, but clearly what, we have got a very good audited report. Our donors who are supposed to be the first ones to give public statements are content with our report. Our girls, executive committee have got reports so it's good that when I left Zimbabwe, I left the organisation with a good public hand-over, take-over, nothing is missing and everything is clearly documented.

Guma: I suppose the problem was in one of the reports they quoted an actual donor, I think it was OXFAM NOVIB who are alleged to have questioned some of the use of the money. I think this happened in June last year and people were saying well if the donors are questioning the use of the money, maybe there's something in there.

Makoni: Lance Guma, I want to tell you that we've got 18 donors at Girl Child Network. We were the most funded grass roots organisation in Zimbabwe I want the public to know. Out of 18 donors we have got one who is disgruntled. We have got what we call contractual agreements; when a donor receives a report and they are not happy with an issue - and tell you what - I am on the highest board of OXFAM NOVIB round table. I am actually one of their most trusted people, that's one thing.

Secondly we have got audited reports, seven audited reports that have been given to them consistently since 2001 when they started funding us. So we have been in a partnership for ten years with OXFAM NOVIB and how come in 2008 that's the only way they communicate through the Herald and the Sunday Mail and media that money has been stolen?

So it's quite known for anything to go other way in an organisation, it's another thing to follow procedures on how to correct it and I'm happy to report to you that through our legal team, through professionals, OXFAM NOVIB have long been corrected and that's why they are not communicating with the public with this.

Auditors have communicated with them very professionally and I like the professional manner with which that leaked document to the Herald has been handled. I think they are justified in asking a question if something is not right but I think the way to put across the question to an organisation either makes it vulnerable or it makes it stronger.

Guma: I suppose then what happened also is you came to the UK, are now in exile in the UK and we had another issue which came up with some group of ladies who made accusations regarding the Tare Appeal to help the girl from Zimbabwe who needed an operation on her tumour, so people were trying to put two and two together saying in Zimbabwe this happened and now here in the UK this has happened. Would you like maybe to also touch on that? What happened with the Tare Appeal and the allegations that we saw going all over the internet?

Makoni: Lance again I want to say that's a lie, that's not true and to confirm to every listener that our accounts are handled by the Paul Dawson accounting firm. It's a reputable organisation here in Essex in England. Muzvare does not handle a single pound here because I've got professionals doing it. My work is not to count money, my work is to count how many girls I am assisting.

That said, when Tare came here, the general public donated to an account here in England that is managed by trustees and these are highly respectable people all over the world who were managing the account. Every woman you saw making a public statement about Girl Child Network is nowhere near Essex, we don't even know them.

We don't know where they live, even when they started talking about me getting arrested, they don't even know where our office is and media when they pick up such issues they should dig deeper, to come to professionals to ask because if Muzvare is not giving a statement, if Tare is not giving a statement, if the trustees are not giving a statement and some funny women are doing that, there's bound to be something about a smear campaign stretching all the way from Zimbabwe.

So I want to say later on when I investigated, I found a real syndicate, a network stretching from Zimbabwe doing such campaigns. What I want to report to you is that Tare's funds were professionally handled and they were paid to the hospital, London Royal Hospital and I confirm to you that Tare was treated, she lived in my house and actually almost six thousand pounds for six months that was used for her family to be in the United Kingdom came as a donation from my own family here because they lived at my house for free, all transportation was for free.

The money that was donated was not even adequate for her stay in England and I'm the one who actually made a donation to her. That said I also want to correct the general public and say Barbara Nyagomo is not anywhere a member of the Girl Child Network. Priscilla (Nyathi) the one who was giving all these statements was just a volunteer.

By then when they were giving all these statements our organisation was not even registered in the country. Now Girl Child Network is an officially registered charity in the United Kingdom and we want now the women who were saying all these statements to come to the charity commission and report officially and then we want journalists to start writing a true story. As far as I am concerned, they reported wrongly to the public, they misinformed the public and I can actually say that was mostly caused by petty jealousies.

Guma: OK let's move on to Edward who's emailing from Hwange. Edward now wants to know the impact of this alleged smear campaign against yourself and the organisation - his question is has it affected goodwill and your ability to attract resources for your work from the donors?

Makoni: I just want to confirm that after all this backlash, after all this defamation I had trusted friends trusted donors and we actually got a lot of funding. A lot of foundations coming to fund us because they know we are an accountable organisation. So I want to report to all our supporters that we have a girl's empowerment and education set up fund now, it's operational and we are continuing with our work. There's no way a mere media report can stop work that is so rooted amongst the communities and also it's supported globally so the work is flourishing.

Guma: Cousin George Mike and I think this is our final question, says don't you think you would be more effective if you seek political office, not as president per se but for example in the legislature? That I take it means becoming an MP. Have you ever thought of this?

Makoni: Lance I should actually say to Cousin it would be very tragic if I become a politician or if I take a political office. Betty is not anywhere near a good politician. Politics is quite a dirty game, I'm quite a straightforward person, I cannot lie, I cannot play a dirty game, I am very direct so I would be a very poor politician so never in my life will I be a politician.

I will remain president of girls worldwide. It's a prestigious position, it's a respected position and I think for the rest of my life I'm going to make impact on that position. That's what I know best. I deliver and I know I always do that as the president of the girls' empowerment.

Guma: Now I said last question but just one more - I saw an article that you wrote where you were criticising women for bringing each other down. Just quickly, we are running out of time, do you really believe women do that - pulling each other down?

Makoni: Oh yes. When my CNN award was announced, every woman was up in arms. When I was in Zimbabwe I recall Ropafadzo Mapimhidze they said another award, are you sure, we are going to sort it out. When I was here in the United Kingdom, Barbara Nyagomo, Priscilla Nyathi, every woman just said we will sort her out. And to sort me out was to do a smear campaign.

The smear campaign was not done by men and during my whole work I've been running away from women persecuting me. I'm saying come on ladies, what's going on? I'm a woman like you, yah women like me, why should we be the one pulling each other down? I've got a successful story and honestly it should inspire everyone to do the same. You have got also inspiring stories and daily I get inspired so what's all this fight against?

Women shouldn't be each other's enemies, we are all talented differently. I didn't actually apply to be successful to any mighty power, I'm successful simply because I'm a hard worker, I don't sleep every night doing my work so emulate me, don't actually destroy what I've put together.

Guma: That's the founder of the Girl Child Network Betty Makoni joining us on Question Time. Thank you so much for your time.

Makoni: Thank you so much Lance, thank you all listeners.

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