From The Financial Gazette, 4 January
Govt arms war vets
SENIOR Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officers have clandestinely released firearms from the police armoury to independence war veterans which the former guerrillas have used to unleash violence and terror on white-owned commercial farms and against members of the opposition, an investigation by the Financial Gazette has revealed. Police sources said deputy commissioner Godwin Matanga - himself a war veteran - and other senior police officers sometime last year issued guns to several war veterans who were not attested to the police force.
Several of the ex-fighters had also been issued with police uniforms and kit and are being assigned to man roadblocks in areas believed to be strongholds of the opposition MDC. It is believed that scores of war veterans disguised as police officers had already been deployed in the hotly contested Bikita West constituency. The ruling ZANU PF party is pitted against the MDC in a tricky by-election scheduled for January 13 and 14. The seat was won by the MDC in June last year but its newly elected MP, Amon Mutongi, died in November from an illness.
Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo could not be reached yesterday to establish under whose instruction the police firearms were issued to the war veterans. Nkomo's office said he was only expected back in the office today. ZRP spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena conceded that some war veterans who are not members of the police force may have had access to ZRP weapons but vehemently denied that the guns had been issued to the former fighters in their capacity as war veterans or members of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans'; Association led by Chenjerai Hunzvi. War veterans who are not ZRP members but who may have had access to the force's weapons may have been able to do so because some of them were members of groups and institutions that the police force always lawfully loaned guns to, Bvudzijena said.
"It must be noted that the ZRP has issued on loan firearms to commercial farmers, municipalities, the national museum and national parks for use on various activities which include protection of crops, cash in transit, shooting clubs and anti-poaching activities," said Bvudzijena. "It must be stressed that it has never been the intention of the police that the weapons issued be used by anyone in any criminal activities and no weapons have been issued to anyone in their individual capacities as war veterans," he said. While Bvudzijena also denied that war veterans had been deployed at roadblocks, he however pointed out that the ZRP had some war veterans among its auxiliary constabulary who from time to time performed police duties. "Some of these war veterans have made and continue to make excellent contributions to the progress of the ZRP," Bvudzijena said.
Hundreds of war veterans, most of them heavily armed, have defied court orders to vacate white commercial farms which they have illegally seized since February last year. In November, the war veterans, led by bearded Harare municipal policeman Joseph Chinotimba, stormed the Supreme Court demanding that Zimbabwe's highest court back President Robert Mugabe's controversial fast-track land reform programme or the judges would be forced by the ex-combatants to resign from the bench. Chinotimba is himself facing charges that he shot and injured an MDC supporter in Harare last October. Chinotimba is also accused of violating bail conditions set by the courts when he led the former fighters on the failed Supreme Court putsch.
Bvudzijena said the gun allegedly used by Chinotimba, who has even been seen armed on national television, was not issued to him from the police armoury. He would not comment further on its origins, saying that such comment would prejudice police investigations. Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri, also a war veteran, has in the past said the ZRP's hands were tied over the issue of the war veterans, insisting that the matter was a political hot potato better handled by Mugabe.
According to sources in the security services, the police weapons were given to a select group of senior war veterans who co-ordinate the invasion of farms. The guns are meant to instil fear in white farmers, most of whom are usually not armed. "It is not every war veteran who has been given a gun but the seniors who are trusted," one source said. According to the sources, some war veterans passing off as members of the police's reserve constabulary had been issued with uniforms and deployed in the urban areas where ZANU PF has lost support to the MDC. Some sources also said the war veterans and members of the spy CIO had cached arms at selected invaded farms in preparation for the 2002 presidential election which ZANU PF fears Mugabe may lose to the MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai.
The war veterans were said to be out in full force in Marondera West constituency during the November by-election and several of them had now been transferred to Bikita West with instructions to disable the opposition's campaign. The MDC is fielding local businessman Bonnie Pakai while retired army colonel and liberation war veteran Claudius Makova is representing ZANU PF in the by-election. Pakai has since been advised by his party to keep a low profile because of fears that he might be the target of an assassination plot. At least one person has been killed so far in political violence between MDC and ZANU PF youths and war veterans in Bikita West.
In the run-up to the June election, more than 30 people died, most of them allegedly at the hands of the war veterans and supporters of the ruling party. None of the perpetrators has been jailed and Mugabe released those arrested under a special amnesty. The war veterans, regarded as the President's weapon for the crucial 2002 poll, have become extremely powerful within ZANU PF. In September, the government announced that it was incorporating most of them as a reserve force of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, itself dominated in the top ranks by members of the 1970s guerrilla armies of the former ZANLA and ZIPRA.From BBC News - 3 January
Zimbabwe faces food crisis
Harare - With its highly organised agricultural sector and generally favourable climate, Zimbabwe has traditionally been a net exporter of food. But the picture for the year ahead looks very different. Despite government assurances, there are growing concerns that continued disruption of agriculture as a result of the land redistribution efforts could lead to serious food shortages. The Grain Producers' Association has issued an urgent appeal to large-scale farmers to plant as much of the staple crop, maize, as possible, in an effort to alleviate the predicted problems. Months of illegal invasions of white-owned farms by government supporters have combined with rapidly escalating prices of seeds and fertilisers to produce what the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the FAO, describes as a "gloomy prospect".
Large-scale white farmers have cut back on planting, partly because of stoppages imposed by squatters, and partly because they have been denied the usual bank loans. Small-scale farmers are also likely to produce less, not least because the authorities waited more than six months before paying most of them for last year's produce. Many of those who have been given land under what the government calls its fast-track resettlement scheme lack the resources and skills to make any meaningful contribution. The result is that the maize harvest for the coming season could well be down by a third. But the FAO says its more immediate concern is not with food security but with food access. Prices have climbed so steeply as a result of the government's economic mismanagement that even basics such as bread are beyond the reach of a rapidly growing number of people.
From The Star (SA), 3 January
Sudden lay-off for 2 000 Zim civil servants
Harare - The Zimbabwean government laid off more than 2 000 civil servants in moves to streamline the public sector, the state workers union said on Wednesday. Thousands of workers from the education ministry were handed letters of termination when they turned up for work on Tuesday, the Government Workers Association (GWA) said. "At least 2 000 workers have been affected, but the actual number could be far greater than that," Agrippa Munyaka, the secretary general of the GWA, said. The majority of the workers informed of their fate on Tuesday were from Zimbabwe's two main cities of Harare and Bulawayo. Others from rural areas were still to receive their notices of retrenchment.
Although civil servants were notified in September that certain departments would be abolished, no date had been announced. On Wednesday, the union leader expressed concern about the short notice given to workers. "Our worry is that people were given notices in September that their departments were to be abolished but the letters did not state when exactly when they would leave employment," Munyaka said. Normally workers laid off are given a month's notice. Mike Mbizvo, the permanent secretary for the education ministry, told the state-run Herald that the workers knew well in advance about the impending redundancies. "I am surprised that there are some workers who feel that they have not been notified of the exercise," he said. Multilateral lending agencies have long recommended Zimbabwe reduce its 150 000-strong civil service as part of western-backed economic reforms. The southern African nation has been incrementally laying off workers since 1995.
From The Daily News, 3 January
War veterans evict 30 farm workers
ABOUT 50 war veterans and Zanu PF supporters evicted 30 farm workers from their houses at Chirobi Farm in Bindura, about 88km from Harare, on Friday. The veterans were armed with sticks, whips and axes. Last November, they evicted 45 workers and their families from their houses at the same farm. When The Daily News visited the farm, the workers were accommodated in a workshop. The war veterans have set up a base on the farm, after taking over land that Chris Thorne, the owner of the farm, had given the workers to plant their own crops.
As a result of these disruptions, farming was impossible this year, said Peter Tadeyo, the farm manager. Thorne, said Tadeyo, had planned to plant 500 hectares of soya-beans and 200 hectares of maize. "Our children's education has been interfered with," said Tadeyo. "We now have to start looking for new school places for them." Richard Hotchkis, a friend of the Thorne family, said the war veterans stormed the workers' houses at about 9am in the morning just after Thorne and his family had left for a week-long holiday in Kariba. The war veterans had given a 90-day notice to Thorne, his wife, Ro, and children, Mark, Nick, Duncan and Roseanne. The ultimatum expired on Friday.
Hotchkis said the mob ordered the workers to remove their property from their houses, accusing them of supporting the MDC. "The mob was menacing, hostile and ready to kill," he said. "It was only the level-headedness of our staff that saved the situation. There was absolutely no provocation from our side." The mob forced open doors to houses whose owners either refused to comply or were absent, said Hotchkis. The gang, said Hotchkis, allocated themselves the workers' houses before replacing padlocks on the doors with their own. Nine officers of the police support unit arrived from Bindura two hours later but left without doing anything.
Tadeyo said the veterans also besieged the workshop, breaking down the gate. They proceeded to an office in the workshop, where he and Mara Mutoro, the farm's health worker, had taken refuge. Tadeyo said he opened the door after the veterans started bashing the door, threatening to break it down. Hotchkis said with the assistance of Mazoe Security, which provides security for the farming area, they went to Bindura Police Station. Armed police escorted them back to the farm and their houses. But the veterans had locked the houses and most of the workers had fled to nearby farms while others had gone to their rural homes, said Tadeyo. There were only 10 workers when The Daily News arrived at the farm.
From The Financial Gazette, 4 January
MDC steps up bid to secure aid for displaced farmhands
Representatives of the opposition MDC and the United Nations met in Harare this week to discuss the mobilisation of aid for Zimbabweans displaced by farm invasions and those affected by increasing poverty, party officials said yesterday. The discussions, which took place on Tuesday, involved representatives of the labour-backed party and Harare-based UNDP. MDC secretary for economic affairs Eddie Cross said although no decisions had been made, the preliminary discussions had been satisfactory and would be followed by further talks. "Nothing has been decided," he told the Financial Gazette, adding: "But our preliminary talks with the UNDP were satisfactory and we're going to hold further discussions."
The MDC's meeting with the UNDP comes after the party formally informed the organisation at the end of last year of its growing concern at the plight of farm workers displaced by the occupation of commercial farms by independence war veterans and other ruling ZANU PF supporters. Thousands of farm workers are living in squalor and poverty after being displaced by the continuing occupation of over 1 500 commercial farms, which has raised fears that a large number of Zimbabweans will become internal refugees this year.
The occupation of agricultural land and the accompanying disruption of commercial farming activities have also raised concerns that Zimbabwe will be plagued by severe food shortages at a time when it is facing a foreign currency crisis. Disruption of farming activity and the reluctance of banks to further expose themselves to the unstable agricultural sector by funding farming activity will make it necessary for the country to import some foodstuffs when it does not have adequate foreign currency. Other concerns that the MDC raised with the UNDP included increased urban poverty as local companies downsize their operations and lay off workers, who are finding it increasingly difficult to provide for their families.
Cross said the MDC and the UNDP had this week discussed what was needed to deal with these problems and how aid from donor agencies could be administered. "We discussed what was needed and how it was going to be administered," he said, adding: "What we are particularly concerned about is that aid supplies are not to be used for government patronage." The MDC, which Cross said had no intention of being involved in the administration of whatever aid is finally agreed upon, would like to see the involvement of civil society agencies in the administration and disbursement of supplies to avoid their misuse.
From IRIN (UN), 3 January
Kabila calls for "merciless struggle"
DRC President Laurent Desire Kabila has said that the coming year will see the "invaders" chased out of the country. In a New Year message, carried by the APA news agency in Kinshasa, he hailed his compatriots' "active resistance" over the past year against the "Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian aggressors". "I am convinced that at the end of the year 2000...our efforts will be concentrated on chasing the invaders from our national territory," he stated. "They are waging a war of plunder, an economic war, and a war which attempts to balkanise our country." He called for greater resistance and a "merciless struggle against our enemies". To achieve this, he said, unity among the Congolese was essential.
We enclose below a report from MDC sources on the ground in Bikita West. It must be realised that this is an alternative perspective to that reported in the Government-controlled media. Whilst we believe the contents to be a true representation of the situation as at 2nd January, total accuracy cannot be guaranteed.
General sentiment on the grapevine seems to indicate that a lot of people feel that the MDC is not doing enough to counter Government / Zanu PF actions. It should be clear from the information below that, whilst there may be shortcomings in some areas, there are brave and dedicated MDC people putting their lives on the line to ensure successes in the field, for the benefit of all Zimbabweans. This work does not come cheap. It is appreciated that not everyone is able, or has the opportunity to participate in this manner. There is, however, a large vacuum in the logistical and financial support side of this and future campaigns. For example, Rural District By-Elections are due to take place throughout the country on 26th and 27th January. In addition, there will also be the inevitable Parliamentary By-Elections, not to mention the Presidential Election in 2002, to contest.
How can you help? The Party and Support Groups need finance, material and logistical support! In particular, this Support Group urgently needs:
- competent translators (who need to be available at short notice) for the vernacular languages within the Southern Region - mainly Ndebele, Shona, Tonga, Venda and Sotho, and
- people to assist in the transport and distribution of campaign materials,
in order to assist the Party in their current and ongoing campaigns. Please contact this office - details given below. All contributions will receipted, recognised and confidentiality will be maintained.
BIKITA WEST PARLIAMENTARY BY-ELECTION
13th and 14th January 2001 - 9 Campaign Days to go!
UPDATE, 2nd JANUARY 2001
After the violence that had rocked the Marondera West by election it was inevitable that ZANU PF would adopt a policy of violence and intimidation in Bikita West working on the basis that the policy had worked in Marondera West and would work again. A day after the ZANU PF congress finished in Harare, Chenjerai Hunzvi led a convoy of trucks ferrying about 150 ZANU PF youths into Bikita,. They made their headquarters the Bikita Training Centre, a government institution. Their presence immediately raised tension in the area. Hunzvi was joined by Joseph Chinotimba and Border Gezi. Most of what has transpired since that time has been adequately covered in The Daily News so what follows is what has occurred in the last few days.
On the 30th December three petrol bombs were thrown at a group of MDC campaigners at Nyika growth Point. A Mercedes Benz motor vehicle belonging to an MDC campaigner and war veteran Dr. Mudzingwa was burned after a petrol bomb was thrown into it, allegedly on the instructions of Hunzvi. The incident occurred in view of the Police at Nyika who appear to have simply let the incident pass. The vehicle is at Nyika Service Station. It is not burned beyond economical repair and will be towed into Masvingo for repair in the next day or so.
Bernard Gora, a ZANU PF campaigner was stabbed to death by MDC youths shortly after the petrol bomb incident. The MDC youths had reacted to ZANU PF youths who again on the alleged instructions of Hunzvi, had prevented MDC supporters from going to a place where they wanted to hold a rally. It is understood that no one has been arrested over the incident.
It has been reliably established that ZANU PF intend abducting Chief Mazungunye who has thrown his weight behind the MDC and who is an influential figure in the constituency. On New Year’s day Shadreck Marima who stood as the MDC candidate in Bikita East, and who has been helping Boniface Pakai in his campaign, was arrested by the ZRP. He is being detained at Bikita Police Station and it is understood that he will be charged with inciting public violence. It is not clear what evidence the Police have to substantiate these charges.
Information received indicates that there is a very real possibility that the election will be postponed if ZANU PF come to the conclusion (in the next few days) that they will not win the election. It is suggested that what they will do is ‘manufacture’ violence and blame it on the MDC, in order to give the President an opportunity to postpone the elections. This would give them more time to intimidate the electorate into voting for them. In particular, the additional time would provide the opportunity to bring added pressure on those Chiefs and Headmen who they perceive to be MDC supporters.
Further information to hand suggests that on the 6th January 2001, ZANU PF will flood the constituency with more youths and war veterans. The plan would be to make it absolutely impossible for the MDC to campaign in the final days before the election - assuming it does go ahead on the 13th and 14th January. This is exactly the same ploy that ZANU PF used for the Marondera West election. They are working on the basis that a high turnout of voters will favour the MDC whilst a low turnout of voters will favour ZANU PF. In the latter case, they assume that the majority of those voting would be ZANU PF supporters, whilst those who were kept away from the polls through intimidation would be MDC supporters. There is also the suggestion that on polling days ZANU PF will mobilise and station their war vets etc at points more than 100 metres from polling stations. Their ‘job’ would be to ‘vet’ those who want to vote and to try and prevent those who they believe are MDC supporters (particularly the under 35 age group) from getting to the polls.