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Human Rights Watch - Army behind new wave of human rights abuses


Date: 29 Apr 2008

AU and UN Security Council Should Act to Help Protect Zimbabweans at Risk

(Johannesburg, April 29, 2008) – The Zimbabwean army is responsible for a
new wave of rights violations throughout Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch said
today. Military forces are providing arms and trucks to so-called ‘war
veterans’ who have been implicated in numerous acts of torture and other
violence against opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) members and

‘The army and its allies – ‘war-veterans’ and supporters of the ruling party
ZANU-PF – are intensifying their brutal grip on wide swathes of rural
Zimbabwe to ensure that a possible second round of presidential elections
goes their way,’ said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights
Watch. ‘The African Union and UN Security Council should take immediate
steps to help prevent a further escalation in violence.’

Human Rights Watch called on the African Union and the UN Security Council
to intervene in the crisis to protect Zimbabweans at increasing risk of
violence. They should publicly and privately press the government to stop
the violence, take action against those responsible, and take steps to
ensure that the police and army remain impartial and act to protect all
Zimbabweans. They should also urge the government to permit international
human rights monitors and the media unfettered access to the country.

In the aftermath of general elections that took place on March 29, 2008,
Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuses in the worst-affected areas
of Zimbabwe – the capital Harare, and the provinces of Mashonaland East,
West, and Central, Manicaland, and Masvingo. Members and supporters of the
Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), the army, police,
and ‘war veterans’ have organized and carried out a brutal campaign of
torture and intimidation against anyone perceived as supporting the MDC.
According to scores of victims and eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights
Watch, ZANU-PF supporters and ‘war veterans’ are drawing up lists of MDC
activists who are then systematically targeted for abuse. These ZANU-PF
allies are also forcing people to attend meetings to swear allegiance to
ZANU-PF and denounce those remaining MDC supporters.

For example, Human Rights Watch investigations in Manicaland province
indicate that ZANU-PF supporters are collaborating with the army in
unleashing a campaign of terror and violence against MDC members and
supporters. Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that ‘war veterans’ have
set up camp at an army base called ‘Three Brigade,’ which is the official
military barracks in Manicaland. Sources told Human Right Watch that the
army had given the ‘war veterans’ guns and army trucks to carry out raids on
the homes of known MDC supporters and members. Military officers are also
directly involved in these raids.

On April 23, in Manicaland, a group of ‘war veterans’ and ZANU-PF supporters
fired at a group of 22 MDC activists who had enquired about the whereabouts
of 12 MDC supporters. Earlier the ‘war veterans’ had abducted the 12 MDC
supporters and taken them to Chiwetu Rest Camp – an informal torture center
set up by the ‘war veterans’ and ZANU-PF youth in Makoni West, Manicaland
province. When the MDC activists arrived at the camp they found up to 50
‘war veterans’ and ZANU-PF supporters – 12 of whom were armed. The ‘war
veterans’ ordered the activists to sit on the ground and then fired shots
into the air. As the MDC activists tried to flee, the war veterans fired
another round of shots, this time at the group, hitting three of them. One
activist, Tabeth Marume, was shot in the stomach and died of her wounds on
the way to the hospital. Two other activists were also injured during the

One of the victims of the shooting told Human Rights Watch that the man who
fired the shot that killed Tabeth Marume was a known ‘war veteran.’ When the
victims informed the local police about the incident, the police refused to
take action, claiming that such an incident could not have happened since
they had no knowledge of any civilians in the area who were allowed to keep

The current whereabouts of the 12 abducted MDC supporters are not known. The
activists who went to the camp told Human Rights Watch that they saw their
colleagues at the camp with their hands tied behind their backs, lying on
their stomachs. They said the 12 activists were badly bruised and injured.
The activists also reported to Human Rights Watch that they later saw the
‘war veterans’ bundle their colleagues into pickup trucks and drive off.

The lack of arrests and investigations into this and other incidents of
organized political violence carried out by ZANU-PF and its allies contrasts
starkly with the arrest of 215 people last Friday accused of committing
reprisal attacks against ZANU-PF, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights
Watch expressed concern that those arrests were politically motivated

‘With increasing incidents of politically motivated, state-sponsored
violence in Zimbabwe it is essential the African Union and the UN Security
Council work together to press for the protection of civilians,’ said
Gagnon. ‘Getting international human rights monitors and the media on the
ground provides Zimbabweans some protection in the face of the escalating
crackdown by the army and police.’

© Copyright, Human Rights Watch 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor New York, NY
10118-3299 USA

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Mr. Mugabe's Violence

New York Times


Zimbabwe's president continues to terrorize his opponents while withholding
the results of the election he lost.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008; Page A18

THE EVIDENCE is now overwhelming that the Zimbabwean regime of Robert Mugabe
is engaged in a massive, orchestrated and brutal campaign to punish and
terrorize its opponents. Security forces and militia groups loyal to the
84-year-old autocrat have rampaged across the countryside for the past
month, targeting opposition activists and whole villages suspected of having
voted against the government in the March 29 elections. In some areas,
torture camps have been established where victims are taken and beaten while
their homes are looted and burned. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association
said yesterday that at least 10 people have been killed and hundreds
displaced; the opposition Movement for Democratic Change counts 15 dead,
3,000 refugees and 500 hospitalized.

While this criminal repression goes on, Mr. Mugabe is still blocking the
release of the results of the presidential vote held one month ago. Using
totals posted by individual election districts, independent monitors have
calculated that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai defeated Mr. Mugabe by a
wide margin, though it is not clear whether he obtained the 50 percent
majority needed to avoid a runoff. But while the electoral commission
finally confirmed Saturday that the opposition won a majority in Parliament,
it has repeatedly delayed the certification of the presidential vote;
yesterday it said it would not begin until Thursday. While the bureaucrats
drag their feet, Mr. Mugabe's campaign of terror continues in the
countryside -- and virtually ensures that if a presidential runoff is held
it will not be free or fair. "What we are witnessing constitutes a form of
rigging," said the chairman of the human rights association.

In few places in the world could such a brazen operation proceed without
triggering intervention by neighbors or the United Nations. Sadly, Zimbabwe
remains one of those places, largely because the president of its most
powerful neighbor, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, has chosen to shield Mr.
Mugabe from pressure. Though the U.N. Security Council finally met to
consider the Zimbabwean situation yesterday, it did so in private and issued
no statement -- because its current chairman happens to be from South
Africa. The Southern African Development Community has been similarly
stymied, even though its chairman, Zambia's Levy Mwanawasa, has courageously
stood up against Mr. Mugabe.

The rest of the world can no longer allow this criminal violence to continue
unpunished. To its credit, the European Union yesterday endorsed a British
proposal for a global arms embargo against Zimbabwe, which this month tried
to import a shipload of arms from China. The Bush administration dispatched
an assistant secretary of state, Jendayi Frazer, to the region in an attempt
to mobilize pressure on Mr. Mugabe. In an interview with the Associated
Press on Sunday, Ms. Frazer correctly said that "the international community
has a responsibility to step in and try to stop that government from beating
its own population." The United States should begin working immediately with
other members of the Security Council on an arms embargo and other sanctions
aimed at forcing an end to the violence -- and compelling Mr. Mugabe to
accept the election results.

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UN voices reluctance to act on Zimbabwe

International Herald Tribune

By Warren Hoge and Celia W. Dugger Published: April 30, 2008

UNITED NATIONS: The Security Council heard on Tuesday what an American
official called a "sobering" account of electoral stalemate and violence in
Zimbabwe, but ended up discouraging proposals for direct United Nations
involvement in the crisis.

"There are a number of delegations that don't believe the Council should be
engaged on this, which is regrettable," said the official, Alejandro Wolff,
the deputy American ambassador.

The briefing, delivered to a closed session of the Council by B. Lynn
Pascoe, the under secretary general for political affairs, prompted calls
from the United States and its European allies for sending a fact-finding
mission or special envoy to the country.

Karen Pierce, Britain's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said Pascoe
had spoken of "a level of political intimidation and violence that I think
many Council members found quite chilling."

But diplomats said the proposals ran into opposition led by South Africa,
this month's president of the Council. "It's their country; we don't need a
special envoy," said Dumisani Kumalo, the South African ambassador.

Arguing that the electoral impasse did not constitute the kind of threat to
international peace and security that demands the Council's involvement,
Kumalo said: "Different countries hold elections; some do it very well, some
do it not so well. That is the only way you can look at elections around the
The final results of the March 29 election in Zimbabwe have still not been
released, and the delay has led to accusations that the nation's autocratic
president, Robert Mugabe, is trying to ward off what appears to have been a
defeat for him and his ruling party, ZANU-PF.

Tendai Biti, the general secretary of the opposition Movement for Democratic
Change, or MDC, called the outcome of the Council consultations "tragic as
it is disappointing." He added that some countries "have decided to play
Ping-Pong with our people."

Pascoe said that the United Nations had "a great deal of concern" about the
unrest in Zimbabwe and that it was working through the African Union and the
Southern African Development Community. "At the moment, I think they have
the lead on this issue, so let's see what the government and the opposition
want us to do," he said.

In Zimbabwe, most of the people who were rounded up Friday at MDC
headquarters in Harare, the capital, were freed Tuesday by order of the
country's High Court, without being officially charged.

Alec Muchadehama, the lawyer representing them, said 182 people, who had
been scattered to police stations across the capital, were released. Among
them were people wounded in the postelection violence, some with broken arms
and legs.

Muchadehama said their detention since Friday in Harare jails would probably
deter others from coming forward to lodge complaints with the police about
attacks by the governing party's youth militias and supporters.

The Herald, the state-owned newspaper, reported Tuesday that on Monday the
police had released 29 of those taken into custody Friday, primarily women,
babies and the elderly.

In what could be interpreted as a clear warning to those who claim to have
been attacked by state-sponsored thugs, the newspaper quoted the chief
police spokesman, Wayne Bvudzijena, as having said, "We have profiled
everyone we rounded up, so that if need arises, we will always make a

Zimbabwean election officials had raised hopes over the weekend that Mugabe
and his leading challenger for president, Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC,
might be called in as early as Monday to begin verifying the outcome of the
presidential election, a process expected to take about a week. But Utoile
Silaigwana, the deputy chief election officer, said Tuesday that the
verification would not begin until Thursday, representing yet another delay
in satisfying a growing clamor for Zimbabwe to finally say who won the
presidential contest.

Election officials say a recount of 23 of the 210 parliamentary seats is
completed, but they have yet to officially announce the results for all 23.
There has been no change in the outcome of races in which they have
announced recount results.

It is now widely expected that the MDC and a faction that splintered from it
will together have a majority in Parliament, the first time the governing
party led by Mugabe has lost control of the legislative branch since
Zimbabwe gained independence from white rule in 1980.

Warren Hoge reported from the United Nations, and Celia W. Dugger from

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Angry villagers disarm soldiers and war vets

By Our Correspondent

HARARE, April 30, 2008 ( – Angry villagers overwhelmed
a group of soldiers who are part of a group that was deployed recently in
the Makoni District of the eastern province of Manicaland.

There has been widespread deployment of the military throughout rural
Zimbabwe in the aftermath of the controversial elections held on March 29

Rampaging villagers, said to be MDC youths reportedly disarmed the three
soldiers who, with the support of 10 war veterans, attempted to disperse a
rampaging mob of villagers in Makoni West on Monday, as Zimbabwe sunk deeper
into post-election violence.

As clashes raged after the murder of an opposition politician in the area by
soldiers and war veterans, dozens of MDC youths overwhelmed and disarmed the
three soldiers and 10 war veterans loyal to president Robert Mugabe after
they threatened to shoot everyone.

They reportedly took the three guns seized from the soldiers to Headlands
Police Station.

MDC national spokesman Nelson Chamisa said yesterday that elsewhere five
people have been killed over the past two days in the latest outbreak of
violence. This brought  the total death toll to more than 20 since violence
erupted following last month’s controversial elections. He said parts of
rural Zimbabwe had been paralyzed by a fresh wave of violence over the past
two days.

He said an MDC activist, Tabitha Marume, had been shot in cold blood by
soldiers at Chiwetu Rest Camp in Makoni West. He said a school-teacher,
Percy Muchiwa, had allegedly been brutalized by Zanu-PF supporters in the
Bakasa area of Guruve until he collapsed and died on Monday.

Chamisa said Tenos Manyimo and Bigboy Zhuwawo, both of Mbire in Mashonaland
Central, had been murdered on Sunday allegedly by members of the Zanu-PF
militia who accused them of being MDC supporters,.

MDC polling agent Clemence Dube of Poshayi Village in Ward 12 in Shurugwi,
was assaulted until he died on Monday, allegedly by Zanu-PF supporters and
war veterans.

The police said yesterday that they were maintaining an open mind over the
“alleged deaths”.

“It was all political, period,” Chamisa said. “These people were murdered
for being MDC supporters. The violence by the Zanu-PF militia and youth
continues to increase to alarming levels.”

MDC youths clashed with Zanu-PF supporters in the town of Rusape in
Manicaland. They openly vowed to clear the area of Zanu-PF supporters,
accusing them of the murder of MDC supporters.

Meanwhile, human rights doctors reported yesterday that they had treated a
further 62 cases of victims of organised violence and torture in the three
days leading up to April 25. The doctors said the victims were mostly from
Mudzi, Mutoko and Murewa.

United Nations Human Rights Rapporteurs also issued a joint statement
detailing accounts of the various acts of intimidation, violence and torture
which they said were occurring “as a form of retribution against, or
victimization of people or groups suspected to have voted for or otherwise
supported the MDC.

“There are reports that security forces, paramilitary groups and gangs have
deployed in particular in rural areas, townships and farms, where the MDC
reportedly gathered more votes than Zanu-PF, and are attacking the homes of
suspected MDC supporters and persons involved in the elections for the
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).”

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Violence claims two lives in Masvingo

MASVINGO, April 30, 2008 ( - At least two  MDC
supporters were killed yesterday and scores were injured in Masvingo as the
current wave political violence spreads across the country, the police have

Zvidzai Mapurisa of Gunikuni village in Masvingo Central constituency was
murdered by suspected Zanu-PF supporters while Cathrine Mukwenje of Mawarire
Village in Mwenezi was also killed by suspected war veterans as President
Mugabe’s ruling party unleashed a violent political campaign ahead of the
expected presidential run-off.

The police in Masvingo yesterday confirmed the death of Mapurisa and
Mukwenje, both prominent MDC supporters.

The officer commanding Masvingo province Assistant commissioner Mhekia
Tanyanyiwa   confirmed the deaths and said investigations were underway,.

“I can confirm the death of Mapurisa and Mukwenje both suspected MDC
supporters,” said Tanyanyiwa.

“We are urging all people to report all cases of violence so that the police
can attend to them timely to avoid loss of human life.”

At least 20 people have been arrested in connection with the murders and
more arrests could be made,” he said.

About 15 people most of them who men are admitted to Morgenster Mission and
Neshuro hospitals after they were brutally assaulted by the suspected
Zanu-PF militants.

According to police sources Mapurisa was abducted from his home on Saturday
and was subjected to beatings and later thrown into a near by dam where his
body was found floating.

In Mwenezi Mukwenje was confronted by suspected Zanu-PF supporters and
assaulted heavily before her assailants allegedly plucked out one of her

She died yesterday of injuries she sustained during the assault.

MDC Masvingo provincial secretary Tongai Matutu said the marauding Zanu-PF
supporters were targeting MDC supporters whom they accused of voting for the
opposition during the March 29 harmonised elections.

“These people are targeting our supporters, mostly those residing in
resettlement areas,” said Matutu.

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Zanu-PF wants to retain power after losing elections

The Zimbabwe Times


THE ramblings in The Herald are getting more bizarre.

The latest admits implicitly that Zanu-PF don’t have control of Parliament
(after a “recount”) and now want to “guarantee” seats in cabinet for minor
parties, “as in Switzerland”. With a new post of prime minister.

Then an unelected council of worthies (including army chiefs and
businessmen) will appoint a President without an election.

What this all means is that Zanu-PF are admitting they have lost, don’t
control Parliament, can’t win an election with their president and are
implicitly admitting they are a minority party, and want to try and get
cabinet seats by changing the rules (again).

They also want to have a parallel administration with Zanu-PF bigwigs
appointing a President without an election involving the population.

As the government in Zimbabwe works now, this means they want to retain the
powers of the presidency in Zanu-PF without the input of the electorate.
They want elections that will produce a  paper or window-dressing parliament
with no real power; one that “guarantees” Zanu-PF seats on the cabinet. That
way the MDC cannot operate without their input or sabotage, and Zanu-PF will
control parts of government.

The cabinet seats they want guaranteed are probably going to be Home Affairs
(police), Defence, State Security (CIO), Agriculture, Judiciary, Finance and
Trade, or all the posts that have effective power and can protect their
ill-gotten gains and prevent any possible human rights prosecutions.

All of this means that effectively Zanu-PF are admitting they have lost
power and are trying to scrabble for protection from the MDC and write
guarantees to stop the MDC President from using the powers that Zanu-PF
arrogated to the presidency against Zanu-PF.

They seek to impose an unelected President chosen by Zanu-PF outside of

Alisdair Budd

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Zimbabwe Opposition Leader Appeals For UN Special Envoy


UNITED NATIONS (AP)--The Zimbabwe opposition's second-in-command urged the
U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to appoint a special envoy to help resolve
the country's worsening crisis following last month's elections.

But the deeply divided council took no action.

The council president said it's up to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to
decide whether to dispatch an envoy or fact-finding mission, and the U.N.
political chief said Ban hasn't decided if it's necessary.

The response was frustrating for Tendai Biti, secretary-general of the
opposition Movement for Democratic Change, who flew to New York hoping to
address the U.N.'s most powerful body, with the results of Zimbabwe's March
29 presidential election still in limbo.

The council heard a briefing on the situation in Zimbabwe behind closed
doors, with no outsiders allowed, leaving Biti scrambling for appointments
with the 15 council members. The U.S. helped out late Tuesday, organizing a
meeting at its mission and inviting many council members, diplomats said.

Biti called the current situation "desperate" and said it was time for
international action to help Zimbabwe, which he said has become "a war
zone." He accused President Robert Mugabe of unleashing "systematic
violence" which has killed at least 18 people - and probably 50 - since the

"We would like the international community to intervene before dead rivers
start floating" with bodies, Biti said in an interview with Associated Press
Television News.

While the U.S., U.K. and France back sending a U.N. envoy to Zimbabwe,
diplomats said South Africa, Russia, China and other members oppose any
action now.

"We find that there are certain people and certain countries that have
decided to play pingpong with our people," Biti said. "There is a
humanitarian crisis. People are dying, and more importantly, there is an
obvious - such an obvious and embarrassing subversion of democracy."

South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, the current council
president, said that "the only thing that the members seemed to agree with"
is that the Southern African Development Community should push Zimbabwe's
electoral commission to publish the results of the presidential race.

Beyond that, he said, "there was no agreement" on what to do next.

  (END) Dow Jones Newswires

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Zimbabwe's military feels the heat


   April 30 2008 at 07:21AM

By Allister Sparks

At last we may be witnessing the final chapter of Zimbabwe's drawn-out
agony. At the time of writing, the final election results have still to be
announced, but it looks as though Robert Mugabe is on his way out.

I know this has been predicted before, only for some new twist to dash
hopes. This Götterdämmerung opera will not be over until the Old Man sings.
But this time things do look different.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission's sudden acceleration of its recount
of those 23 disputed parliamentary seats, after a full month of stalling,
and its confirmation that the figures were correct after all and that the
reunited Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had indeed won control of
parliament, smelled of a deal having been done.

It suggested the old regime had capitulated. Even if Mugabe were able
to rig a run-off election, he would face the task of trying to govern with a
hostile legislature. Not impossible, but tortuous. It would mean ruling by
presidential decree, effectively declaring himself a dictator, which not
even the timid Southern African Development Community could condone.

What brought about this sudden capitulation? One can only speculate,
but the surge of public disapproval throughout the region, and particularly
in South Africa, has undoubtedly played a role. As long as the disapproval
came only from the "imperialist" West, Mugabe could brush it aside. But the
surge of outrage in his own backyard shook him and opened cracks in the
Zanu-PF leadership.

There have been tell-tale signs of this along the way. Ten days ago,
City Press published a question-and-answer interview with MDC leader Morgan
Tsvangirai in which it managed to bury an item of singular newsworthiness at
the tail-end of a 2 000-word report.

In what should have been its front page lead, the newspaper quoted
Tsvangirai as saying he knew on the Sunday following the March 29 election
that the MDC had won, and that the next day an emissary from Mugabe's ruling
Zanu-PF came to see him.

"On Monday they sent an emissary to say we have been trying to
persuade Mugabe to concede," Tsvangirai said. "Mugabe has accepted, now the
question is how can you accommodate us? They even suggested, why don't you
give Mugabe a role for six months? We said: 'No. He should go and retire.'"

Asked what went wrong, Tsvangirai replied: "I think what went wrong is
this: some of the hawks in the military said we can't accept transfer of
power and that's when the problem started. The hawks in the military, the
hawks in Zanu-PF, were not prepared to accept the verdict of the people. I
think they regrouped and went to Mugabe, and Mugabe, being a hawk himself,
found a constituency."

I have managed to substantiate independently that this indeed
happened, three days after the election.

It changed the whole strategic picture. It meant the central problem
was no longer Mugabe himself, but the military commanders.

The reason is clear. The Sadc leaders and Tsvangirai himself had
pledged publicly to give Mugabe "an honourable exit" with immunity from
prosecution for crimes against humanity. But no such assurances were given
to the six commanders of the security services - the chiefs of the defence
force, the army, the air force, the commissioners of police and prison
services and the head of the central intelligence organisation, who together
form the powerful joint operational command (JOC), which is the power behind
Mugabe's throne.

Two are particularly vulnerable: Air Marshall Perence Shiri, who
commanded the notorious North Korean-trained 5th Brigade which massacred
some 20 000 people in Matabeleland in a campaign ordered by Mugabe in the
early 1980s, and defence force chief Constantine Chiwenga, who has been
involved in more recent atrocities.

These men have every reason to fear a change of regime and the
departure of their protector. One can imagine them feeling aggrieved at
Mugabe's willingness to step down into safe retirement while leaving them to
face the music.

This meant the strategic focus needed to switch to them. If the
Zimbabwean crisis was ever to be resolved, there would have to be a deal
with the JOC chiefs.

I suspect this is what has engaged the mediators, whose resolve
appears to have been strengthened by the intervention of the US Assistant
Secretary of State for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, who has been doing some
not-so-quiet diplomacy of her own as she has shuttled around the Sadc

Ironically, Mugabe's cynical attempt to buy time to deploy his forces
so he could win a rerun while beating his opponents into submission has
allowed time for behind-the-scenes negotiations to deal with the problem of
the commanders.

Just how this is being handled is not yet clear. But it should have
been obvious from the outset that it was an issue that required the closest
attention, that a way would have to be found to grant the JOC chiefs
immunity from prosecution in return for their retirement from the armed
forces - which would have to be depoliticised if Zimbabwe was to be

The other side of such a deal may well be to persuade Tsvangirai to
agree to form a government of national unity - without Mugabe, but including
several Zanu-PF ministers. As we South Africans know from our own
experience, including members of the old regime, however odious, into the
new administration is vital if one is to achieve a measure of national

Finally, it must be said that Jacob Zuma's outspokenness and that of
his Cosatu allies have played an important role in stepping up the pressure
on the Mugabe regime.

Zuma has been forceful, calling the crisis "a sabotage of democracy",
and describing Zimbabwe as "a police state". Coming with the full backing of
the ANC, Zuma's admonitions have not only helped clear the suspicion that
South Africans have been secret supporters of Mugabe's misrule, but his
strong leadership has opened space for others in the ruling alliance to
become more assertive.

Thus Cosatu's Zwelinzima Vavi has accused Mugabe of waging war on his
people and of staging a coup d'état. Vavi has denounced the regime as
"illegal", and called on labour movements and governments to make it clear
that "this regime cannot be tolerated in Africa".

Strong stuff, contrasting sharply with President Thabo Mbeki's quiet
diplomacy. And the words have been backed by action. We have seen the
Cosatu-backed Transport and General Workers' Union, and civil society
activists, turn away the shipment of Chinese arms intended for Zimbabwe.
That was a watershed event, which sent a strong message to Mugabe and his
military chiefs. It told them in no uncertain terms that their powerful
southern neighbour was strongly critical of their oppressive rule, and
warned that the new ANC leadership would take a much tougher line if they
were still there when it comes to power next year.

It's that kind of pressure that causes tyrants to waver and cracks to
appear in their ranks.

Sparks is a veteran journalist and political commentator.

This article was originally published on page 9 of Cape Times on April
30, 2008

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MDC releases Presidential poll results

Zimbabwe Metro

mdc-party-logo.gifThe Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is circulating statistical evidence to the press to back up its claim that it won with an absolute majority in the presidential election.

The results put Tsvangirai at 51.7%, while President Robert Mugabe is at 43.3%.

Below are the match ups MDC versus Zanu-PF presidential vote allocation breakdown in the country’s 10 “provinces”,please note it excludes independent candidate Simba Makoni who got a significant share in Matebeland provinces.

Presidential Poll Results as Provided By the MDC

  Morgan Tsvangirai Robert Mugabe
Bulawayo 49 660 11 146
Harare 227 387 60 523
Manicaland 212 553 131 856
Mashonaland Central 78 650 150 889
Mashonaland East 130 753 156 746
Mashonaland West 126 832 134 329
Masvingo 164 345 152 327
Matebeleland North 68 656 39 143
Matebeleland South 34 437 44 995
Midlands 155 122 162 338
TOTAL 1 248 395 1 044 292
Percentage total 51.7% 43.3%

The total number of votes cast including those of other candidates is 2 413 830.

The results concur with those that MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti provided at a news conference three days after the poll. That projection was provided by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network it showed Tsvangirai received between 47.0 to 51.8 of the vote and Robert Mugabe 39.2 to 44.4. The Margin of Error was 2.4. State media have since seized on 47.0 and ignored 51.8 to say he failed to win an absolute majority.

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After Mugabe: the media challenge

Business Day

30 April 2008

Anton Harber

A CHANGE of government in Zimbabwe provides an opportunity to reshape its
media along democratic lines. Last time Zimbabwe went through major
political change — independence in 1980 — the colonial media system was
simply transferred to the new state and continued to play a partisan role as
the new government became increasingly repressive.

Robert Mugabe’s government kept a stranglehold on broadcast media and took
over the major newspapers from the then Argus Group of SA. It built up a
machinery of media control, forcing the registration of journalists and
publications and using this — and more direct repression — to suppress
opposition voices.

Private newspapers were given very little space in which to operate in the
past decade or so, and most were closed down. The country has had no
independent mass-market dailies for the past few years. This in a country
with a high literacy rate and strong demand for reading material. The
absence of a free media contributed significantly to the delay in bringing
democratic change.

That the opposition has been able to win parliament in a situation where
they have had almost no media platform, and faced the naked hostility of
powerful state media, is a remarkable achievement. On the other hand, this
led to a lively media-in-exile, particularly on the internet. Newspapers,
radio stations and internet sites proliferated on foreign soil. Much of the
opposition communication has also been via SMS, another new technology hard
for the state to control. In the words of my colleague, Tawana Kupe:
“Zimbabweans have become masters of alternative communication and media
strategies as surrogates for mainstream media.”

Now there will be important choices to make to rebuild and secure democracy.
The first step will be dismantling the legal and state machinery which
controls and contains the media. Most of it, such as the state-appointed
Media Council, and the security laws, can simply be done away with.

New institutions, such as an independent broadcasting regulator, will need
to be put in place. Such moves should allow for a blossoming of private

A MISTAKE, however, would be to privatise state-controlled media. The need
for diversity will not be served if such a large and dominant group is
simply sold off to a new owner, reproducing the imbalances inherited from
the colonial era.

The government could break up the state media group, though they would have
to be careful to ensure the bits and pieces remain viable under what will be
tough economic conditions for some time at least. They could also try and
convert it to a true public service media, relinquishing control over the
trust and ensuring it falls into the hands of the great, the good and the

We know from the South African experience that this can be difficult to
achieve. It is one thing to create the right policies and structures, but it
is another to immunise the structures from the interference of the ruling
party and other powerful political and economic interests. This requires
trustees and board members who are dedicated to protecting and preserving
the media’s independence and prepared to stand up to those who will
inevitably try to compromise it.

Some of the world’s greatest newspapers are owned by trusts, such as the
Guardian and the Economist, and they have proven to be structures which can
allow for quality media that enjoys a greater independence than those in
private or listed companies.

I would hope that the new Zimbabwean government goes for a basket of media
reforms: opening up the private media sector, privatising some state media,
putting the rest in a well insulated public service trust.

A new government should also invest in a broadband network which will give
widespread internet access. That will not just empower people, but ensure
that it will be much harder for any authority to control information the
same way again.

.. Harber is Caxton Professor of Journalism, Wits University.

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Zimbabwe Chose Change

New York Times

Published: April 30, 2008
Zimbabwe’s voters have waited more than four weeks for the results of the
March 29 presidential election. A recount was supposed to begin on Tuesday,
but it was again postponed. The only explanation for the delay — and the
mounting attacks against the opposition — is that President Robert Mugabe
and his henchmen are still trying to figure out a way to fix the vote.

Mr. Mugabe has wreaked havoc on his country — inflation is more than 100,000
percent and life expectancy has dropped to below 40 — and most Zimbabweans
are eager, indeed desperate, for a change.
An official recount of the parliamentary election showed that the opposition
Movement for Democratic Change, known as the M.D.C., won a majority of
seats. Meanwhile, independent election observers say that the M.D.C.’s
leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, came in first in the presidential vote, with 49.4
percent to Mr. Mugabe’s 41.8 percent. We would have preferred a clean count
in which the presidential election results were officially certified and
accepted by all sides. At this point, the government has had more than
enough time to stuff as many ballot boxes as it wants. So it is time for an
imperfect solution.

South Africa and other African nations must put aside their hero worship and
find ways to persuade or pressure the 84-year-old Mr. Mugabe — who helped
lead his country to majority rule in 1980 — to allow a peaceful transfer of
power to Mr. Tsvangirai. Whether that means Mr. Tsvangirai enters into a
power-sharing deal, serves a full term or temporarily holds office until a
new — fair — election takes place should be decided by Zimbabwe’s new

South African dockworkers who refused to unload a shipment of Chinese arms
bound for Zimbabwe’s military deserve praise for supporting the democratic
process in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, the South African president, Thabo
Mbeki, who has the most potential influence, is still refusing to get

We don’t know if there is any way to get through to Mr. Mugabe. But his
cronies and his army generals are vulnerable to outside pressure. Mr. Mbeki
and other African leaders must tell them that any further manipulations and
thuggery will be punished — with restrictions on their bank accounts and
denial of visas.

We applaud the United Nations Security Council for taking up the issue. A
U.N. envoy could help ease the transition. And if Mr. Mugabe continues to
resist, the Security Council will need to ratchet up the pressure, starting
with an arms embargo. This charade must end.

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The people will uproot African tyranny

Dispatch, SA


THABO Mbeki, the South African president, likes to make the point that the
world is obsessed with Zimbabwe because white farmers have been victims
there. Mbeki’s argument is that there are many other African countries where
black people are oppressed that are not even a blip on the screen of CNN or
the BBC. Mbeki is wrong, of course. The worst victims of Robert Mugabe’s
kleptocracy have been black folk, the poor people without British or South
African passports whose only choice is to live, impossibly, with 165 000
percent inflation, or, to become illegal migrants in South Africa, and who
have now been defrauded of the one thing that gave them dignity – their
democratic rights.

Mbeki is wrong, too, about why Zimbabwe attracts the world’s attention.
Certainly, dispossessed white farmers play well, particularly in the
right-wing British media.

But global interest spotlights Zimbabwe for reasons not dissimilar to those
that drew thousands to the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s: It has
become the symbol of a larger struggle, this time between an old African way
of doing things and a new one.

Mbeki himself called for an “African Renaissance” early in his tenure. Well,
one was happening just across the border, where a vibrant new coalition of
civil society, working across old ethnic boundaries, coalesced in 1999 into
an opposition that formed the first real challenge to Mugabe’s effective
one-party state and heralded something of a post- neocolonial era in Africa.

It had happened already in other countries – specifically, Kenya and
Zambia – but there was a spirit to the Zimbabwean opposition that seemed
particularly rejuvenating.

In the March 29 elections, if preliminary results posted at polling stations
are anything to go by, a slender majority of Zimbabweans were willing to
vote against Mugabe.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) under Morgan Tsvangirai
won a clear plurality of the vote, although as we go to press it’s unclear
whether this was an outright majority or there would need to be a second
round. (There was a third candidate – Simba Makoni, one of Mugabe’s former
finance ministers, who ran as an independent.)

What has been happening ever since – the ruling Zanu-PF’s refusal to release
results and the “recounting” of certain marginal constituencies – is indeed
a silent coup, as the MDC alleges.

It is the ruling elite’s refusal to obey the will of the people and a ploy
to allow the ruling party’s thugs to intimidate voters away from the MDC if
there is a second round. That there is not – yet – carnage on the Kenyan
scale is testament to the pan-ethnic sophistication of the Zimbabwean

But the intimidation has begun: Human Rights Watch has documented a dramatic
increase in torture and violence by the ruling party.

The perplexing thing to outsiders is how susceptible Zimbabweans have been
to this kind of intimidation. Their courage during the Chimurenga – as the
decade- long war of independence against the white-minority Rhodesian regime
is known – is legendary. They were far more willing to go to war than were
their neighbours in South Africa. And yet when the unions called a national
strike to protest the delay in announcing election results, it was a flop.
Mugabe’s security apparatus managed to hector nearly everyone back to work.
The Zanu-PF government has proven far more adept at intimidation than
Rhodesia’s white supremacist ruler ever was.

The truth is that a significant minority – more than 40 percent, it seems –
voted for Mugabe. It is important for students of African democracy to
grapple with this. Do Zimbabweans have some kind of suicidal millenarian

Are atavistic loyalties stronger than reason? Or is it simply that
old-fashioned two-step – brainwashing and intimidation – at play? Whichever,
Mugabe is not universally reviled. His power is rooted in significant
popular support.

That, plus the fact that he and his generals will not voluntarily give up
power, means there is really only one solution to the crisis – a negotiated

Of course, this is unjust to the valiant victors of the March poll, just as
the Lancaster House agreement in 1979 was unfair to the brave soldiers of
the Chimurenga. But the balance of forces dictates that there is now, as
then, no other way out.

Tsvangirai has acknowledged this; in a recent statement he called for a
“government of national unity.”

Even though everyone still seems to be fighting over who won the election,
the battleground has shifted, almost imperceptibly.

Now it’s about who will play the leading role in some kind of negotiated

Tsvangirai believes that as the victor, he has the right to convene such a
settlement. Mugabe works off a different logic: that possession is
nine-tenths of the law.

What is going on behind the scenes is not only an attempt by Mugabe to seize
power but attempts by mediators, including Mbeki, to get both sides to agree
to a settlement.

Mbeki’s preference is for Makoni, whose candidacy he has been tacitly

Although Makoni won no more than 10 percent of the vote, he might win in the
horse-trading as a transitional leader acceptable to both sides.

Mbeki and his South African team of mediators seemed for a while to be
making headway; they brokered the deal that allowed the election to happen
in the first place.

But now Mbeki has discredited himself beyond repair by identifying too
closely with Mugabe. And the regional Southern African Development Community
is too divided to act with singular purpose. Mugabe has very powerful
friends, particularly in the even more rotten Angolan regime.

The United Nations has, to date, left the matter to the SADC, but Secretary
General Ban Ki-moon, who was lobbied recently by Tsvangirai at a conference
in Ghana, is showing signs of impatience. Surely he would not like his
copybook to be blotted, as his predecessor’s was by the UN’s failures
regarding Rwanda, although it is unclear what Ban can do. Sanctions and
embargoes seem only to make Mugabe more defiant.

Ultimately, people and not governments or intergovernmental agencies will
uproot African tyranny.

On April 17, there was a salutary sign of the civil-society power that
originally spawned the MDC. The refusal by South African dock-workers to
unload a ship full of arms headed for the Zimbabwe Defence Force and the
high court interdict obtained by South African clerics to prevent the ship
from docking. The ship defied the interdict, which required it to stay in
the port until inspection, and fled.

Shamefully, the South African authorities did nothing about it.

Meanwhile, as the designated, if discredited, mediator, Mbeki has one
unforgettable lesson to teach Zimbabwe from South Africa’s experience: A
real settlement can be reached only when each side accepts,
incontrovertibly, that it cannot win. Tragically, none of the players in the
Zimbabwean conflict – least of all Mugabe – has come to this realisation.

Mark Gevisser is the author of Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred

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The “Totalitarian Temptation” in Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwe Times

By Paul Trewhela

ZANU-PF'S rule is founded, as Stalin's was, on the ordinary human emotion of

The decision of the states of the Southern African Development Conference to
endorse the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe under the fiction of a
re-run election was anticipated in an analysis of totalitarianism by the
English philosopher, Roger Scruton.

In an essay, "The Totalitarian Temptation", delivered in an address in 2003
to a conference on totalitarianism organised by the University of Krakow in
Poland (a country that knew both Hitler's and Stalin's boot), Professor
Scruton considered the origin of totalitarianism to lie in the ordinary
human emotion of resentment.

Totalitarianism he considers to be present when there is the "absence of any
fundamental constraint on the central authority." It is a form of government
that "does not respect or acknowledge the distinction between civil society
and the State.... [N]othing limits the power of the State in the way that
might be limited by a representative legislature or a system of judge-made,
or judge-discovered, law." Following the model pioneered in Russia by Lenin
and Trotsky and perfected by Stalin, its form is as follows: "Society was
controlled by the State, the State was controlled by the party, and the
party was controlled from the top by the leadership." This conception fits
the reign of Zanu-PF as led by Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

This party leadership defines itself by its particular ideology. This
ideology is "not a truth-seeking device but a power-seeking device." It is
"a power-directed system of thought". Scruton suggests that "the interests
advanced by totalitarian ideology are those of an aspiring elite". What is
important, according to Scruton's analysis, following Nietzsche, is that
totalitarian ideologies - like the race and class ideology of Zanu-PF - are
"ways to recruit resentment", or as Nietzsche put it, using a French word,
ressentiment. This is a "virulent and implacable state of mind, that
precedes the injury complained of".

Resentment occurs in all societies, but what is unique about totalitarian
ideologies is that they "rationalize resentment, and also unite the
resentful around a common cause. Totalitarian systems arise when the
resentful, having seized power, proceed to abolish the institutions that
have conferred power on others: institutions like law, property and religion
which create hierarchies, authorities and privileges, and which enable
individuals to asset sovereignty over their own lives...Once institutions of
law, property and religion are destroyed - and their destruction is the
normal result of totalitarian government - resentment takes up its place
immovably, as the ruling principle of the State."

That is the case in Zimbabwe, with the endorsement of the SADC. Once in
power, “the resentful are inclined to dispense with mediating institutions,
and erect a system of pure power relations, in which individual sovereignty
is extinguished by central control. They may do this in the name of
equality, meaning thereby to dispossess the rich and the privileged. Or they
may do it in the name of racial purity, meaning thereby to dispossess the
aliens who have stolen their birthright. One thing is certain, however,
which is that there will be target groups.”

In Zimbabwe, the totalitarian project exercises its right to rule through a
combination of the two forms, the appeal to equality and to race (and, more
specifically, but implicitly, to tribe). It unites both the Stalin
(hostility to privilege) and the Hitler (hostility to race) forms. As such,
it is “directed collectively against groups, conceived as collectively
offensive and bearing a collective guilt”.

As Scruton argues, this project is “not conducted from below by the people,
but from above, in the name of the people, by as aspiring elite”.
Totalitarian ideologies, very widely endorsed in southern Africa, as the
decision of the SADC shows, “legitimize the resentments of an elite, while
recruiting the resentment of those needed to support the elite in its
pursuit of hitherto inaccessible advantages. The elite derive its identity
from repudiating the old order. And it casts itself in a pastoral role, as
leader and teacher of the people”, as if it were a “priestly caste”. The
elite then “justify its seizure of power by referring to its solidarity with
those who have been unjustly excluded”.

The leader of such a totalitarian project, according to Scruton, is
frequently an embittered and isolated person, who seeks “some opportunity to
take revenge on the world that has denied him his due”. Such people are
“fired by a negative energy, and are never at ease unless bent on the task
of destruction”. When such a person achieves power, he will “compensate for
his isolation by establishing, in the place of friendship, a military
command, with himself at the head of it. He will demand absolute loyalty and
obedience, in return for a share in the reward. And he will admit no one
into his circle who is not animated by resentment, which is the only emotion
that he has learned to trust”.

Such a characterisation suits Mugabe.

The political project of this leader "will not be to gain a share of power
within existing structures, but to gain total power, so as to abolish the
structures themselves. He will set himself against all forms of mediation,
compromise and debate, and against the legal and moral norms which give a
voice to the dissenter and sovereignty to the ordinary unresentful person.
He will set about destroying the enemy, whom he will conceive in collective
terms, as the class, group or race that hitherto controlled the world and
which must now be controlled. And all institutions that grant protection to
that class or a voice in the political process will be targets for his
destructive rage.”

At this point Scruton very precisely identifies the sham and scam that the
electoral process has revealed itself to be in Zimbabwe, as a typical
feature of the totalitarian regime. He writes that the inevitable result of
the seizure of power in this project will be the “establishment of a
militarized core to the State - whether in the form of a party, a committee
or simply an army which does not bother to disguise its military purpose.
This core will have absolute power and will operate outside the law. This
law will itself be replaced by a Potemkin version that can be invoked
whenever it is necessary to remind the people of their subordinate

In citing this “Potemkin version” of law, Scruton refers to the supposed
tricky practice of Prince Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin when acting as
chief minister to Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, who held absolute
power in the late 18th century. The Russian peasantry lived in abysmal
poverty and shabbiness. Empress Catherine wanted however to believe that
everything was for the best under her enlightened government.

Potemkin was alleged to have squared the circle by having fake, cardboard
villages erected along the route the Empress travelled on her tour of the
Crimea. Constitution, law and elections in Zimbabwe are a Potemkin village.
By implication they are also actually or potentially so throughout the
states of the SADC, South Africa included, their leaders having so crassly
endorsed Mugabe's Potemkin-type electoral scam.

As Scruton writes, under the totalitarian regime this “Potemkin law” will be
a “prominent and omnipresent feature of society, constantly invoked and
paraded, in order to imbue all acts of the ruling party with an unassailable
air of legitimacy. The “revolutionary vanguard” will be more prodigal of
legal forms and official stamps than any of the regimes that it
displaces.... In this way the new order will be both utterly lawless and
entirely concealed by law.”

In this way, as Scruton quotes the former President of the Czech Republic,
Vaclav Havel, the people oppressed under the totalitarian regime are
required to “live within the lie”.

Scruton gives also a telling characterisation of the Mugabe type. He notes
the pathological character of the resentments carried by the great leader in
the totalitarian project, people who “have an exaggerated sense of their own
entitlements, and a diminutive capacity to observe them...Their resentments
are not concrete responses to momentary rebuffs but accumulating rejections
of the system in which they have failed to advance.”

Intellectuals, it seems, are "particularly prone to this generalized
resentment....Hence we should not be surprised to find intellectuals in the
forefront of radical movements, or to discover that they are more disposed
than ordinary mortals to adopt theories and ideologies that have nothing to
recommend them apart from the power that they promise.”

This fits Mugabe to the tip of his little moustache.

[Roger Scruton's essay, "The Totalitarian Temptation" is in Roger Scruton’s
A Political Philosophy (Continuum, London and New York, 2006. pp.146-160)].

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Shelter From Hell

The Sowetan

30 April 2008

Dudu Busani

Shepherd: Refugees receive sacrament at the Central Methodist Church, where Bishop of Johannesburg Paul Verryn has opened his doors to desperate Zimbabweans. Photo: Lucky Nxumalo

Humble Refuge: Shylet Chakanetsa and her baby daughter, Nicole, on a bed in an overcrowded room at the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg. Chakanetsa paid a truck driver to smuggle her across the border from Zimbabwe to South Africa. Photo: AP

It’s noisy and filthy – but it’s all they have

It takes me two days, three glasses of wine and prayer to accept this assignment and spend a night sleeping on a cold floor with thousands of Zimbabwean refugees.

Disguised as a hobo and speaking only my home language, isiZulu, I make my way with colleague Mfundekelwa Mkhulisi to the Central Methodist Church in Small Street in central Johannesburg, home to thousands of Zimbabweans fleeing their country’s turmoil.

Mkhulisi seems calm and focused. I’m afraid that someone will rape or rob me. I have succumbed to the stereotypes surrounding Zimbabweans in my country.

We arrive after 10pm to find Small Street has become a dank bedroom for those who can’t make it into the crowded refuge.

Cold as it is, sleeping bodies dot the blocks around the church.

At least most have “blankets” to cover themselves, if only newspaper or cardboard. No wonder groups of young men are drowning themselves in alcohol.

It is noisy, filthy and smelly, but the sleepers seem oblivious to their surroundings.

We stumble over bodies and five minutes later enter the church. I push the glass door open, take two steps and from then on step carefully between sleeping bodies.

The first floor is solid with them. They all cover their heads with a ragged blanket or their arms as if in pitiful defence against the cruel world around them.

There are no lights and the smell is stupefying, but we wend our way carefully through this heaving human mass, thanks to the reflection from the street lights outside.

I enter a toilet where two women, no older than 25, stand naked as they dab themselves with water from a basin.

I greet them, hoping to make conversation, but they respond in Shona. I leave them to their sorry attempt to maintain a modicum of decency with their painful ablutions.

We climb the steps to the second floor, still stepping gingerly over sleeping bodies.

The second floor is a small, dark space with a men’s toilet and what looks like an office.

The steps to the third floor are even darker – pitch black and reeking.

I notice a group of half-naked men, stop and let Mkhulisi approach them. I find myself a little open space and sit with my chin on my knees. My heavy breathing catches the attention of the sleeping body I have just stepped over.

A dark fellow with short dreadlocks says something in a language I do not understand and I reply in isiZulu, asking him to repeat himself.

He responds in Sindebele .

“Where are you from in Zimbabwe?”

I panic and consider saying Harare but decide that will get me into trouble. So I pretend to choke until Mkhulisi returns.

We’ve seen enough of this horror and return to the first floor, find an empty step on the stairway and sit down. Big mistake. A man charges at us.

“Women are not supposed to sleep on the steps. Are you new here? Who are you?”

“No, my brother, we are from KwaZulu-Natal,” Mkhulisi responds calmly. “We are stranded. The person who was supposed to pick us up did not show. We were told we would be safe here.”

Proud to be of service, Richard takes us under his wing and offers to lead me to where the women sleep. Much to my relief Mkhulisi insists on accompanying us to what residents call Robert’s Room.

Don’t ask me if it’s named after Mugabe.

Richard directs a woman called Esther, standing at the far corner of the hall, to find a space for me so I can sleep.

I stumble over sleeping women and children until I reach her. I smile, realising she was the woman I’d seen in the toilet.

My smile isn’t returned.

“You don’t have a blanket? Here is a space. Sleep here with your head facing left. I’ll face the right. Here’s a blanket,” is all she says.

I have already learnt how to use an old newspaper: lay the news pages on the floor as if they are a mattress, cover yourself with the sports pages and use the classifieds as a pillow.

She isn’t interested in who I am and why I am here. That’s fine by me. The horror of these conditions makes me retreat into myself like everyone else around me .

I curl up in my little space and wonder what has become of Mkhulisi. I’m sure he’ll be safe. The lights are left on outside Robert’s Room and two men stand guard .

I lie on the hard floor trying hard to breathe through my mouth to keep the stench at bay. I try to ignore the coughing and crying baby, but unlike the regulars I cannot sleep.

The previous night I had watched an episode of African Idol and had seen talented young Zimbabweans trying to become music stars.

I was convinced there was no crisis in Zimbabwe. What can be worse than living like this?

At about 3am, the door opens, Richard peeps in and calls to me.

“Dudu, your husband is calling you.”

I jump up, grab my shoes and make my way, to the door. Then I notice a baby girl sleeping next to her mother. The baby is uncovered.

I hesitate for an instant to pull the blanket over the baby, but it is filthy. And in that instant I lose my own humanity and flee.

“Let’s get out of here,” Mkhulisi says.

As the door swings closed behind us I know I have just escaped from hell.

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Swimmer's success brings rare cheer to Zimbabwe


Tue Apr 29, 2008 8:22pm EDT

By Martin Petty

BANGKOK (Reuters) - With a gold-medal tally trumped only by swimming giants
Australia and the United States, Zimbabwe's performance at this month's
world short-course championships was staggering.

Most impressively, one swimmer -- Kirsty Coventry -- won all Zimbabwe's

"On the medals table, you can't see who wins what but yes, it was just me -- 
it feels amazing," a beaming Coventry told Reuters in an interview in
Manchester, England.

"It's a great honor to represent my country, so we finish so high on the
medals table. It's a great achievement for everyone."

Coventry won four titles in Manchester -- three in world-record times -- 
plus a bronze medal, to put Zimbabwe fourth overall, behind the U.S.,
Australia and the Netherlands, who also won four golds as well as five
lesser medals.

Her performance brought some rare positive news to her economically-crippled
country which is locked in a political crisis after a disputed presidential

Unsurprisingly, with severe food, fuel and job shortages and inflation at
165,000 percent, Zimbabwe is a country not used to winning anything in

"Things aren't that good. I take any opportunity I can to raise our
country's flag really high and get some shining positive light on things
over there," added Coventry, a white Zimbabwean who moved to the United
States because of the lack of funding and facilities at home.

"My family, friends and parents are still there. I know how much it does for
people back home."

Although she has always preferred not to discuss politics, Coventry, 24,
said the situation had become so dire in once-prosperous Zimbabwe that
urgent change was needed for the sake of its 13 million people.


President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the southern African country for 28
years, affectionately called Coventry "a golden girl" despite his tough
stance towards minority whites.

"Everyone there including President Mugabe knows something needs to change
because so many people are hurting," Coventry said.

"I hope that does happen. I know that's part of why I'm doing what I do. I
hope it makes a difference and gives people back home hope that things will
change for the better.

"People have to remain positive and believe in those dreams. It's really

Although she always thinks about home, Coventry said her move to the U.S. -- 
first Alabama and now Austin, Texas -- was "the best decision of my life".

In 2002 she took up a scholarship at Auburn University, home to one of
America's most decorated swimming teams, and two years later helped to bring
an end to Zimbabwe's 24-year wait for an Olympic medal.

At the Athens Games, Coventry won three -- gold, silver and bronze -- and
was treated to a hero's welcome on her return home to Harare.

Coventry walked a red carpet to the beat of African drums while thousands of
Zimbabweans danced and sang. She was given $50,000 "pocket money" and a
diplomatic passport at a party held by Mugabe, the 84-year-old leader blamed
by critics for the country's problems.


Several newborn babies were named Kirsty, some with the middle name
Coventry, others were even called "Goldmedal" or "Threemedals" to celebrate
her Athens haul.

One newspaper said the sight of her atop the medals podium had "soothed the
country's soul".

"Everyone at home is so supportive," she said. "People recognize me, say how
proud they are of me. It's awesome to hear, it's amazing to know I can touch
so many people in a positive way."

Before Coventry's success, Zimbabwe's only Olympic medal had been gold for
the women's hockey team at the boycott-hit Moscow Olympics in 1980, the
country's first year of independence.

Coventry is now Zimbabwe's biggest sporting name, taking over the mantle
from former Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, a close family friend.

Despite her glittering record, which includes Commonwealth gold, six world
titles and seven golds at the 2007 All-Africa Games, she says success at
August's Beijing Olympics is not guaranteed.

"It's been amazing, I could only have dreamt of doing things like this, but
it's keeping me focused," said Coventry, tightly clutching a hefty glass
trophy for the best individual performer of the world championships.

"I have to stay on track, focus on Beijing, focus on the challenge. All I
know is it's going to be really, really exciting."

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

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