|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
IRIN: August 16, 2001
Posted to the web August 15, 2001
The following report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations
A maze of creases map Amos Maduma's face as the sun sets behind him. He says he is "seventy-something" and it shows - the years have taken their toll on this retired farm labourer who seems to have worked himself to the bone his entire life.
Maduma lives in Dombadema, one of Zimbabwe's oldest government land resettlement schemes in Matabeleland South. It lies about 140 km southwest of Bulawayo, the country's second city. From Plumtree, a small town on the border of Botswana, one has to rattle along a 20 km dusty dirt road to reach Dombadema. The land is harsh and dry, suitable for game and cattle farming. However, the people who inhabit about 30 small villages which make up Dombadema, plant whatever they can and rely on the rain for healthy crops.
"We raise cattle, and we grow maize and potatoes and nuts, but this wasn't a good year," Maduma says. "We are going to make up by selling cattle or goats. To raise money for school fees, we sell our cattle to the local cold storage company and our maize to the GMB (Grain Marketing Board) and other private buyers."
He says a good harvest yields about 42 bags of maize, roughly about 4 mt, and that while the parastatal GMB is offering his 28-family village about Zim $4,500 per mt (US $82), a 20-litre drum of the staple food can be sold for for Zim $200 (US $3.6) on the "black market". He knows that the government, trying to prevent food shortages across the country, has banned the sale of maize on the private market, but says that the GMB will not pay him enough to survive and he will have to break the law.
Squinting into the sun, which is casting long shadows over the circle of mud and brick houses surrounding his discoloured, plastic chair, Maduma says, however, that he is content. "I am very happy because we have enough land to graze our cattle. I have 20 of them. We are managing to survive as subsistence farmers and we can usually sell our food too, depending on the harvest," he told IRIN. Then his thoughts turn to the rest of Zimbabwe, particularly its central and eastern provinces, where the government's fast-track resettlement programme has spawned widespread violence.
"I benefited from the government's resettlement programme. I was the first to agree to this resettlement scheme and to come here. But things are different now," he says. "There's a very big difference in the manner they are settling people now. The people who are being settled on the commercial farms are very violent. They go there and harass people on that land. When some of us were settled here, in 1982, the government had already bought this piece of land and we came here in an orderly manner. We are not happy with the way people are being beaten on the farms at the moment."
Maduma says the people of Matabeleland reject political violence. And even though President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party gave them land 19 years ago, the people still hold the party - and Mugabe - responsible for about 30,000 deaths during a vicious security crackdown against armed dissidents soon after independence in 1980. "This is why you don't see so much violence in these provinces. Violence and violent tactics will not work with our people here," he says, referring to the bands of ruling party supporters who have invaded farms in many other provinces, particularly Mashonaland West.
Recalling the time he moved to Dombadema, Maduma says that while the government did not keep all its promises - Dombadema still does not have electricity - it did help his people create basic infrastructure needed to farm.
"Me and some of the other people living here were working on farms near Figtree (more than 60 km away) before we moved. The farm I worked on, Spring Fountain, was sold to a black businessman from Beitbridge. Then we were joined by squatters and the police moved us off the farm after the court said we should move. The government advised us not to resort to violence and to respect the new land owner while they looked for land for us. We were told there was going to be this Dombadema resettlement on some four farms the government bought here. We were even given riot police for protection while we were building here because it was during the disturbances that were going on at the time," he says.
It was tough going, nothing was free. "When we started, the closest water was 4 km away. There were no clinics, shops or schools or houses here. The government promised us a lot of things, like boundary fences, food, ploughs and carts, schools and clinics. They said they would give us bulls and calves to start our own herd too. It was just political rhetoric. They did not give it to us. See, we have no title deeds for this land. The government said we were just settled and we did not buy the land.
"They brought a planner, but we built the schools ourselves - four of them. They lent us ploughs though, and in 1984, the ministry of water sunk some boreholes on our farm and on the other farms in the settlement," he says. Then, in 1994, after years of complaining, the government funded a dam on the settlement with money sourced from donors. The community built the dam. Maduma says that materials for the brick houses which dot the village were sold for about Zim $2,600 (US $47) each and that because of the interest which has piled up, some people are still paying the government for the houses.
Still, says Maduma, he and the rest of the Dombadema community were provided with seeds and some tools by the government and are happy that they have land on which they can live, grow their crops, graze their cattle and bury their dead - even if the land itself is too harsh for mass-scale "food farming" and rainfall is erratic.
"I was happy when they (the government) started (its land redistribution programme) because it meant our children would have land. But what is troubling us now is the violence on the farms. It is from our government, this violence. For those people to be there, it is from the government. We also settled here in a fast manner, but it was peaceful and orderly. The people are just being dumped there (on government acquired commercial farms). It's just a word that they are being 'resettled'. They are being put into the bush to disturb commercial farmers."
Maduma thinks the people being resettled on commercial farms could be doomed to starvation if they do not receive help from the government. "This is the bad thing. The government won't help them and they have no resources to be successful farmers," he says. Closing his eyes in thought, he adds: "It's like if I take your car. I have no licence or money for fuel and repairs. What am I going to do with it?"
When asked what he thinks the solution is, considering that Zimbabwe's peasants need land desperately to eke out a living and that the government seems to be under pressure to keep its promise and deliver land to the poor, Maduma measures his words: "Things should be said. If we don't say them and we don't talk, then ... The government did a good thing for us, but now it looks like something else.
"The government should first have identified people with the resources to farm, and should have established irrigation schemes and then resettled those who are capable of farming and doing something with the land. The problem is that people who have benefited are people who don't need land. For instance there are ministers who have five farms. The government should target ministers with more than one farm and also parcel out that land to landless people. Yes, some war veterans could be getting land, but they are just being dumped there."
Then he says that people also have to work hard for their wealth. His community, for example, may have been given land and provided with expertise, but they built the small rudimentary schools, the dam, the tiny shops, the two local clinics and their houses themselves. "It was hard work, hard work, not violence that has given us what we have," he says, surveying his village as the sun finally goes down behind him.
Late on Wednesday, four journalists from the Daily News were released after their detention on charges of spreading false news was declared illegal by the High Court.
A report in the newspaper had alleged that police were involved in looting of white-owned farms in northwestern Zimbabwe over the past week.
The lawyers representing the imprisoned white farmers are hoping that a judge will be able to hear a bail application at the High Court in Harare.
The 21 were arrested after trouble in Chinhoyi, 115km (70 miles) northwest of Harare, accused of beating up government supporters who had invaded a farm belonging to a white farmer.
They have been shown on local television in chains and police who allowed blankets and food to reach their cells have been disciplined.
But our correspondent says that the Zimbabwean judiciary has proven itself independent and fair, despite intense political pressure.
The journalists from the Daily News, Zimbabwe's only independent newspaper were detained and charged under legislation inherited from Zimbabwe's former white minority government.
Geoff Nyarota, editor-in-chief of the Daily News, assistant editor Bill Saidi, news editor John Gambanga and reporter Sam Munyavi had allegedly published false news "likely to cause alarm and despondency".
A report in the newspaper had alleged that police were involved in looting of white-owned farms in northwestern Zimbabwe over the past week.
But the court said the act under which they were charged was no longer in force.
As Zimbabwe's political and economic problems have deepened, the government has become increasingly hostile to the media in general, our correspondent says.
At least 30 homesteads have been looted, and white families have been evacuated from about 100 farms in the Chinhoyi area.
The farmers deny starting clashes with black war veterans on 6 August, saying they were attacked when they went to help a neighbour threatened by the militants.
The front page of the Daily News on Tuesday had described the use of police vehicles as "well orchestrated acts of lawlessness" on the farms.
The newpaper's owners have vowed to continue publishing.
The government views the Daily News as an opposition mouthpiece. The newspaper says it is independent and has linked members of the government to corruption.
In April Mr Nyarota and two of his colleagues were questioned and charged with defaming President Robert Mugabe. The Daily News printing press was bombed in January.
White farmers in the Chinhoyi area say violence by a group of up to 250 militants has now eased and the authorities say that large numbers of police have been deployed to restore calm.
VOA News: 16 Aug 2001 19:52 UTC
Zimbabwe police have filed new charges against four journalists one day after they were released from charges found to be unconstitutional. The police charged three editors and one reporter from the independent Daily News late Thursday for publishing what authorities say is subversive material. The four originally were charged with allegedly publishing false material in Tuesday's front-page article implicating the police in raids on white-owned farms. The courts threw out the original charges because they were based on the Law and Order Maintenance Act, which has been deemed unconstitutional. The new charges are based on a separate section of the same act.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's embattled farmers are calling on the government to guarantee their safety so they can resume operations after a week of attacks and looting by pro-government militants.
The Commercial Farmers' Union said in a statement Thursday more than 45 farms in Doma, Mhangura and Chinhoyi have been devastated by the militants at an estimated cost to farmers of $18 million. But the government continues to blame the farmers for the chaos.
Zimbabwe's High Court also said today it will decide Friday whether to grant bail to 21 white farmers accused of inciting violence during an August sixth attack on a farm by black militants. The lower court denied them bail last week, but the farmers' lawyers appealed to the High Court in Harare. The lawyers argue there are no grounds to believe the farmers will leave or interfere with the investigation into the attack, which sparked the recent wave of violence in the country.
An ugly situation in Zimbabwe has been getting uglier. Mobs have been looting, vandalizing and taking over white-owned farms, sometimes attacking farmers and farm workers in the process. This has been going on for the past 18 months, but the pace seems to be picking up.
And what are the authorities doing about it? Not much, because the ruling ZANU-PF party is complicit in the attacks. Indeed, last week, police arrested 21 white farmers who had come to the aid of one of their number whose farm was being attacked. This week, though, the police at least made a token effort: after letting the mobs do their work with impunity, they finally creaked into action and arrested 12 alleged attackers. Still, it seems clear enough that the deck is stacked.
There can be no doubt that the patterns of land ownership in Zimbabwe are an unfair relic of the Rhodesian colonial era - whites make up less than one per cent of the population while owning half the best land. But it is equally clear that the government's efforts to fix that situation have been abusive, unfair, even hate-mongering.
Some years ago, Britain, the former colonial power, had started to buy out white farmers but stopped when it turned out that many of the farms were being given, undivided, to friends of the government. More recently, as their own popularity has started to decline, President Robert Mugabe and his party have seized the issue as a way of rallying support and have been scapegoating white farmers - and whites in general.
With Mr. Mugabe facing an election early next year, there is every reason to fear that his party will continue to mobilize bands of thugs to terrorize not only white farmers but also anyone else deemed to be a political opponent.
Last month, there was an attempt on the life of the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, which had done surprisingly well in last year's parliamentary elections despite a climate of violence and intimidation. In recent months, the government has also pressured senior judges to resign and replaced them with those it clearly expects will do its bidding.
Heavy-handed tactics can have a way of backfiring, though. For example, the attacks on the farmers have disrupted production, exacerbating difficulties due to weather conditions; shortages of wheat and corn - staple foods - are expected in the coming months, something that would erode the government's popularity further.
The omens for Zimbabweans, black and white, are not good.
Mr. Mugabe has not shown himself disposed to listen to objections from Western capitals, often branding them "racist." South Africa, the regional powerhouse and a democracy, might be able to make more of an impression. But South African leader Thabo Mbeki so far has said little publicly. He should speak up. And if Mr. Mugabe doesn't listen, countries such as Canada should impose targeted diplomatic sanctions on Zimbabwe, ones that would get the government's attention without hurting the public - such as barring Mr. Mugabe from the next Commonwealth meeting in Australia.
From The Times (UK), 16 August
Campaigning editor freed after arrest
Harare - President Mugabe’s regime further undermined Zimbabwe’s fragile democracy yesterday with the arrest of the editor of the Daily News, the country’s only independent daily newspaper, and three senior members of staff. However, a high court judge ruled last night that the police had no right to hold the four men and they were released immediately."We were ready to go to the cells," Bill Saidi, 64, assistant editor of the Daily News, said. "Then our lawyer got a judge to issue an order for our release on the ground that the law they were using to detain us was unconstitutional. They (the police) failed. We are very happy."
Geoffrey Nyarota, 50, the paper=92s editor, was picked up at his home in Harare’s affluent Highlands suburb yesterday morning by detectives and taken to Harare central police station. Later Mr Saidi was asked to go to the station and was arrested on arrival as were the news editor, John Gambanga, and a reporter, Sam Munyavi. Lawrence Chibwe, the men’s lawyer, said that the police had prepared charges against them of "publishing a false report liable to create alarm and despondency", a section of the draconian Law and Order Maintenance Act passed by the former white minority Rhodesian government in the 1960s to suppress those fighting for black majority rule. Lawyers pointed out, however, that the law had been struck down by the Supreme Court in May last year.
The arrests followed a front page report in the Daily News on Tuesday, which said that police vehicles had been used to aid thugs from Mr Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF party militias as they pillaged white-owned farms north of Harare. A police spokesman said that the police vehicles identified were carrying goods recovered from arrested looters. Mr Nyarota, 50, has changed the face of journalism in Zimbabwe. In 1998, as the editor of the state-controlled Chronicle newspaper in the western city of Bulawayo, he uncovered the "Willowgate Scandal", the first serious corruption case against the Mugabe government. The exposure of vehicle racketeering among senior government officials resulted in the resignation of four Cabinet ministers and the suicide of a fifth - and Mr Nyarota losing his job. He became the founding editor of the Daily News in March 1999. Since then, the paper and its staff have been engaged in a war with the government that has gone beyond verbal barrages. It has suffered two bombings, assaults on journalists, arrests, legal action and slander.
From The Daily News, 15 August
MDC activist in Midlands dies in Gokwe prison
Vusumuzi Mukweli, 32, an MDC activist in the Midlands province, died at Gokwe remand prison on Monday in suspicious circumstances. Frankie Meki, the spokesman for the Zimbabwe Prison Service, confirming the death, said: "It is true Mukweli died, but at the moment I have not been furnished with the details of the circumstances surrounding his death. I am waiting for a verification from our prison doctor on exactly what happened." Meki said he had received conflicting reports on Mukweli’s death, but would not elaborate. Blessing Chebundo, the MDC’s national executive member for Midlands North and the MP for Kwekwe, said Mukweli died in a prison cell. He said Mukweli was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly inciting violence as he campaigned for election as a councillor in Ward 22, Gokwe. Chebundo said: "Mukweli was very active in the run-up to last year’s parliamentary election. He was abducted by Zanu PF supporters and war veterans who beat him up severely. He sustained several injuries to the head and the body." He said Mukweli was then referred to a specialist who put him on permanent medication.
Comment from The Wall Street Journal, 16 August
Forget racism, colonialism, land reform and all the other excuses trotted out by the head of Zimbabwe's tottering regime. This past week's violence and the arrest of 21 white farmers should finally put the lie to those excuses. The crisis in Zimbabwe is simply caused by autocratic government that is itself destroying the legal protection of its citizens in a desperate attempt to hold onto power. For the past week, government-backed mobs have stormed farms in northeast Zimbabwe, the breadbasket of Southern Africa. Even as starvation looms in many regions, the mob has invaded some of the most productive farms on the African continent. They have attacked white farmers and black laborers with axes and machetes. Houses have been torched, tractors smashed, crops trampled and livestock hacked to pieces. One observer called it an "orgy of banditry." If these criminals truly wanted land reform, why would they destroy the farms that they hoped to own?
Some 60 farms have been evacuated and whites are leaving the country. Some determined farmers are staying, but they are painting their radio call signs on their roofs to make contact with passing planes. Zimbabwe hasn't seen that since the worst days of the 1970s civil war. Most of the whites carry Zimbabwean passports, have lived there for generations and risk losing everything when they flee the country. They used to jokingly call themselves the "lost tribe," but that might not be so funny anymore. The police simply refuse to enforce the law. Valid court orders to remove farm invaders are ignored, as are urgent calls from farmers. One police officer told a farmer: "These issues are political and the police therefore cannot become involved," according to Britain's Daily Telegraph.
When the police do become involved, things sometimes become worse. During a farm attack last week, the owner desperately radioed for help. Twenty-one white farmers came to his rescue. Then the police appeared -- and arrested all of the whites. Not a single farm invader was arrested, according to numerous reports. The photographs of the arrested farmers show a group of middle-aged, middle-class men being led away in handcuffs. They look bewildered. They are being held without bail in an unheated prison in the middle of the Zimbabwean winter. The men, clad mostly in shorts and short-sleeved shirts, are not prepared for temperatures that can go as low as 12 degrees (54 Fahrenheit). Family members who showed up to deliver blankets were also arrested. Three black policemen who gave the prisoners warm clothes were punished. Every aspect of a lawful society has been purposely turned upside down.
The motives for these attacks are not primarily racial. Before the waves of violence instigated by the regime of President Robert Mugabe, an American visitor to Zimbabwe's farm belt would be reminded of California's Central Valley. These were modern, highly mechanized farms worked by men of different races and tongues without enmity. Some recent events show that race and tribe mean less in Zimbabwe than ever before. Zimbabwe's opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, is the largest interracial political party in Africa today. Even the two rival tribes that divided Zimbabwean politics for decades, the Shona and the Ndebele, have come together in the MDC. If the opposition is not cheated out of its expected victory in next year's presidential elections, Zimbabwe could be ruled by the most diverse and liberal coalition in Africa.
Land reform is also a red herring. In 1980, when Zimbabwe became independent of Britain, the U.K. pledged to help finance the purchase of white-owned farms. After a decade and more than $44 million spent, the British government cut off the funds. Zimbabwean officials were forcing white farmers to sell -- a clear violation of the agreement that the U.K. government had struck with Zimbabwe. As for the farms that the Zimbabwean government did buy, most were simply looted and abandoned. Settling city dwellers with no agricultural experience on large commercial farms simply didn't translate into success. Most of the hapless urbanites were reduced to demolishing farm buildings and selling the bricks for food.
In 1998, Britain agreed to another land reform scheme. The U.K. agreed to pay for the purchase of 100 farms. Mr. Mugabe responded by demanding funds for 1,500 farms -- nearly one-quarter of all white-owned farms. When the British government learned that the farms would remain government property, it balked. Thus began Mr. Mugabe's crusade for land seizures. His government has announced plans to seize 95% of all 4,000 white-owned farms, mostly without compensation. Remember, these farms are an economic pillar of the Zimbabwean economy and are heavily taxed. It makes little economic sense to destroy what is still working -- but sadly it does make political sense. Nearly two million blacks live and work on white-owned farms. Mr. Mugabe believes they are the source of the opposition party's strength. Wrecking those farms and turning those blacks into refugees will flatten the opposition. Too bad he has to destroy the country to do it.
From News24 (SA), 16 August
SADC team 'a slap in the face'
Pretoria - The establishment of a task team of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), under the leadership of President Thabo Mbeki, to search for a solution to the situation in Zimbabwe can be seen at "the most severe slap in the face yet" for President Robert Mugabe in an attempt to alter his thinking. The step can, through consistent pressure, isolate Mugabe within the region to such an extent that he will have no option but to co-operate in bringing about a political and economic settlement. Dr Jakkie Cilliers of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said on Wednesday "if a country's neighbouring states decided to speak about their 'brother's' problems in public, it was, in diplomatic terms, tantamount to drawing the line on its actions."
The task team was announced this week after the SADC summit held in Blantyre, Malawi. Mbeki will head the team, together with the president of Botswana and Mozambique, Mbeki's main allies within SADC. The three parties are known as the SADC troika. "When heads of state within a region join forces to intervene in another country, it emphasises the seriousness of the problems. It is also significant that South Africa is prepared to take the lead, even though it is known to shy away from strong-arm tactics. It is a masterstroke by Mbeki not to tackle the task alone, but to unite his allies in a multilateral initiative."
The DA's Dr Boy Geldenhuys is of the opinion that the task team will have to act against Mugabe in no uncertain terms to end lawlessness in the country in order to re-establish a basis for political and economic growth. "Measures must also be put in place to prevent further lawlessness. Foreign sanctions will not have the desired effect, but should Mugabe be isolated by the SADC leaders, it may save the stature of his country and that of the region. Should the leaders within the region act firmly, it will also send a message to the international community that these leaders can act decisively. Without leaders to see it through, no African plans for reconstruction will be successful." In a communique released after the summit, SADC leaders expressed their concern over the effect of the Zimbabwean economic situation on the region. The leaders said "it was imperative to co-operate with all interested parties, not only with the Zimbabwean government, to find a solution". According to Cilliers, it boils down to the isolation of Mugabe. "When your neighbouring states start talking to representatives of commerce and industry, organised agriculture and opposition parties within your own borders, you do not have much of a chance."
According to Tasneem Carrim, a spokesperson of the presidency, the task team will shortly launch action plans. "Guidelines have to be set, but to save time, groundwork can be done telephonically." According to her, Mbeki said "the task team will work closely with the negotiation team of President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, which acts as intermediary between Zimbabwe and the League of Nations on restitution". Colin Cloete, president of the Zimbabwean Commercial Farmers' Union, told Nico van Burick "they welcomed the involvement of other countries in the region". He has not yet been fully informed about the decisions taken at the summit, but in the interim, the involvement of the task team "looks promising". "Should Mugabe be willing to co-operate, this can be a step in the right direction."