|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
From today’s Sunday Times (SA) (2001-12-16)
Tourists flee as statue is stoned
Dingilizwe Ntuli in Victoria Falls
ZIMBABWEAN war veterans this week stoned and threatened to demolish the statue of David Livingstone, the first white man to see the Victoria Falls.
A 100-strong mob of veterans (from the Zanu-PF conference in the resort town) stormed the area next to the world-famous falls where the statue is situated.
Tourists ran for cover as war veterans pounded the towering statue with rocks. It was not damaged but stones engraved with the history of Livingstone's "discovery" were smashed and cast into the falls.
The veterans demanded that the statue be replaced with those of liberation war heroes.
The veterans dispersed after riot police were called in. Heavily armed policemen were assigned to guard the statue for the duration of the Zanu-PF congress, which ends today. The war veterans returned to the congress and demanded that delegates adopt a resolution that the statue be demolished.
From BBC News, 15 December
Mugabe opponent charged
The leader of Zimbabwe's opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai, has been charged with possessing radio-communication equipment without a licence, for which he could face a two-year prison sentence. Mr Tsvangirai told the BBC that the charge was "ridiculous" and an example of harassment. He said that the offending walkie-talkie radio - which he said he used to communicate with his security guards - did not even belong to him, but his party. It was the second time in two days that the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had been detained by the Harare police. He was briefly detained on Friday on the same charge. He complained then that it was not necessary to hold a licence for the radio. Mr Tsvangirai's lawyer told the BBC that the police have said the charge will now be referred to the attorney-general, and that Mr Tsvangirai can expect a court summons. The charge is punishable by a maximum of two years in prison. The incident comes after President Robert Mugabe launched his campaign for re-election at a conference of his Zanu PF party on Friday, where he told his audience that the MDC party was a puppet of white interests. Mr Tsvangirai is likely to be his prime opponent in the poll, due in March. Last year the opposition leader was arrested for allegedly inciting supporters to violently overthrow Mr Mugabe, but the charges were rejected by the courts. Conviction would have disqualified him from the presidential race.
From The Observer (UK), 16 December
Mugabe declares 'total war' on rivals
Andrew Meldrum returns to Harare to find Zimbabwe's citizens paralysed by a raft of oppressive new legislation
President Robert Mugabe urged his supporters yesterday to go to war against Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change. At the same time his police again detained the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, over charges of having an unregistered walkie-talkie radio. 'This is total war,' said Mugabe at the close of his Zanu PF party congress in Victoria Falls. 'We will have a central command centre. This is war, it is not a game. You are all soldiers of Zanu PF for the people. When we come to your province we must see you are ready. When the time comes to fire the bullet, the ballot, the trajectory of the gun must be true.'
Even as Mugabe was speaking, police arrested Tsvangirai and charged him with the relatively petty offence of having an unregistered two-way radio. It was the third police raid on Tsvangirai in as many days. 'They say that I broke the Telecommunications Act, which says that I must have a licence,' Tsvangirai told Reuters by telephone from Harare's central police station, where he was giving a statement to police. 'I don't understand why I am being charged as an individual because it [the radio] does not belong to me, it belongs to the party,' he said. He was later released on bail. Mugabe's fresh threats of violence against the MDC and the harassment of Tsvangirai have deepened the repressive atmosphere that already permeates the country. Lagging behind Tsvangirai in opinion polls, Mugabe is determined to use all means to stay in power. Taken with a raft of new oppressive Bills to be pressed through Parliament this week, Mugabe's bitter invective has made Zimbabwe decidedly anxious, rather than festive.
Returning to Zimbabwe after being branded a terrorist by the state media, I was somewhat apprehensive, not only about what would happen to me but also about the state of the country that I have made my home. I was struck by the fact that my concern was matched and often outstripped by the anxiety of ordinary Zimbabweans who are worried about the escalating climate of antagonism. Ordinarily the weeks before Christmas are a particularly fun time, with seasonal rains giving everyone hope for a good agricultural crop in the coming year and the markets brimming with ripe tropical fruits and vegetables. But this year people's spirits have not been buoyed by good rains or the abundance of fresh maize and mangoes. 'No one has a holiday mood,' said Mabel Mushava (not her real name). 'How can we? Our Christmas bonuses have been eaten up by inflation. We can't travel freely to our kumushas [rural homes] because the militias and war veterans are out there beating and intimidating people. We can't pick up a paper or turn on the radio without getting hateful messages. We can't think of the New Year without worrying about violence in the election campaign. This is a miserable time.'
Zimbabwe's Parliament is due to consider new legislation that paints a grim picture of the shape of things to come. The Public Order and Security Bill was published in the government gazette on Friday and is expected to be pushed through Parliament this week. It is widely considered to be as repressive as the old Rhodesian legislation that it is replacing. Several amendments to the Electoral Act are set to be voted on, including measures to bar any non-governmental organisation from carrying out voter education, to ban any independent election monitors and to restrict international observers. Yet another amendment will prevent the estimated one million Zimbabweans living out of the country from voting, except for those in the military and diplomatic corps. The Mugabe government has also issued a new Bill to govern the press, which media experts consider one of the most repressive in the world. All journalists operating in the country must get a government licence for which only Zimbabwean citizens are eligible. The Bill threatens jail and heavy fines and is clearly designed to muzzle the critical independent press, both domestic and foreign.
With such heavy-handed legislation, the Mugabe government is giving the country a few lumps of coal in its stocking. All these Bills could be passed next week. Recently the government has shoved Bills through by having all three readings in one day. 'I'm not making any New Year's resolutions. What's the point?' asked a Zimbabwean businessman. 'Until the elections are held in March, we don't know what future this country has. After that we will know whether things are going to get better or if they are going to just continue on this frightening freefall. Then I'll make my resolutions about what to do.'
From The Sunday Times (SA), 16 December
Mugabe sends in shock troops
Deployment of soldiers raises fears of new Matabeleland massacres
Victoria Falls/Johannesburg - In a move that it describes as a crackdown on "terrorism", the Zimbabwean government has moved army units into Matabeleland province. Villagers in the southwestern province have accused the soldiers of beating them up and expressed fears of a repeat of repression of anti-Robert Mugabe elements in that province in the 1980s. Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo told delegates at the Zanu PF congress at Victoria Falls on Friday that the deployment was in response to "terrorist" attacks on Zanu PF officials. "The enemy is employing terror tactics and, as the government of Zimbabwe, we have to activate our security to curb terrorism so there is nothing sinister about sending security to any part of our country. We have not deployed any mercenaries but Zimbabweans to hunt and bring terrorists to justice the American way," said Nkomo. More than 20 000 people are estimated to have been killed in the 1980s when the government moved the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade into the province, which had voted overwhelmingly in favour of Mugabe's arch-rival, Joshua Nkomo. The brutal repression eventually forced Nkomo to collapse his Zapu PF party into Mugabe's Zanu PF. However, in last year's election, the province turned against Zanu PF, backing Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change. Backing John Nkomo, Mugabe said the troops had been deployed in rural areas to protect farm invaders from farmers and their workers. "I will send the security forces there [rural areas] to protect these poor peasants from attacks."
The latest action by the Zimbabwean government comes in the wake of an about-turn by a Southern African Development Community delegation. The SADC delegation - which had gone to Zimbabwe to deliver a tough message to the government from regional leaders - instead welcomed Zimbabwe's verbal commitment to free and fair elections and announced that they would oppose sanctions proposed by Western nations. Taking solace from this solidarity, a defiant Mugabe told delegates that his government would continue seizing white farms. Mugabe said: "Let the white man keep his rule of law and we keep our land. How can robbers who robbed our illiterate ancestors today preach about the rule of law to us? We will not listen to thieves." In separate speeches to the congress, Mugabe also: moved to suppress dissent within Zanu PF and warned against challenges to his candidacy for next year's presidential elections due in March; told party members to treat next year's election campaign as a "total war"; and branded all city and town dwellers sellouts for voting for the MDC. He said party members must regard themselves as soldiers. "Where we are going, it is not like the June 2000 parliamentary elections, which was like a football game where I was centre striker. This is total war, the Third Chimurenga [uprising]," he said. Nkomo, the Zanu PF national chairman, also appealed to party supporters to work to ensure that Mugabe was re-elected next year. "There are no emergency brakes on this Concorde to change the captain. Captain Mugabe is in command and our destination is nigh."
The fiery talk by Zanu-PF leaders came as police twice arrested Tsvangirai for possessing a two-way radio without a licence. Tsvangirai was initially arrested in a dawn raid on Friday but released after a few hours. Yesterday, police again arrested him and charged him under the country's Radio and Telecommunications Act. A top-level ANC delegation is to meet with Zanu PF in Harare this week. Among the issues to be discussed are the March presidential elections, and the strategy and state of Zimbabwe's ruling party, ANC spokesman Nomfanelo Kota said. The delegation will be led by the ANC's national chairman, Mosiuoa Lekota, Deputy President Jacob Zuma and ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe.
From The Sunday Telegraph (UK), 16 December
Simpson on Sunday
Tidings of joy from Mugabe's neighbours
Nothing has changed in Zimbabwe. No doubt we were foolish to think it might. On Friday, President Robert Mugabe made a speech at Victoria Falls marking the opening of his campaign for the presidential election in March. When he addressed selected members of his ruling party, Zanu PF, all the usual angry rhetoric was there - all the usual lack of awareness of the damage his country is suffering. "I will not have succeeded in liberating the people of Zimbabwe from oppression as long as economic oppression continues," he stated. Britain was using every trick in the book to sabotage his land redistribution programme, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was a puppet of white interests, and so on and so forth. Yet Mr Mugabe's speech was - for him – almost restrained. Maybe, after his recent medical treatment, he is more aware that, at 77, he has to take things easier. Maybe his doctors warned him that even if he won another six-year term, he was unlikely to complete it. Maybe it's just that he's starting a long and hard political campaign, and wants to leave the real fireworks until later. The last possibility must, on past experience, be the most likely. From Mr Mugabe's point of view, things are not going too badly - given that the economy is collapsing and food is now short in a land once known for its agriculture.
True, the government is now loathed by a sizeable majority of city dwellers. Official figures put inflation at 98 per cent - it is probably higher - and hundreds of workers are being laid off every week. The price of the staple maize meal is higher than ever in real terms. There is little foreign currency left to pay for oil, electricity and food imports. A modern cinema complex on the edge of Harare has just closed because there is no money to rent films from distributors. Supposedly, Mr Mugabe is having bunkers built beneath State House in case of trouble. Still, as long as the police and army stay loyal and are prepared to use unlimited force against protesters, the government is unlikely to be overthrown. The MDC and its allies have staged repeated demonstrations, but it takes a lot of courage to face up to the tear gas and rubber batons of the riot police; and the prospect of being arrested, charged with affray and perhaps sent to jail is still a powerful deterrent. So when civic organisations called on people to demonstrate against the proposed new electoral laws earlier this month, it was hardly surprising that only 50 or 60 people turned up. The remarkable thing is that anyone dared to face the police. The electoral proposals are unacceptable anywhere outside an open dictatorship. They would effectively prevent hundreds of thousands of young unemployed people from voting. The government knows that they will almost all be supporters of the MDC. Mr Mugabe has said he doesn't want the European Union to send election observers, and a new press Bill will largely prevent the country's remarkably brave independent journalists from reporting on voting irregularities or poll violence. The proposals will make it even easier for pro-government thugs to do what they like to Mr Mugabe's opponents.
At which point, enter a group of cabinet ministers from six countries in the Southern African Development Community. They were visiting Zimbabwe as part of the Abuja agreement (negotiated with Mr Mugabe by Commonwealth and African figures in September), and had come to check on Zimbabwe's promised return to the rule of law. In their final communique, the ministers welcomed the improved atmosphere of calm and stability. Government officials in Harare were delighted. True, not all of the communique was favourable, but it was extraordinary that a country where things are manifestly becoming even worse in every respect could receive any praise at all from its peers. Only last Wednesday, the Human Rights Forum issued a report saying there were six political killings and 115 cases of torture in Zimbabwe last month. "Improved atmosphere"? "Calm"? "Stability"? During the past week the South African rand has fallen to alarming new lows, partly because Zimbabwe is seen to be threatening the entire future of southern Africa. When the presidents of South Africa, Botswana and Nigeria told Mr Mugabe in no uncertain terms that he must mend his ways, he was obliged to sign the Abuja agreement upholding the rule of law. But nothing has really changed as a result, and southern Africa will continue to suffer politically and economically until such time as the rule of law is genuinely upheld in Zimbabwe - especially if African ministers continue to pretend that things are improving when they manifestly are not.
John Simpson is the BBC World Affairs Editor