The ZIMBABWE Situation Our thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.

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Bleak Christmas for Zimbabwe
25 December 2004 10:48
Top businesses stand to lose their investments in Zimbabwe's chaotic banking sector this Christmas after the closure of a seventh private bank for fraud and mismanagement.

Thousands of ordinary depositors have been left with empty pocketbooks and firms trading with the bank can't pay salaries or annual bonuses for the holidays.

As Zimbabwe's worst economic crisis bit deeper, riot police this week stood guard outside the CFX Bank, a former foreign exchange dealership, to stop desperate account holders storming its offices and banking halls.

The ramifications of the closure by the state central bank of the seventh "unstable" private bank this year left investors reeling.

Marjory Davies, a retired accountant and widow, said she had Z$400-million ($70 000) in savings and investments locked in the bank.

"I can't get a cent out. I am devastated," she said, holding back tears.

A property developer who sold an office building deposited a check for Z$2,6-billion ($470 000) a week before the December 18 closure while he made plans to reinvest the money.

Small investor Henry Chauruka used a pension payout to buy stock whose value has slumped by 70%.

Daily living expenses are drawn from current accounts in the bank that have been frozen for six months, along with all other transactions.

Creditors of the CFX Bank face months of waiting to learn whether they will get part or any of their money back.

By then, inflation of 149% -- the highest in the world -- will have cut swaths out of it.

In impoverished townships across Zimbabwe, however, the banking crisis meant little.

Ben Mucheche, head of an association of bus owners, told state radio on Friday that Christmas transport services were severely curtailed by bus breakdowns and shortages of spare parts and fuel.

Urban families who traditionally visit their rural villages were abandoning travel plans. Some waited in long lines for their buses for 10 hours, only to be turned away after a scramble to get aboard.

On Friday, lines of cars snaked around gas stations, a regular sight in this troubled southern African nation.

"If I don't get fuel, I won't be able to do anything" to enjoy the holidays, said Harare businessman Fungai Hwande.

His was the 38th car in the line he joined before dawn.

The agriculture-based economy has crumbled since President Robert Mugabe's government began seizing thousands of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to black Zimbabweans in 2000, leading to acute shortages of food, hard currency, gasoline, medicines and other imports.

Outages of power and water utilities, blamed on breakdowns of aging equipment and shortages of imported water purifying chemicals, occur daily.

In the deepening economic crisis, unemployment has soared to 70% and an estimated 80% of the 12,5-million people are living below the standard poverty line.

In its annual report this month, the United Nations Children's Fund said the death toll from Aids and HIV-related illnesses has left nearly a million orphans in Zimbabwe.

It said life expectancy has dropped from age 52 to 37 since 1990 and girls as young as nine were caregivers for siblings and ailing relatives.

Charity groups say "coping mechanisms" for impoverished families include cutting back on food -- often to one meagre meal a day -- selling household goods and personal belongings, street vending, begging and prostitution.

In a grimy bar in western Harare, Sherry Mpala (26) has a cellphone for sale.

"How are we to survive? Times are hard and we are suffering," said the mother of two.

She said she was abandoned by her husband when he travelled to neighbouring South Africa to look for work.

She said she tried buying cheap goods in flea markets in Harare for resale at a profit in provincial towns where there are no cheap markets.

Begging for "loans" from male acquaintances turned into prostitution.

An older woman who gave her name only as "Tanya" said she solicited in tourist hotels where she demanded $100 from foreigners.

But amid political violence and worldwide criticism of the country's human rights record tourism has dried up.

Both women insisted they were aware of safe practices.

Mpala said more women were plying bars and streets than were seen a few months ago. Some of her rivals were young girls fresh from poor villages in the countryside where crops have failed.

"Hunger would kill my children before Aids kills me. Maybe we will all die of Aids in the end," she said. - Sapa-AP
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Former minister ‘met African coup pair’
Web posted at: 12/26/2004 2:6:57
Source ::: The Sunday Times

London: Peter Mandelson held a private meeting with two businessmen accused of backing a bungled attempt to overthrow the leader of Equatorial Guinea. The three were seen together in a Lebanese restaurant near parliament just weeks after the coup collapsed in March.

The businessmen were at the time seeking help for Simon Mann, the alleged leader of the plot who is now in prison in Zimbabwe.

The revelation is likely to prompt increased efforts by police in South Africa to interview Mandelson, the European Union trade commissioner and former cabinet minister, to find out what he knew about those involved in the alleged attempt to seize power in the oil-rich west African state.

The investigation has become increasingly complex and has drawn in a growing number of high-profile figures and government agencies. Sir Mark Thatcher, arrested by Cape Town police, was accused of helping to bankroll the coup, which he denies. He is now on bail awaiting formal charges.

There is also growing evidence that Britain and America knew of the plot. Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, was last month forced to retract Foreign Office claims that the government had received no advance warning of a coup.

The two businessmen who met Mandelson were Ely Calil, a London-based Lebanese financier and oil trader who is alleged to have been one of the financial backers of the coup, and Greg Wales, a friend and business associate of Mann’s.

The meeting took place at Noura, a restaurant in Belgravia, central London, not long after Mann, an Eton-educated former SAS officer, was arrested in Zimbabwe for trying to buy weapons. Calil, 58, who has an estimated fortune of pounds 100m and a pounds 12m London mansion, is alleged to have been at the heart of the daring multi-million-pound plot. It would have deposed President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who himself seized power in a murderous coup.    

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Interest rates set to fall

Dumisani Ndlela
12/24/2004 9:37:41 AM (GMT +2)
FInancial Gazette

THE Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) this week reduced key overnight accommodation rates, sending the first signal that interest rates could start falling in line with declining inflation.

The move caught the market unawares as expectations were that the Reserve Bank would only give a clear indication on the direction of interest rates in the new year, guided by inflation figures for December.
Year-on-year inflation fell significantly during the month of November to 149.3 percent, from 209.1 percent in October. This surpassed central bank governor Gideon Gono's revised target of between 150 percent and 160 percent by December, which was shifted from an initial target of 200 percent by year-end.
The market anticipates inflation to settle at around 115 percent in December.
The central bank on Monday adjusted overnight accommodation rates - a money market instrument that allows domestic banks to cover unexpected shortfalls in their daily cash requirements - to 110 percent for secured lending and 120 percent for unsecured lending, from previous levels of 135 percent and 145 percent for secured and unsecured lending respectively.
Treasury Bills (TBs) and other prescribed assets form the underlying security for borrowing through the central bank's overnight accommodation window, which penalises borrowers without such security.
"My view is that all other rates will fall in line with the decline in the overnight accommodation rates," said Nyika Chidemhe, a market analyst with Highveld Financial Services. "I don't expect the next 91-day TB (Treasury Bill) rate to be above the 110 percent level."
Market conditions remained tight as the central bank reinforced its commitment to contain money supply growth to support its fight against inflation.
The money market opened the week short to the tune of $641 billion, from reduced levels of $240.5 billion last week that had been precipitated by an injection of over $500 billion into the market through maturing TBs.
The RBZ had last week intervened to quell liquidity in the market through issuance of TBs, with as many as three tenders being held on the market in a single day.
But its operations this week found little favour on the market, with one of the two tenders held on Monday finding no participant, while the other tender amounting to $200 billion attracted a single bid to the tune of $5 billion.
Indications were that players stayed away because of the market shortages and disturbances in the banking sector originating from the closure of CFX Bank, placed under curatorship by the Reserve Bank to save it from a run on deposits after evidence of a liquidity crunch surfaced at the institution.
Market forecasts indicated that shortages would remain perched at over $600 billion throughout the week.
"The Reserve Bank is working with a targeted market shortage to arrest money supply growth," said Chidemhe.
By keeping the market squeezed, the Reserve Bank intends to curtail money supply growth emanating from credit expansion, one of the key drivers of high inflation levels.
Gono said in his monetary policy review in October that successful reduction of inflation to low and stable levels demanded that over the medium to long term, the country's money supply aggregates are maintained at levels that are consistent with real economic growth.
Money supply growth, which reached a peak of 500 percent in January this year, has been gradually declining, with the RBZ expecting it to come down towards the zero level in December 2006.

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Fin Gazette National Report
Oldies tighten their grip on ZANU PF

Nelson Banya
12/24/2004 9:39:08 AM (GMT +2)

THE Politburo line-up unveiled last Friday, a few weeks after the ZANU PF old guard reaffirmed its superiority once again at the recently held party congress, is a confirmation of the deep-seated disenchantment against the so-called Young Turks who had virtually usurped the party.

The sacking of fledgling ZANU PF’s latter-day revolutionaries — chief of spin Jonathan Moyo and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa — among others from the ruling party’s supreme decision-making organ, was the culmination of the old guard’s impatience with the young politicians who broke into the upper echelons of the party, as it faced its stiffest challenge in 2000.
Apart from showing that ambition comes with a huge price in ZANU PF, recent developments, which climaxed with last Friday’s announcement of the “new” Politburo show that the party, which has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, is an ageing party.
President Robert Mug-abe, who will be 81 years old in February, once again emerged as the unchallenged paramount leader that he has always been.
His deputy both in the state and party structures, Joseph Msika, is a year older than the President while national chairman John Nkomo is no spring chicken.
The history-making female Vice-President Joyce Mujuru, 49, is the exception when one looks at gerontology of the ZANU PF presidium.
A cursory look at the Politburo line-up will amply illustrate that the organ — and the party it is expected to steer for the next five years — are long in the tooth despite Nkomo’s sentiments over the weekend that, “We must not doubt that we have a long future ahead of us.”
Political analysts have pointed to the flushing out of the younger ZANU PF politicians, who gave the party and government an abrasive edge that even alienated older stalwarts, as a sign that the party fancied its chances in the March parliamentary election.
They indicated that while the hyperactive Young Turks had been ruthless in cowing opposition in all its forms to pave way for the ZANU PF juggernaut — with Moyo cracking down on the media and Chinamasa crafting and pushing contentious laws —President Mugabe chose to throw in his lot with his wartime allies to show that no one was indispensable.
President Mugabe said as much last Friday, chiding mafikizolos (young, emergent party members) for threatening the party’s unity.
“Some of you who come now are mafikizolo. Ndivovari kutishupa ivavo (they have become irritants).
“During the war we never asked the young people who were joining the liberation struggle which part of the country they came from. Now amafikizolo would want to say uyu ndewekwakati. Please get us away from that politics,” President Mugabe said.
Indeed, the Politburo reshuffle saw old horses such as Didymus Mutasa, fiercely loyal to President Mugabe, Kumbirai Kangai and Rugare Gumbo — both former members of the Dare, an influential wartime ZANU PF organ — bouncing back into prominence.
Mutasa was appointed secretary of administration, a position he held until 2000 when he briefly slipped into political oblivion.
He replaces Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose hopes of becoming one of the two vice presidents were sensationally dashed by Mujuru.
Mnangagwa — a lawyer — was reassigned to his old post as secretary for legal affairs, an important but inferior position to the administration portfolio, which placed him in the much-coveted “top five” in the ZANU PF scheme of things.
Former army commanders Dumiso Dabengwa, Solomon Mujuru — husband to the Vice President — and the recently retired Vitalis Zvinavashe also feature in the Politburo, with the added responsibility of “reorganising the war veterans” who, in recent years, have acted like a private army at the ruling party’s beck and call.
Veteran ZANU PF politicians — Nathan Shamu-yarira (secretary for information and publicity), David Karimanzira (secretary for finance), Sidney Sekeramayi (secretary for health), Josiah Tungamirai (secretary for indigenisation), Richard Hove (secretary for economic affairs), Naison Ndlovu (secretary for production), Sikhanyiso Ndlovu (secretary for education), Enos Chikowore (secretary for lands), committee members Sabina Mugabe, Victoria Chitepo and Oppah Muchinguri (secretary for women’s affairs) make up the core of the Politburo.
Muchinguri’s appointment came at the expense of Tenjiwe Lesabe, whose nomination for the vice presidency by the alleged Tsholotsho conspirators could have cost her the position that made her the most senior member of the ZANU PF women’s league.
It has been suggested that President Mugabe’s next cabinet will mirror the Politburo and be littered with old names, while the new faces that graced his “war cabinet” look set to be excised.
Speculation has mounted that Moyo, whose central committee nomination was sensationally vetoed by the ZANU PF presidency, Chinamasa, Agriculture Minister Joseph Made, Communications Minister Chris Mushowe, Masvingo governor Josiah Hungwe, deputy minister Shuvai Mahofa and Energy Minister July Moyo would be dropped in the next cabinet reshuffle.
July Moyo, who was the ZANU PF Midlands provincial chairman, was suspended for six months earlier this month for his part in the Tsholotsho imbroglio.
With the party’s main rival, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) at sea over its participation in next year’s polls, the ruling party has the luxury of toying with its innards, but observers say the party’s inability to transform its demographics and politics could prove costly in the long run.

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 Financial Gazette
Tobacco’s contribution to export earnings plunges

Felix Njini
12/24/2004 9:42:15 AM (GMT +2)

TOBACCO’S contribution to Zimbabwe’s export earnings has plunged by 57 percent since 2001 despite a sharp rise in the number of tobacco growers who entered the sector under the government’s controversial land reform.

Recent statistics from the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association (ZTA) indicate that tobacco exports’ contribution to the country’s total export basket plunged from 35 percent in 2001 to a mere 20 percent last season as the golden leaf continues to lose its lustre.
According to the ZTA, foreign currency earnings from the sale of tobacco, once the country’s principal foreign currency earning commodity, had fallen from US$584 million in 2001 to US$240 million in 2004.
The tonnage of exported tobacco has also declined drastically from 198 219 tonnes in 2001 to 80 000 tonnes in 2004.
Since 1990, tobacco’s contribution to national export earnings has been averaging 30 percent. Zimbabwe earned US$376 million from tobacco exports in 1990, netted a record US$676 million in 1996, a figure which has fallen to US$240 million in 2004, ZTA said.
According to the ZTA, the number of large-scale commercial farmers has drastically shrunk from 1 878 in 1998 to just 700 farmers in 2004.
The hectarage under tobacco in the large-scale farming sector has also fallen from a peak of 86 937 hectares in 1997 to 25 000 hectares in 2004.
Shortages of inputs, under-capitalisation and the often chaotic land reform have been blamed for the decline in production of the erstwhile principal foreign currency-earning commodity.
The drastic fall in output, from a peak of over 200 million kilograms in 2000 to 65 million kilograms in 2004, is despite a sharp rise in the number of new farmers in the lucrative farming business.
In 1990, Zimbabwe had 194 small-scale tobacco farmers utilising only 494 hectares, the ZTA said.
The number of small-scale tobacco growers has since shot up to 12 000 in 2004 utilising 16 000 hectares.
But despite the increase in the number of farmers and the hectarage, the small scale tobacco growing sector produced a paltry 12 000 tonnes of tobacco in 2004.
The average yield per hectare has remained stagnant at around 1.40 tonnes.
Analysts noted that most small-scale farmers are sitting on farms with potential to produce more than 100 hectares of the tobacco crop.
Production costs have also skyrocketed, putting paid to government’s projections of lifting tobacco output to 160 million from the current 65 million kilograms.

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Financial Gazette
2004: did Zimbabwe retreat from the brink?

Nelson Banya
12/24/2004 9:39:45 AM (GMT +2)

ZIMBABWE’S crisis has often been characterised as an economic and political one, with no consensus as to which, among the two factors, predates the other.

There is consensus, however, that 2003 was a veritable annus horribilis.
By the previous year’s standards, 2004 needed to be a specially horrible year for it to fit into the continuum.
It was not. At least on most counts.
The year began pretty much on the same note that 2003 had ended — galloping inflation that relentlessly decimated earnings, an exchange rate in free-fall, no end to the political standoff that has polarised the country, a high HIV infection rate, soaring unemployment, deteriorating social services, food shortages and general disillusionment stared Zimbabweans in the face.
January, and if anything was supposed to change, it would surely be for the worse.
Come year-end, the government, which has forecast a return to economic growth in 2005, by as much as five percent, has struck a triumphant chord and taken on a new mantra — economic turnaround.
While independent projections by institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have backed projections of positive economic growth for the first time since 1999, there is a difference in the magnitude of the growth (the IMF has forecast 1.8 percent gross domestic product growth in 2005). There is even less agreement when it comes to the household level, where the gins of the “turnaround” will certainly take longer to be felt.
With activity on the political front taking a back seat as an unprecedented financial sector crisis raged on during the year, the talking point for 2004 will be the bank closures that put an end to a golden period for locally owned financial institutions.
A tighter monetary policy announced by Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor Gideon Gono in December 2003, which brought about a stringent accommodation policy, among other interventions, saw many financial institutions going into tailspin at the height of an interest rate spike when rates went as high as 900 percent.
As the year ends, some institutions that reported stratospheric profits in 2003 have run into problems and been placed under the management of curators.
To date, a total of nine banking institutions — Trust Bank Corporation, Royal Bank, Intermarket Discount House, Intermarket Building Society, Intermarket Banking Corporation, Barbican Bank, Time Bank, CFX Merchant Bank and CFX Bank — have been placed under curatorship, while Rapid Discount House has gone into provisional liquidation.
More than 70 asset management firms, which had sprouted in the past two years, were culled as the RBZ went on a crusade to clean up the financial sector. ENG Capital, which had grown exponentially in stature and assets during the period, was the high-profile casualty.
The upheaval in the sector also brought with it an unprecedented exodus of business executives — mainly bankers — as deep-seated corruption was exposed.
A number of business executives, including NMB’s Julius Makoni, James Mushore, Francis Zimuto and Otto Chekeche, Intermarket’s Nicholas Vingirai, Mutumwa Mawere and Barbican’s Mthuli Ncube left the country in the most inauspicious of circumstances, while James Makamba, Philip Chiyangwa, Jane Mutasa and Finance Minister Chris Kuruneri were among the notables arrested on corruption charges.
There were spectacular corporate coups, which saw the likes of William Nyemba, Chris Goromonzi and Nyevero Hlupo leave their beloved Trust Holdings Limited, while Norman Sachikonye left First Mutual Limited during the course of the year.
Away from the corporate upheavals, the year saw the dollar weakening further against major currencies, following the introduction of controlled foreign currency auctions by the RBZ on January 12.
The inaugural auction saw the dollar trading at $4 196 against the United States dollar, a departure from the pegged $824 to the greenback, which the government had stuck to throughout 2003.
As the year ends, the exchange rate has moved to $6 200 against the United States dollar.
Although it initially managed to dampen activity on the parallel market for hard currencies, the auction system could not meet mounting demand throughout the year, giving opportunity for a resurgence of the black market, where rates have gone up to as much as $8 500 to the greenback.
On the interest rate front, rates went down from the peak of last year’s spike, which spilled into 2004. Banks have largely reduced their minimum lending rates to below 200 percent, from an average 450 percent at the beginning of the year, although the RBZ insists on further cuts in line with declining inflation.
The year also saw a significant decline in inflation, from an all-time high of 622.8 percent recorded in January to 149.3 percent by November, way below the RBZ targets.
According to official statistics, the gross domestic product, which has been shrinking since 2000, declined further by about 25 percent this year, although the government has forecast a return to positive growth in 2005.
There were less spectacular developments on the political scene, although the country’s major political parties — the ruling ZANU PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) — came as close as they have ever come to a settlement that would have resolved the political impasse that has heightened tension in the country.
The two parties, at the behest of South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, had agreed on minimal constitutional changes that would have paved way for a credible electoral process ahead of the March 2005 parliamentary vote.
The changes would, among other provisos, have seen a return to a bicameral Parliament, the creation of a truly independent electoral commission and the abolition of parliamentary appointments by the President.
MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai has accused ZANU PF of chickening out on the proposals it had earlier supported to pursue a parochial legislative route by virtue of its parliamentary superiority.
Mystery continues to shroud the reasons behind the collapse of the constitutional proposals.
The MDC’s participation in next year’s polls remains uncertain as the party has suspended participation in all elections until the government fully implements all the provisions of the Southern African Development Community guidelines on democratic elections which Zimbabwe and other regional states agreed to at the Mauritius summit.
The guidelines provide for the creation of independent electoral structures and equal access to public media, which the MDC contends are non-existent in Zimbabwe at the moment.
All this makes for an uncertain start to 2005.

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Fin GAz National Report
Zimpapers editors quaking in their boots

12/24/2004 9:38:10 AM (GMT +2)

Moyo's uncertain future sends jitters down spines of his protégés
Staff Reporter

PANIC has set into Zimbabwe Newspapers (Zimpapers) and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH), as Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, who took the system of patronage to new heights at the government-controlled media houses, faces an uncertain future in government.
Sources said word that the Information Minister's political career could be hanging by the thread after being dumped from the ZANU PF central committee and politburo had sent jitters down the spines of his band of protégés at the two institutions.
They said should Moyo be moved to another ministry, it might also mean an end to the careers of his protégés, whose alliance with the government spin-doctor had earned them a place in the sun.
Zimpapers has eight titles under its stable, namely The Herald, The Sunday Mail, Kwayedza, The New Farmer, Trends magazine, Chronicle, The Sunday News and The Manica Post.
It is something akin to a ZANU PF government tradition for any new information minister to appoint his or her favoured gatekeepers to man critical Zimpapers titles and the electronic media, which enjoy a monopoly.
"There is a lot of uneasiness. If Moyo goes, then our future is limited here," said one the Zimpapers editors.
"Some of our colleagues are frantically trying to establish links with politicians linked to the ministry such as Webster Shamu and Chen Chimutengwe-nde.
"Whether they are going to succeed in their efforts or not is something else."
Moyo fell from grace after he allegedly masterminded the controversial Tsholotsho meeting held weeks ago.
It is alleged the meeting was aimed at derailing Joy-ce Mujuru's presidential ambitions and bolster support for Emmerson Mnangagwa. Those reportedly close to Moyo are Herald editor Pikirayi Deketeke, Chronicle editor Stephen Ndlovu, Sunday News editor Brezhnev Malaba, Makuwe-rere Bwititi, editor of the Mutare-based Manica Post, Innocent Madonko, Chronicle special projects editor, Munyaradzi Huni, Sunday Mail political editor, Methuseli Moyo who is in charge of Bulawayo's Montrose Studios, Tazzen Mandizvidza of Newsnet, and Chris Chivinge, who was recently posted to Namibia, among others.
Moyo, who joined the government in 2000, has had stormy relations with a number of ZANU PF bigwigs who have been openly attacked in the public media, where he wields a lot of influence.
Among those baying for Moyo's blood are ZANU PF chairman John Nkomo and Vice-President Joseph Msika.

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Financial Gazette
Residents spoil for fight with Chombo

Zhean Gwaze
12/24/2004 9:38:36 AM (GMT +2)

THE Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) is squaring up for an abrasive legal challenge against Local Government and National Housing Minister Ignatius Chombo over the imposition of an eight-member commission to run the affairs of the capital's city council.

CHRA advocacy and information officer Jameson Gadzirai told The Financial Gazette the pressure group was applying for an injunction against Chombo over the imposition of the ZANU PF-aligned commission headed by political turncoat Sekesai Makwavarara.
The CHRA is arguing that Chombo violated Section 80 of the Urban Councils Act when he imposed the ruling party-dominated commission.
"We have already filed the papers with our legal counsel. The counsel is hopeful that we have a case against the minister," Gadzirai said.
Under Section 8, the minister may appoint a commission if at any time there are no councillors for a council area or all the councillors have been suspended or imprisoned or are otherwise unable to exercise all or some of their functions.
However, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change-dominated municipality was operating with eight councillors following the suspension of 37 others on trumped-up charges of insubordination and incompetence by Cho-mbo.
Some of the suspended and dismissed councilors' cases are still pending in the courts.
CHRA is arguing that a commission's tenure of office is stipulated for six months after which succeeding general elections are held and not the two years imposed by Chombo.
If the six-month period expires without such elections, the minister may reappoint the commission or the commission will push for the holding of an election.
"While the minister might have exercised his unlimited powers to appoint the commission, according to the Act, its mandate is to facilitate for the holding of new elections. The fact that some of the councillors' cases are still pending in courts is an indication that there is an effort by them to exercise council duty," Gadzirai said.

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Zim Gazette
MDC keeps Zimbabweans guessing

Njabulo Ncube
12/24/2004 9:40:15 AM (GMT +2)

AN atmosphere of suspense created by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC’s) decision to defer its position on whether or not it should take part in the 2005 parliamentary poll could turn out to be the proverbial case of shooting one’s self in the foot.

While the MDC might have succeeded in exerting pressure on ZANU PF, which has been dithering on instituting electoral reforms agreed by regional heads of state and government in Mauritius this year, there is concern that the main opposition party has caused confusion among its electorate that may cost the party dearly.
And besides, the lack of consensus on the MDC’s participation in the crucial March 2005 elections could be another expose` about the confusion and deep-seated divisions within the party, accused by President Robert Mugabe of working with imperialist forces to topple his government.
Party insiders and political analysts who spoke to The Financial Gazette this week were unanimous that it would be an ill-advised strategy that may haunt the MDC and cost it victory in next year’s elections if the party is to go into Christmas and the New Year without arriving at a final political decision.
They said the dilly-dallying in announcing a clear-cut position pointed to sharp divisions within the MDC’s national executive council, which met at the weekend but failed to arrive at a final stance.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who recently returned from a 25-nation diplomatic sojourn, is said to be in a quandary following immense pressure from regional heads of state to contest the polls, coming nearly five years after the last elections where the then 18-month old opposition party nearly upset ZANU PF, grabbing almost half of the 120 contested seats.
Analysts said the indecision could play into the hands of President Mugabe’s ruling ZANU PF, which is gearing to overwhelmingly win the polls in a bid to gain some measure of legitimacy.
Paul Themba Nyathi, the MDC’s spokesman, said in a statement early this week the party would decide in early January whether to contest the elections set for March.
Commenting on the outcome of the gathering of the party‘s national executive council meeting, Nyathi said it had been resolved that the political climate was still not conducive to the staging of free and fair polls.
“We reviewed the prevailing political situation and recognised that the electoral reforms so far implemented are inadequate and do not comply fully with the SADC (Southern African Development Community) principles and guidelines on the conduct of democratic elections,” said Nyathi.
The party also agreed to lobby SADC leaders to pressure President Mugabe to level the playing field to allow the MDC to hold political meetings, have access to the public media, repeal repressive security and media laws, especially the Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, a member of the Broad Alliance together with the MDC, has already told Tsvangirai to stay away from the defective polls, citing the closure of democratic space by ZANU PF.
“The MDC must not participate in the elections. We want a free and fair playing field. We want a free media,” said Madhuku.
Basing free and fair elections on the SADC Mauritius Protocol signed by heads of state, including President Mugabe, the MDC has dismissed the reforms parachuted through Parliament in recent weeks as cosmetic.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, another member of the Broad Alliance, in an analysis of the implications of the electoral reforms, dismissed the government-inspired reforms as “applying lipstick on yet another frog”.
The reduction of urban seats by the Delimitation Commission is also said to have dealt the MDC a heavy blow as the party considered the cities and towns its strongholds.

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FInancial Gazette
Mugabe sets tone for peaceful polls

Njabulo Ncube
12/24/2004 9:40:43 AM (GMT +2)

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe, whose ruling ZANU PF is already sensing victory in next year’s parliamentary elections, has made a passionate plea for a violence-free poll, as his party seeks to legitimise its continued hold on power.

In his 17th state of the nation address last week, the 80-year-old Zimbabwean leader, who consolidated his grip on the party at the just ended ZANU PF People’s National Congress, decried violence, which the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) allege had been used to cow voters.
The MDC, which almost handed ZANU PF a shock defeat in the disputed 2000 parliamentary and the 2002 presidential elections, is still fighting the legitimacy of some of the poll results in the courts.
“I want to reiterate government’s determination that this impending poll should not be marred by incidents of violence from whatever quarter,” thundered a confident President Mugabe in a live broadcast aired on both radio and television.
President Mugabe’s sentiments come at a time when the Zimba-bwe Human Rights Non-Governmental Organisation Forum has already issued a disheartening report pointing to an increase in inter-party skirmishes.
There were 44 cases of assault and eight of kidnapping in August this year, up from 12 and one respectively in July, according to the report.
Some analysts said the ruling party, accused by the MDC of stealing the 2000 and 2002 ballots due to the excessive use of violence, was brandishing the “no violence” card for convenience purposes only.
They said President Mugabe, who has had a rough year in office after the 2000 and 2002 polls touched off by the crisis of confidence, was desperate to gain some measure of legitimacy especially in the international community.
Ever since the disputed elections, Zimbabwe has been hit by targeted sanctions aimed at President Mugabe and his close lieutenants.
At his party’s national congress, President Mugabe admitted that the sanctions were wreaking havoc in the economy and appealed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair to convince other European Union leaders to unconditionally lift them.
Zimbabwe, which is frantically trying to engage the International Monetary Fund to lift the suspension slapped on the country in 1999, was also suspended from the Commonwealth, before the country’s leadership opted for the exits.
“The situation dema-nds this kind of exhortation from President Mugabe. ZANU PF is secure and confident of winning next year without violence,” said Eld-red Masunungure, a University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer.
President Mugabe’s ruling ZANU PF has anchored its election campaign on the anti-graft crusade that has claimed the scalps of several high-ranking businessmen and politicians, while forcing over a dozen others to flee the country.
Despite the chaos that accompanied the controversial land reform, the ruling party has also made the programme, which has benefited nearly 200 000 families, a rallying point in its campaign.
Heneri Dzinotyiweyi, another political commentator, said although President Mugabe’s message against political violence was important in that incidents of violence might be fewer compared to past polls, the electorate was still traumatised by the previous events.
He said President Mugabe’s plea to the electorate confirmed what most people had always suspected — that politicians used their respective supporters as tools for violence.
“Nonetheless, the message is important coming from the leadership of ZANU PF. We hope his followers take heed,” said Dzinotyiweyi.
“But there is no doubt in my mind that the message is a result of confidence on the part of President Mugabe and his ruling party.
“There might be no violence for now, but there are still other fundamental issues on the ground that were not addressed in the past five years. There is still tension. People are very unhappy with the events of the past elections.”

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