From The Star (SA), 3 February
Zimbabwean police put an end to media protest
Harare - Hundreds of armed police stopped journalists from protesting against violent attacks on the country's independent media on Saturday after a bomb blast at a private newspaper critical of the government. Witnesses said about 500 police, some in armoured troop carriers and carrying rifles, shotguns and teargas canisters, stopped about 100 journalists who had gathered for the protest march, and sealed off their destination, a nearby park. Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) secretary-general Basildon Peta told the journalists that the officer commanding the police had said he would use force to disperse any march.
"They say they got instructions not to allow any march or gathering, although I emphasised that this is a perfectly legal and peaceful protest," Peta said, adding that the consensus among the journalists was to cancel the protest. "We will find a way or another day to make our point," he said. Some journalists carried banners calling on President Robert Mugabe's government to respect press freedom. The printing press of the privately-owned Zimbabwe Daily News was destroyed in a bomb attack last Sunday, just hours after militant members of Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF had threatened to "ban" it for its critical coverage. Self-styled veterans of Zimbabwe's 1970s independence war marched on the newspaper last week and allegedly attacked a deputy news editor.
The Daily News has made alternative arrangements to continue publishing after the bombing, which it blamed on "government complicity". Reporters from the Daily News and other independent media have been detained, beaten and threatened repeatedly since Mugabe's party saw its majority slashed in parliamentary elections last year. Mugabe's popularity is at its lowest point since he led the former Rhodesia to independence in 1980, and the small but defiant independent press is not helping to improve his image in the run-up to presidential elections next year. Political analysts say Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF movement is fighting for its life and views a critical press as a key obstacle to winning next year's election.
In the palm of this dictator’s hand
On the 3 February 2001, the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) organised a march to protest the recent bombing of the Daily News printing press and to criticise the increasing intolerance and censorship of diverse opinion by the Government. The riot police outnumbered all those gathered in support. The reporters and media fraternity who were covering the event outnumbered the journalists who were there in solidarity with ZUJ. There were probably about 50 sympathisers willing to walk their talk.
I had sent out an email to a diverse group of friends and fellow activists telling them about the march and asking for support. Safety in numbers and all that! I got three replies. One was simply a thank you for the "notification" of the event. Another reply asked whether we were likely to come out unscathed, or as she phrased it "with our bits intact". The only other response was from an extremely brave woman who went on the NCA peace march with me and who was severely beaten up. She declined saying that she was too afraid after her last experience. Fair enough.
Last year I wrote about feeling pretty lonely on the NCA peace march because so few of my friends were there. This year, I was completely saddened to see how far reaching Zanu PF’s tentacles of fear have reached. On my way to last year’s march, police road blocks stopped many people trying to get to the event. Long lines of motorists waited impatiently as the police questioned the occupants and even searched vehicles. Still the NCA supporters made their way into the city. My journey into town today was smooth, swift and police free indicating just how powerful Zanu PF have become. They know that through the culture of fear that they endorse and actively cultivate, many people would simply stay away, making their job a whole lot easier.
The euphoria of last year’s referendum victory, the warning to the government that the people were no longer willing to support a corrupt and violent government, has dwindled and the people of Harare have become increasingly fearful and less confident in their ability to criticise the authorities. Amazingly I see more "Vote Yes" or Zanu PF t-shirts in Harare than MDC ones and this is the city that thumped Zanu PF at the polls! So today, walking past swaggering, aggressive and surly riot police in full regalia clutching my handheld mace, I felt very scared, very alone and a bit ridiculous. I went to the MDC meeting at St Luke’s Church on Thursday evening and when the inspiring Isaac Maphosa asked how many people would support the ZUJ march, almost the entire gathering raised their hands. Where were they on Saturday?
Whilst I admire and appreciate that we all have different ways of fighting or challenging this monster that we’re up against, there is simply no way that we are going to change things in this country if we don’t put our face and our physical selves out there on the streets when that support is requested. There are so many calls for mass action or for revolutions like the ones in Yugoslavia or the Philippines. If you believe and suggest that this action must take place in Zimbabwe, are you willing to walk your talk? Or are you implying that someone else must get out there and do it on your behalf?
The fact remains that we have a joint responsibility to get out there and show our support. You may be writing cheques; you may be praying or meditating; you might be volunteering "behind the scenes"; or already working very hard within civil society but still we need a show of numbers to give this Government the wake-up call that they so desperately need. And at the same time we will grow from strength to strength, becoming more confident with every rally or protest march that brings Zimbabweans of all walks of life together in their quest for democracy and good governance.
It is very important that we all look this beast called "fear" in the face and ask ourselves why we are so prepared to let it rule our lives and shape our futures. Many people say that they will not go on a march because they’ll have their heads bashed in. If we all acted in solidarity, in community, in friendship then we would easily outnumber those vicious riot police. We would have our second revolution. There are many more good people than evil people in this country. The fact that we allow a small group of power hungry politicians to oppress us is shameful and unacceptable.
The middle and upper classes in Zimbabwe, both black and white seem happy to continue to sit at home, behind their Durawalls and razor-wire with their panic alarm buttons in hand hoping that the problem will go away. Or they believe that it is up to the starving masses to get off their backsides and fight for change. And then the majority of both urban and rural working class Zimbabweans are unable to confront and criticise the Government because they, who dwell in the high density suburbs or the villages, are first in line and are swiftly dealt with by our uncompromising Army and Police Force. Where does this leave us? Divided and confused and in the palm of this dictator’s hand. Only when each individual, who truly wants positive change to occur in Zimbabwe, believes enough in the power of solidarity and joint responsibility, will we actually see real change happen.
From The Sunday Times (UK), 4 February
Mugabe press bomb causes world outrage
Tyrant's touch: Mugabe's intimidation of The Daily News culminated in the press hall bombing, but the paper's defiant staff are still printing at secret sites
Johannesburg - The bombing of The Daily News, Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, last Sunday was the climax of a two-year campaign of intimidation of the press by President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF government. It seems possible, however, that this outrage has brought matters to a head for the international community. The opposition MDC, which is subjected to beatings and harassment at every turn, has frequently asked how much longer the world will stand by and watch Mugabe destroy both democracy and the economy. After the bombing, however, the mood among some ambassadors in Harare was that enough was enough.
There were meetings of EU, American and Commonwealth envoys, while the EU issued a ringing condemnation of the attack. "The EU is very worried about what is happening here," said Irina Schoulgin, the first secretary at the embassy of Sweden, the current holder of the rotating European presidency. "In the past, we've often reacted too slowly. This time, there is a real political will." Sweden announced an immediate 45% cut in development aid to Zimbabwe. Other ambassadors were adamant that the cuts would apply to the whole $700m of EU aid.
An unnamed government spokesman responded this weekend by denouncing certain foreign embassies as "subversive" and saying they should be made to leave the country because all they were doing was funding the opposition. The heightened international tension has seen ugly scenes in the streets of Harare, with Zanu-PF activists burning American and British flags. Riot police stopped journalists from protesting about the bombing yesterday. On Tuesday night David Wheeler, a white farmer, was beaten almost to death by Zanu-PF war veterans. This was in line with Mugabe's open policy of "striking fear into the hearts of white people - the real enemy".
It was not the first time The Daily News had been bombed. On April 22 last year a powerful bomb aimed at its head office destroyed a sculpture gallery below the office of the editor, Geoffrey Nyarota. The newspaper, which continued to take a line strongly critical of the Mugabe government, had by this time far overtaken the state-owned Herald, selling 120,000 copies while The Herald managed fewer than 70,000. In July, a hitman was sent to kill Nyarota. But after meeting the editor in a lift, the man abandoned his mission. Jonathan Moyo, the information minister, who has launched frequent tirades against the paper, began to warn that it would not survive because "the people" would close it down. Moyo claimed it was a threat to national security and said the government would not hesitate to take action against it. Hitler Hunzvi, the war veterans' leader, threatened to "ban" The Daily News, and his followers assaulted vendors.
The award-winning Nyarota became used to death threats, and for his staff, government harassment was routine. Morale on the paper remained high, but everyone knew both the editor, Mark Chavunduka, and a reporter, Ray Choto, of the Sunday Standard, another independent newspaper, had been arrested and tortured in 1999. After this, Daily News journalists realised what they were up against. As Mugabe's supporters occupied white farms last year and the rule of law was flouted consistently in the run-up to Zanu-PF's narrow victory in parliamentary elections, local and foreign journalists were increasingly intimidated.
Then came the death last month of Laurent Kabila, ruler of the DRC, where the Mugabe regime has 13,000 troops. Mugabe's bankrupt regime depends heavily on the substantial diamond mining interests it has acquired in the Congo. The Daily News reported truthfully that Kabila's demise had been greeted with jubilation on the streets of Harare, and that he was dead at a time when both Congolese and Zimbabwean authorities were trying to hide the truth. This led to 10-hour demonstrations by Zanu-PF activists outside the newspaper's building on the Tuesday and Saturday before last. The demonstrators beat up the deputy news editor, Julius Zava, as the police stood by.
"The riot police arrived at 8am - they knew the demonstration was about to happen," said the paper's chief executive, Much Masunda. "The idea was to put the fear of God into the staff." The protesters carried placards echoing the denunciations of the paper for its "unAfrican" coverage that had been made by Moyo, and were part of a hitherto unknown group called Heritage Zimbabwe, which turned out to be run by the wife of the army commander. On the same day, MDC supporters attacked a van carrying copies of the state-owned Herald, an event which seems to have provided the government with the "provocation" it had been waiting for.
A few hours later, at about 1.45am on Sunday, the Daily News presses were blown up. The five large metal rollers, each about 2ft thick and more than 6ft long, were destroyed in an explosion that blew the roof off the press building. Michael Quintana, the editor of the Africa Defence Journal, estimates that the damage was done by up to three anti-tank landmines of Eastern bloc origin fixed to each of the presses with a limpet mine attachment. The only people with this type of armament and expertise are the Zimbabwe Engineers Corps and the three special forces regiments.
The Zimbabwean government has expressed regret about the bombing and even called a meeting of interested parties to discuss it. Trevor Ncube, the editor of the Harare weekly Independent, angrily refused to attend. Everyone knew that the government was behind the bombing, he said. Remarkably, The Daily News came out the day after the bombing in a truncated, 16-page edition. By Thursday, it was up to 24 pages, though still well short of its usual 32-48 pages. It is being printed on alternate days on two private presses whose owners and locations are kept secret.
However, only 80,000 copies can be produced this way, compared with a peak sale of 129,000. Copies are snatched up quickly in Harare. "The Daily News has become an icon," said Derek Smail, of African Media Investments, the paper's biggest backer. "It symbolises independence and a refusal to accept arbitrary rule." Nyarota, a recent nominee for the World Association of Newspapers' journalist of the year, said the government had evidently resolved to win next year's presidential election by destroying institutions that put another Mugabe victory at risk. Precautions would be taken to protect staff and a cartoonist, Tony Namate, who was hated by the government, he said. "The worry is about staff being followed home and their families being at risk, too. But we're all determined. We haven't lost a single member of staff."
The Sunday Times is setting up a fund to support The Daily News in its appeal for at least £1m to replace its bombed presses. The Daily News, and its owners, Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, have received many messages of sympathy since the attack last weekend, but no pledges of money. An initial donation of £5000 has been made by The Sunday Times, and the fund will enable anyone interested in defending the right of free speech in Zimbabwe to make a secure donation.
If you want to give money, write to The Sunday Times foreign desk at 1 Pennington St, London E1 9XW, telephone 020 7782 5700 or send an email to email@example.com
From The Zimbabwe Standard, 4 February
Judges angry "But we will not resign"
Zimbabwe's judges have reacted with anger to the forced resignation of Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay, but have vowed not resign in sympathy as this would amount to surrendering to Zanu PF. The government announced on Friday that Chief Justice Gubbay would be going on four months' leave from 1 March 2001 after which he would retire from the bench on 30 June. An acting Chief Justice was expected to take office pending the retirement of Justice Gubbay.
His forced resignation did not come as a surprise as he had been subjected to intense criticism and even threats from government ministers, Zanu PF, and war veterans. Recently, war veterans, led by Joseph Chinotimba, stormed the Supreme Court to protest against alleged bias by the judiciary in its handling of disputes over the controversial land issue. One senior judge told The Standard yesterday: "The general feeling is one of anger. It was an ambush as far as we are concerned. We are all very angry. That judgement (on the MDC petition) was by consent, so as a judge what do you do? There has never been a feeling among us that we must resign because we have done nothing wrong. If anyone wants to criticise us on points of law, fine. But it must not become personal."
He said last week's meeting between vice president Simon Muzenda and the Chief Justice, accompanied by Supreme Court judge Wilson Sandura, had been called to express concern by the judiciary at the deteriorating state of law and order in the country, to the extent where war veterans invaded courtrooms and disrupted proceedings. Instead, the meeting was turned into an attack on the judiciary. "The Chief Justice was unprepared for that kind of attack and in anger he said he would resign, but they refused. So it was a real ambush, and we are very angry about it." Asked whether the Supreme Court judges would consider resigning in sympathy with Chief Justice Gubbay, another senior judge said: "If we do that we are giving them what they really want, which is to get rid of the entire Supreme Court bench so that they can put in people who toe the Zanu PF line. But there must be a way in which we can register our protest over this issue."
Although no person has officially been named to succeed Chief Justice Gubbay, it is strongly believed Judge President Godfrey Chidyausiku will take over because of his relationship with the Zanu PF government. Chidyausiku's association with the ruling party dates back to last year when he chaired the government's Constitutional Commission. The commission cobbled up a draft constitution to replace the current constitution, but this was rejected in a referendum in February on the grounds that it ignored the views expressed by people during the outreach programme.
Asked about the possibility of Chidyausiku being appointed acting or substantive Chief Justice, and what reaction there would be to such a development, one judge said: "There is nothing to prevent the President from appointing him. He can appoint anybody - even Chinamasa. But it is against protocol because it supercedes more senior judges. Chidyausiku is junior to all of us. But the possibilities are that he is going to do that." Asked what the general feeling was amongst judges following Friday's developments, a High Court judge told The Standard: "I do not know, but at the very best you will find that there is division. Some feel one way, others the other, but it is difficult to say because people do not normally talk about these things. There are some who probably support the move." On the possibility of Chidyausiku's appointment, he said: "Again it is the same pattern. There is a group which does not want to see that happen. No one will come out and tell you what they feel."
Lawyers interviewed by The Standard yesterday expressed great dismay at the manner in which Chief Justice Gubbay's retirement was handled. Said one prominent Harare lawyer: "It's the manner in which he has gone that raises concern." Asked whether Gubbay's resignation would not dent the reputation of Zimbabwe's judiciary, the lawyer said: "It's of no consequence. It's like having a very popular head of state dying, but the international world will be watching where we go from here. If the person who takes over is one who has moments of weakness then all respect will go. If Gubbay is replaced by one who is clearly Zanu PF, then we will go down in the same drain as Zanu PF.
MDC secretary for legal affairs, David Coltart, described the forced resignation of Chief Justice Gubbay as an attempt by Zanu PF to politicise the judiciary in the same way the party had influenced the police force. "This is yet another deliberate ploy by Zanu PF to undermine the rule of law and this will seriously undermine the independence of the judiciary which is the very bedrock of any democracy. We condemn this action and call upon civic society in Zimbabwe and the international community to do likewise," said Coltart.
However, the Zanu PF MP for Chinhoyi, Philip Chiyangwa, welcomed Chief Justice Gubbay's resignation, but quickly added that the struggle was far from over. "I am delighted but not yet satisfied," said Chiyangwa who was pushing for a parliamentary motion to impeach the Chief Justice. "My mandate is not complete without the removal of the entire Supreme Court justices. These are Wilson Sandura, Simba Muchechetere, Ibrahim and Nicholas McNally. So I will be presenting a motion on adjournment with respect to these four and a few others in the High Court," said Chiyangwa, who claimed he was inundated with congratulatory messages following the news of Chief Justice Gubbay's imminent retirement.From The Independent on Sunday (UK), 4 February
Kabila Jnr's tour marks first step towards peace
Just a week after being sworn in at the helm of the DRC, President Joseph Kabila arrived in Brussels yesterday at the end of a whirlwind world tour which marks the single most decisive step yet towards peace in the huge central African nation. Despite lingering doubts about the extent to which 29-year-old Mr Kabila actually controls the divided government and military left behind by his assassinated father, even the most sceptical observers said yesterday that an end may be in sight to the six-nation war. One diplomat said that, even though Mr Kabila had stopped short of giving a clear go-ahead for the long-awaited deployment of 5,500 UN peace observers in DRC, the fact that he had so quickly travelled to Paris, Washington, New York and Brussels was a real peace signal. "His trip is not only a strong gesture, it also proves that he and those who are advising him are confident enough of his hold on power to leave Kinshasa [the capital] without fearing a coup," the diplomat said.
DRC, known as Zaire during the 32-year rule of Mobutu Sese Seko, has been at war since the late Laurent-Desire Kabila fell out with his erstwhile allies, Rwanda and Uganda, 15 months after they brought him to power in May 1997. The 62-year-old former rebel leader was assassinated in Kinshasa on 16 January and Major-General Joseph Kabila was rapidly installed, making him the world's youngest president. His immediate diplomatic offensive, begun last Tuesday with a meeting with South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, has moved attention away from the murder hunt.
Government officials in Kinshasa claim a disgruntled bodyguard killed Kabila but others blame the late president's war allies - Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia - or the rebel groups he was at war with and who are backed by Rwanda and Uganda. It has become clear that Angola - which has increased its 2,500 troop commitment since Kabila's death - wants to get out. "The Angolan government, which above all wants to improve its relations with the West, does not want to be blamed for the continuing war," said one diplomat. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is in a more delicate position after sending 12,000 troops. Another diplomat said: "Zimbabwe is in deep because Mugabe and his military have been tempted by business deals in DRC. For Zimbabwe to pull out there will have to be a pay-off for some of the military."
Not only do Kinshasa's allies need to be pacified but the rebels controlling the eastern half of DRC need to feel their voices will be heard in an inter-Congolese dialogue. A first sign that this crucial step is attainable was delivered in Washington where Joseph Kabila twice met the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame.