|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
|THERE is no sugar in Chishawasha any more,
so Anastasia Muringayi cannot get the tough plastic bags it comes in to protect
her hands from the faeces, urine, vomit and blood of her bedridden neighbours.
When the sugar bags ran out, she used the soft, fragile bags in which bread is sold, but they, too, have become rare in this part of Zimbabwe, only 20 miles from Harare.
Mrs Muringayi, having watched eight close members of her family die, has become an Aids carer, working with the Roman Catholic Church’s Silveira mission. Exposure to body fluids contaminated with HIV is one of the little-considered side-effects of Zimbabwe’s food shortages. On Wednesday the mission issued hygiene packs for its community-based Aids programme. They contained two pairs of disposable gloves, which can be used only once.
Mrs Muringayi probably would not have to worry about looking after Roger and Everine in their little brick and thatched huts near by if food were available. They fell sick when maizemeal and cooking oil ran short two months ago.
Nearly six million people in Zimbabwe, almost half the population, now need emergency food rations, according to the United Nations Relief and Recovery Unit’s latest bulletin, issued this week. Simultaneously, UNAids’s Barcelona report on global Aids this week estimated that 34 per cent of Zimbabweans between the ages of 15 and 49 are infected with the virus. Aids and famine were made for each other. Lack of nutrition lowers the body’s resistance, and the virus is let loose to ravage the infected person. The virus’s spread is accelerated as the hungry sell themselves for a meal.
When breadwinners die, their infant orphans and elderly relations have not much more to expect than starvation. On the scale of numbers affected in Zimbabwe now, the combination is apocalyptic.
“This is a nightmare scenario,” said John English, emergencies officer for the British Red Cross, which is helping the Zimbabwe Red Cross to distribute food and medicines. “People are already hungry, all over the country. Most people are eating one meal a day, but some are going four days without eating.
“This crisis cannot be addressed without looking at the HIV pandemic,” Mr English said. “The figure is one in three adults, and that means every family in the country is affected by the disease. Add to that food shortages, lack of drugs, decrease in hygiene standards and you are looking at a massive, massive human catastrophe. It has the potential of being on a much bigger scale than East Africa and Ethiopia in the mid- Eighties.”
It was only half way through her family’s deaths, starting with her husband in 1993, that Mrs Muringayi, 44, learnt the importance of the rigid hygiene needed to prevent infection.
A year ago, after the last death, she suffered “burn-out”, the acute depression common to the survivors of families devastated by Aids. “I was afraid, I was always asking, is it me next to die?” she said.
Counselling by volunteers from Silveira’s home-based care programme, run by the Church’s Silveira mission, helped her through. Now she bustles about her spotless yard with dogged cheeriness.
She has been left in charge of two orphans and three of her own children, two of whom are working. She used to earn pin money selling tie-dyed cloth, but 122 per cent inflation has taken the cost of dyes well out of reach.
Her eight cattle have gone, one slaughtered with each funeral to feed the crowd of mourners. The only source of income is her small garden of yellowing tomatoes and rape plants, which she sells in the village. Her own well has dried up and she collects water with a five-gallon bucket on her head from the nearest pump, 500 yards away.
Assistance from President Mugabe’s Government is sporadic, and predicted to disappear as the economic disaster runs out of control. The bag of government maizemeal delivered two weeks ago ran out on Tuesday night.
“The load is too heavy,” Mrs Muringayi said. “There is almost no one else left. At least no one else is sick.”
Not quite. Mrs Muringayi had not been well lately, Anselm Tapfumaneyi, Silveira’s Aids programme officer, said. She had rashes and lesions. She is still muscular, but is not the heavily built woman she was. “She knows she is HIV-positive.”
On Monday morning, Zimbabwe's immigration officials ordered Mr Meldrum, a journalist with the UK's Guardian newspaper, to leave the country within 24 hours.
In this country you get acquitted and then deported and the government still has the last laugh
Andrew Meldrum's lawyer
He told the BBC that he was "elated" over the acquittal but "crushed" over his deportation.
Mr Meldrum, 50, was the first of a dozen journalists charged with offences relating to the new laws, which his lawyer described as "absurd".
He told the BBC that his acquittal was "a great victory for press freedom in Zimbabwe".
Mr Meldrum has appealed directly to the minister of home affairs, who he said was courteous but gave no indication he was going to reverse his decision concerning Mr Meldrum's residency visa.
Nor did the minister explain why the journalist was being expelled.
Mr Meldrum's legal team is now trying to file an urgent application with the High Court to challenge the ruling.
Mr Meldrum said the decision to deport him was another way of preventing him from doing his job.
"The Mugabe government does not want to see me, or any other journalist... holding the government accountable for the good of all the people of this country."
introduced by President Mugabe requires:
Journalists must apply for an annual licence
Three other foreign journalists have been deported from Zimbabwe since February 2001 and most foreign media, including the BBC, are not allowed to send foreign correspondents to the country.
The Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, has deplored the decision to deport Mr Meldrum.
"The deportation order was signed on 3 July, suggesting there was never any intention of a just result," he said.
Mr Meldrum was charged with publishing a story which later turned out to be untrue, now seen by the state as a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.
He has lived in the country for 22 years.
In acquitting Mr Meldrum, magistrate Godfrey Macheyo accepted that he had tried to verify the story.
"He acted like any other reasonable journalist in these circumstances," the magistrate said.
During the trial, Mr Meldrum's lawyer had argued that the police had refused to comment on the story and so Mr Meldrum could not be held responsible.
The defence had also argued that as the story was published in Britain, in the Guardian newspaper, it was beyond the jurisdiction of Zimbabwean law and so all charges should be dropped.
However, this argument was dismissed on Friday.
In closing statements, Mr Meldrum's lawyer said the new laws were absurd - a view shared by many journalists working in Zimbabwe.
A dozen have also been charged with various offences under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Mr Meldrum said he hoped that the legal precedent of his acquittal would help them.
His lawyer described the decision to deport him as harassment:
"In this country you get acquitted and then deported and the government still has the last laugh," she said.
|By COLIN FREEZE|
Monday, July 15, 2002
A senior Foreign Affairs official who left the government to join a firm run by a pair of Montreal consultants says he made the switch without knowing crucial details about his new employers' controversial pasts -- despite having been part of intelligence-gathering interviews involving them over a two-year period.
Just how well Foreign Affairs gathers, scrutinizes, and follows up on the information it collects are among the questions raised by Herb Fraser's 1999 decision to work for Ari Ben-Menashe and Alexandre Legault.
The Montreal political consultancy run by the two men came into sharp focus early this year after Zimbabwe's Opposition Leader was charged with treason on the basis of information they supplied. They later went to work for his archrival, President Robert Mugabe.
"I'll underscore that I had nothing to do with Zimbabwe," Mr. Fraser said in an interview this week, explaining that he worked for one year alongside the two men as a researcher, speechwriter and political adviser.
For a time, the presence of a retired senior Canadian official lent cachet to the consultancy that has produced a series of made-in-Canada controversies. The Zimbabwe incident is just the latest episode.
Mr. Ben-Menashe and Mr. Legault separately came to Canada as immigrants after encountering legal troubles abroad. About a decade ago, they teamed up and incorporated Montreal companies called Carlington Sales Co. and Dickens & Madson.
Over the years, many complaints have stemmed from Carlington Sales byzantine international business dealings, mostly involving contracts to ship millions of dollars worth of bulk food. The consultants once estimated they have done more than $50-million in business.
But since 1994, government records show, people from Armenia to Zambia have complained to Canadian trade officials about getting bilked in such food deals. Several such complaints resulted in lawsuits.
In 1996, one Canadian trade commissioner abroad advised all of his colleagues to use "extreme caution with Carlington," alleging the company "did very serious damage to the commercial relationship between Estonia and Canada by what could only be termed unethical conduct."
But the federal government never made such information public.
By 1997, Mr. Fraser had about 30 years experience in Foreign Affairs, where he was a top intelligence official.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ben-Menashe, a charismatic speaker with a knack for dropping names and asserting scintillating knowledge of top secrets, was globetrotting to places such as Britain, Southeast Asia, and Africa.
The two men met through the intelligence-gathering program. Not greatly resourced for global excursions, bureaucrats in the department routinely invite Canadians who travel extensively to stop by for unpaid chats.
Following these meetings, in 1999, Mr. Fraser left government to join Carlington Sales. He was promised more pay by Mr. Ben-Menashe than he was making in the ministry. Before leaving, he was reminded by Ottawa that the Official Secrets Act prohibited him from divulging sensitive government information.
"I was what you would call a political adviser," Mr. Fraser said. The work consisted of "writing speeches for ministers in certain governments," such as in Africa, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union, he added.
Asked whether he was aware of food-deal problems while working at Carlington Sales, Mr. Fraser said, "No, I was not involved in the commodities side at all." He then pointed out that the allegations made in the various complaints remain unproven.
Like several others who have worked for Mr. Legault and Mr. Ben-Menashe, Mr. Fraser had a falling out over money and left the company a year after joining.
But during the time he spent at Carlington Sales he lent credibility to the firm. Mr. Ben-Menashe would introduce Mr. Fraser as a former senior Canadian government officer.
Some government trade officials familiar with Carlington Sales disputes say that department does a poor job of sharing information.
"The information was there, but it wasn't something everybody would necessarily be aware of," a Canadian official who encountered a trade controversy while working overseas, said in an interview. "There was very little follow-up."
And this is a real problem, critics say.
"I think that shows an appalling lack of co-ordination within the department and speaks to gross inefficiencies that could be quite dangerous for the country," said Canadian Alliance MP Keith Martin.
"I'd like to see the Department of Foreign Affairs take a cold, pragmatic look at the Ben Menashe-Legault scenario," he said, adding Ottawa has treated the two men with "kid gloves."
The former intelligence officer, who has not rejoined government, does not consider his stint at Carlington Sales the stuff of scandal.
"Quite frankly, it is really a non-story here," he said.
But the government may have thought differently.
Newly released public documents show bureaucrats gave each others heads-up
warnings about the imminent release of the files involving Mr. Fraser, and
anticipated media questions before they were asked.