|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
Mbeki admits his failure over Mugabe
Harare - President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has privately admitted to a Zimbabwean opposition leader that his conciliatory approach to President Robert Mugabe has failed and that his country is re-assessing its policy towards its troublesome neighbour. Prof Welshman Ncube, secretary general of Movement for Democratic Change, gave a detailed account yesterday of a three-hour meeting with Mr Mbeki. In the talks, his first contact with the MDC, Mr Mbeki disclosed that Zimbabwe had broken promises given to him "at the highest level". He spoke of his fears that the accelerating economic collapse of his northern neighbour could bring millions of refugees streaming into South Africa.
Mr Mbeki invited Prof Ncube to his official residence in Pretoria on April 6. The two men were alone throughout their talks. The president had previously refused to meet the MDC leadership and been publicly supportive of his Zimbabwean counterpart. Against the background of the illegal invasion of 1,700 white-owned farms in Zimbabwe, ruthless action against the opposition and a spiralling economic crisis, Mr Mbeki constructed a facade of unity with his fellow African leader. He was heavily criticised in the West for failing to take a stand against Mr Mugabe's abuses of power. But South African officials said that behind the scenes he had tried to persuade the Zimbabwean to change his ways.
Prof Ncube said Mr Mbeki had confessed the failure of his approach. "They [the South Africans] had got to a stage where they were saying, 'We have done all we can; quiet diplomacy has been tried, we have got promises, but none has been respected. We have to find some other way that works'." At a meeting with Mr Mugabe in Harare last August, Mr Mbeki was assured that Zimbabwe would pursue land reform within the law. He was given indications that an initiative by the United Nations Development Programme to implement a gradual programme of land redistribution, with support from international donors, would be viewed favourably by Mr Mugabe.
But a visit to Harare in December by Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the UNDP, failed to bring agreement. Zimbabwe has pressed ahead with the illegal seizure of farms and no effort has been made to curb the squatters who still occupy 900 properties. Prof Ncube said Mr Mbeki had betrayed his frustration with Mr Mugabe. "He was saying, 'We have got undertakings at the highest level and they have not been followed up'. He was self-evidently saying that these people cannot be trusted to keep their word." Prof Ncube was struck by Mr Mbeki's preoccupation with the possible collapse of Zimbabwe. "They were very concerned about the crisis spilling over into South Africa. They assessed the crisis so that they thought at any time they could have thousands, if not millions, of refugees pouring into South Africa. That terrified them." A presidential election must be held in Zimbabwe by next April. Prof Ncube asked Mr Mbeki to insist on a free and fair contest.
From The Star (SA), 17 June
Britain hopeful for progress on Zimbabwe
London - The government of Zimbabwe has softened its refusal to allow a delegation of Commonwealth ministers to visit the troubled country, Britain's foreign office said on Saturday. Zimbabwe denied it had changed its position. The Commonwealth announced in March that it planned to send a ministerial delegation to assess the turmoil in Zimbabwe. The visit was rebuffed by the government of President Robert Mugabe.
The foreign office said South African President Thabo Mbeki told British officials of a change in Zimbabwe's stance during a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair in London last week. "The South Africans expressed the view during President Mbeki's visit that the Zimbabweans were showing signs of movement," said a foreign office spokesperson, on customary condition of anonymity. An unnamed South African official told Britain's Financial Times newspaper that Pretoria and Harare had agreed to the creation of a ministerial group of seven Commonwealth nations - including Zimbabwe, South Africa, Britain and Nigeria - to look at the issues of land redistribution and Zimbabwe's economic crisis. The group hoped to hold its first meeting next month said the report, published on Saturday.
A spokesperson for Mugabe said there had been no change in the government's position. "If there is any change of policy, the government of Zimbabwe itself will announce it. We are not aware of any such development," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Zimbabwe is suffering its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, with hard currency earnings and investment hit by political violence surrounding parliamentary elections last year that has continued ahead of presidential elections early next year.
From The Zimbabwe Standard, 17 June
Tsvangirai argues on freedom of expression
The legal team in the treason trial of MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has argued that the section of the Law and Order Maintenance Act (LOMA), under which Tsvangirai is being charged, is an infringement of freedom of expression. In heads of arguments filed at the Supreme Court on Thursday, Tsvangirai’s team, led by advocates Chris Anderson and Eric Matinenga, said their client and other people should be allowed freedom of expression on all matters, even political, as provided for by the country’s constitution.
"Applicant contends that the sections referred to contravene the freedom of expression and the right to the protection of law provided for in sections 20 and 18 of the Constitution," reads the heads of argument. The advocates argued that the words uttered by Tsvangirai at a rally at Rufaro Stadium last year, were protected by Section 20 of the Constitution and that Loma sought to restrict that expression. The statement said to have been uttered by Tsvangirai reads: "Zvatichada, what we would like to tell Mugabe today is that... "Please go peacefully. If you don’t want to go peacefully, we will remove you violently...""
The State is contending that this statement, made before about 20 000 people was an infringement of Loma in that "it was made wrongfully and unlawfully with the intent of endangering the maintenance of law and order in Zimbabwe by encouraging the achievement by violence or forceable removal from office of the President." But the advocates argue that the extension of freedom of expression to political speeches is fundamental to a democratic state, and in particular, falls within the fourth broad object of providing mechanics to establish reasonable balance between stability and social change. Further, according to the heads of argument, Loma is a draconian piece of colonial legislation with no place in a democratic society.
They pointed out that parts of the same Act were struck off after the army arrested, detained and tortured the editor of The Standard Mark Chavunduka and staffer Ray Choto, over a coup plot story. "As evidence of the general notoriety of the Act, the government presented a Public Order and Security Bill 1998 to Parliament which was passed as Act 18 of 1998 to replace the law and order maintenance act," said the advocates. No date has been set for the hearing of the matter.
Not quite. There are crocodiles, from time to time, but mostly in the perennial pools well known to all the local residents. Such a threat are these reptiles that local people swim in the safe areas. Hippos too, but not in such numbers as to pose a real hazard to border jumpers. The river itself, contrary to Kipling’s description, is usually more or less dry, in this stretch where it forms the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa, and at this time of year. Two seasons of good rains have increased the flow somewhat, but the river is this year knee-deep - at most - in most places. And the razor wire, erected in the 1970’s and 1980’s along the southern bank to keep out members of the current South African government? Well, its there, but it isn’t an impenetrable obstacle.
Like every border on earth, there are official – and other - crossing points. No-one who has ever travelled by road between South Africa and Zimbabwe will ever forget the non-identical twin border towns of Beit Bridge and Messina – dusty and often sweltering in the Limpopo valley, even at dawn when waiting for the booms to lift at the border posts. Seasoned road travellers will almost certainly have dined out on their favourite tale of the sometimes strained, always lengthy, negotiation of the Customs and Immigration rituals on both sides of the border. Opinions will vary as to which side is the worst, but this is a hair-splitting argument – border bureaucrats the world over are, when it comes down to it, pretty much the same.
However, for those who do not travel by road – too poor, or whose business does not fit easily with form-filling and officialdom – there are other routes, and always have been. So established have these routes become that the foot traffic can be seen in all hours of daylight, in both directions. Some carry window and door frames purchased in South Africa, others 20 litre paraffin containers, beds, corrugated sheeting, bicycles, clothing, cosmetics, you name it. Christmas and Easter are peak periods, with hundreds crossing every day. And all the goods, unlike those passing over the bridge at the official crossing, are transported duty free.
Almost duty free. In every country on earth, where there is a law being broken there are always officials, or gangsters, charging a fee to turn a blind eye – only the extent of it varies. The last eighteen months have seen some entrepreneurial spirits on the northern side establish a lucrative trade – ferrying people and goods to the crossing points, by taxi and bus to and from the town of Beit Bridge, and then by scotch cart to the banks of the river itself. The traffic is, to a certain extent legitimised - some people with certain ID documents, who depend for their sustenance on their work on South African farms, are allowed to cross and recross unhindered. And on the southern bank, border guards and farm gate keepers have been known on occasion to ease the passage of travellers - after palms have been satisfactorily greased.
This is not to belittle the plight of the thousands of people forced, through circumstances in Zimbabwe, to seek safety and employment south of the Limpopo. But recent reports of "crocodiles congregating at crossing points in anticipation of a nightly feast" are far from reality. The crocodiles are the crocodiles of people, who almost don't even get their feet wet.
From News24 (SA), 18 June
Zimbabwe protests against fuel cost increase
Harare - Riot police fired tear gas to disperse groups of protesters in western Harare on Monday as tension mounted over massive gasoline price increases. Riot police patrolled the impoverished township of Mabvuku after residents had attempted to negotiate with commuter bus operators to reduce fares increased to make up for a 70-percent rise in the fuel price, imposed on June 13. No arrests or injuries were reported.
Witnesses said police searched cars, taxivans and passengers waiting for buses in Mabvuku, a militant opposition stronghold 20km east of the city centre. Rioting last October, sparked by 15-percent fuel and food price increases, began in Mabvuku. On Monday, protesters jeered police and rolled rocks and battered oil drums onto some roads. Groups of protesters dispersed after police appeared to have been trying to break up any group as it gathered, residents said. State radio reported earlier that leaders of the township residents' association met with bus operators with police acting as mediators. The residents were demanding fares increased from $Z25 to $Z40 last week be dropped to $Z30.
In southern Harare, some buses cut their fares and others stayed parked after owners feared violence if they did not slash their fares. Police, meanwhile, manned roadblocks around downtown for the first time in several weeks, apparently in anticipation of price protests. The nation's main labour unions on Saturday announced a nationwide general strike and warned of civil unrest if the government did not scrap the fuel increases. The Zimbabwe Confederation of Trade unions said it would call a two-day national strike, possibly in early July, to protest the price increases. A series of national strikes the federation organised to protest economic mismanagement in 1998 led to rioting in which at least eight people died as police and troops dispersed marching workers.
Regular gasoline went up on Wednesday to $Z76,29 a litre from $Z43,80. Per gallon, the price rose to $5,17 from $2,96. The price of diesel fuel used by industry went up by 67 percent. Food price increases are expected by the end of June. The Roman Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace on Sunday said corruption at the state National Oil Company contributed to the price increases. "The excessive increases will cause untold suffering among the already poor people," said the human rights body in a statement. "The poor cannot be made to continuously pay for the sins of mismanagement" at the state oil procurement monopoly.
Authorities say the gas price increase was needed to bring in more money to buy foreign currency to import fuel. State coffers were being drained by a flourishing black market for hard currency. While the official exchange rate is $Z56 to $1, the American currency fetches up to $Z140 on the unofficial market. Zimbabwe is suffering its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, with hard currency earnings, aid and investment hit by political violence surrounding parliamentary elections last year that has continued ahead of presidential elections early next year.
No mail flows in Zimbabwe as strikes hit
Harare - Zimbabwe's post offices shut down Monday as the more than 10 000 workers at the state post and telecom company began a national strike over wages, a workers' union official said. "The strike is continuing tomorrow, and it is likely to continue until we get written commitments on cost of living adjustments," said Gift Chimanikire, secretary general of the PTC Workers' Union. The union has already taken the state Postal and Telecommunications Corporation (PTC) to court after management last year decided to slash an agreed-upon 300-percent salary increase to 10 percent.
The High Court reserved judgment in that case in March, but Chimanikire said the workers want a 60 percent cost of living adjustment as an interim measure until the court hands down a decision. Currently the minimum wage for a PTC worker is Z$4 200 (about R600) a month, Chimanikire said. "We had achieved a Z$14,000 minimum wage at PTC, but this has been reduced unilaterally by management, and that is why we have gone to court," Chimanikire said.
A partial strike began on Saturday when workers in Harare and Bulawayo stayed away from their jobs, crippling the postal service in the nation's two largest cities. On Monday, a full national strike was underway, with workers observing the strike even in small towns, Chimanikire said. Zimbabwe is suffering its worst-ever economic crisis, marked by declining real wages, inflation and unemployment rates at over 60 percent, and a critical shortage of foreign currency. Last week the parastatal oil company NOCZIM ordered an overnight increase in fuel prices of up to 80 percent, which prompted transport companies to raise their fares by a similar amount. The nation's largest labour federation has threatened a national stayaway early next month if the government fails to roll back the fuel price hike.
From The Daily Telegraph (UK), 20 June
Squatters leave Zimbabwe's tobacco fields in flames
Harare - Squatters loyal to President Robert Mugabe have begun a new wave of vandalism on white-owned farms by burning next year's tobacco crop, the mainstay of Zimbabwe's economy. Mobs have wrecked the tobacco fields of three white farmers. It was described as economic sabotage designed to cause bankruptcy and force them off their farms. Tobacco is Zimbabwe's largest single export earner and raised £300 million last year. A crippling shortage of hard currency already has caused a fuel crisis and driven the economy to the verge of collapse. The latest action by the squatters, who still occupy 900 farms, threatens Zimbabwe's ability to escape from its spiral of decline. More than 100 squatters invaded Corjan Zee's farm on Sunday and set fire to his seed beds. Almost 300 acres of next year's crop were destroyed, representing a loss of more than £500,000. Tobacco must be sown on irrigated land by June 1, so the season is ruined.
The viability of Mr Zee's farm near Macheke, 50 miles east of Harare, is now threatened. Squatters also burned seed crops on two other farms in the Karoi area, 130 miles north-west of Harare. Mr Zee, 42, said: "The country is crumbling apart and this is economic sabotage. It's not going to help us recover from all this madness." Since the onset of the farm invasions last February squatters have sought to bankrupt farmers by preventing them from working. Yet, until now, they have not singled out the crucial tobacco crop. Farmers fear this heralds a new drive to force them from their land.
One tobacco farmer said: "If this starts spreading, it will cause great panic. Farmers deciding whether or not to leave Zimbabwe could be tipped over the edge by this." The tobacco industry has already been badly hit. This year's crop fell by 20 per cent and at least 20 major growers have left Zimbabwe. The country can barely afford further economic problems. With tension already higher than at any time since last year's food riots, the townships of the capital, Harare, are a powder keg. Police threw a roadblock around central Harare yesterday in anticipation of civil unrest following last week's 74 per cent rise in fuel prices. The Congress of Trade Unions has promised a general strike if the government refuses to reverse the rise by July 1. That could be the spark that finally ignites the townships.
From The People’s Daily (PRChina), 18 June
CPC Senior Official Meets Zimbabwean Guests
Wei Jianxing, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, met Monday afternoon with John Nkomo, National Chairman of the Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front. While expressing a warm welcome to Nkomo, Wei spoke highly of the China-Zimbabwe relationship. China and Zimbabwe enjoy a traditional friendly relationship, Wei said, adding that Chinese people always remember that Zimbabwe immediately established a diplomatic relationship with China on the day Zimbabwe won independence.
During the past two decades since China and Zimbabwe established diplomatic relations, the two countries have continuously expanded co-operative fields and co-operative methods, said Wei, adding that China and Zimbabwe will be sincere and faithful friends for ever. He also said that China is willing to work together with Zimbabwe to elevate bilateral friendly co-operative relations to a higher level. When referring to the Sino-Zimbabwean party relationship, Wei said that party relationship has become an important part in bilateral relations. During the past years, the CPC and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front have always compassionately helped each other, thus building a profound friendship. He said that both countries wish to further friendly contacts between the two parties in the new century and hope it will make new contributions to the development of Sino-Zimbabwean friendly co-operative relations. Wei also asked Nkomo to pass on Chinese President Jiang Zemin's and his own friendly greetings and kind wishes to Zimbabwean President Mugabe, which Nkomo appreciated.
Nkomo said that during their struggle for national independence and development, Zimbabweans have gained precious support and help from Chinese people. In recent years, friendly co-operation between the two countries has been greatly broadened and made great progress, said Nkomo, noting that Zimbabwe attaches great importance to the development of long-term friendly relations with China and is willing to use Chinese experience for reference. In the new century, the two parties and the two countries should co-operate with each other more closely. Nkomo warmly congratulated Wei on the 80th anniversary of the founding of the CPC. He said that during the past 80 years, Chinese people have achieved great progress under the leadership of the CPC, which has deeply encouraged Zimbabweans. He said he hopes that the Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front will further develop friendly contacts with the CPC in order to promote bilateral relations in various sectors. Wei also briefed Nkomo and his entourage on China's current domestic situations and party construction.
From The People’s Daily (PRChina), 13 June
Chinese Defense Minister Meets Zimbabwean Guests
Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian met Tuesday with a military delegation from Zimbabwe headed by acting defense minister Joyce Mujuru. Chi, also vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission and a state councillor, said that China and Zimbabwe enjoy a traditional friendship, and have conducted fruitful co-operation in the political, economic and cultural fields since the two countries forged diplomatic ties. The frequent exchange of high-level visits also promote mutual understanding and friendship, he added. Chi said that China and Zimbabwe share common interest and have consensus in major international issues. He expressed gratitude for Zimbabwe's adherence to the one-China stance and its support to China on the human rights and other issues. He said China attaches importance to state-to-state and military-to-military relations with Zimbabwe, and is ready to promote the relations to a new level. Mujuru said that she will continue to work to the development of the state-to-state and military-to-military relations between Zimbabwe and China.
From The Wall Street Journal, 19 June
Zimbabwe police mount security clampdown
Harare - Police manned check points around cities and deployed reinforcements in northern rural districts Tuesday in a security clampdown the government said was to ensure the safety of tourists viewing this week's solar eclipse. The government accused opposition militants of provoking violence to discredit the country. Tourist bookings for the total solar eclipse, which sweeps across north-eastern Zimbabwe on Thursday, have been curbed by political violence that has wracked the nation for more than a year.
In the latest disturbances, police fired tear gas in western Harare on Monday to disperse protesters angered by a 70% increase in gasoline prices. Information Minister Jonathan Moyo blamed that violence on what he called "criminal elements" in labour unions and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change bent on scaring away visitors and tarnishing the government's image. "They do not want the tourists to experience the peace and tranquillity Zimbabwe is associated with and tourists have always enjoyed," Moyo said.
Opposition spokesman Learnmore Jongwe denied the opposition was fomenting unrest. "The current spate of protests and demonstrations is an indication of legitimate frustrations among citizens that government must address," he said. The Zimbabwe Confederation of Trade Unions, representing 90% of organized labour, has called a national strike July 2-3 to protest the fuel hikes and the ripple effects expected on prices of basic foods and commodities. Labour and opposition officials also accuse the government of using the security clampdown surrounding the eclipse as a pretext to thwart their activities and canvassing ahead of the strike. Police at roadblocks in Harare searched buses and cars, saying they were looking for weapons. Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said some police were recalled from vacation to help with the security operations.