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Mugabe says welcomes mediation with Britain
Nairobi - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said on Wednesday he welcomed a Nigerian proposal to set up a seven-nation mission to mediate an end to the standoff between Zimbabwe and Britain over land. Mugabe told Zimbabwe television on arrival back home from a visit to Kenya that he hoped the initiative by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo would break the deadlocked relations with Britain. "I hope it is a new beginning and that the new government in Britain would like to make a fresh start...our reaction would depend on their reaction," he said. "If it is positive we will be positive, if it's negative we will continue with our land distribution exercise the way we have started." Mugabe made his first official comment on the proposal after his trip to Nairobi to discuss land issues with President Daniel arap Moi. Britain gave a cautious response. "The UK would welcome any initiative which would enable the international community to convey its concerns about the situation in Zimbabwe,'' a Foreign Office spokesman said.
Harare-based Western diplomats and political analysts said it was too early to judge whether the initiative would be successful. "We have seen a number of initiatives before, including from the United Nations, and these have all fallen on Mugabe's lack of flexibility," said John Makumbe, a political analyst and one of Mugabe's leading critics. A Western diplomat said of the initiative: "I think it would be a wrong characterization to see this as a breakthrough. It will be interesting to see what the ministerial committee comes up with, and whether the Zimbabwean authorities accept its recommendations."
Kenyan government sources said Mugabe had gone to Nairobi seeking information from Moi on Kenya's handling of compensation to white farmers after independence from Britain in 1963. In a joint statement after their talks, Moi and Mugabe said they welcomed Obasanjo's initiative proposed in May to set up the mediation mission comprising foreign ministers from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Jamaica, Britain and Australia. Zimbabwe, like Kenya a former British colony, is in the midst of a deepening political and economic crisis following a campaign by self-styled Zimbabwe war veterans backed by Mugabe to seize white-owned farms last year. The action caused uproar among donor countries who said it undermined the rule of law and violated constitutional freedoms.
Mugabe argues that redistribution of white-owned farms to landless blacks will ensure long-term social stability. Zimbabwe's largely state-owned Herald newspaper said Mugabe's trip to Nairobi was the first step toward easing strained relations with Britain over the land issue. The newspaper quoted diplomatic sources as saying Mugabe was following up on an "African initiative" by Obasanjo to help resolve Zimbabwe's controversial land issue. "Although Zimbabwe has always been willing to engage Britain in dialogue over the land issue, the former colonial power has been trying to avoid the issue by trying to shift attention to Harare's perceived disregard for the rule of law," it said.
Land has been a less controversial issue in Kenya than in Zimbabwe, as most white farmers in the east African country voluntarily sold their property after independence with a settlement fund set up by the British government. Although much of Kenya's richest arable land is still owned by white farmers, most of them say it is land repurchased from black Kenyans after independence. As the land seizures got under way in Zimbabwe, a few white-owned farms in Kenya were targeted for occupation by squatters, but Moi's government moved fast to stop them.
From The Financial Gazette, 21 June
Court rules in favour of MDC in Chiredzi North
The High Court in Harare yesterday declared the parliamentary seat of Chiredzi North constituency vacant because incumbent Zanu PF MP Elliot Chauke was not properly elected. High Court judge Justice Vernanda Ziyambi ruled that there was widespread violence and intimidation in the constituency during parliamentary elections last June - perpetrated mainly by Zanu PF supporters and its war veterans - making it impossible for voters to back the candidate of their choice. The ruling follows a petition to the court by losing opposition MDC candidate Moses Mare, who polled 8 765 votes versus Chauke’s 10 154. In a related case, Justice Ziyambi declared Zanu PF MP for neighbouring Chiredzi South Aaron Baloyi duly elected, dismissing a petition by MDC’s Patrick Tsumele. Yesterday’s ruling brings to four the parliamentary seats that have been overturned due to irregularities since the June ballot.
In the Chiredzi North petition, Justice Ziyambi said there was sufficient evidence to suggest that conditions which existed in the constituency prior to the election were not conducive to the holding of a free and fair poll. "Although I am unable to find the respondent or his election agent guilty of any breach of the Electoral Act, I entertain no doubt that the people of the Chiredzi North constituency were not free - by reason of the gross intimidation prevailing in the constituency - to exercise their right to vote for the candidate of their choice," she said in her judgment.
Mare had petitioned the court to declare the election results null and void on the basis that Chauke and his campaign team led by war veterans’ leader Boniface Mutemachani had contravened most sections of the Electoral Act. All the 14 witnesses who testified against Zanu PF narrated how the veterans, led by Mutemachani and Zanu PF supporters, assaulted and harassed voters, razed down their homes and threatened death to all people suspected of backing the MDC. All the witnesses, including a local chief, were themselves victims of the violence and intimidation. Chauke, who was also allegedly assaulted by MDC supporters, only brought two witnesses in his defence.
In the Chiredzi South petition, Justice Ziyambi refused to accept the evidence given by Tsumele and his witnesses that the poll was marred by pre-election violence. Tsumele polled 6 414 votes against Baloyi’s 11 611. "On the whole, the evidence does not show that "a reign of terror", as alleged by the petitioner, prevailed in the Chiredzi South constituency during the election period," she ruled. "While candidates must be free to pursue their legitimate rights in terms of the Electoral Act, it is in the public interest that lawfully elected Members of Parliament should carry out their duties without being needlessly harassed by poorly presented petitions which lack merit," she said.
Other election results that the High Court has so far nullified include those of Hurungwe East, Mutoko South and Buhera North. MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai stood for his party in the Buhera North constituency, where he lost to Zanu PF’s Kenneth Manyonda. Zanu PF is challenging the nullifications in the Supreme Court. The MDC is contesting the election results of about 35 constituencies won by Zanu PF, which overall captured 62 seats against the MDC’s 57. As a result of the nullifications and deaths that have hit Zanu PF, seven parliamentary seats once held by the governing party are now vacant.
From The Cape Times (SA), 20 June
Two Zimbabwean opposition MPs arrested
Bulawayo - Two Zimbabwean opposition members of parliament were charged on Tuesday with contravening a public order law, and one of them was accused of wishing the country's police chief dead. Thokozani Khuphe and Abednico Bhebhe of the MDC were detained here on Monday night. They were remanded until August 24 and joined six MDC officials awaiting trial for allegedly inciting violence against the government.
From The Financial Gazette, 21 June
Govt won’t scrap fuel price hike
THE government has refused to cave in to demands by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) to scrap a 70 percent fuel price rise, an action which the labour body said yesterday had increased pressure on it to call for immediate mass action to force the reversal of the fuel price hike. "As of this week, the government had not heeded our request to scrap the fuel price increase," Collin Gwiyo, the acting secretary-general of the ZCTU, told the Financial Gazette yesterday. "In actual fact, the government has not even bothered to respond or acknowledge our request and demands," he added.
The ZCTU says it wrote letters to President Robert Mugabe, Finance Minister Simba Makoni and Energy Minister Sydney Sekeramayi demanding the reversal of the unprecedented fuel price increase. Makoni acknowledged yesterday he had received the ZCTU letter but said he was not aware of any moves to adjust the fuel prices downwards. "In any case, these issues are dealt with by the mines and energy minister and, as far as I know, he has spelt out the new position and there has not been any change to that," Makoni said. Sekeramayi could not be reached for comment.
At the weekend the ZCTU’s decision-making general council endorsed a call by its executive summoning a two-day nationwide job stayaway on July 2 and 3 after giving the government the mandatory 14-day notice period. "Over the past few days, we have come and we are still coming under considerable pressure from Zimbabweans across the country to call for mass action now and not wait for July," Gwiyo said. "We are asking people to bear with us but are assuring them that the mass action will be executed to force the government to reverse the hike," he said. Gwiyo said the ZCTU’s membership was in agreement with the dates set for the mass action but it was the general public which was growing impatient. He said the ZCTU was working on logistics for the stayaway which, he said, would be a peaceful demonstration. "We are even being blamed by people for pushing the dates further, but we had to take various issues into consideration before we arrived at that decision," he said.
In the past week, angry commuters in most urban areas have been publicly pushing for immediate action. In Harare police have clashed with hundreds of township residents protesting against the fuel price hike. The fuel price rise has triggered sweeping increases in the prices of most basic foodstuffs and other services, which have gone up by an average 40 percent, while reports this week indicated that electricity charges will also rise by 20 percent at the end of this month.
The two-day stayaway could be reviewed by the ZCTU general council depending on the action taken by the government. Gwiyo said the ZCTU’s leadership will be meeting workers countrywide from today to explain the format of the mass stayaway and its objectives. The labour body last staged a series of stayaways in 1998 which paralysed Zimbabwe’s industry and commerce. The ZCTU yesterday dismissed criticism by Information Minister Jonathan Moyo that the labour body, by staging mass action, was behaving like a consumer. "Of course, we are the largest and strongest consumer organisation because a worker is a consumer," Gwiyo countered. He rejected accusations that the ZCTU was working hand-in-hand with the opposition MDC to mount the stayaway. Gwiyo spoke as it emerged that the Zimbabwe Republic Police, in collaboration with the government’s spy agency and the army, could be preparing to move troops into high-density areas countrywide in time for the proposed mass action. Army troops deployed in these areas after parliamentary elections last year were withdrawn after a storm of protests by Zimbabweans that they were assaulting city residents for backing the MDC in those polls.
From Business Report (SA), 20 June
Zimbabwe admits local dollar is overvalued
Harare - Zimbabwe's Finance Minister Simba Makoni said on Wednesday that the local dollar was overvalued against the key US unit, but gave no indication the government would devalue it any time soon. Makoni urged farmers at the annual congress of the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association to continue planting the annual tobacco crop, the country's single largest foreign currency earner, despite concerns over the exchange rate and the government farm seizure drive. Producers say while they are required to sell their tobacco crop at an official rate of 55 Zimbabwe dollars per US unit enforced since November, they have to obtain foreign currency for imported inputs at double that rate from a parallel market. "We accept that the current exchange rate is grossly misaligned and discredited and that there are very few of us who are trading at 55," Makoni said. "We continue to strive to secure consensus in government on the matter," he added, without giving a time frame for an adjustment.
From Associated Press, 20 June
Thousands Gather for Total Eclipse
Lusaka - On the eve of the millennium's first total eclipse of the sun, Zimbabwe's faith healers warned of national turmoil, Angola's street children sold fake protective eyeglasses and Zambia was overrun by busloads of eclipse-chasing tourists. Thursday's mid-afternoon eclipse will arc across the southern part of Africa before disappearing in the Indian Ocean. Its path crosses over a civil war, a country wracked by political conflict, and desperate poverty.
In Zimbabwe, tribal healers warned that the eclipse is a sign the ancestors were not happy with a nation that had abandoned the traditional African values of peace and harmony. As retribution, they would bring further conflict to a country already suffering from political and economic turmoil and the crushing scourge of AIDS. "These natural occurrences are not a mere coincidence. They are signs of the punishment we are going to receive from our ancestors," said Peter Sibanda, deputy head of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association.
In Angola, police seized 5,000 pairs of phoney protective glasses being sold by street kids after tests showed they would not protect people's eyes from being damaged during the partial phases of the eclipse as claimed. Mozambique has urged reporters, including community radio stations, to explain the science behind the eclipse to its impoverished people so it "should not cause fear or panic. Because it is a natural and predictable phenomenon, unlikely to cause any material or personal damage." In Zambia, members of the Ngoni tribe plan to recreate their 1835 crossing of the Zambezi River during their flight from the warriors of the Zulu king Shaka. The original crossing coincided with a total eclipse.
The eclipse first hits land in Angola at 8:38 a.m. EDT, then travels across Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique before heading out to the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar, getting shorter along the way. Since the eclipse will last longer here than anywhere else except Angola, which is convulsed in a quarter-century-long civil war, Zambia has become the main magnet for eclipse watchers. Tourists, scientists and even new age eclipse chasers have come to Zambia for the astronomical event. The government expected more than 20,000 tourists - the most ever. It declared Thursday a national holiday and deployed 2,500 police to patrol the streets of Lusaka and other tourist areas. "This is a big event for Zambia," said Agnes Seenka, the head of the government's eclipse committee.
A team from Williams College in Massachusetts has brought 11 students and 15 cameras attached to telescopes to take more than 1,000 photos of the eclipse, which will last more than three minutes in Lusaka. They aim to study why the corona, the hot gas field around the sun, is so much hotter than the sun's core. The corona is fainter than the blue sky, so it can only be properly studied during an eclipse, said Jay Pasachoff, head of the Willams team and the chair of the working group on solar eclipses at the International Astronomical Union. "What you need is to have the sun up during the day, without the blue sky. And how you do that is during an eclipse," he said.
Meanwhile, more than 4,000 tie-dyed, dreadlocked, pot-smoking trance dancers from around the world gathered at a farm about 30 miles north of Lusaka for a 10-day eclipse rave. "It's quite a powerful event that will happen," James Johnson, a 25-year-old South African at the rave, said while rolling a large crystal around in his hand. "The world is not like an isolated thing in the universe. When something like a solar eclipse happens, vast energies, as far as I'm concerned, are moving around," he said. "The world is moving toward a higher consciousness."