Of bolt cutters and an orange boat
Dear Family and Friends,
Events in Zimbabwe this week have left us all open
mouthed and shaking our
heads in disbelief, surprise and shock. Every day and
every hour the talk
has been of mercenaries, conspiracies, terrorists and
coup plots. No one
seems to be able to explain why an aeroplane landed in
Harare with people,
described by local television as "burly, heavily built
men" of assorted
nationalities. At first the talk was of 64 mercenaries,
later in the week
it became 67. Reports as to what these men were doing here
collecting mining equipment to guard mines in the DRC, to buying
planning to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea. None of
facts were clear and nothing became clearer as the week wore
On one day the Zimbabwe government talked of the UK, US and Spain
involved in a plot to overthrow an African government, and on another
the Minister of Foreign Affairs talked of capital punishment for the
men. Night after night our television screens have shown the same
again and again of the cargo on board the aeroplane. There were
cellphones, loud hailers and bolt cutters, one very large sledge
and one very small pepper spray, sleeping bags, trousers, white shirts
something which the newsreader called a bright orange dinge. This
out to be an inflatable dinghy and when it was all put together, it
for a most peculiar cargo for men who at first were called mercenaries
terrorists by the State media but these terms were soon preceeded by
words alleged and suspected.
On Friday, speaking to BBC radio, the
lawyer appointed to represent the 67
men said that he had still not spoken to
most of his sixty odd clients
because the police had not been given clearance
by "higher authorities" to
allow interviews to be conducted. Also on Friday,
on the front page of
what is now Zimbabwe's only daily newspaper, the State
owned Herald, the
plot thickened. The Herald reported that an 8 man team had
arrived in the
country from Equatorial Guinea to "exchange notes" about the
67 men. The
Herald chose a strange assortment of words to explain the total
and said that the police and Attorney General's office were
with investigations and the framing of charges." By the end of
when Spain was reeling after the horrific bombs in trains in
propaganda mill had turned the mercenary story and the weird
The crawl line on the bottom of the TV screen read: "Zimbabwe
terrorism," and still we watched film footage of bolt cutters, one
spray and a sledge hammer.
While the conspiracy theories
abounded and Zimbabwe was featured on most
international news channels it was
a tragedy that the story that really
should have been making world news was
lost. A report was issued by The
Zimbabwe Institute in Cape Town which
revealed utterly horrific facts and
figures about opposition politicians in
Zimbabwe. 50 opposition MP's and
28 parliamentary candidates were interviewed
and between them 616
incidents were documented. More than 90% of the MP's had
violence and threats; 25% had survived murder attempts; 42%
having been physically assaulted and 16% reported that they had
tortured whilst in police custody - with electric shocks to the
and beatings on the soles of their feet. The Zimbabwe Institute
stated that of the 616 incidents, half had been blamed on police, army
the CIO and the other half on men calling themselves war veterans
members of Zimbabwe's youth militia. Most shocking of all was
statement that not one single perpetrator had been arrested, charged
tried for any of the 616 incidents.
So, while the mercenary plot
thickens, life on the ground for Zimbabwe's
opposition politicians continues
to be a time of personal terror. Until
next week, with love, cathy. Copyright
cathy buckle 13th March 2003.
books on the Zimbabwean crisis, "African Tears" and "Beyond Tears"
available outside Africa from: firstname.lastname@example.org ;
www.africabookcentre.com ; www.amazon.co.uk ; in Australia and New
; Africa: www.kalahari.net
|Violence reported in
Zimbabwean by-election |
HARARE, March 15 (Xinhuanet) -- Zimbabwe's Electoral Supervisory
Commission (ESC) has said some isolated incidents of violence havebeen reported
as candidates contesting the Zengeza by-election scheduled for March 27-28 step
up their campaigns.
Thomas Bvuma, ESC spokesperson, said here Sunday that a requestfor
additional police details in the constituency to thwart any possible
altercations had already been made.
"We have also employed members of the ESC to monitor the political
situation in the constituency as well as encouraging people to vote," Bvuma
He urged candidates to use the multiparty liaison committee meetings to
avoid any altercations.
He said it had not been easy for the ESC to bring the ruling Zimbabwean
African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the opposition Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC) on the same forum as the MDC accused the ZANU-PF-PF of
Police spokesperson Inspector Andrew Phiri said the police had not yet
received reports of violence in the constituency.
"The police will be all out to maintain peace," Phiri said.
Police have already started mounting roadblocks on roads going to
Chitungwiza to see whether there are any supporters outside Chitungwiza being
ferried to Zengeza.
The Zengeza seat fell vacant after MDC Member of Parliament Tafadzwa
Musekiwa went into self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom.
The four parties fielding candidates are the ruling ZANU-PF, the MDC, the
National Alliance for Good Governance and Zanu Ndonga.
Two East Cape men among those held in Zimbabwe
Monday March 15, 2004 11:18 - (SA)
By Helga van Staaden
Two Eastern Cape men are among
the 67 alleged "mercenaries" and three crew members detained in Zimbabwe since
Port Elizabeth lawyer Alwyn Griebenow has been hired by Nico
du Preez to represent his identical twin, Louis, 39, who is one of the two
Eastern Cape men who have been imprisoned in Harare since last Sunday. The
family of the second Eastern Cape detainee did not want his identity revealed,
The 70 men were arrested at the Harare International
airport on the suspicion that they were on their way to Equatorial Guinea to
help carry out a coup. The Boeing which they flew in was impounded with its
cargo, a rubber dingy, camouflage paint, two-way radios, night vision goggles,
cylindrical metal tubes and camouflage uniforms.
yesterday the men were not "mercenaries", but were "contracted by a South
African security company to do work at a diamond mine in the Democratic Republic
The men are being detained at Chikurubi maximum prison, about
20km from Harare.
Griebenow said he and Johannesburg-based advocate
Francois Joubert had their first consultation with the South Africans on
Saturday, under the watchful eyes of 10 Zimbabwean investigating officers and an
interpreter. He said although there had been rumours of torture, he saw no
physical signs of torture or abuse.
"The men were all in good spirits
and they had no complaints about abuse or torture. I had a four-hour
consultation with them on Saturday and again yesterday," Griebenow said. He was
not allowed to speak to his clients in Afrikaans, he said.
The men were
arrested under the Zimbabwean immigration law, which allows offenders to be
detained for up to 14 days before appearing in court. During yesterday’s
consultation they were able to take 12 statements from the men.
nationalities are: 13 South Africans, 28 Namibians, 24 Angolans, three
Congolese, one Zimbabwean and another who has dual citizenship with Britain.
A third attorney flew to Zimbabwe yesterday to represent the pilot,
co-pilot and flight engineer.
Griebenow had no idea as to how long the
legal process would take. However, he said there was a possibility the South
Africans might be charged and prosecuted in South Africa. On both occasions the
legal team visited the prison they were accompanied by the South African
ambassador in Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe police charged 60 of the 70
suspects with attempting to purchase firearms in Zimbabwe without a certificate.
Local attorney Jonathan Samkange said all 67 men on board the Boeing
would eventually be charged under the same law, while the three others would be
charged with purchasing weapons without a certificate.
ringleader Simon Mann - who would probably be charged today - claimed to have an
agreement signed with the state-owned Zimbabwe Defence Industries to purchase
weapons, including AK-47s, grenades, rocket launchers and ammunition.
"How is it unlawful where there is an agreement?" Samkange said.
Police had drafted a charge sheet which accused them under firearms
control legislation of "attempting to conspire to acquire" military weapons, and
also under immigration laws for "failing to declare themselves" when they
arrived, Samkange said.
However, the investigating officer admitted to
him yesterday that authorities still had not decided on what the final charges
would be, he said.
The draft charge sheet listed 10 Browning pistols, 61
AK47 rifles, 20PKM light machine guns, 100 RPG rocket launchers, two mortar
tubes, 150 hand grenades, flares and ammunition for weaponry, which they had
allegedly "attempted to conspire to acquire from Zimbabwe Defence Industries",
The last case involving alleged mercenaries in Zimbabwe was in
1999, when three US missionaries were arrested with a collection of sporting
firearms in their luggage.
They were held in jail for eight months and
severely tortured with electroshocks, half-drowning and sustained assault and
also kept in solitary confinement, naked and manacled, with their cell lights on
for 24 hours. Despite accusations that they were "mercenaries plotting to
assassinate Mugabe", no charges of insurrection were brought against them and
they were released after serving two months of six-month sentences for firearms
and aviation control offences.
A Sunday newspaper yesterday published
the names of 13 men it says are the South Africans being held.
said it obtained the names from diplomatic and intelligence sources. It named
the sole British subject being held as Mann and the only Zimbabwean as Malani
The 13 names are: Johannes Muyongo, Avelino Dala, Errol Harris,
Never Matias, Raymond Archer, Maitre Raukuluka, Louis du Preez, Harmanus Carlse,
Simon Witherspoon, Kenneth Pain, pilot Neil Steyl, Hendrik Hamman and Lawrence
Eastern Province Herald
Lawyer: Detained Foreigners in Zimbabwe Not Mercenaries
2004, 10:47 UTC
A lawyer representing foreign nationals detained
in Zimbabwe a week ago and accused of being mercenaries says 60 of his clients
have been charged with lesser violations of immigration and firearms laws.
Jonathan Samkange says he expects several other detainees to be charged
The men were taken into custody a week ago Sunday, March 7, at
Harare airport, and their plane was seized. Zimbabwe authorities accused the men
of plotting to carry out a coup in Equatorial Guinea, a small country's on
Africa's Atlantic coast that is rich in oil reserves.
Soon afterwards, the
government in Equatorial Guinea announced the arrest of 15 other men said to be
part of the same plot to topple President Teodoro Obiang.
in Zimbabwe have said the suspects -- mostly South Africans, Angolans and
Namibians -- face charges of trying to destabilize a sovereign state, and could
be sentenced to death. However, a news report quotes the defendants' lawyer as
saying there is no legal basis in Zimbabwe for prosecuting anyone plotting a
coup or similar action against another state.
The lawyer says the men deny
that they are mercenaries.
The operator of the seized plane says the men had
been hired as security guards in diamond mines and were on their way to begin
work in the Democratic Republic of Congo when they were arrested.
information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.
Ex-Zimbabwean policeman sues top school
Sunday Times - SA
A former chief inspector in the Zimbabwean police
is suing one of Cape Town's top private schools for more than R70 000 in
backdated overtime pay.
Eric Birrell, 64, worked as security supervisor at Diocesan College (or
Bishops) from 1995 to 2002, looking after the safety of more than 1 000 pupils
and supervising up to five security guards.
"It breaks my heart to have to do this, because I loved working with the
children," said Birrell, who is also bitter that he has been described as "just
a security guard" by former colleagues at the school.
His claim against the school will be heard in the Wynberg Magistrate's Court
on March 30.
The school is opposing the action.
"I have been waiting for two years for this to be finalised, but they [the
school's management] have been procrastinating and delaying the matter for as
long as possible," Birrell said this week.
He added that he would return to Scotland, from where he emigrated to
Rhodesia in 1961, five days after the case was heard.
Birrell joined the school with a CV that included service with the British
South African Police, which he joined in 1961 and where he reached the rank of
chief inspector while stationed in Bulawayo.
He is due a pension from the service, now known as the Zimbabwe Republic
Police, but this has not been paid in two years. He also served in the SA Navy
for 10 years.
"During all the 25 years of my time as a policeman, I never had any problems
with my employment at all. I was never involved in any disciplinary offences
whatsoever," Birrell states in his affidavit.
Among other duties, Birrell was responsible for the school's security guards
and reported to its estate manager.
His attorney Roland Darroll said that Birrell's problems began in 1995, when
"there were not legal provisions for the maximum number of hours one could work
in a week".
When the Basic Conditions of Employment Act came into force in December 1998,
a maximum of 45 hours was imposed.
Any extra hours had to be paid at one-and--a-half times the normal rate on
weekdays and twice the normal rate on weekends and public holidays.
Darroll said Birrell had worked as many as 15 hours overtime a week.
Through its attorney Mike Wagner, the school has replied that Birrell's
contract gave him "full discretion to take time off during the day to compensate
for any time worked".
Birrell "made use of this discretion" and the school did not have to pay for
Monday, 15 March 2004
Land reforms anchor economy: President
PRESIDENT Mugabe has said land reforms undertaken in the last four
years had anchored the economy for sustained growth, and underpinned the
In an interview with a group of local and
visiting Cuban journalists, the president said land was any nation’s main
resource, which had to be equitably owned and shared mainly by the indigenous
The Government has brushed off strong Western opposition, led by
Britain and the United States, and re-distributed to peasants the bulk of the
country’s prime farmland previously controlled by a handful of white farmers.
President Mugabe said the programme had laid a strong foundation for
sustained economic growth in Zimbabwe, and consolidated the country’s
independence and sovereignty.
He said political independence which the
country gained from Britain in 1980 was hollow if not accompanied by economic
empowerment of the majority black Zimbabweans in vital sectors such as
"There is no nation that can feel sovereign if its
resources, whether it’s lands or minerals or any other resources, are in the
hands of enemies or foreigners.
"Much as we respect the principles of
international capital and investment, that cannot be the excuse that our land
was being owned by the British," he said.
"We feel that our land has now
been liberated. It is now the land of our people for our people. It (land) gives
the people a sense of belonging and ownership," he added.
Mugabe said the other main aim of the land reforms, in addition to consolidating
Zimbabwe’s nationhood, was to turn around the economy, and ensure its sustained
growth by expanding production in the agricultural sector — the economy’s
"Agriculture is an extremely vital sector of our economy — it
yields exports, our food and is the main source of raw materials for our
industrial sector," he said.
The bulk of the country’s exports are
agricultural products such as tobacco, which is Zimbabwe’s biggest single
export, and cotton.
The president said the next focus, after
resettlement, of the Government in the agricultural sector was to provide
financing and technical support services to farmers to ensure efficiency and
optimal use of the land.
"Now we want to organise the people (resettled
farmers) properly, and give them all the assistance they want to be confident
and productive, and use the land optimally," said President Mugabe.
is necessary that we put inputs at the disposal of the people, things like
fertilisers, small tractors and ploughs. We want the people to be efficient and
to be mechanised," he said.
He said the land reforms were easy to
implement in the country, in part, because Zimbabweans were natural farmers, and
deeply attached to their land, giving himself as an example.
"I am also
farming in my village. I’ve 1 000 chickens, but I want to increase that to 2
000, and I keep some pigs also. I produce and sell eggs, and the income from
this helps pay for the maintenance of my (village) home," he said.
people love their soil," said President Mugabe.
He vowed no amount of
pressure — political, economic or military — would sway him and the Government
to relent on land reforms, which were now spreading to other countries in the
region with similar land ownership disparities between white farmers and the
He said sanctions, which Western countries had
imposed in protest against the reforms, had boomeranged in that they had opened
the eyes of blacks in Zimbabwe and elsewhere to the injustice of land ownership
in the country.
"Our people are getting stronger in their will and
resistance; they no longer listen to them (Western countries) and their
puppets," said President Mugabe.
"Yes, sanctions do harm, but we have
ourselves realised that we cannot sacrifice our independence (for aid)," he
said. — New Ziana.
Man ordered to pay $50m for breaching
tobacco Act A 36-YEAR-OLD man has been ordered to pay $50 million or face 10
days behind bars for breaching the Tobacco Marketing and Levy Act by a
Chitungwiza magistrate on Friday.
James Adam Hartnack pleaded guilty to
the charges before magistrate Shelton Jura.
Outlining the State case,
Mrs Respina Zinyanduko told the court that Hartnack unlawfully carried out the
business of grading tobacco without grader’s license.
Section 33(1) of
the Tobacco Marketing and Levy Act does not allow anyone to operate as a tobacco
grader without the licence.
The court was told that in 2003 during the
tobacco grading season, Hartnack received tobacco from three different tobacco
growers and proceeded with grading without authority from the Tobacco Marketing
Tobacco to be paid for in US dollars: RBZ
Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has directed that all tobacco sold through auction and
contract during this year’s selling season be paid for in United States dollars.
According to the Exchange Control (Tobacco Finance) Order, 2004, which
was gazetted in Statutory Instrument 61 of 2004 last week, every tobacco buyer
should only access offshore funds for the purpose of purchasing tobacco.
Statutory Instrument 61 of 2004 effectively replaces the Exchange
Controls (Tobacco Finance) order, 2001, published in Statutory Instrument 153B
of 2001 and the Exchange Control (Tobacco Finance) (Amendment) Order, 2002,
published in Statutory Instrument 110D of 2002, which have been repealed.
The new statutory instrument stipulates that where a buyer satisfies the
Reserve Bank that he or she is not capable of accessing any offshore funds, he
or she may apply through an authorised dealer to the bank to participate in the
Memorandum of Deposit Scheme to access funds for their purchases.
order to remove doubt, no buyers, according to the statutory instrument, would
draw on their corporate foreign currency account funds or purchase, borrow or
raise foreign currency from offshore funds, the interbank market, an authorised
dealer or any domestic source for the purpose of purchasing tobacco.
According to the new regulation, in instances where onshore funds are
secured for purchases of tobacco, the authorised dealers should comply with the
These directions may be given to them by the central bank
relating to any foreign currency that comes into their possession as a result of
accessing offshore funds in terms of the new order.
"A tobacco buyer may
retain the export proceeds realised from the sale of exported tobacco (net after
deduction in respect of the repayment of any monies accessed from offshore
funds) in his foreign account.
"A tobacco buyer who is assisted by the
Reserve Bank shall be deemed an exporter for the purpose of Exchange control
(Currency Exchange) Order, 2004, published in Statutory Instrument 9 of 2004,"
read part of the instrument.
The only exception in the second instance,
according to the instrument, is that the foreign currency-surrender requirement
in that order would apply to the net and not the gross export proceeds realised
by the tobacco grower from the sale of the exported tobacco.
respect to contract farming, the new regulation stipulates that only the
contractor with whom the tobacco grower concerned entered into the contractual
agreements will be allowed to purchase that crop.
According to the new
instrument, contractors should not purchase contract tobacco except at receiving
points for the sale of contract tobacco designated by the Tobacco Industry
Marketing Board and only in the presence of an official from the board.
Where a contractor financed any A1 or A2 tobacco grower by accessing
offshore funds for that purpose, the amount used to finance the grower may be
set off against the price of tobacco sold to the contractor by the grower.
"By accessing any onshore funds for that purpose the contractor shall
access offshore funds for the purpose of purchasing tobacco from the grower,"
read part of the instrument.
As part of the new regulation, buyers are
supposed to submit to the Reserve Bank particulars of the quantity and value of
tobacco purchased no later than 24 hours or the next business day after
purchasing contract tobacco.
Where the price for the auction tobacco
prevailing on the day that the contract tobacco is received by the contractor is
higher than the predetermined price of contract tobacco, the instrument provides
that the contractor should make the additional payment for the contract tobacco
by accessing the offshore funds used to purchase the tobacco.
contractor could also use the facility provided under the Memorandum of Deposit
Scheme provided for by the Reserve Bank.
The new regulation also bars
the inter-merchant tobacco sale, except in situations where the merchants seek
authority from the Reserve Bank.
The tobacco-selling season opens
tomorrow, with the beginning of sales of the contracted crop while the auction
system would start on March 30.
A new system for marketing tobacco was
introduced this year after Government agreed in August last year to change the
marketing system from 100 percent auction to the dual system where contract
tobacco production/marketing would operate alongside the auction system.
Most farmers had complained that the auction system was not giving them
value for their product since the prices were low at the auction floors.
Under the contract system, contractors registered with the Ministry of
Agriculture and monitored by the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board enter into
agreements with tobacco farmers to supply them with finances or implements to
enable those farmers to grow their crop.
In return, the farmers agree to
sell portions of their crop to the contractors depending on the support they
received from the contractor.
There are nine contractors that have been
licensed during the current year.
The licensed contractors include Arda
and Gold Driven Investment, Farmers’ World, FSI Agricom, Soundrider
Communications, Tobacco Growers’ Trust, Tobacco Sales Limited, Wedzera
Petroleum, Zimbabwe Leaf Tobacco, Zimbabwe Tobacco Growing Company.
‘Incidents of violence in Zengeza’ THE Electoral
Supervisory Commission yesterday said some isolated incidents of violence have
been reported as candidates contesting the Zengeza by-election scheduled for
March 27 and 28 step up their campaigns.
Mr Thomas Bvuma, ESC
spokesperson, said a request for additional police details in the constituency
to thwart any possible altercations had already been made.
"We have also
employed members of the ESC to monitor the political situation in the
constituency as well as encouraging people to vote and how to vote," Mr Bvuma
He urged candidates to use the multi-party liaison committee
meetings to avoid any altercations.
He said it had not been easy for the
ESC to bring the Zanu-PF and MDC on the same forum as the MDC accused Zanu-PF of
Police spokesperson Inspector Andrew Phiri said
the police had not yet received reports of violence in the constituency.
"The police will be all out to maintain peace," Insp Phiri said.
Police have already started mounting roadblocks on roads going to
Chitungwiza to see whether there are any supporters outside Chitungwiza being
ferried to Zengeza.
Some people interviewed by The Herald confirmed that
there were incidents of violence in the Zengeza constituency especially in the
Commenting on the political situation, a resident in Zengeza
said there were skirmishes in Zengeza 4 between supporters of Zanu-PF and MDC.
The Zengeza seat fell vacant after MDC Member of Parliament Mr Tafadzwa
Musekiwa went into self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom.
parties fielding candidates are the ruling Zanu-PF, the MDC, the National
Alliance for Good Governance and Zanu Ndonga.
I’ve represented UK’s views to the
best of my abilities Editor — Sorry to
disappoint you (David Samuriwo’s article of March 12) but I am neither defeated
Mr Samuriwo’s article is shamelessly mendacious. I have
publicly denied most of the fictitious allegations in the past. But let me just
reiterate a few examples.
Allegation: that I financed two light aircraft
to film looting in Mhangura. Lie.
Allegation: that I interfered with the
distribution of food relief in Insiza. Lie.
Allegation: that I tried to
mould the Zimbabwe Liberation Platform into a political party. Lie.
Allegation: that I tried to derail the Abuja Accord. Lie.
Samuriwo cannot even get his facts straight on matters which are of public
He claims that the announcement that I would be placed under
24-hours surveillance was made after the Insiza by-election.
It is a
matter of public record in your own newspaper that the announcement was made in
June 2002, four months before the Insiza by- election took place.
article of this nature was written by an independent journalist about a member
of Zanu-PF, the unfortunate writer would no doubt already be behind bars.
Since I regard AIPPA as a pernicious piece of legislation, I would not
wish the same fate on Mr Samuriwo. But I do challenge you to publish this letter
so that your readers can be aware of the quality of the journalism that you are
I shall be leaving Zimbabwe satisfied that I have
represented my country’s views and policies to the best of my abilities.
Sir Brian Donnelly,
Comment from ZWNEWS, 14
Let’s imagine a distinguished British visitor, say the
Archbishop of Canterbury, has his passport stolen in Harare. A replacement would
cost £56.50p at the British Embassy – but payable in Zimbabwe dollars at the
"parallel" or black market rate. In November when Gideon Gono, now Governor of
the Reserve Bank, was running the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe, this was $9 100
to the pound. Thus the archbishop would need to raise Zimbabwe $514 150. A
conservative bank such as Barclays would give him a mere $80 964.50 for his
£56.50, based on the still-official rate (paid to exporters) of $1 433 to the
pound. Since January, any bank could lawfully offer the archbishop the new
"auction rate" of about $7 700 to the pound, giving him $435 050 minus
commissions. So to get the sum required by the embassy, the archbishop would
need to prowl Harare’s long distance bus terminus, furtively offering foreign
currency, and risking arrest by intelligence agents, or the regime’s new
"Anti-Corruption Unit," or bounty seekers – now anyone reporting an illegal
transaction gets to keep a percentage of the spoils. "Foreign currency
corruption" is the new buzz word of Robert Mugabe’s crisis-ridden regime. It has
been turned into a replica of the disastrous "land reform" programme – a
righteous-sounding phrase being used to victimise persons perceived to be a
threat to the regime, while others are rewarded with the ill-gotten booty. A
leaked 2001 ruling Zanu PF party strategy document spoke of the need to "harass
and mentally torture’’ alleged opponents of the regime, especially whites and
farmers, through means of state regulations and the semblance of law, so as to
force their emigration and the destruction of civil society. This strategy is
now being deployed - as was inevitable - against the black population, including
suspect members of Mugabe's own party.
In the name of an anti-corruption drive, police are pouncing
on businessmen as if they did not know the foreign currency scandal has been
going on for years, not just with the regime’s connivance, but as an instrument
of political policy. Those targeted have mostly been black personalities on the
fringes of the political establishment, suspected to have links to factions not
in favour. They are pawns. Their fate is both a warning and a threat to the much
bigger pieces. The question of who will succeed 80-year-old Mugabe, and when he
should retire, has riven the establishment from top to bottom. While the pawns
fall, the bigger pieces must be wondering whether it is time for a daring
attempt to checkmate the king before their turn comes to be knocked off the
board. As with the land issue, the economic consequences of the "foreign
currency corruption" drive cannot be anything other than calamitous. The
foreign currency famine has its origins in the politically-engineered collapse
of Zimbabwe’s export industries, farming, manufacturing and mining. Only their
revival can solve it. The present situation of three exchange rates – official,
auction and black market - presents a nightmare for exporters, for embassies and
foreign-funded charities, for the unwary tourist and for the ordinary citizen.
In the face of 600 percent inflation, frail pensioners whose housekeeping
money is sent in from overseas, and families dependant on remittances from
expatriates, are on perpetual tenterhooks as they are forced to break the
Exchange Control Regulations to buy the essentials of life (such as
Others break the law for different motives. They include
Tafataona Mahoso, chairman of the state-appointed Media and Information
Commission. All through 2003 he demanded correspondents for foreign media each
pay him US$1050 application and accreditation fees in foreign currency, to
receive the licences required to avoid imprisonment for up to two years under
the regime’s draconian curbs on the press. Lawyers' protests that seeking to be
paid in foreign currency breached exchange controls were to no avail and licence
fees offered in local money were rejected. In December, daring the wrath of the
Reserve Bank, correspondents for foreign media reapplied to the commission, each
tendering the US$50 initial application fee in the form of a US$ draft obtained
from a local bank. My covering letter urged Mahoso to obtain proper legal
authority from the Reserve Bank, in arrears, and stressed we were showing
goodwill. Far from receiving accreditation, and belated Reserve Bank authority
to pay the follow up US$1 000 accreditation fee in foreign currency, Mahoso has
failed to reply. Thus we remain in limbo, are US$50 out of pocket, and (like
him) criminals. Under new presidential "temporary powers" anyone suspected -
merely suspected - of breaking the Exchange Control Regulations can be held for
seven days without any right to bail. If there is a prima facie case - as with
Mahoso's conduct - the suspect can be held for a month.
Gono, who took over as Reserve Bank governor on December 1,
instituted the curious and complex system of foreign currency "auctions". The
higher and more realistic bids are rejected, artificially keeping the rate down
in the US$1 = Z$3 500 - Z$4 000 range. Only approved institutions, not ordinary
individuals, are permitted to buy currency at this reduced rate. Through another
odd selection process, some exporters are allowed to sell 50-75 percent of their
foreign currency receipts through this auction, the balance being forcibly
converted into local currency based on the old and preposterous official scale
Z$824 to US$1. Others who earn foreign currency get different stories and
different proportions - it depends on individual officials. Behind all this is
are consistent aims. Firstly, the regime has been trying to commandeer foreign
currency earned by the productive sector, by institutions and by private
citizens, in order to meet its own wants (such as Mugabe's frequent global
jaunts), to pay for imports such as petroleum, and to service its mountainous
foreign debts - US$3,5 billion is outstanding, at the last count. The three
million expatriate Zimbabweans are seen as a glorious milch cow whose
remittances might provide a cash bonanza for Mugabe. Secondly, allowing a
privileged few party cronies to buy foreign exchange at cut prices has been an
even more tantalising form of patronage than handouts of seized white-owned
farms. No ploughing or expensive fertiliser is required to reap a harvest - they
can flog their booty right away on the "parallel" market for a large profit.
Meanwhile, individual citizens who go to a bank seeking to buy foreign currency
for urgent travel are turned away. The South African embassy refuses to issue
visas to Zimbabweans who cannot prove they have rand resources. On which topic,
in January Mugabe suddenly disappeared to Johannesburg and initial reports said
he had gone for emergency medical treatment. Not so, Mugabe later announced. He
had gone to pay R5 000 lobola on behalf of a nephew.