|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Zimbabwe’s children are paying the price of attempts to punish their government for its human rights violations, the head of UNICEF said last week.
Zimbabwe suffers the world’s fourth-highest HIV infection rate and has seen the sharpest rise in child mortality, yet receives just a fraction of the donor funding lavished on its neighbors, Carol Bellamy told reporters in Johannesburg.
Donors are concerned that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s increasingly autocratic regime would use any assistance for political purposes.
“Look for other ways to make your point,” Bellamy said. “Don’t take it out on the world’s children.”
Earlier last week, the London-based rights group Amnesty International said the state-run Grain Marketing Board continues to manipulate the distribution of food aid, denying opposition supporters access to corn, the staple for most Zimbabweans, in the run-up to March 31 parliamentary elections.
The campaign has seen accusations of violence and intimidation orchestrated by Mugabe’s party.
Bellamy, on her final African tour as UNICEF’s executive director, conceded that diversion of aid by the government was a concern in Zimbabwe, as elsewhere on the continent. But she said much of the help provided by UNICEF — including child-sized vaccine doses and school supplies — was not as easily abused as food aid.
Zimbabwe has been gripped by political and economic crisis since the government began seizing white-owned farms in an often-violent land redistribution program in 2000. It has also suffered the devastating effects of successive years of drought and the AIDS pandemic ravaging the continent.
One in every eight Zimbabwean children dies before the age of 5, a 50 percent increase since 1990, according to UNICEF figures.
With an estimated 26 percent of the country’s 12.5 million people infected with HIV, a child dies every 15 minutes from AIDS complications. One in five has lost one or both parents — 1 million of them because of AIDS.
Yet Zimbabwe has received no support from President Bush’s initiative on AIDS or the World Bank’s AIDS program for 2004-2005. And it has received only limited funds from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, UNICEF said.
Average spending by the three main donor initiatives in southern Africa, the region most devastated by the AIDS pandemic, is $74 per HIV-infected person. In Zimbabwe, it is just $4, it said.
Zimbabwe also receives less than a quarter of the development and other aid spent on Namibia and about 12 percent of that of Mozambique, according to World Bank estimates.
“There is no excuse for letting the children of this country suffer so dramatically without working harder to find solutions to help them,” Bellamy said.
Despite the dearth of funds, UNICEF said Zimbabwe is making progress in the fight to protect children.
The agency is helping communities provide support and counseling for 100,000 orphaned children and has helped the country achieve 95 percent national measles immunization coverage.
Zimbabwe is one of few countries with a National Plan of Action for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, which includes a monitoring and evaluation plan, UNICEF said. It is also the only country in Africa which has instituted a tax — 3 percent — to mobilize resources to fight AIDS.
"The general atmosphere countrywide is peaceful and in most constituencies our teams have been allowed to campaign without any incidents of violence, but there are constituencies where Mugabe's ministers are contesting. There, we have seen incidents of violence continuing," Tsvangirai told The Standard after addressing a rally in Beitbridge last week.
He cited Marondera West, Shamva, Bindura, Mberengwa East and West and Insiza constituencies - all being contested by Mugabe's cabinet ministers - as the most violent areas.
"We still have pockets of violence. There have been recorded cases of violence in Marondera East and West, Insiza, Mberengwa East, Shamva and in Bindura despite calls for a peaceful campaign by the Zanu PF leadership," Tsvangirai said.
Cabinet minister Elliot Manyika is contesting in Bindura while the deputy minister of Home Affairs, Rugare Gumbo is contesting in Mberengwa East constituency.
Youth and Gender Minister Ambrose Mutinhiri and Sydney Sekeramayi are contesting Marondera East and West respectively. Shamva is being contested by Minister of State for National Security, Nicholas Goche, while Deputy Minister of Transport and Communications, Andrew Langa, is standing in Insiza constituency.
Last week, Langa's two brothers were detained by police after they allegedly attacked and threw stones at an MDC campaign team.
"In some areas we have Zanu PF youths moving in the dead of the night threatening villagers to vote for Zanu PF and the result of the election would hinge on those fraudulent activities," Tsvangirai said.
Tsvangirai said Zanu PF was forced to implement some of the SADC Election Guidelines as a way of gaining regional and international recognition.
"Zanu PF thinks it would be better to have a semblance of democracy in order to gain the international community's support and an endorsement of its electoral process," he said.
Commenting on squabbles in Zanu PF that resulted in the sacking of the former information minister, Jonathan Moyo from the party, the MDC leader said the latest developments in the ruling party were good news to the opposition party.
"Jonathan Moyo's breakaway from Zanu PF is a good development for the MDC," Tsvangirai said.
On Friday, President Robert Mugabe blamed the MDC for the malfunctioning of local authorities and promised to restore sanity in the city if the people voted for the ruling party in the 31 March general elections.
Mugabe said this while addressing thousands of people at a Zanu PF campaign rally at Tafara High School in Harare.
"Most of you voted for the MDC thinking that if they come into government they would change most things for the better, what change for the better would surpass the independence we gave you?" asked Mugabe.
The government fired former Harare executive mayor Ellias Mudzuri alleging mismanagement. He was replaced by Zanu PF apologist and turncoat Sekesai Makwavarara.
During the run-up to the 2000 parliamentary elections, war veterans then led by the late Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi and including Jabulani Sibanda, Patrick Nyaruwata and Joseph Chinotimba rallied behind the ruling party on the back of a terror campaign reminiscent of the 1970s pre-independence campaign when villagers were being told only voting for Zanu PF would end the liberation war. Despite massive support from the former freedom fighters, the ruling party lost 58 of the 120 contested seats to the opposition.
The ruling party angered the war veterans when their leaders, who were aspiring candidates for the 31 March parliamentary elections, were left out even though they had been instrumental in thwarting opposition attempts at nationwide mass protests over the past five years.
The war veterans are also bitter that after persistently being promised pension increments which were pegged on the salary of a serving Warrant Officer Class One, effective from last February, the government had not honoured its pledge. A Warrant Officer Class One earns about $3 million a month.
A war veteran in Harare said they felt abused by the politicians: "Zanu PF has abandoned us. This time around, we will let the chefs campaign alone and see if they can mobilise the people.
"Ikozvino macivilian arikudya ega. Varikuda kutonga vega. (The politicians are rewarding themselves handsomely and they want a monopoly on power.)
In the 2 000 general elections and the 2002 Presidential election, war veterans were used as storm troopers by Zanu PF to terrorise the electorate into voting for the ruling party.
Retired major Kudzai Mbudzi of Masvingo, a veteran of the liberation struggle, said he was not campaigning for the ruling party because the Zanu PF candidate from his constituency, Stan Mudenge was not "accommodating", without elaborating.
War veterans' chairperson Jabulani Sibanda was blocked from standing as a candidate in Umguza Constituency in favour of Matabeleland North Governor, Obert Mpofu.
Sibanda's deputy in the war veterans' association, Joseph Chinotimba, was also eliminated from the race in favour of Victoria Chitepo in Glen Norah.
Other war veterans who were sidelined from the Parliamentary race include Manicaland war veterans' chairperson, James Kaunye, who was blocked from fighting it out with Didymus Mutasa, in Makoni North.
Retired Brigadier Benjamin Mabenge, who was gunning for the same seat as Emmerson Mnangagwa in Kwekwe central, also found himself in the cold.
The marginalisation of war veterans saw Retired Major Godwell Shiri of Mberengwa East standing as an independent candidate with war veterans and senior Zanu PF members in Mberengwa openly campaigning for him.
Three senior members of the Zanu PF Mberengwa District Co-ordinating Committee, among them former Member of Parliament and Midlands political commissar, Ben Mataga, and two senior members of the Women's League, identified only as S. Mapingire and Mashingaidze have been suspended from the party for campaigning for Shiri.
The retired soldier decided to contest as an independent after ruling party leaders reversed his victory in the primary elections over incumbent Rugare Gumbo,
In Beitbridge, suspended Zanu PF Matabeleland South chairperson, Lloyd Siyoka, who is also a war veteran, is said to be threatening incumbent MP, Kembo Mohadi's stranglehold on power, after war veterans in the district decided to campaign for the former chairman.
Sources in Beitbridge said the district war veterans' chairperson, Philimon Mbedzi and another former combatant known only as Mukwena were arrested in Beitbridge last week.
They were allegedly arrested on charges of externalising foreign currency although it is suspected that they are being harassed for not supporting Mohadi.
Many of his fans have watched and listened in shock as one of his most popular songs, Totutuma, is used to back a Zanu PF election advert screened on television.
The show itself did not even go down well with Mutukudzi's manager, Debbie Metcalfe, who saw the singer's participation as business suicide.
Fumed Metcalfe: "I was not part of the organisation of that function. I am actually unhappy about it because it was without my consent. The issue of one of his songs being used for a political advert is actually news to me.
"Tuku's material can be used after we grant an agreement licence and I was never approached by either Zanu PF or ZBC. We are going to follow up on that one," she said before referring further questions to Mtukudzi.
Mtukudzi however denied that he was aligned to any political party.
"This was a show I did purely on the grounds that Amai Mujuru is my relative by virtue of us coming from Dande.
"I was celebrating the rise of a daughter from our clan. It had nothing to do with politics. I have relatives everywhere, in MDC and even in Zanu PF."
He said as a manager Debbie had a reason to be angry because she was looking at things from a business perspective .
"I am not partisan despite what people might think. My music is there to unite. People have to be united and be happy. My music is achieving that and evidence is there for all to see. I am not a political musician and it shall remain so."
Mtukudzi scoffed at suggestions that he performed for monetary gains.
"To show that this (performance) was not money oriented, I was not even backed by my group because I would have failed to pay them as there was nothing I got from this," said Mtukudzi.
Debra Musana of Glenview said it was disheartening to see a man who for years has ostensibly resisted alignment to any political party now taking this route.
"I am afraid this has dampened the spirits of most of us Tuku fans. This is a man who has always stood by principle and refused to be swallowed by these politicians who have killed the future and talent of many musicians."
Lovemore Jera of Norton said: "If indeed this is an endorsement of the hate speech that the Makwavararas of this world were preaching at that function, then I must say we have lost a true African symbol of non-partisan music."
Lately, formerly idolised musicians like Simon Chimbetu, Plaxedes Wenyika, Andy Brown, Tambaoga, Sister Flame, Brian Mteki and a host of others saw their sales plummeting because of their association with Zanu PF.
Most people saw them as endorsing a government that was abusing power and basic human rights and boycotted their shows and albums.
On the other hand sungura star, Leonard Zhakata and militant chimurenga singer, Thomas Mapfumo experienced a major decline in the airplay of their music on the state controlled radio stations because their music was deemed politically incorrect.
The arms embargo has seen the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, once the envy of many armies in Africa, depending on dilapidated fighting equipment as the shortage of spare parts continues to bite.
Members of the public attending the graduation of army officers in Kwekwe a fortnight ago, heard that the six-month training programme was extended by another four months, as there was no adequate equipment to conduct practical training exercises. The officers only graduated two Fridays ago, 10 months after taking the training course in April last year.
The Standard also learnt that the unavailability of instructors was impacting on training, especially in the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ), where the courses are highly specialised.
The United States, together with its allies imposed travel bans, and assets freeze on President Robert Mugabe and 80 of his ministers and ruling party officials. The sanctions include an arms embargo on the country.
While officiating at a pass-out parade at Katanga Range a fortnight ago, where 60 officers from the army graduated, Brigadier General Armstrong Paul Gunda of 1 Brigade expressed concern over army equipment, which has derailed the smooth running of courses and resulted in postponement of practical subjects.
Brigadier Gunda told the officers: "I am aware that you faced difficulties during the course of your training, which led to the postponement of your practicals here at Katanga. I am also aware that you are facing serious shortages of spare parts but I commend you because you managed to do your best with the little resources which were available."
He promised to ensure that a major rehabilitation exercise was undertaken to avail training equipment.
Twelve officers and 48 men from the Armoured Regiment of the Mechanised Brigade graduated in the first ever amour-training course at Katanga Range.
The course covered gunnery, troop leading and crew commanding.
Brigadier Gunda's sentiments come after Vice President Joyce Mujuru's recent concern over the unavailability of instructors, the use of aircraft in need of re-equipment, machines and lack of spare parts at the AFZ Thornhill Airbase in Gweru. Mujuru was the guest of honour at the airbase where four flying instructors graduated.
Mujuru said: " These graduating instructors owe their success to utmost perseverance. The unavailability of instructors at some stages of the course due to other commitments and the shortage of adequate resources such as aircraft spare parts did not dampen their spirits."
Mujuru, like Brigadier Gunda, also promised to look into the army's requirements but was quick to point out that the process might take longer because of other competing and compelling national requirements.
SA govt observer mission to meet MDC this weekMarch 20, 2005, 10:00
Membathisi Mdladlana, the labour minister, says the government observer
mission in Zimbabwe is scheduled to meet with leaders of Zimbabwe's opposition
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) during the course of this week.
This follows allegations by the MDC that the observer mission, under Mdladlana's leadership, had made premature pronouncements regarding the outcome of the Zimbabwean poll. Mdladlana says the delegation will be led by Ngoako Ramathlodi, the former Limpopo premier.
"The principle between us and the MDC is that problems can only be resolved through negotiations and not by sniping at each other," says Ramathlodi. He says that it is crucial for them to remind the MDC that it is not helping them to campaign against the South Africa observer mission, they must campaign in Zimbabwe as it is the people of Zimbabwe who will vote for the MDC.
Comment from The Observer (UK), 20 March
Welcome to Mugabeland, where hope wilts in the sun
The rains have failed, the crops are dying. As Zimbabwe prepares to vote, Euan Ferguson, in this secret dispatch, explains why the prospect of change still seems agonisingly remote.
It was laughter, actually. Tired and terribly fed up laughter, pupping away inside me like lazy glue on a stove. It wasn't, honestly, the reaction I had meant to bring to famine. But last week, in a fairly filthy bar in Bulawayo, it finally got to me. Second city of Zimbabwe, where the ridiculously wide avenues lie in cloying darkness all night, holding their breath, because there's no money for light bulbs. They're running out of blood in Bulawayo and, with HIV running through 25 per cent of the nation's veins, new supplies are hard to come by. They've run out of petrol. They've run out of doctors: there are three surgeons left for a population of just over 800,000. They're running out of food. Ten starved to death in the city suburbs last month, seven of them children under five: and now the rains have stopped, and the harvest has failed, and it's going to get one whole medieval lot nastier very soon.
They're not, yet, out of Castle beer, which is why I have some in front of me as I wait. It has taken a little while to persuade Bulawayans to talk. Two weeks before the national elections, friends are wary of talking to friends, so mouths snap shut before strangers. It is an offence to hold a meeting without police permission, an offence to criticise the government, a jailable offence to criticise Robert Mugabe: effectively, talk of politics is outlawed. Even the regime's sternest critics, in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), are trying to distance themselves from anyone white, as Mugabe loses no opportunity to taunt them about links to Tony Blair and accuse them of being puppets of white neo-colonialism. So I'm not sure if young Jimmy and Joy, whom I'd met earlier in a more public (thus less safe) bar, are going to turn up, but they do, and without thinking I wave. Mistake. They're not really worried, it's fine here, but they advise me to keep the waving to a minimum elsewhere. An open hand is the symbol of the MDC. Flaunting it can get you noticed. Finally, it all gets to me, and the laughter spills out. It's taken a few days to reach this stage. Growing, along the way, tired of the roadblocks, shocked by the state of the land, stupefied by the flagrant propaganda of the state-run press, resentful of the constant eye-flicking and back-watching; staggered by the tales, wearied by the hate, and even a little fed up, frankly, at being apparently the only white man in Africa. And I learn that in the wrong parts of the wrong towns a simple wave, symbol of open friendship, can now get you locked up, and laughter seems a good answer: sour laughter, to greet the rancid curdling of a dream.
Four, five weeks ago, the skies darkened but it did not rain. Showers, splatters only, but the greedy clouds kept themselves full and moved on, and the sun came out again and started burning things. 'It wasn't as if we knew quickly, or anything,' says Joy, 'but at that time you expect rain, lots of rain, all the time. Then another day passed, the same. And another. And that was weeks ago, and now it's too late.' The rainy season should only be ending around now, ready for an April harvest. The past month should have seen constant heavy daily falls, 30cm and more, but they've seen relentless sunshine. Not even Mugabe's angriest opponents can blame him for that. But they can, and do, blame him for the vaulting inflation. Last year, for the fifth successive year since his notorious land grab, the economy declined once again, to take the cumulative loss in GDP to 40 per cent. Outside agencies have estimated inflation at between 300 and 400 per cent. Even the government press accepts that something is wrong, try heroically though they do to sell it as a success: 'Inflation falls to 127.7 per cent!' shouted the irony-free front page of last Saturday's Herald. Enough figures: what it means is that no one has any money. No money to pay people to work on the land. No money to irrigate. No aid agencies to bring in food from outside: last year a proud Mugabe ordered the UN to stop distributing supplies. Zimbabwe had so much food, he said, it was 'choking' on it.
What they are choking on down in the Gwayi valley is, of course, dust. This river in Matabeleland, between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls, once fat enough to have a station and junction named after it, should have been swollen to safety, or even surfeit, by the last month of the rainy season: it is instead a shambles of stagnant pools. For 50 miles east and west, the smaller rivers are simply caked red mud and stone. The only movement, apart of course from the flies, comes from the occasional group of villagers trying to dig boreholes near the centre, where once the rivers were deepest. Drive along the empty main road, west to what the country knows as Vic Falls and the Hwange National Park, and at first sight the coming devastation is hard to imagine. Baboons scamper. Baobab trees, inside whose giant-trunked greyness the guerrillas cut hideaways from government soldiers during the war of independence, loom and fascinate every half-mile, and the roadsides are fringed richly with other woods, the silver mohonono and the dark-barked motsouri. But stop the car, far from the roadblocks, and curse the flies, and force your way through the undergrowth for a hundred yards and the vision is grim. Mile after sulking brown mile of failed maize. The staple crop for all Zimbabwe, it should by now be two metres high, fat with corn, ready next month to be harvested and milled for villagers to make their porridgey mealy-meal, the rice or potatoes of this part of the world, the main meal of the day, perhaps with a little meat or fish if it can be afforded (with inflation at a triumphant 127 per cent, it can't).
But the crop stands perhaps a metre high, the cobs tiny, ill-formed and tasting of doom. The top third has sprouted, dry brown grass rustling closer to death with every hour of sun. Fields of tobacco plants, once a good earner, are mournful parchment windmills. Every time I stopped in Matabeleland I saw the same; and the same again on the six-hour drive back from Bulawayo to Harare, to within 80 miles from the capital. The fields are a mess. The drought has something to do with it, in that there's been no water. National inflation and poverty have something to do with it, in that the minimal wages for farmworkers are worth less and less each month, and unemployment in some rural areas has hit 80 per cent. Mugabe's land grab has something to do with it, in that there are no farmers to underpay the non-existent farm workers. The last tiny handful of the 10.4 million productive acres on 4,500 white-run farms, which created jobs and grew food and exported in 2000, are in the process of being forcibly repossessed, and now even Mugabe admits it's not going swimmingly well. According to state television, he has 'expressed disappointment with the land use, saying only 44 per cent of the land distributed is being fully utilised'. Tobacco production is down 70 per cent from 2000. Government figures themselves estimate there are 5.8 million acres of maize farmland lying fallow, even if there had been rain. When Tendai Biti, economic affairs spokesman for the MDC, said that 'it has been a phenomenal and absolute failure on every level' he was pulling his punches. The latest report from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network placed Zimbabwe's looming food crisis second in the world to Ethiopia's, judging that 5.8 million were at risk. This report was made in January, before the rains failed.
The kindly Shoko, who drove me for a day, is happy to speak inside his car, if reticent to the point of autism in any public place. 'You won't get people to talk unless you're alone in a room or in a car. But it's completely obvious. We all knew white farmers, and not one of them deserved what happened. Not one. Say what you will. They knew the land, they had money and were pretty fair. They paid us, and we grew food. Now ... well, I don't need to explain. Look out of the window. What a simple mess it is.' Patience, whom I meet one morning near Bulawayo, has already walked four round miles, from hut to nearest trickle of river, for water. She will make the journey twice more, maybe three times, that day, with the jug on her head - yes, they really do that, and live in mud huts, the whole shebang - depending on how much her youngest, Lindiwe, cries. She doesn't know what is wrong with her, she can't afford a doctor, and there aren't any. What's wrong with her, surely, is that some parts of the world tend to get more than their share of the very worst bits of the biblical ills. Matabeleland, southern Zimbabwe, is a grand spot to pick up malaria, cholera and leprosy - if you've been spared Aids - so what would really gee them up now would be a spot of drought and famine, garnished with locusts and tyranny. 'We are not starving. Not yet. But if you've come this far you have seen the fields. The rain is over. The food will not come.' She is not, palpably, sad; or dramatic; or even very friendly. If I was to sum up her attitude as honestly as I could, it would be in a far less than poetic phrase, and that would be 'f….d off'.
Or resigned, but actually the phrase with the swear word, in its sense of 'having once hoped', is truer to the mark. It was the attitude, in Victoria Falls, of all the staff who have watched their tourist-funded livelihoods evaporate as fast as the gossamer spray: of Samuel, who made me an inedible pizza for which he had to charge me his weekly wage (the equivalent of £12), and doesn't get to eat the leftovers, and didn't know what he was going to eat that night. I leave what I hope is a fabulous tip, then spend three minutes struggling to stuff the remaining change of tens of thousands of joke inflationary Zim dollars into the front pocket of my jeans. It comes, I later realise, to about 10p. There were, that lunchtime, eight other tourists walking the Falls: eight. Everyone, especially whites, comes from Zambia. The Zambian side has seen tourist numbers rise from 160,000 in 2001 to 610,000 last year. By far the best view of the largest single curtain of water on Earth lies on the Zimbabwean side, but there were eight trippers. This weekend there will be more visitors to Cromer. In Victoria Falls, as the sun set, staff were going through the bins.
There is an answer, of course. On 31 March, Zimbabwe goes to the polls. There is, in many places, a palpable sense that the MDC could this time triumph. They have fought a brave campaign: simply standing, in some areas, is evidence enough of courage. And there is, in every place where people are willing to speak, a clear message: the West, and its tourist dollars and its trade, are needed back again. 'I was too young to remember much before independence,' says Jimmy, in the dark bar in Bulawayo. 'I don't think I would have had much time for the white farmers, then. Older men I know hated it, I think. It was right to change. It was our country. Mugabe must have been right. But nobody can still believe this is the answer, when we have no money, no light, and soon no food. You don't need a degree in politics to make the arguments, you just need to look around. Can you buy me a beer?' It's the same with drivers, hamburger-sellers, the boys on the roadside with a cup of peanuts to sell, the pretty girls in Harare's poshest hotel with sex to sell, the disarmingly frank policeman who admits he helped beat up MDC supporters last time round but will vote for them this month because he doesn't want to go hungry and wants to marry again. And sometimes you can begin to hope: enthusiasm infects, as does simple logic. A regime change would win instant backing from outside: would reopen trade and aid - and, of course, all the self-serving posturing that comes with each - but mostly it would keep people alive.
Sometimes, away from the small cars and dark rooms where people can speak freely, you can begin to dare to think that this might, after all, approach a democratic election. The state-run press and its trumpeting of democratic freedoms are ludicrous. 'Peace, calm reign: police' reads one headline in the Herald. Some of its choicer headlines during my week in the country - slipped in along such joys as 'Gold panner crushed to death' and 'Binga man dies after hippo attack' - included 'MDC hasn't learnt anything', 'Things fall apart for MDC', 'MDC desperate, in permanent panic' and the splendidly impartial 'Why we should vote Zanu-PF'. But I'm trying to be desperately fair here, with my white liberal guilt, and I have to say that, when the papers say there has been a marked diminution of violence since the last election, I am inclined to believe them. Government and opposition parties have both called repeatedly for a poll free of intimidation. In my six days in Zimbabwe intimidation may have been happening, but I didn't see it so I can't report on it. People around Bulawayo spoke of MDC meetings being broken up and those wearing the party's T-shirts being beaten. As I walked through Kwekwe, every MDC election poster was smothered in angry black paint. But of the youth squads who last time broke pregnant women with sticks and beheaded men with machetes, there was no sign. The MDC alleges the government is supplying (late) grain to favoured areas to secure votes: as I saw no aid at all, I can't bear witness.
This is a different election. Mugabe is, apparently, trying to play fair in the eyes of the world. Sadly, this is only a different election because he is being bad more subtly. Gone are the machetes. But, also, gone too is the hope. The vote-counting will be administered by the army. The ballot-boxes are made of transparent plastic. Counting will be done after nightfall. Rural voters make up 65 per cent of the population. Counting after nightfall in most places means counting in huts by candle or torchlight, by hungry soldiers whose guns and food are paid for by the government, counting out votes from transparent ballot-boxes. No fewer than 800,000 dead people are on the electoral register. Exiles cannot vote. Opposition candidates cannot get hold of the register: one I spoke to said he had been promised a copy in mid-April, a little while after he's been defeated. Most remote villagers, according to Shoko, who was once one himself, have been told that a 'central computer' can work out, between one and two weeks after the poll, which way each village voted. The threat, with famine looming, does not have to be further stated. The Southern Africa Development Community, to which Mugabe signed up in a flurry of apparent accountability, has just been refused access to observe, after a bout of legalistic semantics that would win applause from Jesuits.
I saw tanks moving from Kwekwe to Harare, which last week had to shut down half its dwindling water supply for three days due to leaks and faults it can't afford to mend. Meanwhile, Mugabe busied himself giving interviews to the Herald about his favourite music (Mozart, Beethoven, the choral singer Olivia Charamba) and revealing that he once wrote a poem about the plight of orphans. It's a less violent, more subtle game this time, and of course he'll win again. Last time round there was simply fear. Now there is a more insidious threat: economic death. Even if it doesn't, quite, win the global headlines, it works effectively enough if you're a poor, empty-bellied bastard in the dark, four miles away from brackish water gulped beneath dead maize. The threat of a sore belly, of continued poverty, of recriminations; of angry sponsored boys, fit, armed, in berets. The terribly real imminence of famine. The threat that other African leaders, who could truly make a difference, will fall for corrupt statistics from Zimbabwe and do nothing. And still, I am dissuaded that language and statistics have no part to play. People are bone-weary of the capricious, mendacious, pocket-stuffing old lunatic. And the honest figures do, indeed, tell their story. Robert Mugabe is 81. Life expectancy in Zimbabwe is 33.
From The Sunday Independent (SA), 20 March
Mugabe gives hungry masses food for thought
By Christelle Terreblanche
Masvingo - The sensational land grabs that highlighted the 2000 Zimbabwe national elections have made way for something far more subtle, yet insidious. In the deep rural areas of the drought-stricken country, election 2005 is characterised by hunger and the politics of food. Not only is the hunger partly the result of the botched land redistribution programme, it appears in itself to represent another grab for control by the ruling Zanu PF of the most essential means of living. Opposition supporters claim they have to produce Zanu PF cards to get maize, and attending an opposition rally could cost them many meals. In the southeastern Masvingo province drought has persisted for three years and stocks of maize meal are running out after another failed harvest and amid rising unemployment. The crisis came to a head this week in the small rural villages surrounding Great Zimbabwe. At a rally in Bikita village, President Robert Mugabe for the first time acknowledged there was a food crisis, after months of stern denial. As he was speaking, however, the state-run radio was still pumping out the daily assurance that there was a bumper harvest and the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) had ample reserves.
Mugabe was confronted in Bikita by the undeniable fact that the province had run completely out of grain earlier this month. "We are aware that many people have nothing in their fields," he said. "The government will not let people die of hunger, especially since they live in the area of Great Zimbabwe. At the moment the GMB is saying it has enough stocks to last the nation over the next three months." Mugabe said one of the main problems in getting grain to rural towns was the lack of transport. There has been no petrol in Masvingo since Thursday, except at the government-run fuel station. Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), visited nearby Nemamwa village the next day and urged supporters not to be intimidated by traditional leaders. "There is a scramble for food," the MDC leader said. "Chiefs and traditional leaders are being used selectively by the heavy Zanu PF administrative structures to use food to coerce support. That is what we have been condemning. We are doing everything to ensure that food is not becoming a weapon to intimidate, but as you can see there is a crisis on the ground."
Lucia Masekesa, the chairperson of the MDC's Masvinga Women's Assembly, said food was being channelled only to Zanu PF supporters, through traditional leaders. "All of them are Zanu PF because some got land and most got vehicles. "It is part of the campaigning which started early last year already," she said. "The chiefs have the power to go to the GMB to get maize and distribute it to Zanu PF supporters. Others go hungry." Like everyone else, she believes the government is importing maize despite its assurances of a bumper harvest. Trying to get clarity from Masvinga's main GMB depot was futile. Managers were in consultation with the Zanu PF provincial governor, who has to approve all distribution. Later the Zanu PF candidate for the area turned up in his campaign vehicle to load up supplies. When Independent Newspapers tried to photograph this, soldiers at the facility became threatening. Bags of maize being delivered by train were unmarked, so it could not be determined if the maize had been imported. International aid workers in the area who provided food during the past three dry seasons started to scale down their operations late last year after the passing of a draconian law that limits their activities.
Members of three aid organisations spoke to The Sunday Independent on condition of anonymity. "If you print my name you may as well dig my grave," one said. Another said Zanu PF was mainly deploying food "as a campaign tool" in the rural areas, where people were "definitely not self-sufficient at the moment" and "many are starving". "Nobody is harvesting," an aid worker said. "No one but the government has access to the strategic grain reserve. There is nothing like free and fair distribution." The aid workers said that until December last year the maize had been given out by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to agencies to distribute to those most in need. Then in December the government suspended all contracts with dispensing NGOs, ordering the WFP to clear its stock of food. At the same time it assured the nation there were ample reserves. Since then it has asked for no donor food, leaving the national maize reserves to run critically low.
Zimbabwe election has 'no chance' of being fair
By Paul Lord in Harare
Less than two weeks before the general election in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe's state-run media are doing all they can to distract voter attention from the country's economic plight.
One newspaper prints a photograph of a dead cow lying in what appear to be the plentiful green pastures of Zimbabwe, where an estimated five million people are at risk of death from starvation.
"A cow dies in Matabeleland North," the caption reads, referring to the province around the second city of Bulawayo, "one of many dead from eating too much grass."
Mr Mugabe's opponents, who fear that readers will believe the propaganda, are in increasing despair about the lack of political debate in the election campaign.
The government has closed down five independent newspapers in the past two years. Two journalists have been tortured and the Daily News was bombed twice in 2003.
"There is nothing as evil as to starve people of information," says one high-ranking education official. "It's like living in the old Soviet Union. We know nothing about the opposition; all information is government-controlled."
Zimbabwe's opposition is braced for dirty tricks and vote-rigging on the day of the ballot on March 31, even though the campaign has so far been spared the widespread violence which marred the elections in 2000.
They say that Zanu-PF, which narrowly won in 2000, has simply switched tactics. "They've learned their lesson," said Dave Coltart, an MP for the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). "Zanu understands now that they can't have these images of people being shot, so the methods of intimidation are far more insidious."
Diplomats and the leaders of humanitarian organisations in Harare believe that there is no chance of a fair election in Zimbabwe, where inflation is running at 600 per cent and 90 per cent of people live on less than a dollar a day.
"No president in the world would be elected with this economic performance," one diplomatic official said. "It simply can't be free and fair, no matter how peaceful. The books are cooked ahead of time and were it not for fraud and violence the MDC would clearly win."
Mr Mugabe has appointed a colonel as the head of Zimbabwe's new electoral commission, and new laws place the army in charge of polling stations, and allow military officers to serve as election officials.
"In remote rural areas, polling will end at 7pm," said Mr Coltart, the MDC's secretary for legal affairs. "Votes will be counted in a tent 60km from the nearest phone, with a soldier running the process, police around him, a Zanu war veteran observer appointed by Mugabe, the agent representing Zanu as a party - and one MDC representative present. It's going to take a brave MDC guy, in a rural area at night, 60km from a phone, to say, 'No, that's not a Zanu vote, it's an MDC vote'."
Mr Coltart believes that the voter roll, which the government will not release, is packed with the names of dead people.
"There are about 12 million people in Zimbabwe, half of whom are under the voting age of 18, and a quarter of whom are abroad, but the voter roll has 5.8 million people on it," he said. "How is that?" He also suspected that Zanu-PF would simply announce the results in its favour, regardless of the votes cast. After the last election, he said, 39 legal challenges were lodged over the results but five years on the courts have still to rule on any of them.
"Not a single one has worked," he said. "I'm entitled to see all the court documents, but to date I haven't seen a single ballot page.
"Zanu-PF know this. They think, 'We don't even have to stuff the ballots, we just have to announce the results' - no one is even counting! They've got all the machinery in place to rig it. The big question isn't if they will do it, but how they will do it."
President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party, which has been in power for a quarter of a century, will win by a large margin. It will not reflect the people’s choice: if that were honoured, Mugabe’s party would be toppled from power after March 31.
But the ballot has been comprehensively rigged in advance by a wide range of strategies.
The critical consideration for Mugabe, an embittered, ruthless and clever man, is to decide how many seats the opposition will be allowed to win. He will then proclaim to the world that Zimbabwe is a functioning democracy, although it is in truth a military dictatorship, closely resembling Romania under the late Nicolae Ceausescu. Just as Ceausescu could have been a hero but instead went down the killing and robbing road, so Mugabe has followed the same route, ruining his country, poisoned by belief in his own infallibility and misplaced pride, the age-old companion to despots.
A soberly forensic dissection by one of the world’s biggest human rights advocacy organisations, Human Rights Watch (HRW), of Mugabe’s emasculation of the democratic process will be released in Johannesburg tomorrow, dismissing in detail any possibility that the Zimbabwe election can be free or fair.
The report, entitled Not A Level Playing Field and compiled by an HRW team that has spent several weeks undercover in Zimbabwe, concludes: “With only days remaining before voters go to the polls, it is clear that the [Zimbabwe] government has not adequately met the benchmarks set by the SADC [Southern African Development Community] principles and guidelines governing democratic elections.”
Those guidelines were set last August at a crisis meeting of the SADC, southern Africa’s most important regional grouping. The principles laid down included full participation of citizens in the political process; freedom of association; political tolerance; equal opportunity for all parties to state media access; independence of the judiciary; independence of the media; impartiality of electoral institutions; and voter education.
Mugabe and Zanu-PF fail to meet any of those principles. Take “political tolerance”, for example. Dzikamayi Chiyau-siku, risking two years in prison for reporting without a government licence from Zimbabwe for the London-based Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), said in his latest despatch that villagers are being forced to attend Zanu-PF rallies and warned that food aid will be withheld if they vote for the opposition.
Chiyausiku’s report from Marondera, a once richly productive farming area 50 miles east of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, also describes the fear under which supporters of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), are conducting their election campaign.
The MDC has been warned by Mugabe’s personal storm-troopers, the violent National Youth Militia that many parts of the country are “no go” areas for its campaigners.
The situation is well illustrated in Marondera, where defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi controversially won by just 63 votes in 2000, despite widespread intimidation and allegations of vote rigging. Sekeramayi, who runs the feared Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), declared Marondera and its surrounding area of decaying farms a no-go area for the MDC. Nevertheless, there is a spirit of opposition defiance in Marondera – perhaps boosted by Mugabe’s slight relaxation of the onslaught on them, confident in the belief that he has already engineered a two-thirds majority that will enable him to change the country’s constitution.
Unexpectedly, following Mugabe’s loosening of his iron grip, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was last week able to hold the town’s first opposition rally. It was attended by 600 people. Some men were brave enough to wear MDC T-shirts, an open invitation for a beating from the stormtroopers, and a 33-year-old woman, who identified herself as Mercy, wore an MDC headscarf. Many hundreds more people, including ominous CIO agents, gazed at the rally from a distance.
“Those people over there remember the beatings of past years,” said Mercy, gesturing to the bystanders. “But I am not afraid any more. I have been arrested by the police and raped twice and my children have been beaten to the ground in front of me. They have done their worst and I have survived.”
When MDC candidate Ian Kay began his election campaign, he initially held meetings in caves in to avoid harassment by Sekeramayi’s supporters and the police – now subverted and loyal to Mugabe rather than the state – who broke up every gathering of more than five opposition supporters.
While Kay, one of only five white people contesting seats in the forthcoming election, is confident he has more support than the defence minister, it is probably irrelevant given the levels of intimidation and rigging. Marondera is infamous for election violence.
In 2000, Kay’s MDC predecessor was run out of town and his house burned down. MDC supporters were tortured. Just two weeks ago, the Methodist church that Kay helped build was burned to the ground by Zanu-PF militants.
Kay himself was severely assaulted and left for dead two years ago when 60 Zanu-PF supporters invaded and occupied his 5000-acre farm near Marondera. A young policeman who tried to help was killed by the invaders. The 120 people Kay employed and 380 dependents were driven, along with the Kay family, from their home.
Kay refused to leave the country and, when asked why he and his wife stayed, he said: “We’re all Zimbabweans. We’re worth fighting for.”
Fred Bridgland, the Sunday Herald’s Africa correspondent, is working on a short-term assignment as editor of the Zimbabwe Election Report for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting. The daily report can be accessed at www.iwpr.net
20 March 2005
They had no drugs, not even cotton wool to block the blood that was oozing from his nose and mouth.
Shelter Chakaipa of Musinamani Village brought her critically ill husband, Tamanikwa, for treatment at the hospital in a hired scotch-cart, but was shell-shocked whenshe was told the hospital had no drugs, not even ordinary painkillers.
She said Tamanikwa was suffering from severe nose and mouth bleeding.
They were referred to Chegutu, several kilometres away. She did not have any money to hire a vehicle nor could she use the scorch-cart because of the distance.
Chakaipa said: "My husband has been sick for the past four days. We took him to Musinamani clinic. We were referred here (Mhondoro District Hospital) but we have been told there is no medicine to treat him. They say we have to proceed to Chegutu.
"I don't know what to do now because we have no money and no transport to take him there. We hired this scotch cart, to bring him here but because Chegutu is further away, we don't know what to do."
Touched by the plight of the couple, a few wellwishers who had witnessed the incident contributed a few "cents" to assist them to travel to Chegutu for medical assistance.
Although Mhondoro Hospital has been operational for more than 20 years, the health centre does not have an ambulance to ferry patients in case of an emergency.
Nelson Makore, nurse- in-charge of Mhondoro Hospital dismissed claims that Chakaipa had been "turned away", insisting that the move was part of the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare's referral system.
"We have not turned them away, but we have refereed them to a place where we know they will get better services," Makore said.
"We do not keep patients when we know there is nothing we can do for them."
Asked why the hospital had no basic medical supplies such as cotton wool and general painkillers, Makore said they were "just out of supplies".
Zimbabwe's health delivery system, which was once the envy of Africa, is experiencing its worst crisis since independence. There is a critical shortage of drugs, equipment and medical personnel. Scores of nurses and other medical staff have left the country for greener pastures abroad.
Meanwhile as Taminikwa lay seriously ill outside the hospital, aspiring Mhondoro Zanu PF candidate, Sylvester Nguni, was addressing a rally in the locality, pleading with civil servants to "vote wisely" in the forthcoming elections.
In some cases, the opposition party alleged, the polling stations are situated at headmen and chiefs' homesteads. The majority of traditional leaders are known Zanu PF supporters.
MDC spokesperson Paul Themba-Nyathi said that there were more polling stations in rural constituencies than in urban centres, where the opposition party enjoys political support.
"Some of the polling stations have been put in areas which are not easily accessible and I think this is a deliberate attempt by Zanu PF to rig this election. This is not an issue of population density; who doesn't know that Zanu PF enjoys more support in rural constituencies," Themba-Nyathi said.
Polling stations were increased to 8 227, up from below 5 000 used in the 2000 general elections. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) however, argues that the increase in number of polling stations was because voting would now be done on a single day.
Addressing a rally in Marondera recently MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai complained about the increased number of polling stations saying this would facilitate poll rigging.
MDC candidate for Mudzi West, Shorai Tsungu, said some of the polling stations were situated at known Zanu PF supporters' homes and headmen's homesteads.
A list of the polling stations in Mudzi West shows that Hodzi Homestead, Tizora Homestead, Chitseke Tuckshop and a number of Villages are going to be used as polling stations. "This time the polling stations are too many," Tsungu said.
He said there are 90 polling stations in the constituency catering for about 180 villages.
MDC candidate for Zengeza constituency, Goodrich Chimbaira, was worried about a polling station, which is in Chawasarira bus garage. However, a list from ZEC indicates that the polling station would be on an open space.
"The polling station is supposed to be an open space but thee is no open space at all. We tried to argue that this was not the right place but Christopher Chigumba (Zanu PF candidate) insisted," Chimbaira said. There are 29 polling stations in the constituency.
In some instances, there will also be two polling stations at one school. Clinics would also be used as polling stations.
The MDC said in Harare there are a number of polling stations that are situated in housing co-operatives that are dominantly Zanu PF.
The affected constituencies include Harare North, Harare South and Tafara-Mabvuku.
"Some polling stations in Kariba are on islands and I think they would be used to rig this election," said the MDC.
ZEC chief elections officer Lovemore Sekeramayi said political parties with complaints on the electoral processes should contact the organisation.
"We have not received any information or complaints about that, but if anyone has a problem they should consult us," Sekeramayi said.
Zanu PF spokesperson on elections, Webster Shamu, was still to respond to questions faxed to him by the time of going to print.