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Daily News - Leader Page

Zimpapers, ZBC journalists dividing nation

5/2/02 2:53:57 PM (GMT +2)

I ADDRESS this letter to all the journalists at The Herald, The Sunday Mail
and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. I write this letter with a
bleeding heart.

My heart is bleeding because I do not understand whether we live in the same
country with you people. I wonder whether anyone of you is suffering as we,
the majority of Zimbabweans, are.

Have any of you waited in a queue for maize-meal or cooking oil, or you are
not affected by the current shortages because you get your supplies direct
from a secret source? Have you ever listened to what the people are saying
in the kombis, in nightclubs and even in barber shops and hair salons?

Because if we are living in the same country, I find it difficult to
comprehend why you fiercely defend President Mugabe and his Zanu PF party
the way you do.

How is it that in your reports you say the people’s will prevailed, yet
wherever I go, the very same people are crying? The common cry is that their
plight will get worse. If reports that there was jubilation in your
newsrooms are true, then maybe you were some of the very few people who were
elated by Mugabe’s victory. Because most of us have a deep-seated belief
that Mugabe cheated his way to victory.

What worries me is that among those who voted for President Mugabe is my own
mother, who lives in the impoverished Chivi South constituency in Masvingo
Province. She, together with thousands of other rural voters, were denied a
chance to make an informed decision and Zanu PF, with your assistance, made
sure that no other party was allowed to campaign in the rural areas.

You called the MDC all sorts of names, and the President, respected as he is
supposed to be, had the nerve to say, “Tsvangirai akashata kumeso zvese
nemoyo” (Morgan Tsvangirai is just as heartless as he is ugly)”.

Your special correspondents and political editors travelled across the
country covering presidential rallies. You witnessed how people were
suffering; no food, no water, no hospitals, inaccessible roads and all, but
you still urged them to vote for Zanu PF, to extend their poverty for
another six years. Do you people have anything that resembles a conscience,
or you have been brainwashed into doing anything for money?

Six years is no joke, and all indications are that these will be six years
of finishing off whatever remained of our economy. Do you really enjoy your
work at the ZBC or at Herald House, or you have to do it because there is
nowhere else to go?

Do you honestly believe that Mugabe won because he held 51 rallies against
Tsvangirai’s eight. Do you think attending a rally can end people’s poverty?

Do you think that people gained anything by being told that Tony Blair is a
very bad man, that Tsvangirai was once a “tea boy,” or that the MDC is a
movement for “dogs and cats?”

The First Lady donated sewing machines and money in a number of provinces,
and my mother must have thought she was a very kind and generous person.

But, learned ladies and gentlemen, don’t you think this was a vote-buying
tactic? If someone else had done it, don’t you think that they might have
been arrested? In your opinion, do you really believe that the election was
free and fair, or do you know the election was not but can’t say it?

In other countries television and radio personalities are heroes, but here
most of you have become objects of scorn and ridicule. Does it bother you,
or you don’t care as long as you get your monies at the end of the month,
and as long as you accompany the President on his many trips abroad? People
out here are very angry. You mistake their quietness and calm for acceptance
of the results, which is very wrong.

When the country got independence in 1980 I was still very young. But I read
about the liberation struggle at school, in your papers and also heard from
my father and even from radio and television. I must say that Mugabe and
company were fighting for a very worthy cause, that they were very brave and
courageous heroes who should be honoured forever. If it were not for him and
thousands of others, I probably would not even dare to challenge the
authorities as I am doing now. We thank them for bringing us freedom to be
an independent and sovereign nation, and indeed that independence must be
guarded jealously.

But I do not agree that the MDC wanted to give the country back to the
whites. There might have been a number of whites who were mistaken into
believing that our fight against our own government meant that we wanted to
go back to the colonial era. We want our land as everyone else, but we do
not believe that the fast-track land reform was the best way forward.

Whites might have controlled the bulk of the commercial farming sector, but
who let them control it? The government had twenty years to sort things out,
but they didn’t because they were busy amassing personal wealth. Yes,
Tsvangirai might have made errors of judgment here and there, but instead of
giving fair comment, you sought to capitalise on his mistakes and forgot
that the issue for us was not really Tsvangirai as an individual, but
getting our economy moving.

We all know that Mugabe is a great orator, but only you see the good in
Mugabe. Surely a leader in power for 22 years is bound to make mistakes, but
there is no mention of his shortfalls from you. Young people are leaving the
country in their thousands to seek greener pastures elsewhere. They are
running away from home to go somewhere where they are treated as
second-class citizens, yet they have a country of their own.

But you don’t even care, you are only concerned about the short-term gains.

All along I thought journalists were there to foster unity, but I have
realised that you are there to divide the society. For how can you explain
the actions of a reporter who goes around interviewing white people for
their reaction to the presidential election results, yet the majority of
people who voted for the MDC are actually black. Why do you want to insult
everyone by giving the impression that MDC supporters are stooges of the

Never before in my life have I found it necessary to direct my displeasure
directly at you, because I know you never give a damn. Whether or not you
read it this article, I have to say that you are doing your nation a great
disservice. I don’t think I can endure another six years under President
Mugabe. And I believe I am talking on behalf of millions of other

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African leaders are the continent’s worst enemies

Marko Phiri
5/3/02 1:27:18 AM (GMT +2)

RABID "nationalists" from all over Africa have argued time and again about
the evils of colonisation and how the continuing "meddling" in the affairs
of the continent by the West has brought untold suffering to its people.

However, blaming history is yet to solve the continent’s woes as there are
no clear efforts to make better those ills engendered by colonial rule.

Thus President Robert Mugabe, who has been accused of stealing the March
9-11 election, said in one of his campaign rallies that whites "should keep
their pink noses out of our business"! He did not subsequently apologise or
claim he was misquoted.

Local economist John Robertson invited the wrath of many here a few months
back when he pointed to the "gains" brought to the continent by
colonialists. But as Africans attempt to debunk those myths and unravel the
true nature of the white man’s contribution to the existence of the black
lot here, they have not used the language and means any better than the
white man who came to settle among them centuries ago.

Not only has the language been coarse, but many of the "subjects" have
complained of bad governance, deprivation of constitutional liberties and
gnawing hunger which saw even in the 1980s some hungry blacks yearning for
the white years when primary school kids got milk for free!

And it is only last year that then then Radio Two had an old lady being
interviewed (in one of Ezra Sibanda’s programmes where he visited the rural
areas and spoke with the old folk) saying life was better before

Today milk is one of the scarce basic commodities in Zimbabwe!

Thus it may be genuinely asked if at all we are in a position to claim
superior moral justification in "our" attempts to take back "our" land when
all the same the lives of the people here are becoming worse than they ever

Obviously there have been no qualms about the business of inverse racism
here which has sought to present that evil "ism" as being acceptable because
the wrath comes from the mouth of a black man this time round.

But along the way we also come to realise that while the 21st century
preoccupation in African politics and its international relations is to
quickly jump to the side of the fellow black nation accused of some
misdemeanour, or its president rather, what is fundamentally ignored is that
the same evils that the black powers are roundly condemned for committing
present themselves on the same footing with those of the white folks the new
war is being waged against.

The fellow black presidents are meanwhile not interested in all that talk
about not only altruistic ideals, but what should rightly obtain in any
country claiming a place among the civilised world, so they put their weight
behind one of their own.

As Africa attempts to build links between its member countries — and also
the rest of the world — it is thus fair to ask where then the white man will
fit in within that renaissance mosaic. But what is renaissance when it does
not mean being born anew, when it does not mean the extinction of bad
governance and pursuance of economic policies aimed at bettering the
mendicant existence of the populations?

Now there is talk about the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)
with its claim toward sustainable development, "peace, security, democracy
and (good) political governance".

We wonder yet how the South Africans who are at the forefront of this huge
task are to reconcile its ideals with flawed economic policies of its
northward neighbour that have seen a reported three million Zimbabweans
finding homes on the pavements of Joburg. And there has always been a
correlation between the huge influx of illegal immigrants and the high
incidence of crime.

The South African experience has been no exception. Thus we ponder the
success of the African renaissance and NEPAD amid all those socio-political
and economic challenges which the African governments choose to ignore.

Libya itself has previously been waging a brutal war against illegal
immigrants which resonated across Africa, but its president has presented
himself as a modern-day Hercules carrying Africa on his shoulders.

Perhaps the governments cannot afford to stand on the moral pedestal and
"see the speck in the eye of their brother and ignore the log in their own".

Black-on-black discrimination has replaced the yesteryear evil that gave
birth to the nationalist-driven liberation struggles. Economic
discrimination is more profound now than it ever was, and the streets that
have become one huge market place for any good or service attest to that.

The extremes between poverty and wealth are just that — extreme.

Where poverty proliferates, know that the ideals of democracy have been
deleted from the country’s political vocabulary.

But despite all the evidence, bad governance which has been the theme song
of many governments in this continent has asserted its monolithic presence,
and the helmsmen still have the audacity to talk "economic empowerment". And
in Zimbabwe government spokesmen gloat that they cannot be lectured on
matters of good governance because they brought democracy to this land.

But what empowerment when it ultimately does not reflect on the quality of
life led by the peoples of the continent? Politics is like no other sphere
of life where, for example, we have heard of tales about pugilists who
earned millions during their heyday but died paupers.

In politics the self-aggrandisement has meant farewell to one’s mendicant
days, if these ever existed. And exit from power only comes after the nest
has been generously lined with the filthy lucre. The talk of building links
between African states has meanwhile ignored this malfeasance.

Which African leader can stand up today and say he/she did not know about
Mobutu Sese Seko or Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s personalisation of their
countries’ monies or the vast and obscene opulence they lived in while the
natives in Kinshasa and Lilongwe, the centres of government that are
supposed to reflect the country’s wealth or lack thereof, wallowed in dire

The passage of time would ideally require us to look back at history and
make strenuous efforts not to entertain an atavistic throwback, so to speak,
but the amnesia of local politicians has turned out to be congenital. For
how else would we explain the bull-headed replay of flawed economic policies
and other such evils that have been perpetrated against fellow Africans?

For one thing about all this African solidarity despite all pointers
demanding a collective uproar among the brethren, the rift created at the
Commonwealth seen as pitting black Africa against the white West on
Zimbabwe, we examine where the African leaders think their bread is
buttered, and come to see them as nothing but cunning foxes. As soon as the
doors close, the same chaps line up with plates in hand for foreign aid!

If all internal or international disputes between countries are to be
approached not with fair, open-minded analysis and appreciation of all the
"givens" with the view toward problem solving, but guided instead by the
issue of solidarity dictated by skin pigmentation, then we can be sure that
Africa’s woes will remain part of us and greedily sought after by the media
up North.

It thus goes to explain why the continent has failed dismally to have
homegrown solutions to its many social, economic and political migraines.
How do you berate somebody whom you will be called upon to stand by when the
same stick is wielded by a "white president" somewhere in Europe or America?

After all, the same African governments will employ those tactics themselves
when they come to hold their own elections. Small wonder then that the
Organisation of African Unity (OAU), since its inception, stood by when
atrocities where committed against civilian populations by some unapologetic
despots. And all this despite its claim on its inception back in 1963 that
it would seek to "coordinate and intensify their (the member states)
cooperation and efforts to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa".

The only cooperation we have seen thus far has been toward the perpetuation
of the people’s suffering despite their deafening cry for help. While the
Western governments have had their more than fair share of blood on their
hands in this regard maintaining the rule of the despots, the continent’s
bodies have been but ceremonial.

The OAU itself apparently left all the nitty-gritty of good governance to
regional blocs like SADC and ECOWAS, but these have not lifted a finger in
the face of gross human rights abuses by member states. Now comes the
brainchild of the Libyan leader whose credentials as a democrat cannot be
said to be suspect but are as credible as the Loch Ness monster — nobody has
ever "conclusively" seen it!

The African Union (AU) will seek among other things to create an economic
bloc moulded along the lines of the European Union (EU), and we aware right
now of Turkey’s interest (and struggle) in joining that elite club for the
economic gains for its acceptance are tremendous. But before its dream is to
be realised it has to pass the test or convince member states that it
deserves admission and has to provide its own credentials as a kosher
democracy and also that it has a good human rights record.

Simply put, it must be a people- or citizen-friendly government. It is on
this score that the European countries and the US will not find common
ground with the Africans on the issue of the fairness of an election. If the
AU is to be taken seriously without critics being accused of being
inverterate cynics, the EU prerequisites have to be juxtaposed with those of
the AU and see if the African governments meet the bill.

Yet because of the African governments’ deathly silence amid the gross human
rights abuses by fellow African heads of state, and because they have as per
tradition looked the other way and instead accused the West and its media of
presenting all things African in bad light, we can be rest assured that our
woes will remain with us for a long time to come.

All are welcome: thieves, murderers, saints, you name it, they are found
within the "union". But we know that he who breaks bread with an evildoer is
no better himself.

It is therefore difficult for one to discern what values the African
governments themselves seek to champion or promote when they talk about a
union but condone human rights abuses, doctored electoral results, and what
seemingly is innate corruption. After all, its forerunner the OAU sought "to
achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa" but we still search the
gains made in that regard.

Thus we cannot seriously expect African observers in any election held in
this continent to come out of it saying there should be a re-run because the
field unfairly favoured the ruling parties, or the ruling parties made it
impossible for the opposition to access some constituencies, or sanctioned
the beating of opposition party supporters not only by its own activists,
but also the armed forces.

Marko Phiri is a Zimbabwean student of journalism.
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Church leaders meet MDC chief in bid to break impasse

Staff Reporter
5/3/02 2:32:01 AM (GMT +2)

A DELEGATION of church leaders met opposition Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai and secretary-general Welshman Ncube in
Harare yesterday in an effort to find ways to break the political impasse in
Zimbabwe following President Robert Mugabe’s disputed re-election in March.

The group, comprising leaders of various churches and led by Family of God
Church founder Andrew Wutawunashe, was also scheduled to meet Mugabe
yesterday to outline the churches’ concerns about the situation in the

The effort by church leaders comes at a time when South Africa and Nigeria
are facilitating talks between the ruling ZANU PF and the MDC to resolve the
political impasse that is worsening the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s economy has been hard hit by the international community’s
refusal to recognise Mugabe’s re-election in a poll they say was not free
and fair. The legitimacy of Mugabe’s re-election is among the issues that
will be discussed when the MDC-ZANU PF talks resume on May 13.

The meetings by the church leaders with Zimbabwe’s two main political
parties mark the first time that they have attempted to lend their weight to
efforts to broker a resolution to the country’s political woes.

Churches have been criticised for not strongly condemning politically
motivated violence and a campaign of retribution against MDC supporters
which human rights groups blame on ruling party activists after the
presidential election.

In fact, Anglican Bishop Nolbert Kunonga is included in a list of
Zimbabweans barred by the American government from visiting the United
States under the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act because of his
close links with ZANU PF.

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5/3/02 1:17:59 AM (GMT +2)

OUR editorial last week headlined "What price freedom?" based part of its
thrust on a reported murder of an MDC woman supporter in Magunje by alleged
followers of the ruling ZANU PF party.

It is now clear that no such incident happened, as reported by the Daily

For the avoidance of any doubt and in the interests of fairness and accuracy
which we cherish, we unreservedly apologise to ZANU PF for any inference in
that editorial which may have linked the party to the murder that did not
take place.

Our editorial however did make the point that the police, even at that
stage, had already disputed the reported murder.

But the thrust of our editorial — that President Robert Mugabe ought to
publicly condemn and act against several cases of politically motivated
violence — remains undiminished.

— Editor-in-Chief

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Daily News

Woman says police barred her from going to the toilet

5/2/02 2:59:50 PM (GMT +2)

By Lloyd Mudiwa

LYDIA Phiri, one of the 374 National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) members
who appeared at the Harare Magistrates’ Court recently shocked the
magistrate when she alleged that she was refused permission by the police to
go to the toilet and ended up soiling herself.

Another woman, Tracey Chakanyuka said she was denied permission to
breastfeed her child who was at home when she was arrested.

The shocking revelations came amid allegations by the NCA of human rights
abuses against the women, some of them with children as young as two-
months-old, who were arrested and detained by armed police in Kuwadzana.

They were charged with contravening a section of the Public Order and
Security Act by allegedly attending a preparatory meeting for a mass
demonstration by the NCA.

The women contended they were attending a consultative meeting on the

“We were made to do chores like clearing or picking up used condoms around
Warren Park Police Station,” said another woman.

The women were detained at Warren Park, Chitungwiza, Southerton and Harare
Central police stations.

A male police officer who accompanied the women when they came to court in a
police lorry dismissed the allegations of abuse as false, but police refused
to give an official comment. The magistrate, Wilbert Mandinde, granted the
NCA members $500 bail each and ordered them to remain at their residences.

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Daily News

More MDC activists arrested for allegedly bombing Mwale’s house

5/2/02 2:59:19 PM (GMT +2)

Political Editor

SIX more MDC supporters have been arrested in connection with the petrol
bomb attack on the house of Joseph Mwale, the Central Intelligence
Organisation operative implicated in the murder of MDC activists Tichaona
Chiminya and Talent Mabika.

This brings to 17 the number of people arrested in connection with the
alleged bombing. They are in custody, still to be formally charged and have
been denied access to their lawyers.

The MDC spokesman, Learnmore Jongwe, on Tuesday named those arrested as
Tendai Sahwe, Talent Barara, Benson Mukwanya, Lovemore Mbiri, Shaine Kidd
Morgan Mucharika.

The MDC lawyers, Chris Ndlovu and Trust Mhandu, visited Chimanimani Police
Station where the six are being held but they were allegedly denied access
“by a gun-wielding Mwale, who was clad in an army uniform and brandishing
an AK47 rifle as well as a pistol”.

“Mwale gave the two lawyers five minutes to leave the premises,” said
Jongwe. “They were frogmarched to their vehicle at gun point.”

He said the police were still looking for three more MDC activists in
connection with the case. The three are Pardon Maguta, Tiyayi Tsodzai and
David Mungengi.

A High Court judge ordered the prosecution Mwale and his colleagues for
their alleged involvement in the activists’ death during the June 2000
election campaign.

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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Zimbabwe's famished fields
Child in field of wilted maize
Crops have failed across the country
test hello test
By Energy Bara
Masvingo, southern Zimbabwe

Hunger has tightened its grip in Zimbabwe, as thousands abandon their homes in search of food.

My three children and I just eat anything that is edible.

Miriam Banda
The shortages have reached critical levels in Masvingo province where over 2 million people urgently need food aid.

The government has failed to provide food to starving villagers and in Masvingo, thousands have left their homes in search of edible wild fruits and roots.

Others are pinning their hopes on striking gold. About 5,000 villagers have settled along the banks of the Vogondo river, about 40 km (25 miles) south-east of Masvingo town, where they are looking for nuggets.

One of the gold-diggers, Raphael Muchori, says: "If we go back home, we will starve to death."

Hungry mouths

In the worst affected areas of Masvingo province, floods have destroyed nearly all crops and livestock.

Food relief in Zimbabwe
Lucky Zimbabweans get food aid
Miriam Banda, a mother of eight, said her family was now surviving by the grace of God since wild fruits have become standard fare.

"We just eat anything that is edible," she says. "My three children have since dropped out of school because of hunger".

In urban areas long queues of people searching for mealie-meal, the country's staple food, are ubiquitous.


The Grain Marketing Board has run out of maize and the situation shows no sign of improving.

The country has so far imported only 100,000 tons of maize from South Africa which is far below the country's monthly needs.

Zimbabwe needs about 150,000 tons a month to feed its population.

And where food is available, it is distributed along political lines.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says its members are left out from the food relief programmes.

The MDC's vice-chairman in Masvingo, Shaky Matake, said supporters "are not being given food by the government . They are sometimes even denied the right to buy the food if it is available".

Cold comfort

In a last-ditch effort to produce food, the government has planted maize near the town in Chiredzi, about 280km (160 miles) south east of Masvingo town.

But Mike Clarke of the Commercial Farmers Union says that will not help, given the possibility of frost there.

Food queue
The queues are ubiquitous in cities

"Farmers have tried on several occasions to grow the crop in the area to no avail," Mr Clarke said. "The programme is extremely expensive and will not succeed."

Officials from the meteorological department say it will be impossible to grow maize in the winter (June-August) because of the low temperatures.

Zimbabwe has also started importing yellow maize meant for animals to feed starving villagers.

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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Zimbabwe arrests condemned
Journalists protesting at new law
Journalists say the new laws make it impossible to work
Media groups have demanded the release of three journalists arrested in Zimbabwe earlier this week under tough new media laws.

Two journalists working for the country's only privately-owned newspaper, The Daily News, and the Harare correspondent of the British Guardian remain in police custody.

Among journalists here, everyone wonders who will be next

Dolores Meldrum
They are being detained in connection with a story claiming that a supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change had been beheaded.

The Daily News has since retracted its story after being unable to find the grave of the victim.

Under Zimbabwean law, Lloyd Mudiwa and Collin Chiwanza from the Daily News must be charged or released on Thursday - two days after they were picked up.

The Guardian's Andrew Meldrum was arrested on Wednesday.


The Vienna-based International Press Institute has condemned the latest arrests and called for the journalists' release.

"IPI believes that it is yet another attempt by Robert Mugabe's government to restrict the free flow of information through the intimidation and suppression of the media," said IPI head Johann P Fritz.


In an open letter to Mr Mugabe, he called on the Zimbabwean leader "to do everything possible to ensure that Meldrum is released forthwith."

Mr Meldrum's wife, Dolores, said that he was in good spirits and was sharing a cell with his colleagues from The Daily News.

"The police came to our front gate in their Land Rover at 7am in the morning. I don't think he was surprised. Among journalists here, everyone wonders who will be next."

Mr Meldrum's lawyer says he is accused of spreading false information - a charge which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.


Just days after Mr Mugabe's controversial re-election in March, he signed into law measures which severely curtail the activities of journalists.

Criticism of the president has become an offence, as is reporting "unauthorised" reports of cabinet meetings.

All journalists must register with a state-appointed commission, which has not yet been set up, and foreign correspondents will only be accredited for one-off events.



The Daily News report blamed supporters of President Mugabe's Zanu-PF for the "beheading" of a 53-year-old woman.

But last Saturday the paper's editor, Geoff Nyarota, said it appeared the newspaper had been misled by the husband.

"Until... Tadyanemhandu's grave is located and positively identified, we are left with no option but to... tender our most profound apologies to Zanu-PF, whose image was tarnished by the report in question," Mr Nyarota said.

Media restrictions

Reacting to the arrests, the editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, said it was "outrageous" that Mr Meldrum "should be the subject of criminal charges for doing the job of a reporter."

Mr Rusbridger called on the Zimbabwean Government "to release him immediately and to drop charges against him and his colleagues on The Daily News."

Mr Nyarota and the three journalists detained this week have all been charged under the new legislation on the media.

Mr Nyarota has been arrested several times since the Daily News was launched in 1999.

The paper's printing press and main office were both bombed last year.

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THURSDAY 02/05/02 15:49:27
Tory Zimbabwe fears
The Middle East crisis must not be allowed to divert attention from the
''appalling'' situation in post-election Zimbabwe, a Tory MP urged today.


During exchanges on coming parliamentary business, Julian Lewis (New Forest
East) raised the ``disaster situation`` in Zimbabwe, which he claimed was
``largely`` due to the maladministration of President Mugabe`s regime, and
the arrest of the Guardian`s correspondent there.

Guardian reporter Andrew Meldrum has been charged with publishing false
information under Zimbabwe`s draconian media laws and is being held at a
police station in Harare.

He is the latest in a string of journalists to face prosecution under the
country`s new and highly-criticised Access to Information and Protection of
Privacy Act.

Mr Lewis told the Commons the situation for journalists in Zimbabwe was
totally unacceptable.

It was important not to allow the Middle East crisis to divert attention
from events there now the election had been ``stolen`` as everyone

Commons Leader Robin Cook said the economic situation in Zimbabwe was
``appalling`` and there was now a real threat of hunger and suffering in a
country which traditionally was fertile and had actually exported food.

``That is overwhelming down, not to any failing on the part of the people,
but to the grotesque mismanagement and brutality of the Mugabe regime,`` he

``I entirely support you that we should not forget what is happening in that
country or stop our pressure on the regime in that country simply because
the elections are over and some television cameras have moved on.``

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ZIMBABWE: Union strike threat over high cost of living

JOHANNESBURG, 2 May (IRIN) - The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has threatened to call for a general strike should the government not take action to ease the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans.

ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo told IRIN on Thursday that workers were finding it difficult to cope with the high cost of living. Zimbabwe is experiencing an economic crisis exacerbated by a controversial land redistribution programme, a drought that has decimated crops and pushed up cereal food prices and the disputed re-election of President Robert Mugabe.

The buying power of most households had fallen as sharply as the value of the Zimbabwean dollar, said Matombo.

On Tuesday Mugabe declared a state of disaster throughout the country as figures showed that about 7.8 million people - over five million of them children - would need humanitarian help for the next 18 months as a result of the prevailing drought.

Matombo said the cost of living had become "unbearable for workers". He also said the rights and dignity of workers had been infringed by recently promulgated legislation.

He said: "Because of the public order and security acts, the freedoms, especially of the unions, has been curtailed. We are saying government must attend to this and actually come in and resolve the high cost of living and [repeal] this draconian act. If this does not happen the ZCTU will be left with no choice but to call for a general strike."

Matombo said the general strike would not be aimed at forcing a rerun of the presidential elections and toppling President Mugabe, as was reported by the state-controlled newspaper The Herald.

The ZCTU president said a general strike would aim to bring attention to "issues that affect the general working population". The ZCTU has about 250,000 paid up members.

Matombo said: "Most of the basic commodities have increased by an average of 52 percent this year. The problem is that unions had completed wage negotiations for the year and did not anticipate such a high increase of these basic commodities. Inflation is at 113 percent and if the economy does not perform maybe we will run into 200 percent inflation by December this year."

The minimum wage in Zimbabwe was currently ZW $8 925 (Zimbabwe dollars) or about US $167 at the official rate or US $25 on the parallel market. "With the rise of these basic commodities it requires us to recalculate to factor in those increases, the minimum wage should be as high as ZW $25,000 a month now," Matombo said.

It was reported last month that a government gazette raised the maximum retail price of a standard loaf of bread to ZW $60 (US $1.12) from ZW $44 dollars (US $0.82).

Meanwhile opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, appeared in court on Tuesday on charges relating to an alleged plot to assassinate Mugabe.

Tsvangirai, Welshman Ncube, the MDC secretary-general and MP for Bulawayo North-East and Renson Gasela, the MP for Gweru Rural were remanded to appear again 31 May at which time a trial date is likely to be set, local newspaper The Daily News reported.
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