'Rule of law under attack in Zimbabwe' October 13 2004
Zimbabwean courts that will rule on Friday in the
treason trial of the country's main opposition leader are part of a corrupt
legal system that has become a tyrannical instrument of repression which
favours government, critics say.
Independent judges and lawyers
who represent government opponents have been attacked and threatened, while
judges have been driven from the bench, some fleeing the country for their
lives, critics and analysts say.
"There is no doubt that the
government has manipulated the legal structure to keep its iron grip on
power," said Gugulethu Moyo, a Zimbabwean lawyer now working for the
International Bar Association in London. "Actually what we are seeing is the
rule of law itself is under attack."
The treason trial of Morgan
Tsvangirai, the leader of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC), is often cited as an example of government attempts to use the cover
of law to crush opponents.
Both the International Bar Association
and Human Rights First, a New York-based organisation formerly known as The
Lawyers Committee on Human Rights, have said the procedure raises fair trial
concerns. But both groups, trying to avoid any impression of trying to exert
undue influence, will not comment specifically before the verdict is handed
down on Friday.
President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF
party ignore court rulings they don't like.
"If judges are not
objective, don't blame us when we defy them," Mugabe said in speech two
To strengthen its hold on power and its control of the
legal system, critics charge the government has packed the benches with
pro-government judges, including many who have openly accepted inducements
such as some of the best farms seized by the government in a controversial
land reform programme.
"The government has done a great job of
co-opting the legal system. There is no separation of power, everything
answers to the executive," said Raj Purhoit, a Human Rights First
spokesperson in Washington.
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who
implemented changes to the judiciary, said judges had to be politically
correct. He said that "Eurocentric" judges who were regarded as being in
conflict with other arms of government and perceived as constituting "the
main opposition to the ruling party" would have to go.
judges behaved like "unguided missiles, I wish to emphatically state that we
will push them out," he said.
But Chinamasa has consistently denied
that Zimbabwe has intimidated judges. He says the government is committed to
the rule of law and an independent judiciary. Criticism to the contrary, he
says, comes from groups and countries with a bias against
Chinamasa said that changes in the judiciary were needed
to make its composition conform to the racial balance of the
"The systematic reform was really a politicalisation of
the judiciary," said Moyo, the spokesperson for the International Bar
Anthony Gubbay, the former Supreme Court chief
justice, was driven from the bench by ruling party militants who threatened
his life for ruling against the government. He resigned after the government
refused to offer him protection.
Some judges or magistrates had
to flee their courtrooms after they were stormed by militants. One
magistrate was severely injured when he was dragged from the bench by ruling
party militants and later beaten after ruling against the
Purhoit said that to strengthen its grip on power, the
government also has passed laws that arm it with sweeping powers to
intimidate opponents and silence dissent. Through draconian new security and
media laws, it has effectively killed constitutionally guaranteed rights to
free speech and a free press.
The American state department, in
its latest annual human rights report on Zimbabwe, noted the government had
closed down the only independent daily newspaper and had beaten,
intimidated, arrested and prosecuted journalists who published
It said Zimbabwe's government has
continued a "systemic, government-sanctioned campaign of violence targeting
supporters and potential supporters of the opposition."
report said there had been extrajudicial killings by security forces, and
that ruling party and youth militias, tightly controlled by senior
government and ruling party officials, had killed, abducted, tortured,
beaten, abused and raped government opponents.
The state department
also described conditions in Zimbabwe's prison system as "harsh and life
Purhoit, the Human Rights First spokesperson, said
the legal system has been completely corrupted and that every element of it
now is used as an instrument of repression.
"It is getting
worse, and worse and worse," he said. - Sapa-AP
Hundreds of families made homeless by a police raid in which their huts were
burnt down on a farm in Zimbabwe's Mashonaland West Province have accused
President Robert Mugabe's sister Sabina of exploitation.
In recent weeks
police have begun evicting "new peasant farmers" from farms in a move the
settlers say is designed to clear land for senior members of the ruling
The evicted farmers say the ruling party ordered them onto
the farms in early 2000.
"The Zimbabwe Landless Farmers Association
(ZLFA) is urging the minister of state for land reform, John Nkomo, to stop
the processing of 99-year leases with immediate effect because the leases
were being given to undeserving people who came through the back door," read
a statement from the newly formed ZLFA's chairman Moses
"Our organisation is calling for the immediate disbanding of
the eviction board headed by deputy police commissioner Godwin Matanga which
has embarked on a violent and disorderly eviction of the poor and landless
people of Zimbabwe to accommodate the rich and politically powerful,"
Mazhande added, saying the ZLFA would "lead a fresh wave of farm invasions
if the corruption and disorderly distribution of land is not
The landless farmers say that farm invasions to evict white
farmers were ordered by President Robert Mugabe and then cabinet secretary
Charles Utete in February 2000.
Soon after the eviction of white
farmers began, Zimbabwe's state-controlled press published the names of
thousands of peasant farmers who had been allocated land under the country's
"land reform programme".
"In our view the ministry of lands and
agriculture used our names to mislead the people into believing the
programme was transparent," said Mazhande.
Meanwhile former residents of
a farm acquired by senior Zanu-PF officials are living in makeshift shelters
on the side of the road. Many say their food stores were destroyed during
opposition party on Tuesday told Parliament that authorities have reduced
the number of registered voters in urban centres, the party's traditional
stronghold, ahead of next year's parliamentary polls.
David Coltart, the
secretary for legal affairs for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC),
told Parliament his party believes the number of voters in Zimbabwe's second
city of Bulawayo has been cut by 15% since elections in 2002.
urban areas there has been a reduction of registered voters, compared to
2002," Coltart said.
The MDC claims it lost parliamentary polls in
2000 and presidential polls two years later because of intimidation and
The party has threatened to boycott polls scheduled for
next March if President Robert Mugabe does not implement electoral
"On our analysis, for example in Bulawayo province there is a
15% reduction of voters on the voters' roll compared to the voters' roll we
had in 2002," Coltart said.
After being cautioned by the Speaker of
Parliament not to make allegations against government officials who were not
present to defend themselves, the legislator said his claims were based on a
"preliminary analysis" of the voters' roll and were not "an assertion of
Most ruling-party members were not present in Parliament
and debate was adjourned until Wednesday. -- Sapa-AFP
The Zimbabwean government has accused the United Nations Economic
Commission for Africa (ECA) of "ambushing" it by releasing a report citing
bad governance in the country.
The ECA report was released at the
Fourth African Development Forum of the Africa Union conference in Addis
Ababa. Zimbabwe's outspoken Jonathan Moyo, the information minister,
criticised the UN for releasing the report before his delegation had been
given the opportunity to read it.
"The Zimbabwean delegation reiterates
that it was unprocedural, unfair and unacceptable for the ECA to circulate
this report as it was being presented. Because this was not done, the report
ended up assuming the character of an ambush," Moyo said. Details of the
report were not immediately available, but the UN has repeatedly raised
concerns of the breakdown of the rule of law in Zimbabwe. - Sapa
Lusaka, Zambia, 10/13 - Zambia has continued to reap benefits
from the presence of experienced white farmers from neighbouring Zimbabwe
with the price of wheat suddenly nose-diving on the local market, while
tobacco harvest has spiralled in recent times.
The price of wheat has
gone down from US$320 to US$280 per tonne, according to the Agricultural
Marketing Information Center at the Ministry of Agriculture and
Government has not provided full statistics on amount of
wheat harvested this year as the process has just begun and would end after
But with the expertise of the white Zimbabwean farmers most
commercial farmers in Zambia this year took up wheat production in May, and
their harvests are already finding their way to the millers, who in the past
dealt only with imported grain.
Earlier this year, white farmers from
Zimbabwe, who were uprooted under the country`s controversial land reform
policy, were also credited with the rise in the volume of tobacco leaf
harvested on Zambian commercial farms.
Since the arrival of the white
Zimbabwe farmers, Zambia`s tobacco output has jumped from about four million
to 22 million kilograms.
White farmers from Zimbabwe have settled in the
central and southern provinces, with some working on Zambian farms as
supervisors and managers of already existing establishments.
Book explores the land issue in Zimbabwe,
Blood and Soil -
Land, politics and conflict prevention in Zimbabwe and South
Published by the International Crisis Group, Brussels,
Belgium; September 2004; 221 pages;
THIS is a
well-researched book, the result of collective effort by a number of people
under the umbrella of the International Crisis Group that relied a lot on
field work and consultation with specialists.
In the foreword,
Gareth Evans, the president of the ICG says the stakes involved in Zimbabwe
and South Africa on the land issue are of tremendous economic and social
"As the situation in Zimbabwe has painfully
demonstrated, if land issues are handled poorly, conflict of one kind or
another is almost inevitable," said Evans.
examines and explains the historical context of land, from a legal
perspective, taking into consideration the fact that colonisation did not
take into account the need for justice and fairness in land acquisition in
both South Africa and Zimbabwe.
In the case of Zimbabwe, the
book highlights the fact that land was the raison d'etre of the 16-year
armed struggle that left thousands of people dead.
clear that land remains as emotive an issue as it was during colonial days
in both Zimbabwe and South Africa.
In the case of Zimbabwe, the
book takes a swipe at the British South Africa Company, which under the
direction and funding of Cecil John Rhodes of Britain, was granted a charter
by the British government to take over the land that was later named
Rhodesia but renamed Zimbabwe in 1980.
The British asserted
sovereignty over all land in the country in 1884 under the Matabeleland
Order in Council. The book advocates the just and equitable redistribution
of land in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia, countries whose colonial
masters continued to own large tracts of fertile land even after black
majority rule, yet the blacks remained crowded on small tracts of
The book notes that President Robert Mugabe
of Zimbabwe and his ruling Zanu PF party "have increasingly relied on
selective enforcement of the law and political violence to maintain their
hold on power. Zimbabwe's economy has been in virtual freefall, with
inflation climbing over 600 percent at the end of 2003 before dipping down
to around 500 per cent in April 2004."
It adds that the poor
manner in which land redistribution is being done in Zimbabwe has worsened
racial and ethnic polarisation, posing the danger of the country failing to
move toward an equitable and racially non-discriminatory
The researchers highlight the adverse effect of
HIV/AIDS and persistent drought in Zimbabwe, which have seen life expectancy
dropping to 37 years from a high of 67 years, according to World Health
The book traces the land issue in
Zimbabwe from 1980 when the country attained independence until the early
1990s when the redistribution of land was temporarily abandoned by the
government partly because of lack of funds and also because of the
disorderly manner in which early resettlement had been
Chapters five and six of the book look at the land
invasions instigated by former freedom fighters led by Chenjerai Hunzvi, the
emergence of a strong opposition party in the form of the Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC), the defeat of the government's constitutional
referendum and the fast-track land reform programme.
clear, from the book, that Mugabe used the land issue as an election tool in
both the 2000 and 2002 elections which his party won amid amid great
controversy, violence and international condemnation.
Zimbabwean case is concluded aptly: "Vandalisation of the economy by
President Mugbe and Zanu PF has ensured that the land issue will need to be
revisited in a comprehensive fashion."
The authors looked at
the South African scenario critically and warned that something needs to be
done now to avert what is happening in Zimbabwe.
"Effectively addressing land reform requires a level of political openness
and inclusiveness that has often proved challenging for governments in the
region and donors alike. Because of its sensitivity and complexity, land
tenure reform is by nature a time-consuming process that requires
significant institutional development."
This absorbing book is
a must read for any serious scholar, journalist, politician or layman who
wishes to come to grips with the real issues of land within the sub
Maize seed crisis mirrors government's
clear lack of foresight
farmers know that one doesn't fatten a beast at the sale pen. Surprisingly,
the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resources seems not to be aware
of this important fact.
The rainy season is on us yet there is
not enough maize seed for the farmers. At this late hour, major seed
producers are frantically running around neighbouring countries to source
The current shortage of 19 000 tonnes of maize seed
will be met by imports from South Africa, Malawi, Botswana and
It is clear that the responsible authorities did not do
enough to ensure that maize seed is made available to farmers nationwide at
the onset of the rains.
The nine-member parliamentary
committee on Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resources chaired by Zhombe Member
of Parliament Daniel Ncube is as blameworthy as the ministry itself for the
shortage of maize seed.
They should have advised the government
earlier on that the levels of maize seed could not meet demand. The members
must have been embarrassed when they heard representatives of the major seed
producers tell them that the available maize seed was
Yet the irony is that maize is the country's staple
food and agriculture is the backbone of the economy. During the last five
years, Zimbabwe has depended a lot on food aid from the donor community,
most of it from the World Food Programme (WFP).
In May this
year, the WFP estimated that at least five million Zimbabweans were in dire
need of food and starvation was only averted through the hand
But the government, covering up for its lack of planning
and poor management continues shamelessly to deny that there is a food
Yet the same government is quick to convert the very
food aid to its political advantage by giving it only to members of the
ruling Zanu PF party.
That criterion will be used again in
the allocation of agricultural inputs as the ruling party goes into high
gear, determined to remain in power at the next polls in March. -
VALUATION CONSORTIUM NEWSLETTER - SEPTEMBER, 2004
o Hectic time o Help a friend o Collect certificates o Terrific
news o 3 months left o Those damn dogs o Contact us
KEEN TO BE
There have been 100 more requests to be entered on the
Valuation Consortium (Valcon) data base since our August newsletter. The
response from Matabeleland has been particularly enthusiastic and our thanks
go to individuals who have encouraged others to sign up in their own
best interests. Our special thanks go to Rob Rosenfels and Charlie Pienaar
who have put in a tremendous amount of effort in this regard.
result, one of our team who enters the information into the
computer described the last month as "A really hectic time - we have been
very busy." To date 1 900 properties have been registered with 150
USE THE BUSH TELEGRAPH
Would clients please make a plan
to help their absent or recently dispossessed friends and neighbours. The
problem? As mentioned last month, a number of land owners' postal and email
addresses are no longer correct. As a result essential mail is being returned
to us. What seems to be happening is this:
1. Although off their
properties some land owners initially retained their postal addresses in
rural towns e.g. Chinhoyi. They have since relinquished these but forgotten
to advise business contacts of their new address OR the post master/mistress
in the relevant post office is not forwarding mail.
2. Some email
addresses are also not functioning although we know the person is still in
Zimbabwe. For instance one of our clients, recently forced off his farm and
now living in a small town cannot be contacted - perhaps the "settlers" took
his computer when they took the farm.
Why we are appealing to readers for
their help is because we don't want to publish the list of out-of-touch land
owners and prefer to use the bush telegraph. So please liaise with anyone who
you think might be affected and ask them to contact us with their new
addresses. Recent developments (read Martin Redfern's Down the Line) means it
is now vital for Valcon to be in touch with clients. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Harare (04)
COLLECTING THE CERTIFICATES
Don't forget to come to our
offices to collect your registration certificate. If this is difficult email
us and we can discuss a plan. Due to astronomical increases in stamps we are
no longer able to post the certificates. Again would readers please help
their absent friends and advise them that they need to arrange for someone to
BEST NEWS OF 2004
Sceptics, cynics and fence sitters will
be surprised - but hopefully encouraged - by the news of the coalition
between organisations representing dispossessed farmers. Read more about it
in Down the Line with Martin Redfern.
THREE MONTHS LEFT
plans to conclude the registration and verification exercise by 1 December
this year. This means landowners still have time to register but need to do
so as soon as possible. Email us at: email@example.com or else take a look at
our web site: www.compensation.co.zw
LINE with Martin Redfern
The pressure is on in Manicaland with farmers
being pushed off or about to be, and interest in registering with the
Consortium increasing. C K Holland tells me from Mutare that he has some 10
farms to complete on behalf of clients and that will be a happy task for him,
although certainly I encourage farmers to complete their own forms with the
benefit of their intimate knowledge of what they might have expected to
describe as their own farms. In the Valuation Consortium's early days,
Manicaland was under very little pressure and hence registrations slow in
coming. That has all changed now and Manicaland farmers in particular -
together with those from other areas - should please take heed of the
proposed cut off date for registrations being the end of December. All
participating firms will give every assistance to those who, like me, tend to
file forms in the bottom drawer with a mental note to do something about it
tomorrow, and don't. This is truly an important exercise towards the
compensation exercise and readers are seriously urged to get on and register
if you haven't already. Another very meaningful step is the agreement to form
a compensation task force to comprise representatives of ALL farming
organisations working in tandem and without rancour with a view to hastening
the compensation process or restitution of farms. The initiative is
basically a joint one, with a totally non-political and non-confrontational
outlook and can only be good news for all interested parties, in particular
you the farmers awaiting compensation, or a genuine move towards it. And
finally, having moved to Bulawayo about six weeks ago to open the auction
business, I have experienced an extreme change of lifestyle, and this is the
damned dogs fault. When we moved off the farm three years ago, to 1 1/2
acres in Mutare, they were astonished to learn that they were not the only
dogs in existence. We are now on 1/2 acre in Ilanda, and they need walking on
the racecourse nearby - good for them and good for me, no doubt, but no
more popping into the clubs or boozer for a refreshing tipple before facing
Mrs Redfern of an evening after dark. However, this new regime was disturbed
by C K Holland who arrived from Mutare to assist with the first sale with
a decided thirst. Suffice to say the Brass Monkey did a brisk trade
during his two day stay and I am now on the road to recovery albeit with
a querulous liver. Don't forget - don't leave it too late before
send any material for publication in the Open Letter Forum to firstname.lastname@example.org with "For Open Letter
Forum" in the subject
301 --------------------------------------------------------------------------- THOUGHT
FOR THE DAY
"You must be the change you wish to see in the
FORUM Letter 1. Subject: Open Letter Forum
this email last year on 26 October 2003 and having seen that Justice Makarau
has reversed the expulsion of the settlers on Little England farm and the
furor going on about ownership of River Ranch and its diamonds in Beit
Bridge, I wonder if the time has come when we will revisit the property
rights issue? Dear Fellow Zimbabwean Farmers
You may well ask...so who
cares about property rights?
Its a strange thing, life......
those people who so gaily have "taken up their rights to land" are going to
find that they have a very transient right to the land. When a bigger chef
comes along or a stronger war vet, or a bigger group of green bombers who
suddenly fancy the piece of land that the "new" farmer has spent so much
money on....he is going to start looking around for a means to secure his
ownership of his piece of land. He is going to find that his nebulous piece
of paper from the lands office or the rural council or the governor or his
minister or who ever gave him the patronage to use the piece of land, will be
valueless in the face of a bigger force.
He will then have to find a way
of securing his title to the property.
And so it is when those very
people who have taken the land away from us, have to try and resort to the
law to secure their property that we will start to revisit a man's right to
title to his property.
Yours sincerely Jean Simon
Letter 2. Subject:
Africa has a bug. Its never been
identified, has no name but all who have lived in Africa know it exists and
that they might have it. Somehow it never leaves you once you're infected and
no matter where you go - it never lets you go altogether.
At this time
of the year I just love the wild open spaces that are called the bushveld. It
is difficult to describe to someone who has never seen it, but all who have
can instantly recall what it is like. Its October - yesterday it was 40
degrees Celsius in the shade and everything is dry and bleached. The tall
grass is either burnt or white and the trees are either carrying a full flush
of new leaves or are bare and still. Arriving at the edge of an escarpment,
you crest a rise and there it is - stretching out to the horizon. Grey,
It is not an easy land - it's full of strong contrasts
and it is not forgiving. The soils are varied and are both rich and poor,
rainfall is limited and then only for about 4 or 5 months a year. Nights are
cool, early mornings fresh and crisp and the days hot with deep blue
skies stretching as far as the eye can see. The long dry winter is followed
by the violent storms of summer, rain on parched ground, that smell of
the first rains on the dry earth, the flights of flying ants.
nights are very special - the Milky Way blazing across the sky lit
by millions of stars. The yellow moon rising above the earth and
the springtime roar of the frogs, crickets and night birds. The flowering
trees - the Knob Thorn with its mop of dense yellow flowers and thick scent.
The new leaves of the Mountain Acacia and Msasa colored from deep burgundy
to light green, the splash of green as the wild figs and the Pod
Mahogany comes out. The cicada beetles in the Mopani veld.
anticipation of the rains and with it new life make this landscape
very special as it teems with all sorts of life. Hundreds of different
species of trees and shrubs, birds and animals - not forgetting the insect
life. The spectacles we often see - millions of Rose Beetles coming out at
night. The splashes of red from the many varieties of aloes and the
Erythrina. By comparison, the countryside in more gentle climes may be green
and lush, but they have little of the character and lure of the African
Bushveld. The rivers, raging torrents in the summer, slow hot streams in the
winter on wide beds of sand and stone. The long deep pools that hold all sort
of threats - crocodiles, hippo and disease. The splash of the many
varieties of fish from the famous Tiger to the grey Vundu.
country also breeds different kinds of people; perhaps Namibia is the best
example of this with the proud Herero, the tall German/Afrikaners, the Sen
and the people of the Namib. But in Zimbabwe we have the Tonga, wonderful
people who have lived on the flood plains of the Zambesi for centuries, The
Venda of the Limpopo Valley - gentle people with great wisdom and a penchant
for laughter. I have a special place for the older people in the Bushveld,
the deep furrows of time and the wisdom and humor in their eyes. Somehow the
cynicism and shallowness of the modern world has missed them. They are deeply
embedded in their land - unlike many of us who are just tourists and
bystanders. To be among them is to be instantly at home, welcome and free and
respected, always to come away with a small gift - no matter how poor your
hosts might be. Their dignity in rags, the hats with no crowns, the rough
hands callused by years of hard manual work. The clinking of the cow bells on
the oxen and donkeys as they forage for something to eat.
ago I visited a Zimbabwean, who had reached the pinnacle of success in
Germany, married a German girl and had settled in Munich. He told me that he
had been to see the film "Jock of the Bushveld" and had felt deep emotions
when he had heard the call of the Emeraldspotted Dove and had seen the dust
rising from the feet of the cattle in the film. He said, after 20 years in
Europe he could still smell the Lowveld and many times longed to feel the hot
African sun on his arms and head.
Many look at us and ask why we stay?
No fuel, high prices, corrupt government, no freedom of speech and a daily
diet of racism directed at all who are not drawn from the ruling elite and
the tribe. Why do we battle on - fighting a cause which many say is not ours?
Are we not aliens in a hostile world? Then we travel to Europe and we
discover that that is in fact where we are alien, to the US and find that we
are strangers. We come home and find that we have more affinity to the people
here than anywhere else.
This is our home in every way and we are
right to fight for a better life for all the people who live here. Africa is
only the "hopeless continent" because of leadership. We can help change that
and so we fight on. This week we see that Blair's "African Commission" is
meeting in Ethiopia. I sigh with despair as I hear them talk about debt
relief and aid. These are not solutions - they may in fact simply make the
Do you want to know why we Africans are poorer than we
were 25 years ago? Just look at Zimbabwe. Give us aid - you might as well
pour water on the desert sand. Erase our debt - You achieve little except to
secure the balance sheets of the multilateral institutions that in many
respects are partially responsible for our troubles and then invite a fresh
round of State borrowing for all the wrong things.
No what we need is
real democracy. The freedom to vote for who we think will solve our problems
best and if they don't - freedom to throw them out when they fail. What we
need is responsible and accountable leadership - in our villages, towns and
cities and in our State House. We look at the failure this week of the Asian
countries to agree on a plan of action to force the Military Junta in Burma
to give the people their rights and we sigh with frustration. How long must
we wait for the world to wake up to the real nature of such regimes and the
plight of those who live under such dictatorships?
But for those of us
who live under Mugabe - we have the Bushveld into which we flee when the
atmosphere in the political jungle becomes just too oppressive or the
problems in our factories cloud our horizons. After a week on the Zambesi
river or the lake, or a few days of hunting or simply a break away to a
national park, we come back refreshed and with a renewed determination to see
that we eventually win this war and see our beloved country given a fresh
Eddie Cross Bulawayo, 9th October
Subject: Open Letter Forum
Mail for LINDA NAIDOO, Harare
trying to get hold of Linda Naidoo of Harare, who is the new employer of my
former maid, Maria Musekiwa. Sorry, Linda, I have lost all your details on my
computer, i.e. phone numbers, e-mail address, etc. Some hardware was changed
on our computer at home and information got lost in the process. I am sure
JAG will work their miracle again. Should you read this, please contact me on
e-mail: email@example.com Thanks
again to JAG for their good work. Johanna Schermuly
Letter 4. Subject:
Mitch and Mathew Edwoods
Does any one know the present
address of Mitch or Matthew Edwards ? I believe they are some where in the
Brereton --------------------------------------------------------------------------- All
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Verdict in Treason Trial of Zimbabwe Opposition Leader Expected
Friday Peta Thornycroft Harare 13 Oct 2004, 16:28
Zimbabweans are bracing themselves for the verdict Friday in the
treason trial of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. If found guilty Mr.
Tsvangirai could face the death sentence. Morgan Tsvangirai is accused of
hiring Canadian businessman Ari Ben Menashe to plot the assassination of
President Robert Mugabe before presidential elections in March
The year-long trial concluded last February and Mr. Tsvangerai been
waiting since then for the verdict.
Political commentator and human
rights activist Brian Kagoro said the charges, coming as they did when the
Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, was only 30-months-old has almost
crippled the party.
He said the two top MDC leaders, who had to surrender
their passports because of the trial, were unable to travel in Africa to
explain the young party's policies.
Mr. Kagoro, co-chairman of the
Zimbabwe Crises Coalition, said the trial had also crippled the Movement for
Democratic Change financially and forced it to scale down its political
protests to avoid aggravating the treason charges.
The state relied
on two pieces of evidence, Mr. Ben Menashe's testimony, and a tape he
secretly recorded when he met Mr. Tsvangirai in Canada in late 2001. The
state said the tape recording proved that Mr. Tsvangirai tried to hire Mr.
Menashe for the assassination plot.
Mr. Tsvangirai denies the charge and
says the conversation recorded in Canada was a discussion about possible
political scenarios ahead of the presidential poll, including the
possibility of Mr. Mugabe's sudden death and its constitutional
Mr. Tsvangirai's two colleagues, one of them MDC
Secretary-General Welshman Ncube, were earlier acquitted for lack of
Mr. Tsvangirai was defended by famed South African advocate
George Bizos, who defended former South African President Nelson Mandela on
similar charges 40 years ago.
Mr. Bizos argued that Mr. Ben Menashe
had set out to entrap his client. He also described Mr. Ben Menashe as an
unmitigated liar, and international crook. Mr. Ben Menashe accused Mr. Bizos
of being a well-known racist.
The court established that Mr. Ben Menashe
was paid $615,000 by the Zimbabwe government for securing the tape recording
and for publicity work for Mr. Mugabe.