From News24 (SA), 31 March
UK military mission pulls out
Harare - A British military training mission spent its last day in Zimbabwe on Saturday after 20 years in the southern African nation. The mission, called the Military Advisory and Training Team, was pulled back in protest of "the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe," British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said. Cook also announced a ban on weapon sales to Zimbabwe.
The British training team, set to fly to London on Saturday evening, played a crucial role in 1981 in welding together the forces involved in the bush war leading to Zimbabwe's independence in 1980. Two guerrilla forces, one led by President Robert Mugabe and one led by Joshua Nkomo, fought with the white minority government's Rhodesian army and with each other. In the last decade, the team has focused on training the armies of Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries in joint peacekeeping operations. Zimbabwe's information minister Jonathan Moyo said the withdrawal means "good riddance to rubbish."
From The Sunday Independent (SA), 1 April
Mbeki faces unfamiliar role as Mugabe critic
The Commonwealth's determination to send a mission to Harare to probe Zimbabwe's apparent departure from the organisation's principles of democracy and respect for human rights is posing a dilemma for President Thabo Mbeki in his role as chair of the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), the Commonwealth's internal disciplinary body, decided on March 20 to send the foreign ministers of Australia, Barbados and Nigeria to Zimbabwe "to convey its concerns" especially about "recent reports of intimidation of the judiciary and media". Zimbabwean foreign minister Stan Mudenge angrily rejected CMAG's plan. Sticking to its guns though, CMAG, chaired by Botswana, said it would await an 'official' response from Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to its request for full co-operation from the Zimbabwean government so it could visit the country as soon as possible and report to the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Brisbane later this year.
To be "Cmagged" in this way is an expression of major Commonwealth disapproval that could lead to further disciplinary action including the possible blacklisting of Zimbabwe at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Brisbane in October. Countries currently on the blacklist include Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Fiji and Pakistan. Commonwealth sources say that the three foreign ministers might visit Zimbabwe individually to see what is happening, even if the Zimbabwean government refuses to receive an official mission. There is also a possibility that the Commonwealth secretary-general could visit Harare.
The standoff between CMAG and Zimbabwe presents a dilemma for Mbeki who, as current chair of the Commonwealth, may find it difficult to avoid getting embroiled, Commonwealth sources say. Mbeki has chosen the route of quiet diplomacy for Zimbabwe in the standoff. As chair of the Commonwealth he faces the risk of being dragged into a more openly critical stance by the organisation. Abdul Minty, the head of multilateral affairs in the department of foreign affairs, disagrees. He says that the problem belongs entirely to CMAG and the Commonwealth secretariat in London and that the chairman is not obliged to become involved.
Some government sources agree with Zimbabwe that CMAG has gone beyond its mandate in seeking to probe Zimbabwe's human rights record since it has only been mandated to discipline military governments that come to power though coups or other unconstitutional means. Some Commonwealth members, though, believe that CMAG's mandate should be extended to embrace ostensibly democratic countries that use undemocratic measures to stay in power, like Zimbabwe. Such an extension of the body's mandate is under review and will be considered at Brisbane but in the meantime some members believe the organisation's credibility is at stake if it does not give attention to Zimbabwe.
Significantly, CMAG's statement expressing its intention to visit Zimbabwe was tagged onto a longer statement about its deliberations on Commonwealth countries that have military governments, such as Pakistan and Fiji. That was a way of saying that although Zimbabwe did not fall directly within its explicit mandate, it was still a legitimate subject of concern since it appeared to be departing from the Commonwealth's fundamental democratic principles - enshrined, ironically, in the Harare declaration. The move is being seen as a manoeuvre to "Cmag" Zimbabwe by the back door and therefore also extend the Commonwealth's disciplinary powers.
Commonwealth sources said the strict approach by South Africa and other countries to CMAG's mandate was too legalistic and ignored the spirit of the Commonwealth. One source pointed out that there had been no CMAG or any mandate for the Commonwealth to become actively involved in the struggle against apartheid, but it did so out of an implicit understanding that apartheid was an offence to the spirit of the organisation. These sources also say that it is not just developed countries that want to discipline Zimbabwe. They point out that Botswana, Bangladesh, Barbados, Malaysia and Nigeria are members of CMAG - along with Australia, Canada and Britain. CMAG, backed by the Commonwealth secretariat, tried to extend its mandate at the last Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Durban two years ago, but several countries with dubious democratic credentials strongly opposed the move.
From The Sunday Telegraph (UK), 1 April
Mugabe stifles artistic heritage
Harare - Zimbabwe's art and music scene, one of Africa's finest, is in danger of disappearing as President Robert Mugabe continues to stifle opposition in his quest to retain power at all costs. Many artists, struggling amid economic collapse and fearing a beating, are halting work or fleeing abroad.
Obert Muringani, 35, a leading abstract painter, said: "There's no foreign currency for imports so we can't get oil paints or brushes. The textile industry has collapsed because farmers cannot plant cotton so we can't get canvas. All we can get are planks and animal skins. Then, even if we do manage to paint, no one here has money and there are no tourists any more to buy them." Mr Muringani, who has exhibited his work abroad, recently had to cancel a display in Holland because he was unable to obtain materials for painting. "Robert Mugabe is starving artists by kicking our buyers out of the country," he complained. "He created this country and now he has ruined it."
The pressure is not merely economic. Mr Muringani is among a number of artists living in Chitungwiza, a township near Harare which voted heavily for the opposition MDC in last year's parliamentary election. To teach residents a lesson, soldiers, self-styled veterans of the war for independence and thugs from the ruling Zanu-PF party have staged night raids on the area, storming houses of suspected activists and beating people, including teachers and pregnant women. "We're afraid to go and hang out in the local bars because you never know when a huge truck of soldiers is going to turn up, offload and beat everyone," said Mr Muringani. "If they see three people or more together they think they're discussing politics."
His only recourse has been to paint with an increasingly political theme, using wood and cowhide as canvas. One recent work, showing an African landscape behind bars, is entitled Economic Prison. Another features a wide-open mouth, reminiscent of Edvard Munch's painting The Scream, except that inside the mouth is a large shoe. The artist explained: "It's a presidential shoe. People are trying to speak, but the government is stomping on them." Sculpture parks, once a tourist draw in a nation renowned for stone art works, are closing down. Nicholas Mukomberanwa, a leading sculptor said: "We're being squeezed dry. We're having to live off friends. I fear that the situation is preventing young artists from emerging. The economic crisis, the problems obtaining cutting tools and the constant oppression is stifling creativity."
Artists are not the only ones to feel besieged. Thomas Mapfumo, Zimbabwe's leading pop star, recently left for the United States, vowing never to return while Mr Mugabe remained in office. Mapfumo, whose songs inspired the black liberation movement and who was once declared a national hero by Mr Mugabe, said in a recent interview: "The government has done nothing good for the people. There's no light at the end of the tunnel." So disillusioned was he during last year's election campaign, the most violent in the country's history, that he released a song called Disaster. It was banned from the airwaves, a throwback to Ian Smith's white regime which suppressed his music.
It is against this grim backdrop that a group of people is trying to organise the Harare International Festival of Arts next month. Harare's city council has raised rents for city parks tenfold in an attempt to deter them, and has warned them that if anything remotely political is staged, the festival will be closed down. Many international performing artists have dropped out. Upsetting Zimbabwe's art community may backfire, however. Figures such as Mapfumo are heroes among the young. In a country where 60 per cent of the population is under 20, the youth vote will be crucial in next year's presidential election.
From IRIN (UN), 31 March
Harare Denies Its Forces Violating Disengagement
Nairobi - Zimbabwean troops in the DRC are in full compliance with existing disengagement treaties and do not plan to pull back further, a defence force spokesman said on Friday. Despite reported concerns that allied forces had by Thursday not withdrawn from frontline positions as stipulated in the Kampala and Harare disengagement plans, Colonel Mbonisi Gatsheni said Zimbabwean troops were "exactly where they are supposed to be, outside the line of conflict".
He told IRIN that the ceasefire plans identified "contested areas" from which all sides were due to pull back. He alleged that allied forces withdrew, but Rwandan and Ugandan troops advanced. "Where should the allies move to that they haven't moved to already? As of now, allied forces are in positions that weren't contested before, they are not on the frontline." Gatsheni said part of the problem was that the UN observer mission to the DRC (MONUC), "does not have the full capacity to monitor the situation on the ground".
Meanwhile, 281 UN military observers on Friday began verifying the 15 km pull back of the various armies fighting in the DRC. However, the UN mission has not yet observed a withdrawal of government-allied forces from Kananga in south-central Kasai province. The Ugandan-backed rebel group, the Congolese Liberation Front, has also reportedly failed to withdraw from its positions in Equator province.