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Behind a facade of normality, Zimbabwe is visibly falling apart

In a rare dispatch from Robert Mugabe's tightly controlled country, the Guardian has found a land heading towards collapse

Rory Carroll in Harare
Monday April 24, 2006
The Guardian

Stand on the top of Heroes' Acre, a monument to Zimbabwe's liberation struggle on a hill outside Harare, and you notice two things. Halfway down the slope dozens of fresh tombs of polished black granite are being prepared for the octogenarians who led the country to independence in 1980 and remain in power. The plot beside Sally Mugabe, Robert Mugabe's first wife, is vacant.

Shift your gaze to the plain that stretches towards the city and you see a small forest which swiftly thins and gives way to row after row of tree stumps. The people of Harare have started hacking down wood for fuel.

It is a stark demonstration of the economic catastrophe closing in on the ageing autocratic rulers. There may be no more trees by the time Mr Mugabe, 82, is buried.

On the surface, many things seem normal. There is food in the shops, traffic-lights work, children attend school. Compared with other African capitals, Harare is calm and orderly.

Reports of ox-wagons ferrying the sick to hospitals and famine stalking the countryside are belied by functioning ambulances and villagers who say they are hungry but not starving. Zimbabwe has not quite collapsed. But it has hollowed. Behind a facade of normality, a crisis is gouging the economy and society, causing incalculable suffering in what was once one of Africa's most developed countries.

Agriculture and industry are in ruins, unemployment is pushing 80% and the official inflation rate of 913% is widely deemed a gross underestimate. The economy has shrunk by 50% in the past six years - the fastest contraction anywhere outside a war zone.

The result was visible in the ragged clothes and skinny frames of the crowd attending independence day celebrations at Harare's football stadium last week. "I haven't had a proper meal in a long time," said Herbert Mwinjilo, 29, a now-destitute former gardener. He says he cannot always afford the insulin to treat his diabetes.

International pariah

The crisis dates from the government-sponsored invasions of white-owned farms in 2000, a chaotic land-reform programme that destroyed agricultural exports, frightened off investors and helped make Mr Mugabe an international pariah.

"There is so much suffering out there. Social services - health, education, public works - have completely degraded," said Emmanuel Munyukwi, chief executive of the stock exchange.

Teachers at Mr Mugabe's alma mater, the elite St Francis Xavier college, say that a third of the 1,000-plus pupils have left because parents cannot afford the fees. Text books are not being replaced, classrooms are falling apart and blackouts prevent evening study. But the teachers are grateful for free eggs and chickens from a nearby estate owned by Mr Mugabe.

More than 3 million Zimbabweans are thought to have emigrated. The ruling Zanu-PF party has branded healthcare workers who moved to Britain as "British bum cleaners", a pun on the BBC, which is banned as part of draconian media censorship. Last week, the casualty unit of Harare's main Parirenyatwa hospital was pristine but short of drugs, blood and stitches. It was staffed entirely by Cuban and Congolese doctors.

The World Health Organisation says average life expectancy for women has plunged to 34 - the world's lowest - and for men to 37. This is the result of Aids and poor nutrition and medical care. Prostitution has grown. Sex workers loiter on street corners alongside black-market currency traders. Some street children have become entrepreneurs, buying groceries in the morning hoping the hyper-inflation will enable them to sell at a profit that evening.

Game reserves have reported a surge in poaching, with 17 rhinos lost in Kwekwe park alone. Tourists have all but vanished. The government's "look east" policy - an attempt to lure Asian investment - has flopped: Chinese tourist numbers are down 70%.

Relief agencies say good rains should boost harvests by 50% compared with last year, but several hundred thousand tonnes of food aid will still be needed.

"My family is down to two meals a day and that's just maize and pumpkin leaves," said Violet Charehwa, 42, as she queued in Chegutu district, 90 miles south of Harare, for a wheat ration from the World Food Programme.

The opposition, meanwhile, seems to have lost its relevance. Since being defeated in last year's election, which observers said was rigged, the Movement for Democratic Change has split in two.

Zanu-PF is also hollowing. In theory, it rules Zimbabwe. The cabinet meets every Friday, and state media report ministers' statements as if civilians were in charge. In reality, the party is paralysed by in-fighting and the economic crisis. Power has shifted to a cabal of senior officials from the army, police, prison service and intelligence agencies.

Internal coup

Over the past 18 months, serving and retired officers have been slotted into ministries and parastatal bodies such as the grain marketing board. Soldiers are responsible for house-building, farming, tax collection and, to some extent, monetary policy. The takeover was formalised by the recent establishment of a Soviet-style Zimbabwe National Security Council, a group of elderly securocrats, chaired by Mr Mugabe and tasked with managing the economy.

"The whole government has been militarised. You could almost call it an internal coup," said a western diplomat.

Mr Mugabe is still in control and plotting to safeguard his future after 2008, when his presidential term expires, by installing relatives and loyalists in key positions. He retains some support from fellow members of the dominant Shona tribe who accept his claims that drought and sanctions - not his misrule - are responsible for the country's plight.

"The president is doing a good job. He is constant about everything," said Dick Chingaira, 53, a singer better known by his stage name, Comrade Chinx, who appears at rallies singing the regime's praises. An official version of Zimbabwe's situation is not possible to obtain. Due to restrictions on foreign media working in the country, the Guardian was not able to approach ministers for comment.

Most people pine for change. The question many ask, though, is: will the economic crisis puncture the atmosphere of intimidation and fear inhibiting protest? "People are angry - yes. But willing to express it in any visible or tangible manner - no," said one aid worker, who declined to be named. "The politics of survival has overtaken the politics of opposition. People are consumed simply by trying to get by day to day."

About 30,000 people packed Harare's football stadium on independence day last week. They came not for the president's state-of-the-nation address but the football match that followed: a rare free treat. Mr Mugabe, wearing a green sash, spoke for an hour, promising initiatives to revive the economy, a familiar refrain that might have been expected to provoke a hostile response from a crowd who had heard it all before.

It provoked nothing. No jeers, no shouts, no whistles. Some people snoozed, the rest chatted among themselves. Mr Mwinjilo, the unemployed gardener, shrugged. "What good would it do to heckle? It would change nothing. Anyway the speech is almost finished. The match will start soon."

State of decline

20mins Frequency that a child dies of Aids and another is orphaned, according to the United Nations children's agency, Unicef, which estimates that 1.6 million children, almost one in three, are orphans.

3,000 Number of people estimated to die of Aids-related illnesses each week, despite an apparent slight decline recently in the HIV rate.

4.3m Number of people receiving food aid after several poor harvests blamed on drought and chaotic land reform.

34 Average life expectancy for women - the lowest in the world. For men it is 37, according to the World Health Organisation. The government says the figures are exaggerated.

3.5m Number of Zimbabweans said to have emigrated, mostly to South Africa, Botswana and Britain.

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Zimbabwe rally against Mugabe


April 24, 2006, 06:30

Zimbabwe's opposition leader has defied Robert Mugabe's threat to crush mass
protests, saying he will confront the president head on. Morgan Tsvangirai,
who is president of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has called for
peaceful mass action to drive Mugabe from power.

Yesterday, he addressed more than 5000 supporters in Harare, saying the
struggle will continue until final victory. However, his call has provoked
threats from the veteran Zimbabwe leader who said his opponents were
"playing with fire".

"The struggle continues until final victory, the struggle continues in the
township, in the villages, in the streets, everywhere in Zimbabwe. Mugabe
must read the national mood." Rising prices of basic food, transport and
housing, and the world's highest inflation rate, have badly affected the

The MDC has held rallies across the country, despite threats from Zimbabwe's
82-year-old leader, who says his opponents are playing with fire. Taking a
stand against Mugabe is dangerous. In 2002 protests led to Tsvangirai being
arrested on treason charges. - Reuters

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I will not back down, says Tsvangirai


          April 24 2006 at 12:45AM

      By MacDonald Dzirutwe

      Harare - Zimbabwe's opposition leader on Sunday defied President
Robert Mugabe's threat to crush mass protests, saying he would confront the
challenge "head on" by taking his fight into the ruling party's rural

      Morgan Tsvangirai, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) president, has
called for peaceful mass action to drive Mugabe from power but his call has
provoked threats from the veteran Zimbabwe leader who said his opponents
were "playing with fire".

      Addressing more than 5 000 supporters in Harare on Sunday Tsvangirai
was defiant.

      "Mugabe intimidates people but we are saying we are going head on with
the regime... there is a dark cloud on the horizon and it will soon rain,"
Tsvangirai said.

      "From here we are going into the rural areas to sell them our
programme so that the struggle will be fought in the streets and every
village until victory," he said.

       Tsvangirai has held rallies in Zimbabwe's main cities and towns
rallying people to prepare for anti-Mugabe protests. Tsvangirai, a former
trade unionist, would not say when the protests would start or give any

      Political and economic analysts say rising prices of basic foodstuffs,
public transport and housing is stoking anger in an urban population already
struggling with breaking sewerage systems, water and electricity cuts,
uncollected garbage and roads riddled with potholes.

      But they say the MDC still needs to shore up support for a unified
stand against Mugabe's forces, with the military, police and security
agencies still seen firmly behind the man who has ruled the country since
independence from Britain in 1980.

      On Sunday Tsvangirai mocked the security forces saying they were being
called to defend Mugabe when they were also affected by an economic crisis
dramatised by the world's highest inflation rate, growing joblessness and
shortages of foreign exchange, fuel and food.

      Previous MDC protests have been met with tough tactics by Mugabe's
security forces, the last being in June 2002 dubbed "final push" to drive
Mugabe from power. It failed and led to Tsvangirai's arrest on treason

      Tsvangirai, who has led the MDC since its formation in 1999, has been
constantly outmanoeuvred by Mugabe but analysts say he has emerged from his
party's recent split intent on taking the battle to the veteran 82-year-old

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Mugabe 'should pack his bags'

Mon, 24 Apr 2006
Zimbabwe's veteran opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Sunday vowed to
remove the country's long serving President Robert Mugabe through a mass but
peaceful campaign.

"We are going to rally every Zimbabwean in the urban areas and rural areas
for a peaceful resistance against this regime," Tsvangirai told at least
6000 supporters at a giant rally in the capital city of Harare.

"I have told him (Mugabe) that we have no intention of throwing him out of
power but simply that he should pack his bags and go home to his rural area.
The struggle continues until the final victory," he said.

"Mugabe must read the national mood."

Once posing the biggest challenge to Mugabe's rule, Tsvangirai's Movement
for Democracy (MDC) party split late last year over Tsvangirai's decision to
boycott senate elections, which he said were a luxury in the face of acute
food shortages.

Last Tuesday, Mugabe warned Tsvangirai that his plans to topple the
government were like playing "with fire".

But a defiant Tsvangirai on Sunday also appealed to veterans of Zimbabwe's
liberation war against Britain to refrain from being used as pawns by
Mugabe's government.

"I am making a call to all war veterans to be true to the spirit of the
liberation struggle," he said. "The military is a noble profession but you
should not be used against your people."

Many veterans of the liberation war, which culminated in independence in
1980, have been richly rewarded by Mugabe and many have become the new
owners of white farms they were either given by the state or they forcibly


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Zimbabwe rethink on white farmers

            By Martin Plaut
            BBC News

      Zimbabwe says it is prepared to provide land to white farmers who had
their property seized under President Robert Mugabe's land reform programme.
      Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told the BBC any Zimbabwean
can apply for land and that farms would be allocated on long leases for

      But he said that farmers would not necessarily get back land they

      On Friday the Commercial Farmers' Union said 200 white farmers had
applied for land over the past two weeks.

      Cronies rewarded

      The Zimbabwe government is portraying white farmers as having finally
come to their senses, accepting that they cannot resist Mr Mugabe's land
reform programme.

      They are begging us for land, Mr Matonga told the BBC.

      But it is hard facts that has driven this policy U-turn. By
confiscating the whit- owned commercial farms, the government transformed a
country that was once the breadbasket of Southern Africa into a net food

      And despite good rains there is every prospect of another deficit over
the coming season.

      Many of the best farms were awarded to government cronies.

      The urban unemployed were frequently dumped on less favourable land,
and left to fend for themselves. Without capital, implements or seed, many

      This policy has left Zimbabwe poorer than it was at independence in
1980, after it had survived 16 years of sanctions and eight years of civil

      The result is the current crisis, with ordinary Zimbabweans now
trapped in grinding poverty, and over 2m having sought sanctuary in
neighbouring South Africa.

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Asylum bid is a bonus for Mugabe

Business Day

Foreign Staff


ZIMBABWEAN opposition MP Roy Bennett's application for asylum in SA was a
victory for President Robert Mugabe and ruling party Zanu (PF), a newspaper
said at the weekend.

The New Zimbabwean said the Harare regime would benefit from the exit of the
political veteran as the move would weaken the opposition Movement for
Democratic Change.

Bennett's family has confirmed his asylum application on the grounds that
his life was in danger from state security forces.

He fled Zimbabwe in March after reports of the finding of an arms cache led
to accusations from the state that the MDC was planning a coup. Charges
against all accused have since been dropped for lack of evidence.

Bennett is living in SA after the state-run Zimbabwean Herald newspaper
alleged he was linked through the discovery of the arms cache to a plot to
topple Mugabe's Zanu-PF government.

Bennett's Gauteng legal consultant, Danie Fourie, said Bennett had applied
for asylum through Lawyers for Human Rights, backed by Amnesty
International, and that he was safe. Bennett would not be available for

Bennett has long taken the brunt of the distain of the ruling Zanu (PF)
party for the parliamentary opposition .

On April 9 2004 Bennett was evicted from his farm in the Chimanimani
district in defiance of court orders prohibiting acquisition of the farm by
the state.

He was subjected to humiliation and suffering during a year-long prison
sentence in 2004 after an incident in May that year when he pushed Justice,
Parliament and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa to the floor during
a heated exchange. Chinamasa had referred to Bennett's father and
grandfather as "thieves and murderers". With Sapa

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Zim woos Russian investors to explore uranium

      April 23, 2006,

      By ANDnetwork .com

      Zimbabwe is making efforts to woo Russian investors to partner with
local businesses to commence the exploration of uranium in Kanyemba

      According to sources in the mining sector, Reserve Bank Governor, Dr
Gideon Gono, recently negotiated with the potential investors in Moscow.
      Several Australian companies are jostling for the special grant to
explore the mineral.
      Contacted for comment, the Deputy Minister of Mines and Mining
Development, Mr Tinos Rusere, would not shed light on the matter indicating
that he was out of the office and could be available for a detailed comment
on Monday.
      "We have got information on the exploration at Kanyemba and I am sure
our guys have got information in the office," said Mr Rusere.
      About seven potential investors are reported to be interested in the
exploration and are awaiting approvals from the Government.
      Sources in the mining sector said Zimbabwe went to Russia as it is
pushing for greater economic co-operation between the two countries, which
date back to the liberation struggle.
      However, some international investors have since halted plans to
invest in the country's mining sector pending the implementation of the
proposed mining bill.
      The amended law could give the Government up to 51 percent stake in
mining companies including 25 percent on a non-contributory basis upon
      It is understood that the Mining Affairs Board last year granted Omega
Corporation and Lowenbrau, an Australian company, a special grant to extract
uranium in the country and the company made initial plans to invest US$5
million into the project.
      Lowenbrau is a joint venture between Omega Corporation Limited and an
Australian company with a 70 percent shareholding and locals who include
Robert Zhuwao, Roderick Mlauzi, Nkonzo Chikosi and Charles Matezu.
      Zimbabwe is giving first preference to Russia and China given the
political and social relationships that exist.
      Last year the two countries voted against a decision to have Zimbabwe
censored by the Security Council when Government embarked on Operation
      The Government says it intends to explore the mineral for electricity
      The Ministry of Mines failed to award Exclusive Prospecting Orders
last year resulting in Zimbabwean companies losing potential investors.
      The Government is talking to investors interested in extracting
uranium, which is considered a strategic resource because of its application
to nuclear weapons.
      Australians, South Africans, Zimbabweans and Namibian nationals have
shown interest in prospecting for the prized mineral.
      The valley is also rich in natural gas used to make energy. Geologists
say the initial explorations have isolated Kanyemba District, Kariba,
Mhangura, Hwange, Victoria Falls, West Nicholson, Mana Pools and Chimanimani
in the eastern part of the country as areas with exploitable uranium
      Initial explorations suggest that there is about 450 000 tonnes of
uranium ore. Early estimates also suggest that the explored areas have 20
000 tonnes of extractable uranium.
      Companies which have applied for special grants include Lowenbrau,
which has isolated the Hwange, Victoria Falls and Mhangura districts; Africa
Energy Resources, which has isolated the highly priced Kanyemba areas;
Altrock, Bennydale Miners, Heavy Metals Syndicate-Binga, Chimanimani and
West Nicholson and Mutoko, Geo Associates-Mana Pools and Stonefields Mining
which have applied to explore the Kanyemba district.

      Source : Zimbabwe Chronicle

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Health crisis in resettled areas

      April 24, 2006

      By Andnetwork .com

      A huge health crisis is developing in areas where hundreds of
thousands of poor rural Zimbabweans and their families have been resettled
on commercial farms as part of President Robert Mugabe's socially and
economically disastrous land reform exercise.

      Mugabe's ZANU PF government moved some 400,000 rural families on to
Zimbabwe's mainly white-owned commercial farms over the past six years
without a corresponding development of health and sanitary structures.

      As conditions have deteriorated on the once rich and highly developed
farms, a major health crisis is developing.

      As rural people were resettled on the farms, some 900,000 farm workers
and their families were simultaneously displaced from their homes on the
land, according to new statistics by the Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe,
FCTZ, an organisation created by trade unions and the Save the Children Fund
UK to raise farm labourers' standards of living.

      However, these workers remain huddled in some pockets of the farmland
and continue to compete with the new peasant settlers for increasingly
scarce and ill-equipped health services.

      Most farms no longer have fresh water supplies because pipes are in
disrepair and pumps have stopped working for lack of spares. The new
settlers cannot afford water purification chemicals, and the main water
sources are now streams and dams.

      "The situation is terrible. We know the risks of waterborne diseases
such as bilharzia, cholera and dysentery that we could catch, but there is
really no choice," said Savious Muromba, a veteran of Zimbabwe's 1970s
liberation war resettled at a farm in Odzi, about 32 kilometres outside
Mutare in Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands.

      He said most settlers had hoped the government would quickly move to
provide basic sanitary facilities on the farms when the land confiscation
process was deemed to be complete.

      People, said Muromba, were using open land as toilets while they
waited for the government to construct pit latrines called Blair Toilets.
The latter were developed to improve rural sanitation during the 1980s at
Zimbabwe's Blair Research Institute. Its clever design makes use of air
currents, a septic tank-like pit and fly traps to create an odourless and
hygienic toilet not dependent on water supply.

      Most of the settlers cannot afford the six bags of cement necessary to
construct a Blair Toilet. During the rainy season, just ending, human waste
from the surrounding bush has been seeping into the reservoirs from which
the new settlers draw their water for domestic use.

      With the government unable to afford to build clinics for the
resettled villagers, their leaders have proposed using abandoned white
farmhouses as health centres. "This is the best option, pending the
establishment of permanent clinics," said Farai Bazaya, a health worker.

      In desperation, the Zimbabwe government has appealed to the United
Nations Development programme, UNDP, to provide help for people resettled on
the confiscated farms. But first, the UNDP has called for a comprehensive
survey to identify the scale of the problem. Agostinho Zaccharia, UNDP's
resident representative in Zimbabwe, told IWPR, "Before this has been
achieved, we can't even talk about the next step."

      FCTZ's national director Godfrey Magaramombe told IWPR that his
organisation is deeply concerned by the lack of sanitation on the farms.
"The situation is bad," he said. "People are drinking surface water from
streams and dams and this water needs to be treated or boiled to reduce the
risk of infection. Since farm occupants cannot afford electricity they are
not able to get the power needed to pump their water from unpolluted

      In the first two months of this year 51 cholera deaths were reported
countrywide. In the absence of toilets and clean water on the occupied
farms, further and more serious disease outbreaks are feared.

      Even before Mugabe launched his land reform programme, government
policy had contributed to the deterioration of health facilities on
commercial farms by discouraging the development of public infrastructure on
private land. Research conducted by the FCTZ showed that up to nine out of
ten farm workers had to walk more than 20 km to get to the nearest clinic,
contrary to government policy that no one should have to travel more than
eight km.

      For the majority of farm worker communities, the only contact with
health services is through basic health care workers employed by the FCTZ.
These workers were recruited from among the farm labourers and their
families and trained in first aid and other simple health care provision.

      The disruption of farming communities has resulted in a corresponding
dislocation in this programme on most resettled farms. Some of the health
workers have been displaced from the farms where they used to live, while
those health activities that were supported financially by the former farm
owners have collapsed. Previously, each heath care worker covered two or
more farm villages consisting of about 400 people.

      Four charities running home-based care projects for HIV/AIDS patients
on farms in Mashonaland West and Mashonaland Central provinces had to
abandon this work in the face of the farm invasions and the violence that
accompanied them. These were the Batsirai AIDS Group, the Red Cross Society
of Zimbabwe, Silveira House and the FCTZ.

      UNAIDS estimates that more than 20 per cent of adults in Zimbabwe are
infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and that there are over 100
000 AIDS orphans on farms in the country. Farm worker communities are among
the worst hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

      The government has yet to announce what, if anything, it plans to do
about the deteriorating conditions on the resettled farms or even
acknowledge the looming public health disaster there.

      Source : Relief Web

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Zesa posts Z$32 trillion annual loss

Business Report

April 24, 2006

Zesa Holdings, Zimbabwe's state-owned power company, posted a loss of Z$32
trillion (R2 billion) last year, the Zimbabwe Independent reported on
Friday, citing company documents.

Zesa said the loss was due to a decision by the central bank preventing it
from raising prices, the newspaper reported.

The company lost Z$2 trillion in 2004 and Z$230 billion the previous year. -
Bloomberg, Maputo

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