The ZIMBABWE Situation Our thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.

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The Sunday Age (Melbourne)
10 August 2003-08-10
Heartbreak homeland
Australian-based Merci Mugadza returned to Zimbabwe to find her home ravaged by AIDS, drought and political chaos. First she grieved, then she vowed to try to ease the suffering. By Hark Chipperfield
IT'S HER EYES THAT FIRST DRAW YOU IN. THE EXPRESSION is cool, direct and unflinching, like the eyes of someone looking towards a distant horizon. Merci Mugadza is sitting in a comfortable terrace house in Australia, but her thoughts are several thousand kilometres away in her ravaged homeland of Zimbabwe.
She tells the story of a young boy, an orphan. The boy is starving. He climbs a tree to pick fruit, but falls and breaks his arm. There is no doctor. So his friends wrap a piece of cardboard around his arm. This is how he plays - with his broken arm wrapped in dirty cardboard, running in the street.
Mugadza has many such stories from her work with African Heritage, the charity she founded. She tells them with such fluency that you almost miss the pain in her voice, or the merest flicker of emotion in those clear-sighted eyes.
A little girl of six, maybe slightly older, is standing in a shoe shop. She is crying uncontrollably. In her hand she grasps a pair of cheap, plastic thongs. Tears cascade down her cheeks. "I asked her why she was crying," Mugadza recalls, grasping her own knees. "She said that she'd never owned a pair of shoes before. I'll never forget that moment. It was so sad."
Zimbabwe is no longer a tourist paradise of game parks, bustling cities, mock-Tudor bungalows and sundowners at the Victoria Falls Hotel. It is a place where young children scrabble through rubbish bins for food, where orphans sell their shoes for a bowl of porridge and teenage girls use newspaper because they cannot afford sanitary pads.
For Mugadza, 29, Zimbabwe is more than just the pictures, masks and artefacts that decorate her home in Sydney's Sans Souci. It is something she carries in her heart, especially now so much of her time is given over to a Zimbabwean orphanage for children whose parents have died of AIDS. "You can never forget that inner part of you - where you come from and what's happening there," she says in her beautifully modulated African-English voice. "In Australia, Zimbabwe is seen as an African problem, but it's something that should concern us all."
In the five years since Mugadza and her seven-year old son, Tanyon, immigrated to Australia, Zimbabwe (once called the breadbasket of southern Africa) has descended into social, political and economic chaos. Back then, having left a well-paid job at a recruitment agency in the capital, Harare, to follow a boyfriend to Sydney, this young African woman missed the conveniences of home. "I remember thinking, 'Do I have to make my bed every day? What happened to my house-helper bringing me my cup of tea in the morning?" she says, laughing. "It was a huge adjustment."
Two months ago Mugadza, now a customer relations officer with Virgin Blue, returned to Zimbabwe to find a country she scarcely recognised. The memory makes her shiver and twist in her chair.
The welcome was a bleak one. Once outside Harare International Airport, it was clear that her fondly remembered "slice of heaven" was gone forever. Zimbabwe, under the rule of President Robert Mugabe, was paralysed by frequent power cuts, petrol shortages and political demonstrations. Teachers and other civil servants queued for hours, in the vain hope that they would be given their back pay. Hyper inflation rates meant that, even if they did get paid, their money wouldn't go far. "There was no fuel and no money in the country," recalls Mugadza. "The banks were only giving out $Z3000 [$81] to each person about enough to buy five loaves of bread."
Life in the capital lacked the hustle and bustle of old. Many black professionals - accountants, engineers and doctors - had fled to Britain and elsewhere. Those who remained seemed helpless, confused. "You can just sense the unhappiness," she says. "When we landed at the airport, I was saying, 'What's happened to all you Africans? Is no one smiling?' Another shocking element was the sheer lack of population. That really stunned me."
Life in the rural areas was even worse. The spread of AIDS has been compounded by a long-running drought and violent clashes brought on by the government's seizure of white-owned farms.
"When you go into the villages, you see only children and old people. There is hardly anyone between the ages of 25 and 40. They're all dead, or dying," she says.
"I remember speaking to one grandmother. Her name was Chacaza. She had lost seven children. Now she was looking after 13 grandchildren - and this lady is 75 years of age."
With no money for medicines, very little screening and poor health education, AIDS is rampant. Zimbabwe has a population of about 11.7 million. According to figures from the Zimbabwean government, 220 people die from AIDS in Zimbabwe every day; the United Nations estimates that 780,000 Zimbabwean children have already been orphaned by AIDS, but the figure is almost certainly higher. For Mugadza the situation is made even more unbearable by the fact that most of the children do not even know that their parents died of AIDS. "They are told they died by eating a toxic oil," she says. "Even the word AIDS is hardly used. The children are told nothing."
Apart from the human toll, Mugadza believes that AIDS threatens to wipe out a unique way of life. She is convinced that we are witnessing a type of cultural genocide. "What is being lost in Africa and Zimbabwe is a whole heritage. The children don't have a normal life. They are growing up with a lack of culture."
Although her own family has managed to survive what she calls "the realities of life in Africa", Mugadza felt compelled to contribute to her beloved land. "I can't believe you can sit in silence when half of the population is just missing," she says.
She is acutely aware of her own good fortune. As the daughter of a professional middle-class family (her father was the foreman at a goldmine, her mother a kindergarten teacher), she was educated at English-style mission schools, often the only black kid in a class of white farm boys. "We were fairly well off to begin with, I suppose," she says. "I was one of seven kids - a small, small family by African standards!"
Opportunities for work and travel opened up. She took them. Now it was time to give something back. That is the African way. Two years ago, with the death toll from AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa climbing, Mugadza launched African Heritage. After vetting applications from various non-government projects, the six-member African Heritage board (drawn from Africa, the Caribbean and England) selected a small orphanage in Chegutu, a township about 100 kilometres southwest of Harare.
Mugadza had grown up in the nearby goldmining town of Kadoma and knew the area and its people well. Called Vana Vedu ("They are Children" in Shona, one of the languages of Zimbabwe), the orphanage cares for 110 children aged three to 17; all have lost their parents to AIDS. While most of the orphans do not sleep at the orphanage, Vana Vedu provides three meals a day, uniforms, shoes, tuition fees and other support.
Last November, African Heritage raised $3000 for Vana Vedu by staging a glamorous Afro-Australian fashion show at Sydney's Taronga Zoo. The event brought together clothes from some of Australia's top designers including Amanda Garrett, Morrissey, Tigerlily and Third Millennium - plus a bevy of very tall models from Africa.
Despite the success of the evening, there was an unexpected hitch. When Mugadza tried to send the money to Vana Vedu, they replied with a request for food, not money. The situation was urgent. "They said there's no point in us buying kids' shoes when they are starving to death," she recalls. "We decided then and there to physically take the money to them, so that we'd have a deeper understanding of what was really going on."
In May this year, Mugadza arrived in Zimbabwe, armed with the $3000 cheque, but little idea of what it might buy for the orphans. She was accompanied by her fiance, Shanne West, a pilot who had spent some time working in Africa. "It was a steep learning curve for both of us," she says. "Especially him."
Reaching Chegutu was hard enough. Petrol was in short supply. Zimbabwe's road system, once the envy of its neighbours, was crumbling. Arriving at the town, they found that Vana Vedu (run by the town pastor, his wife and two local women) required not only large quantities of food, but also toothbrushes, soap, facecloths, combs, brushes, pencils, exercise books and plastic bowls. Many of the children needed new shoes and school uniforms. Others had no money for school fees. The task was mammoth.
Returning to Harare with a large bundle of Zimbabwean dollars, Mugadza and West faced the prospect of sourcing and purchasing the required supplies, finding a truck and fuel and then transporting the whole lot back to Chegutu.
Trawling through the city's markets and department stores, it soon became apparent that there was no shortage of food in Zimbabwe, just the political will to distribute it. Soon their hired truck was heaving under its cargo of rice, flour, oatmeal, salt, sugar, cordial, cooking oil, fresh fruit and bundles of a dried fish called kapenta.
The stylish mum from Sans Souci was forced to abandon her tailored pants, slingbacks and designer tops. The work was hot, sticky and distinctly unglamorous. "There I was walking up and down the aisles in a sweaty T-shirt and tracksuit. Not a good look," she says, laughing. The three-hour drive to Chegutu was memorable: "We were surrounded by stacks of dried fish, which is full of protein but smells like hell," she says.
At the end of the journey, with the new supplies safely stowed away, Mugadza and -West were treated to an impromptu concert by the children. "They call me Mama Ubuntu," she explains. "Ubuntu is the African name for our charity. It means 'Respect for Humanity'. They sang the most beautiful songs to me. And recited poetry in English. They are smart kids."  -
Perhaps the most agonising part of the whole trip came when Mugadza went to buy new uniforms and shoes.
Because of their limited funds, African Heritage could only afford to buy shoes for the most needy children. "They were all looking at me as if to say, 'Don't let it be me who misses out on getting shoes.' Making the decision was terrible because they all needed new shoes," Mugadza says.
"Another little girl asked that if she was very good in school could I bring her a Barbie doll from Australia," she says. "I still hear that voice in my head all the time."
Returning to Australia has only renewed Mugadza's determination to help Zimbabwe's growing army of orphans - bright, loving children who cry over a $1 pair of thongs.
"When I left the orphanage for the last time, I felt utterly helpless. I had focused on one small town. What about all the other towns?" she says. "There is still a lot more to be done."  0
On November 29 African Heritage will stage Ubuntu 2003, Afro-Australian Fashion Evening at the Arthouse Hotel, 275 Pitt Street, Sydney. For more information, email
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'Mugabe says we are being stolen. All we want is better pay'

The brain drain has badly hit Zimbabwe's fragile health service

Andrew Meldrum in Pretoria
Sunday August 10, 2003
The Observer

Shepherd Mhofu is disgusted. Recently qualified as a doctor, he is doing his residency at Harare's Parirenyatwa hospital.

'I have to perform D and Cs [womb scrapes] on women without anaesthetic. I must tell families of critically ill patients that they must buy intravenous drips and medicines. We must perform surgery without gloves,' said Mhofu, 26, inhaling deeply from a cigarette. 'I see patients suffering and dying needlessly because we are working in an unprofessional environment. The medical school should have trained us to work in medical conditions from 200 years ago.'

Mhofu said he is not paid enough to feed his family, let alone buy a car. 'We are paid so little that all of us in the medical profession think about going overseas,' he said. 'I don't want to go, but I want to work in modern conditions. I want to be paid enough to support my family. That means I must go to Britain, or maybe Australia.'

Zimbabwe's brain drain has hit the medical profession particularly hard. More than 80 per cent of doctors, nurses and therapists who graduated from the University of Zimbabwe medical school since independence in 1980 have gone to work abroad, primarily in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, according to recent surveys.

The exodus has badly affected the country's crumbling health system. The country has fewer than half the 1,500 doctors needed to staff government hospitals adequately.

The University of Zimbabwe is operating with less than 50 per cent of its lecturers. The medical school is so badly affected that the annual intake of new stu dents has been reduced from 120 to 70. 'Even that is not helping,' said one lecturer. 'My department has dropped from 12 lecturers to three. The standards of teaching are dropping too.'

President Robert Mugabe has accused Britain of 'stealing' doctors and nurses from Zimbabwe. 'We have created the environment that allows the upliftment of nurses. That's why even Britain comes in the dead of night to steal our people. They are recruiting pharmacists, doctors and nurses,' he said last year.

But Zimbabwean doctors dispute Mugabe's assessment. 'We are not being stolen,' said a bitter Mhofu. 'We are seeking better pay and better standards. No one can blame us for that. The government would rather spend money on the army and on riot-control vehicles and on new Mercedes-Benz. If some of that money were spent on the health system and our salaries, then we could stay here.'

Harare paediatrician Greg Powell, chairman of the Child Protection Society, complains the brain drain includes social workers. 'Britain is actively recruiting our social workers to the point where our department of social welfare is about to collapse,' said Powell.

'This means our treatment of Aids orphans is breaking down. We are seeing professional recruitment of our social workers by British agencies. They are offered salaries 20 times greater than what they get here. The result is we have 20 children ready to go to foster homes and it is delayed because there are no social workers to do the reports. British recruiters are directly responsible for that. They are pillaging our human resources.'

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The exile files

Doctors, teachers, nurses, engineers, cricketers... 600,000 Zimbabweans are now living in the UK, forced into exile while their country disintegrates. Here, seven refugees tell Sue Summers how torture and persecution drove them out, and why now it's Mugabe's time to leave

Sunday August 10, 2003
The Observer

Robert Mugabe's dismemberment of his country is creating starvation at home and forcing a huge number of Zimbabwe's most skilled and talented people to seek asylum abroad, many of them in Britain. Zimbabwe's loss is the UK's gain - or could be, if the country's exiles could find comparable work over here.

Until January 2002, British policy was to deport any Zimbabwean who was refused leave to stay, despite evidence they were being handed over to Mugabe's secret police on their return. Deportations are currently on hold. But the Home Office has recently written to exiles, saying: 'It has now been deemed safe for Zimbabweans to return to Zimbabwe.'

'It's a poisonous statement,' says Sarah Harland of the Zimbabwe Association, which represents the interests of exiles in the UK. 'We've written to the Home Office asking who's deemed it.'

The Zimbabwean diaspora includes doctors, nurses, teachers and engineers. But most are forced to take low-grade care work and cleaning. 'There are teachers by the score sitting around unable to work because the Home Office has not decided their status,' Harland says. One of Zimbabwe's top footballers has even been spotted sweeping the streets of Luton.

'These professionals come here because they see Britain as a haven for human rights - not because they see it as a soft touch,' says Rachel Watson of Refugee Action. 'Some people get into the position where they are destitute and end up on the streets. Some make the decision they have no choice but to go back to Zimbabwe, whatever they might have to face when they get there.'

Calitas Matora, a 55-year-old mother of six, was one of the first women to join the Movement for Democratic Change in 1999. Today she wears a neck brace and walks with a crutch, the result of the beating she received from a mob of 'war veterans'. Her crime was to stand as an MP. Her attackers threw her in a trench, saying they would come back to kill her later. After she managed to escape, they burnt her home to the ground. 'I haven't seen my husband from that day to this because I didn't dare go back,' she says. 'I was tortured very badly. I don't blame my attackers: these people are poor, they have no food and the government promises them money or maize. They're being used. I should like to thank the people of this country for looking after me.'

Patson Muzuwa

Trade union activist Patson Muzuwa (pictured previous page) knew he was taking a big risk when he got involved in helping to set up the MDC. Arrested nine times, the 36-year-old motor mechanic was electrocuted by the police during interrogation, beaten on the ribs and soles of his feet and put under house arrest for seven months. Finally, at 2 o'clock one morning in October 2001, armed militiamen broke into his house while he was asleep and tried to abduct him.

He screamed for help and his neighbours arrived in force: 'They couldn't take me away, so they started beating me with iron bars and the barrels of their guns on my head and all over my body. I collapsed unconscious. According to the neighbours, there were more than 12 of them. If they had taken me away, they would have buried me alive.

'I know a married couple here in the UK who were buried for 26 days. The wife was five months pregnant at the time; she was buried in mud up to her chin and only given water.'

After leaving hospital, Patson stayed in a safe house until a British journalist, Mark Olden, convinced him he would have to leave and bought him an air ticket to the UK. When he arrived here, with stitches in his head and two broken hands, he was immediately put in detention in Cambridge. His stitches had to be taken out at the detention centre but his asylum claim was refused - though he has since been granted indefinite leave to remain.

Although he is a qualified motor mechanic, Patson - a patient of the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture - cannot find a job in a garage so he does part-time cleaning and works with other refugees as a Red Cross volunteer. 'After all the help and love I got from the British Red Cross,' he says, 'I thought I should extend the same thing to others.'

But Patson's real job is campaigning tirelessly in favour of change in Zimbabwe. His two mobiles never stop ringing. He has spoken at Oxford and Cambridge, to the Law Society and European Parliament, collects clothes for Zimbabwean refugees and supports them in their immigration proceedings. He talked down from the top of a tower block a woman who had been gang raped by Mugabe's 'war veterans'. He has even found time to release two CDs of Zimbabwean revolutionary songs.

'I really want to go back to my country - I love Zimbabwe,' Patson says. 'We are looking forward to making friends with the international community and helping to bring it back to life. People don't have life in Zimbabwe now.'

Beverley Gibbs

when Beverley Gibbs left Zimbabwe in December 2001, her paintings were among the few things she brought with her. The 11 oils and watercolours were a vivid reminder of what she had left behind - the cattle farm outside Bulawayo which she and her husband John bought after independence in 1985, only to be driven off it by Mugabe's policies. Six months after arriving in Britain, John had a massive heart attack and died.

'The stress we had been under was just appalling,' Beverley says. 'The intimidation makes you so angry, and there was absolutely nobody to turn to. My husband and I discussed the parallels between ourselves and the Jews of Europe before the war. We asked ourselves: when did the Jews in Poland decide enough was enough and they would have to go?

'We had to leave everything. Everything we had was gone. But at least we could leave. I feel very angry for the people who worked for us that they should be let down so badly and I've had this guilty feeling because I could go and they can't.'

Beverley, 61, has been exhibiting her scenes of people on the farm at Nyamandhlovu (it translates as Meat of the Elephant) at the Conservatory Gallery in Cambridge, where she now lives.

In fact, she is neither a painter nor farmer but a violinist by profession, and she and her English-born doctor husband worked seven days a week to make the farm a success. Over 80 per cent of white-owned farms were bought after independence, each sale individually sanctioned by Mugabe's government, which had to issue a certificate of 'no interest' before any deal could go ahead.

For Beverley and her husband, the situation started to deteriorate three years ago. 'At first, people would just come on to the farm and chop down trees,' she says. 'Then a thug of a man came to the house and said he was going to divide up the farm. He wasn't a farmer, just an opportunist who worked in town, and he sent tractors to plough up the land around the house.

'He kept coming back with more and more people, saying he was going to murder us and kill our cattle. A nearby farmer, Martin Olds, was the first in the district to be murdered. That was a terrible day.

We were going to wait for the presidential election before leaving, but it turned out to be a complete nonsense, so thank God we didn't.

'Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be living in England, but I'm very happy here now. I'll never go back to Africa. The paintings I brought with me are the last of the farm paintings. Next I'll be painting something else.'

Dr Chireka

Dr Brighton Chireka, 30, qualified in Harare in 1997 and left Zimbabwe three years later, after the Young Doctors' Strikes. 'We went on strike because of the shortage of basic things,' he says. 'When you're running out of drips and drugs, what do you do? You are not serving the people. You have to ask the patient to buy equipment for himself - basic things, like bandages. But after two months on strike, we realised the government wasn't going to do anything and we were just causing patients' deaths, so we called it quits. Before that there was a lot of intimidation and victimisation towards those involved, like me. They told me that if I wanted them to spare my life, I'd have to toe the party line.

'Right now, we have an Aids pandemic. With the right leadership and commitment, we could blunt its impact. But the combination of Aids, unemployment and starvation is a disaster. We only have one medical school with eight or so graduates a year and we lose half of those overseas. I salute the doctors in Zimbabwe, who are doing a fantastic job, given the circumstances. I feel very strongly I should be there with them.

'It will take 10 years to get things back to how they were before Mugabe. It's not only the health system that will have to be changed but the corruption and the terrible culture of violence. Mugabe has turned people into thugs. He has used violence to take advantage of Zimbabweans' basically peace-loving natures. It's time for him to go.'


Addley, 31, refuses to give her surname or any details about where she comes from. Even here in Britain, she is scared of possible reprisals.

On 12 February 2001, after giving out flyers and posters for the MDC in the presidential election, she and three male colleagues were stopped by a government truck containing four men in militia uniform and ordered in at gunpoint. 'They drove us to a farm, where there were people who'd already been tortured. They'd been there two or three days. There was blood everywhere. They kicked us, beat us with whips. I was blindfolded and raped by three men. Then I lost consciousness. When I came to, I managed to escape and walked through the bush in the dark. Finally, I saw a bus and got a lift to a police station.'

But in Zimbabwe, the police work hand in hand with Mugabe's so-called war veterans. 'The policeman told me to make a report at a desk run by war veterans. They sent me to hospital but said they wanted me back at 10am. So I ran away, met my brother in Harare and bought the only air ticket available.'

Addley claimed asylum 18 months ago, but the Home Office has not yet responded to her application. Since her status is undecided, she cannot work. 'I want to go back as soon as things get better,' she says. 'They can't get much worse. The policeman who takes your details at the station will be the person who comes to beat you at night. And the UN does nothing. I wish it would.'

Georgina Godwin

Georgina Godwin used to have her own TV and radio shows every other day on the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, plus a newspaper column and a media consultancy which ran the biggest arts festival in Southern Africa. She was in demand to open supermarkets. Today she broadcasts anonymously from a secret location in north London as one of the eight-strong team of Zimbabwean journalists who run SW Radio Africa. Along with her colleagues, she has been declared a 'prohibited immigrant' and faces immediate arrest if she goes home. 'I thought I'd be going for six months because Morgan Tsvangirai would win the presidential election and we could all go home,' she says.

'I couldn't tell anyone why I was going, so I never got to say goodbye to my friends.

'But there was just so much I wanted to say and couldn't. In the end, on my radio show, I'd let the music do the talking. When there was the opening of Parliament, I'd play "The Teddy Bears' Picnic".'

Georgina, 36, has long been used to politics being part of her life. She was only 11 when her older sister was killed after her car crashed into a Rhodesian Army ambush. Her brother Peter, a writer and former BBC and newspaper foreign correspondent, won awards for his book about their childhood, A White Boy in Africa, which is now being made into a film.

'You can't imagine what it's like to live in a country that's falling apart and yet have no access to any independent information other than the odd news report or three-minute item on the World Service,' she says. 'That's why we set this station up.

'What I'm constantly trying to get across is that the Zimbabwe situation is not just about white farmers losing their land - it's about 11m black people who can't eat. I feel morally bound to help rebuild Zimbabwe society when Mugabe goes, but I'd hate to be trapped there again. I'd like to think people will go back, but I don't think many will. Almost every single Zimbabwean family has one person out, sending money back. It's the only way people are surviving.'

Violet Gonda

On the very weekend she was declared a banned person by the Mugabe government, SW Radio Africa journalist Violet Gonda sent her passport back to Zimbabwe to be renewed. That was the last she heard of it. She is now stateless and passportless, and her bank account has been closed: 'The bank want to see my passport but I can't even get a travel document from the Home Office unless the Zimbabwe authorities confirm that they won't issue me with one. I can't go back to Zimbabwe because I'll be put in jail.

And I can't travel anywhere else, either.'

In Zimbabwe Violet, 29, worked for a TV company as a production assistant on documentaries which were invariably banned. She came to Britain to study journalism at City University and worked for the BBC before joining SW Radio Africa. The station has no idea how many listeners it has because nobody can admit to listening to it. To make contact with its audience, the station relies on emails and phone calls and it has a network of informants around the country.

'We hope we're doing something worthwhile, but we're so far away from home it's hard to know. Zimbabwe was a beautiful country but friends say our life is here now because there's nothing left. In this country, there are so many professionals from Zimbabwe. Teachers are running away, doctors and nurses are running away, everyone's running away. Who can blame them?'

Henry Olonga

Fast bowler Henry Olonga made headlines all over the world when he and his white team-mate Andy Flowers wore black armbands during their country's opening World Cup game to protest against 'the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe'. A few months on, Andy is playing for Essex and Henry for Lashings, a small club in Maidstone, Kent. He is also a cricket commentator for Channel 4. 'I didn't have to leave the country, in the same way Saddam Hussein doesn't have to leave Iraq,' he says. 'It was suggested that it wouldn't be good for my health if I stayed.'

The articulate 26-year-old was one of the most widely admired figures in Zimbabwean sport, and his life was 'hunky dory'. When Andy approached him with the idea of the protest - inspired by the torture of an MP whose story didn't make it on to the front pages in Zimbabwe - Henry thought he was kidding: 'I didn't buy it. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. It was wrong that a tyrannical dictator could get away with murder and no one was challenging him - no one who had the world's attention. With the World Cup, the whole world would be watching. I didn't want the government using that opportunity to give the impression all was well in Zimbabwe.

'I knew I'd have to give up my career and my home. But in comparison with what other people have given up in the name of freedom and democracy in Zimbabwe, my sacrifice pales into insignificance.'

Henry's father is a doctor, and his brother Victor captains the Zimbabwe rugby team - though his views could not be more different to Henry's: 'Sometimes he comes across as a mouthpiece of the government, but I don't think he really is.'

His future here is uncertain after September, when his contracts with C4 and Lashings come to an end. His ambitions lie in music; he is currently working with composer Barrington Phelong: 'In Zimbabwe, I released a few songs which went to the top of the charts. I'd like to go back but if I haven't fulfilled my ambitions in music, I won't drop everything when change comes. And change will come - it did in Iraq. I'd welcome any intervention that brings about a peaceful end to Zimbabwe's problems. They lie basically on the shoulders of one man. I want to see the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe improved, and I'm not too fussy how that comes about.'

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Mugabe hitches a ride on soccer and music

Sunday Times Foreign Desk

The Zimbabwean government has taken to exploiting everyday popular activities in the country to shore up Robert Mugabe's dwindling popularity.

Soccer matches, beauty pageants, music shows and various cultural events are now all being touted as "government projects" in a desperate bid to revive the president's flagging political profile.

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, Mugabe's propaganda chief, is spearheading efforts to peddle recreational events as official activities.

Moyo started his campaign last year when he hijacked the Miss Malaika beauty pageant organised by the Benin-born music promoter Ernest Coovi Adjovi.

Using the then-reigning Miss Malaika, Brita Masalethulini of Zimbabwe, the government turned the pageant into a political circus. Moyo led fund-raising efforts for the event, which eventually netted Z65-million.

A Cabinet Action Committee adopted the pageant as a national project, paving the way for the government's involvement.

However, it has been recently reported that Moyo and Adjovi, also director of the Kora All Africa Music Awards, now based in Johannesburg, are locked in a legal wrangle over the R69 000 that was used to organise the contest, which was eventually won by an African-American, Morgan Chitty.

Moyo, who recently wrote a song for the national soccer team, has also been trying to use football as a rallying point to drum up support for Mugabe, who now suddenly claims to be a fervent soccer fan.

In a recent address to journalists after Zimbabwe's first qualification for the African Cup of Nations finals in Tunisia next year, Mugabe said he loved the game.

He also said he often talked about the sport when he met South African President Thabo Mbeki.

"I have never played soccer seriously, apart from kicking the ball around in my spare time with friends at school, and I know it is a very enjoyable sport," Mugabe said.

"I follow all those moves . . . People must not sit close to me because when you score I also score, and I tell you when that happens while someone is close to my feet they must watch out for I also shoot hard."

He said his family knows and often protests about his unchecked fanaticism.

"My wife knows and always complains that each time I watch soccer I make a lot of noise because I truly enjoy the game," he said.

However, Mugabe's government failed in 2000 to organise an African Cup of Nations finals match after winning the bid to host the game.

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Zimbabwe short-changed

Sunday Times SA

Zimbabwe's central bank has promised to issue large denomination travellers' cheques to ease a chronic cash shortage, caused because Harare cannot afford many of the inks used in the printing of money.

However, many traders said they would refuse to accept the cheques, which were still not widely available on Friday.

An inflation rate approaching 400% has devalued notes in circulation and people have begun to hoard cash.

The cheques are supposed to be available from most banks, but those canvassed said they had not yet had any deliveries from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. And people in Harare are sceptical of the plan.

A supermarket manager said: "What do we do if someone buys a box of matches for Z20 and gives us a travellers' cheque for Z100 000? We can't afford to give change."

The head of another chain, who asked not to be quoted for fear of reprisals from edgy Reserve Bank staff , said: "We have told staff that if a consumer spends about Z30 000, we will then give change, but nothing less than that. It's a mess. A terrible, terrible mess. There is going to be massive fraud."

The owner of a hardware store said: "Travellers' cheques in every other country can only be cashed with a passport. We are selling sandpaper and paint. We don't know how to deal with travellers' cheques."

A broom seller said: "We don't know these cheques. They are not money."

- © The Telegraph, London

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From The Sunday Times (UK), 10 August

Zimbabwe wildlife crisis as elite grabs hunting rights

Jon Swain, Harare

As poachers slaughter more and more wildlife in Zimbabwe, the country’s minister of parks and tourism has almost bankrupted the body responsible for protecting endangered species of game by giving away valuable hunting concessions to family and friends in the ruling elite. Francis Nhema’s action is believed to have netted the individuals as much as £1m. But the parks and wildlife management authority, which he oversees, cannot meet the August wage bill for its 2,400 staff because it was not paid properly for the concessions. Last week banks were refusing to lend it any more money until it came up with a plan for repaying the loans. "But how can it while the minister is giving away the assets?" said an inside source. The knock-on effect of Nhema’s intervention has been disastrous. Zimbabwe boasts more national parks than almost any other country; they cover 14% of the countryside and were once superbly run. However, the impoverishment of the national parks has meant that scouts, the first line of defence against poachers, have been forced to cut back on patrols after running out of fuel for their vehicles and ammunition for their rifles. Rations are said to be in such short supply that some scouts have been ordered to shoot game for the pot whenever they go into the field.

Nhema had a reputation for good management until he began giving away the hunting concessions without going through a tendering process. One of the early beneficiaries of his largesse has been his sister-in-law Tendi Nkomo, the daughter of Joshua Nkomo, the late vice-president. She was awarded the Tuli concession for a token US$750. Another beneficiary is Emmanuel Fundira, the minister’s nephew. He was awarded the concession for Makuti, one of the most prized hunting areas where elephant, lion, buffalo and leopard are the main bag. The Charara concession, estimated to be worth more than £500,000 from hunting fees this season, was parcelled out to a consortium headed by Brigadier Paradzayi Zimondi and General Amoth Chingombe, two powerful army figures. The process started last year. This year it was expanded with Nhema’s creation of two new safari hunting areas to give away to cronies. One of them, at Sengwa, was created out of an area that had not previously been hunted but was designated as a wildlife research centre. Nhema has also dramatically increased the quotas of animals that are allowed to be shot to what conservationists say are unsustainable levels.

The annual hunting quota for Sengwa, which covers an area of 364 square kilometres, is now 12 elephant, five lion, 25 buffalo and 12 leopard. The sustainable level is put at two elephant, one lion, five buffalo and two leopard. Nhema confirmed that he had directed the allocation of hunting concessions to individual operators, but indicated that it had been on the advice of the parks authority. "If anything has gone wrong in the selection process of beneficiaries, the blame should be placed on the authority, which could have failed to discharge its duties efficiently," he told the state-owned Herald newspaper. Analysts said the changes have turned big game hunting into a new cash cow for the elite, who have already profited hugely from the seizure of thousands of white-owned commercial farms. However, they added that a rapid decline in the wild animal population from poaching meant the money was in danger of drying up soon. As much as half the country’s game has been slaughtered in the three years since war veterans began land invasions.

The land seizures have turned Zimbabwe from a peaceful and prosperous country into one of turmoil, lawlessness, hunger and poverty. It is estimated that it has lost as many as 3,000 cheetah, which are endangered worldwide, to gangs of illegal settlers who hunt them down with spears and dogs on confiscated white farmland. There are thought to be only 18 Liechtenstein hartebeest, a rare antelope, and the numbers of tsessebi antelope have fallen from 12,000 to 3,000. Several rare black rhino have also been killed for their horns, worth £30,000. Although elephants are not endangered in Zimbabwe, massive poaching of the 80,000- strong population has decimated some herds. A World Wide Fund for Nature survey counted 3,800 elephant carcasses in the Zambezi valley alone in the past four years. One person who has seen the damage at first hand is Sharon Pincott, an Australian conservationist. She works with the 400-plus herd of "presidential elephants" of Hwangwe. Despite their special status these elephants, too, have been poached. "What gruesome sight might I encounter today?" Pincott asks every time she goes into the bush to observe the elephants. "Will it be a severed trunk not long enough to reach the mouth with water?" she writes in Zimbabwe Wildlife magazine. "While I hope for the best I’ve learnt to be prepared for the worst."

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