From The Daily Telegraph (UK), 15 February
Economic crisis puts Harare in darkness
Harare - Zimbabwe's state electricity company announced national blackouts yesterday amid a deepening economic crisis. The price of bread also increased for the second month running and petrol stations were running dry. With no hard currency to buy imports, Zimbabwe's economy is facing paralysis. Most factories are working a three-day week, investment has all but disappeared, and the unemployment rate is around 60 per cent.
The crisis has intensified the discontent in Harare's townships and is the principal reason for the unpopularity of President Mugabe and the rise of the opposition MDC. The greatest threat to the president's grip on power would come from a spontaneous eruption of popular anger caused by the mounting hardships. More than 45 per cent of Zimbabwe's electricity is imported, mainly from South Africa. With no hard currency available, Zesa, the state power company, cannot buy enough to satisfy demand. A shortage of diesel is preventing its own power stations from working at full capacity.
The bread price rise of four per cent will add to the burdens on the poorest households. Over the past year, the price has more than doubled and the resulting hardship caused three days of rioting in Harare last October. Zimbabwe's economic collapse began when the IMF ended support in 1999. Mr Mugabe had called it a "monstrous institution", ignored demands for economic reform and pressed on with a financially ruinous intervention in the DRC's civil war.
From The Daily News, 14 February
Zexcom wants Hunzvi jailed
Shareholders in Zexcom, a company owned by war veterans, recommended over the weekend the immediate arrest of Chenjerai Hunzvi, Endy Mhlanga and Tangai Hove, board members of the firm, for alleged fraud involving $50 million. Yesterday, the task force investigating the affairs of Zexcom, led by Dr Muvengwa Mukarati, said Hunzvi and his colleagues had been rejected by 1 100 shareholders at the meeting. The shareholders recommended that Hunzvi, Mhlanga and Hove's assets be forfeited pending further investigations. Among the properties under investigation are two cars, a Mercedes Benz owned by Hunzvi and a Peugeot 306 owned by Hove.
A report in the hands of the police confirmed the shareholders resolved Hunzvi and his colleagues should be arrested on allegations of fraud. Although Hunzvi, the chairman of a faction of war veterans, had declared Saturday's meeting illegal, he was at the venue before the members of the task force arrived. "His car could hardly move, overloaded with youths and street kids," said Mustafa Mudara, a member of the task force. "Hunzvi hired people, some of them wearing T-shirts written 'Vote Makova', to try and disrupt the meeting attended by shareholders from all provinces." Claudious Makova, the Zanu PF candidate, won the by-election in Bikita West following a violent campaign spearheaded by Hunzvi.
On Saturday, Hunzvi allegedly tried to bring in non-shareholders into the meeting. However, the meeting went ahead after police were called in and weeded out the non-shareholders. An audit report, prepared by Kudenga and Company and presented at the meeting, caused a furore. The task force said: "The report gave evidence of serious anomalies and implicated a number of people at the helm of Zexcom, including Hunzvi and Mhlanga, of being unable to account for assets and capital to the value of nearly $50 million, with some clear evidence of fraudulent use of assets and theft by conversion."
Zivanai Mboko, the secretary of the task force, said the meeting became heated after the allegations. "For the first time, Hunzvi was shouted down by angry war veterans," he said. "He had to plead with the war veterans." The war veterans were paid $50 000 each in gratuities by the government three years ago, and some of them invested the money in Zexcom. Other members of the task force are John Gwitira and Phillipa Chiweshe.
From The Financial Gazette, 15 February
Family urges judge to go
Supreme Court Judge Justice Ahmed Ebrahim's family has urged him to quit the bench but the judge is under pressure from judicial colleagues to emulate Justice Nicholas McNally's example to carry on with his work, it was established this week. Justice McNally has warded off Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa's pressure to unconstitutionally remove him from the bench after the forced resignation of Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay three weeks ago.
Judge Ebrahim's family decision comes in the wake of disclosures this week that High Court judge president Godfrey Chidyausiku, who is poised to replace Justice Gubbay, has told Chinamasa that he would not want to become chief justice while the other four Supreme Court justices - McNally, Simba Muchechetere, Wilson Sandura and Ebrahim - remain in their positions. Authoritative sources said Justice Chidyausiku felt that he would not make any impact if he was promoted to head the highest court in the land while the other sitting judges stayed on in their positions. The judge president would rather go to the top court with new faces to complement him.
"He has been approached to become acting chief justice in two weeks' time but his dilemma is that he would be useless there unless he goes there with at least two other new faces, hence Chinamasa's pressure to create more vacancies in the Supreme Court," one source told the Financial Gazette. Justice Chidyausiku and Chinamasa could not be reached for comment yesterday. The sources said the family of Justice Ebrahim had urged him to bring forward his retirement date and quit the bench for safety reasons. By late yesterday, it was not certain if the judge would go along with his family's advice or that of his judicial colleagues. He himself could not be contacted for comment.
Justice Ebrahim, 62, had indicated to Chinamasa last week that he needed time to consult his family before considering whether to resign or stay on. Chinamasa had approached justices Ebrahim and McNally and ordered them to quit after a parliamentary caucus of the ruling ZANU PF party expressed a "vote of no confidence" in the Supreme Court judges. Justice McNally has refused to go, preferring to wait for his official retirement in 10 months' time when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70. Justice McNally re-iterated this view in an interview yesterday. The judge said the minister had not returned to discuss the matter with him since he informed him of his decision.
Asked whether it was true that Chinamasa had told judges that they had to go now or risk being harmed by rampaging war veterans, Justice McNally said "that is not true in relation to me". "The minister made no specific threat against me. He did say something in general like the President does not want to see me hurt and that there would be unpleasant confrontation if I don't resign but nothing specific," Justice McNally told the Financial Gazette. He declined to be drawn into commenting on what Chinamasa's tactics meant for the judiciary in Zimbabwe, preferring to say only that "it is serious for the judiciary but draw your own conclusions".
Meanwhile political editor Sydney Masamvu reports from Washington that two US legislators are considering re-introducing the Zimbabwe Democracy Bill which had been shelved last year by American legislators. The Bill aimed to punish the Zimbabwe government for its human rights abuses while giving financial support to local civic society groups fighting for democracy. The plan to re-introduce the Bill is being sponsored by Senator Bill Frost, a Republican and chairman of a sub-committee responsible for Africa, and Senator Russell Feingold, a Democrat.
Masamvu quotes Gibson Sibanda, deputy president of the opposition MDC who is visiting Washington, as saying after talks with State Department officials that the US government and the international community should take all steps to isolate the Zimbabwe government because of its refusal to uphold the rule of law. "We are not calling for sanctions on Zimbabwe, but we are urging the US government and the rest of the international community to blacklist Mugabe and some of his ministers who are stifling democracy and committing human rights abuses," Sibanda said.
Sir - As the first post-independence chief justice of Zimbabwe, I am increasingly concerned about the way Robert Mugabe's minister of justice, Patrick Chinamasa, has been applying pressure on two members of the Supreme Court to take leave due to them and to retire early.
One, Mr Justice McNally, has always supported the rule of law and indeed was one of the counsel in the 1968 constitutional case who challenged the legality of the Smith regime. The other, Mr Justice Ebrahim, was an early supporter of Mr Mugabe's government, who was appointed attorney general in 1980 and later a supreme court judge.
The minister of justice's excuse for his actions is that he is fearful that harm might come to these two men which he would not like to see. One would have thought that the duty of a minister of justice was to ensure proper protection for the judges of the country, rather than to persuade them to stand down to avoid any trouble.
The reported attitude of the ruling Zanu-PF party, that the judges "were working to hand Zimbabwe back to colonial control", can have no possible foundation or credibility. The Supreme Court of Zimbabwe since independence has always been a staunch upholder of the rule of law, without any political bias, despite the fact that a number of its judgments, which failed to find favour with the government, have consistently been disregarded.
Sir John Fieldsend
From The Financial Gazette, 15 February
Govt cobbles up desperate policies to survive
THE government has dug deep to embrace increasingly desperate measures in its fight for political survival and to refloat a sinking economy that could decide its fate, analysts said this week. Severe foreign currency and fuel shortages, escalating prices of goods and services, tumbling standards of living, increasing de-industrialisation and record high unemployment have confronted the government as it stares a crucial ballot due next year. But economic and political analysts surveying the government's measures this week said its continuing isolation by the IMF and other multilateral agencies as well as its policies that have brought Zimbabwe's forex-earning sectors to the brink have left it with few options.
Last week the government was forced to issue an Exchange Control directive requiring all commercial banks to remit 75 percent of foreign currency to the central bank to raise foreign exchange to meet its "urgent foreign commitments". Exporters, who have been selling part of their hard currency on the parallel market at $80 against one American greenback to finance their operations, had to remit their proceeds at the official rate of $55. Export-oriented stocks on the local share bourse immediately took a knock in response to what one analyst said were unorthodox policies that are increasingly unnerving investors. "It's only one of a whole set of things that are so absurd that we don't have any adjectives to describe them anymore," economic consultant John Robertson told the Financial Gazette. "The government's economic policies are showing a level of desperation that has never been seen in this country ever before," he noted.
The analysts said suspect policies included the proposed government-labour-business social contract, which was thrown out of the window by labour at the weekend and which, if it had been approved, would have raised wages but frozen prices of basic goods. Faced with a ballooning interest bill on its $166 billion-plus domestic debt, the government has also announced monetary policy measures that have resulted in a steep fall in domestic interest rates. And in a bid to keep a tight rein on inflation, expected to average an unprecedented high of 70 percent this year, the government has maintained an artificial exchange rate of $55 against the American dollar in an extremely dry foreign currency market.
While the official line is that the intention is to spare ordinary Zimbabweans from more pain caused by the government's self-inflicted economic malaise, the analysts said the measures were unsustainable and would worsen the poverty that already stalks 80 percent of the population of 12,5 million people. For instance, the opposition MDC's Economic Affairs Department this week estimated that if the artificial exchange rate is maintained throughout 2001, the financial cost to exporters could be as high as $45 billion. "That could put a great number of exporters under dire financial straits," MDC's economic affairs secretary Eddie Cross said. Sagit Stockbrokers analyst Nyasha Chasakara added: "We can't run away from the fact that there needs to be a devaluation. Exporters are earning the same or even less than last year in real terms, but their costs have gone up markedly with inflation."
If this situation continues and more exporters come under financial pressure, many export-oriented firms could be forced to close down, ultimately increasing urban poverty as more workers are retrenched. Five percent of Zimbabwe's two million workers in the formal sector lost their jobs last year alone as the economic crisis took its toll. While the central bank's new monetary policy has seen lending rates falling to levels that are supposed to benefit Zimbabwe's productive sectors, money market rates have also nosedived to 10-year lows, threatening historic savings. The National Social Security Authority, pension funds, insurance companies and other institutional investors holding historic savings on behalf of Zimbabweans are expected to be affected.
The crash of lending rates is also forecast to fuel inflation by putting upward pressure on money supply growth. "Inflation, which fell in December to 55,2 percent from 56 percent the previous month, is expected to remain at these high levels in the first half of 2001 and to rise further in the second half of the year," NMB Bank Limited said in its weekly economic commentary. "This is due to the fact that money supply growth is set to increase following the easing of monetary policy." Robertson observed: "This (the forced reduction of interest rates) is a very bad idea. It's corrosive and damaging to the economy. If you want to have low interest rates, then you should reduce inflation, which is not happening. A social contract would never work under these conditions because companies would eventually be unable to keep operating."
The analysts suggested that the economic policies adopted by the government in the past few weeks were aimed at securing votes for the ruling ZANU PF party in presidential elections that are due next year. But other commentators this week said that because of their short-term nature, the measures would only benefit ZANU PF if the government called a snap election in time to cash in on whatever goodwill was gained from hiking wages and cutting interest rates. "We're going to run out of food by the end of this year. By November and December, we'll be eating imported maize at twice the cost, if we're eating at all," Robertson said. "I don't think it would be that easy to win an election at a time when the price of maize has just doubled. My feeling is that it would be easier to hold an election when people are still eating Zimbabwean maize so the government would need to hold the election between July and October."
But political analysts said the government, whose open intimidatory tactics have proved successful in recent by-elections, was unlikely to bring the presidential polls forward. "I don't think they will call a snap election," said Brian Raftopoulos, a senior research fellow at the University of Zimbabwe's Institute of Development Studies. "I think there are too many things going wrong with the economy to make a difference. These economic measures are unlikely to help the government in any way." Echoing his views, UZ political science lecturer Masipula Sithole said: "Calling a snap election won't make any difference. People would see through it. They (ZANU PF) are damned if they do and damned if they don't."
From The Star (SA), 14 February
Kagame will attend summit, says Chiluba
Lusaka - Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who had earlier this week said he would not attend a peace summit on the DRC, has promised to attend the talks, mediator and host President Frederick Chiluba said on Wednesday. Chiluba was quoted confirming on state-run Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation radio and private radio Phoenix that Kagame would attend the talks on Thursday since he had promised to do so. Kagame had rejected Chiluba's invitation to the peace summit, accusing Zambia of not being neutral in the DRC war.
Chiluba, who spoke at a ceremony to swear in one of his new ministers, said both sides to the DRC conflict had accused his country of harboring the other's enemies, but he maintained his country was neutral. "We can explain ... because we are neutral in the fight that is going on and we want to maintain our neutrality," Chiluba said. "I want to ensure that brother Kagame, whom I have spoken to already, will find time because he has promised to come over, so we can resolve this matter. We are ready to resolve this matter and we cannot leave the process half-done, it's almost done. We hope nobody will find excuses to slow down the peace process or the pace to resolve the remaining issues," Chiluba said.
From BBC News, 15 February
African leaders gather for Congo summit
African leaders are gathering in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, in a renewed effort to end the long war in the DRC. The summit starts today Thurs and is the first such meeting since Joseph Kabila took over the presidency in Congo from his assassinated father Laurent Kabila. Mr Kabila and his key ally - the Zimbabwean leader, President Mugabe - arrived on Wednesday, but the main supporter of the rebels, Rwanda, will not be represented. The Rwandan foreign minister Andre Bumaya told the BBC this was because of the attitude of the Zambian government. He accused Zambia of shielding Hutu militia wanted by Rwanda in connection with the 1994 genocide. The BBC Africa correspondent, who's in Lusaka, says that without the presence of the Rwandan leader, Paul Kagame, the talks could well fail.
COMMERCIAL FARMERS’ UNION
PRESS RELEASE - Wednesday 15th February 2001
Announcement of Special CFU Congress
CFU President, Tim Henwood
Following an extraordinary meeting of the full Council of the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) on Tuesday 13th February 2001, CFU President, Tim Henwood has announced that the Council unanimously resolved to convene a Special Congress to chart the way forward on the deadlocked land issue and to review CFU national leadership. In terms of the CFU constitution, a minimum of thirty days notice is required to convene a Special Congress, so the Congress will be held on Wednesday 21st March 2001.
Henwood said - "I recognise that Government and the CFU are deadlocked over the land issue to the detriment of the nation. CFU has consistently supported the principle of land reform and I reaffirm our commitment to having dialogue with Government in order to chart the way forward in the national interest. I also confirm, in the strongest possible terms, that the CFU is a politically non-partisan organisation with a mandate to represent the interests of its members and to work with the Government of the day.
I will be encouraging my members to become part of the solution to land reform. We acknowledge the injustices of the past and the need for a well-structured land reform programme for the benefit of Zimbabwe. I urge all stakeholders in this sensitive and emotional issue to urgently come to the table in order to reach common ground so that the nation can move forward."
T K Henwood
President, Commercial Farmers’ Union
15th February 2001
From The Daily Telegraph (UK), 14 February
Court challenge to Mugabe MPs
Harare - Zimbabwe's opposition asked the High Court yesterday virtually to order an election rerun by nullifying the victories of 37 MPs from President Mugabe's ruling party. The MDC accused the Zanu-PF MPs of committing "every offence imaginable" during last year's poll. More than half of Zanu-PF's 63 elected MPs are accused of crimes ranging from intimidation and assault to vote-buying. If the courts use their power to unseat the MPs and order by-elections, Mr Mugabe's majority in parliament will be at stake.
The president has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent the MDC cases from being heard. A statutory instrument issued by Mr Mugabe in December would have nullified the challenges and allowed Zanu-PF MPs to hold their seats even if convicted of electoral corruption. But the Supreme Court made a landmark ruling last month that overturned this measure and allowed the cases to go ahead. This decision infuriated the government and sparked the latest drive to remove independent judges from the bench. Mr Mugabe's closest colleagues are threatened by the challenges. Among those who will be before the courts are six cabinet ministers, two junior ministers and Vice-President Simon Muzenda.
Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi, the notorious leader of the War Veterans' Association and Mr Mugabe's most feared henchman, is also facing a legal challenge. If convicted, any of these Zanu-PF heavyweights could be banned from holding public office for five years. Learnmore Jongwe, an MDC spokesman, said: "We hope to demonstrate to Zimbabweans and to the world that Zanu-PF's alleged victory was none other than the theft of elections. They stole last year's election." Amani Trust, a human rights group, recorded 37 murders, 2,466 assaults, 617 abductions and 27 rapes during the poll campaign. The first case yesterday concerned Zanu-PF's narrow victory in Chinhoyi. Philip Chiyangwa, the successful candidate, ran on the slogan "Vote Chiyangwa for money and development".
If the MDC was successful in four cases - and it won the ensuing by-elections - the opposition would hold a majority of the 120 elected seats. If this happened in 20 cases, the MDC would gain an overall majority in the 150-member house. Because the stakes are so high, observers expect Mr Mugabe to try another legal gambit aimed at halting the challenges. If any by-elections are held, Zanu-PF will deploy its shock troops and use the time-honoured methods of violence and intimidation to secure victory.
From Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 12 February
Secret police caught red-handed harassing elderly missionary
Harare - Planned to the last detail by
Divisions C and J of the Central Intelligence Organisation, Operation Zion swung
into action. The aim of President Robert Mugabe's feared secret police was to
nip in the bud - according to their documents - a plot for ``the importation of
arms of war'' by a ``well-known racist'' and supporter and financier of an
opposition party. Five secret agents were assigned to tail the target's vehicle
and maintain a day-and-night watch outside the organisation's headquarters. Then
they swooped. The premises were raided, minutely searched and photographed. The
suspect was told it was all up, and to expect swift action. The target, 69-year-old Eva Lafever, an American missionary who
has lived in Zimbabwe for nine years, would not speak to the press of her
ordeal. But the full details of a familiar attempt by Mugabe's regime to
intimidate and silence, by whatever means, anyone suspected of supporting the
MDC, the country's official opposition, have been laid embarrassingly
The agents of divisions C and J absent-mindedly dropped their top secret operational file on the floor of her lounge. According to the papers the elderly head of a little-known Christian fundamentalist church picked up after they had left, the CIO planned to have her deported with less than 12 hours notice, on illegal and fake grounds. The file was revealed as part of public documents obtained from the high court last week, shortly after Judge Ismail Adam stopped the deportation. The document is headed, ``CIO form 11 - Action slip''. Target: Eva S. Lafever. Nationality: American,'' it states. Her ``crime''?: ``Lafever was recently discovered to be a staunch supporter of the MDC and a racist. She is now entangled with ex-Rhodesians,'' writes assistant senior investigations officer T. Mukucha. What follows is an acknowledgement that the ``investigation'' has little to do with Zimbabwe's laws.
``The objective of Operation Zion is to raid the Word of Life Fellowship International premises in an effort to compromise Rev. E. Lafever,'' it states. Mukucha goes on to ask for five agents, a policeman, an immigration officer, a search warrant, a car and ``operational funds'' of 350 Zimbabwe dollars for each of the five agents for ``incidental expenses''. The operation is recommended by senior investigations officer I. Mushami who says: ``Operation Zion scheduled to commence at 16 October 2000 at 1400 hours.'' The file goes all the way up to a CIO deputy director whose name does not appear on the document. ``Operation is recommended,'' he asserts. But their advances are turned down. ``Not justified,'' he writes.
The first that Lafever knew of the
top-secret assignment was that she was being followed constantly in her car by
strange men. Her anxiety rose when she saw the same car parked outside her house
whenever she was home. Then on October 19 (three days behind schedule), they
raided, led by a policeman with a search warrant which claimed they were looking
for ``subversive material petaining (sic) to the importation of arms of war''.
``They searched every nook and corner of my home, making copies of computer
disks and other documents, videotaping virtually every corner of my residence,''
she says in her affidavit to the court. They left, forgetting their
incriminating file. She found it, complete with ``action slip'' and ``all
personal details, copies of the church constitution, pages of my passport and
Five days later, they came again and told her she was to be deported the same day. She applied immediately to the court for an urgent injunction to stop her expulsion, and secured it. The file was key evidence in her appeal. ``There is no suggestion that the appellant (Lafever) is a threat to anyone in the country, and indeed there is no offence disclosed at all even when considering the basis of the investigations against her,'' lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa told the judge. ``It is clear that the only allegation against her is that she supports and finances the (opposition) MDC, all of which does not constitute criminal offences or any threat to the country, even if they were proved to be true.''
The allegations were not true, says Lafever's affidavit. ``I can categorically state that I am not in anyway involved in politics, and I do not support any political party.'' Earlier this month, Judge Adam gave a final ruling that quashed the deportation order and interdicted the CIO from harassing her. Shown up by their bungle, the CIO did not oppose Lafever's appeal. They came back to Lafever's house a couple of days after realising they had lost their instructions, said friends of the elderly churchwoman. But they were too embarrassed to ask her if she'd seen the file, so they asked her gardener instead. He hadn't, and by this time, anyway, it was in the hands of her lawyers.
From Business Day (SA), 14 February
Zimbabwe's finance chief defends fixed exchange rate
Harare - Zimbabwe's finance minister on Tuesday defended the nation's official exchange rate, which is fixed at a level about one-third lower than the parallel rate. Since October, the official mid-rate has been fixed at Z$55 to a US dollar. Rates on the parallel market are between 75 and 85 to one. "That rate is appropriate for the circumstances we are in," finance minister Simba Makoni said. Zimbabweans should do their part to improve the economy by not using the parallel market to obtain foreign currency, Makoni said. "We are expecting all Zimbabweans to play their part by tightening their belts," he said. Industry leaders have complained that they are forced to buy equipment and raw materials at prices that reflect the parallel rate, but they can only sell their goods at the official rate. Zimbabwe has practically exhausted its foreign currency reserves, leaving it unable to import enough fuel and electricity to keep the country running.
From The Star (SA), 14 February
Empty seats threaten DRC peace summit
Lusaka - The first peace summit on the DRC since its new president took office is set for Thursday in Lusaka, but neither leader of the two nations backing DRC rebels plans to attend. International mediators and diplomats have sought to get the parties involved in the conflict around a negotiating table again since General Joseph Kabila became president of the DRC after his father's assassination last month.
But Rwanda's President Paul Kagame has declined the invitation to the talks, saying Zambia is no longer a neutral state in the war. Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni will not attend either, but will send a representative. A Ugandan minister said Museveni could not leave in the middle of campaigning for March 7 elections there. Adolphe Onusumba Yemba, head of the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) said he would attend the summit.
Diplomats had considered former DRC president Laurent Kabila one of the main obstacles to peace in the former Zaire, which he renamed after overthrowing the hated dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. His son's inauguration has raised hopes for peace in the enormous central African nation. Joseph Kabila has announced his wish to relaunch implementation of the ceasefire deal, and almost immediately after taking office, he went on a whirlwind peace-making tour that took him to Paris, Washington, the UN in New York and Brussels. The combatants in the DRC signed a ceasefire in mid-1999. Dubbed the Lusaka accords, the agreement never carried weight off paper and repeated efforts to revive the pact have failed.
The latest round of talks is aimed at getting all the parties to the two-and-half year old conflict to revive the Lusaka peace deal. Just agreeing on a date for the talks proved a tricky task. The timing has changed several times, until a meeting on Monday of foreign and defence ministers from all the countries involved in the DRC war except Rwanda. Rwanda is boycotting the gathering in protest at what Kagame called serious incidents involving Zambia, including one in which Kabila supporters including some allegedly involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, had taken refuge in Zambia. While Rwanda and Uganda back rebel movements, the DRC government has won military support from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
In addition to the political and military struggle, DRC's vast mineral wealth has given the combatants a number of lucrative business interests. But Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, who had been the closest ally of the elder Kabila, faces mounting domestic pressure to leave the conflict. The war is hugely unpopular among Zimbabweans, and is a financial drain on the nation which is struggling through its worst-ever economic crisis. After the summit, foreign ministers of the six nations fighting the war are due to meet February 21-22 with the UN Security Council. The council has authorised the deployment of 5 537 troops to monitor the ceasefire. Repeated ceasefire violations have left the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, reluctant to deploy any more than 210 liaison officers and unarmed observers. The UN's peacekeeping chief, Jean-Marie Guehenno, on Monday recommended halving the size of the force, saying only 3 000 troops are required to monitor a disengagement agreement.
Mugabe tries to crush all opposition
Zimbabwe's president has scrapped the last veneer of legality in a terror drive against judges and the press
Harare - Robert Mugabe has more than a year before he is obliged to hold a presidential election he will almost certainly lose if it is anything like free and fair. But Zimbabwe's leader is apparently taking action to make sure no such thing happens, with a concerted assault aimed at breaking any challenge to Zanu-PF's grip on power. In recent weeks, independent judges have been hounded from office fearing for their lives, the opposition press has been bombed, politicians who have denounced President Mugabe's abuses have been locked up on charges of promoting violence, and the mass of poor have faced tear gas and riot police for daring to protest at the rising price of bread.
Just a few months ago, Zimbabweans believed that Mr Mugabe's 20-year rule was grinding towards its end, as the economy collapsed and his government seemed to be foundering. Support for the opposition MDC surged in last June's parliamentary election and the party took almost half the seats, despite ballot rigging. Mr Mugabe's enemies claimed that the president would be out of office by Christmas. They could not have been more wrong. He has proved that he may be down, but he is far from out.
What has changed is that the last veneer of legality has now been stripped away. The government is waging a violent campaign against its opponents, and there is little doubt as to where the orders are coming from. Two weeks ago, a mine destroyed the printing press of the country's biggest opposition newspaper, the Daily News, just days after the information minister, Jonathan Moyo, had labelled it a threat to national security that must be "stopped". The explosive used was almost certainly only available to the military. Four MDC members of parliament were charged with inciting violence against the government last week, the first such arrests of Mr Mugabe's elected opponents. They are unlikely to be the last. One of the MPs, Job Sikhala, said that he and his pregnant wife were beaten by soldiers. But it is in the courts, the last bastion of consistent defiance to Mr Mugabe from within the system, that the government is focusing its assault.
At first the government used its tested tactic of using the so-called war veterans - who led the invasion of white-owned farms - to carry out the intimidation of the judiciary: 300 of them stormed the supreme court last November in protest at its ruling that the land invasions were illegal, and its order to the police to remove those occupying the farms. The judges were forced to seek refuge in their chambers but refused to quit. Now the government has gone for a more direct approach. In what members of the Zimbabwe bar call "a coup against the judiciary", the justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, told the supreme court's chief justice, Anthony Gubbay, that his safety could not be guaranteed if he did not resign. Mr Gubbay put up a brave public fight by criticising government intimidation of the courts, but finally opted for early retirement.
Similar threats were made last Friday to two other supreme court judges, Nick McNally and Ahmed Ibrahim. Mr Chinamasa told Mr McNally, who is white, that "the president does not wish to see you come to any harm". Mr McNally has refused to quit, saying that it is important for the judiciary to stand up to the executive. Mr Ibrahim, who is of Asian descent, is considering his position. Both now have good reason to fear for their lives. The state-owned Herald newspaper admitted that Mr Chinamasa also intends to try to get the two other supreme court judges, who are black, to quit. And there are dozens of other judges, black and white, from the high court down that the government wants out for having a "Rhodesian mentality". "We must begin to exorcise from all our institutions the racist ghost of Ian Smith and we do so by phasing out his disciples and sympathisers," Mr Chinamasa said.
In reality, Mr Mugabe wants a free hand to appoint an entire panel of judges unlikely to challenge his controversial and - according to the present court - illegal redistribution of white-owned farms. More important, the president wants a supreme court that will not question his conduct of elections. The opposition fears this will open the way to widespread intimidation and ballot rigging to keep Mr Mugabe in power, because there will be no effective recourse to the courts. The president is already concerned about the outcome of legal challenges to the election results in 37 parliamentary constituencies. The high court began hearing the first cases yesterday, but the final decision will almost certainly end up in the hands of the supreme court. If it overturns the results, Zanu-PF could lose control of parliament. "It is hard to say what is most outrageous and despicable - the Mugabe government's efforts to neutralise the courts, or its intimidation of the press, or its violations of the rights of average citizens," the MDC's legal strategist, Tendai Biti, said. "What is particularly disturbing is that it is all being done through extra-legal means. It is destroying the legal fabric of the country. No one is safe from intimidation, from a peasant farmer to a supreme court justice." The president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, Sternford Moyo, has warned that if the government continues to condone lawlessness, ordinary people will disregard the law.
Mr Mugabe's opponents, at home and abroad, are at a loss as to how to stop him - not least because of the damage being inflicted on the country by corruption and the leadership's pursuit of spoils in the Congo war. Last week, in a further demonstration of the government's desperation in the face of a relentlessly declining economy, the president moved to seize the foreign exchange reserves of private companies, to pay for oil imports and the salaries of his diplomats overseas. Late last year the MDC was promising mass protest, but it has backed away from taking the fight to the streets for fear of bloodshed that would give the government an excuse to impose a state of emergency and cancel the next election. Britain's vocal criticism has done no more than aggravate the Zimbabwean president, who calls it neo-colonialist. And while President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa could do without such instability on his doorstep, his influence over Mr Mugabe is limited.
From UN News, 12 February
UN human rights expert concerned over threats to judiciary
Responding to reports that some judges in Zimbabwe are being forced to retire, a UN human rights expert today called on the Harare Government to stop exerting pressure on the judiciary. In a statement issued in Geneva, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Dato' Param Cumaraswamy, said he had received reports that "two more judges of the Supreme Court, namely Justices McNally and Ibrahim, were approached by the Minister of Justice and requested to submit letters seeking early retirement."
According to the Special Rapporteur, the latest development followed last week's forced retirement of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Anthony Gubbay. "I am extremely concerned about these developments, which indicate that the rule of law is further deteriorating in Zimbabwe," Mr. Cumaraswamy said. "The Government must comply with its obligations under international standards and stop harassing and pressuring members of the judiciary." The allegation that the Government had called upon judges to seek early retirement would be seen as a "clear violation" of the UN Basic Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary, Mr. Cumaraswamy said, referring to the 20-point document endorsed by the General Assembly in 1985 to guide Member States. The Special Rapporteur is currently liaising with Zimbabwe through its Permanent Mission to the UN Office at Geneva "to conduct an urgent mission, possibly in March, in order to meet with the Minister of Justice and other members of the Government, the judges of the Supreme Court and representatives of the legal profession," the statement said.
From The Star (SA), 12 February
Zim unions reject Mugabe's 'social contract'
Harare - Zimbabwe's trade unions have rejected President Robert Mugabe's offer of a "social contract" that would freeze prices and double the minimum wage as an attempt to "reap political gains out of the plight of the working class". More than 75 percent of Zimbabwe's 12,8-million people are now living below the bread line, according to official United Nations statistics. The general council of the ZCTU meeting at the weekend said: "Workers are suffering because of a lack of investment, shortages of foreign currency, lawlessness, and loss of business." "Our government must address these issues urgently," the ZCTU said.
Mugabe had proposed freezes on the prices of maize meal, cooking oil, bread, flour, milk, meat and paraffin, although producers warned that in current conditions of 80 per cent hyper-inflation such controls would soon lead to shortages. Mugabe also planned to double the monthly minimum wage to 6 300 Zimbabwe dollars (about R900). Representatives of 32 unions blamed the current economic crisis on political instability which they said was created by Mugabe in the hope of gaining a further six year presidential term next year, when he will be 78. Remus Makuawaza, an executive member from the Chemical Workers' Union, said the proposal was simply a "populist move by the government" and backed a resolution, adopted by the meeting, breaking off further talks for the time being. The ZCTU last year gave birth to the country's first effective opposition party, the MDC, which won 57 of the 120 parliamentary seats at June elections.
From ITN (UK), 13 February
United Nations troops' Congo mission
The UN has announced a plan to rush peacekeepers to the DRC to build on a period of subdued fighting in the vast central African nation. The new concept, which slashes the number of planned UN peacekeepers, depends on whether those involved in Congo's many-sided war keep promises for a disengagement plan. "We had to make sure that the UN would be standing ready to really provide an opportunity to the parties in the conflict to go for peace now - the peace that the Congolese people have been waiting for," said spokesman Jean-Marie Guehenno.
The planned UN force of 500 military observers would be backed by close to 2500 troops, which compares to the 5537 troops and observers authorised by the council a year ago. The UN currently has only about 200 military personnel in Congo. The observers would monitor a ceasefire and disengagement plan while some 400 troops would patrol the country's rivers. The other soldiers would establish bases in Kananga, Kisangani, Mbandaka and Kalemie. The Security Council is to receive a formal report from Secretary General Kofi Annan before approving any of the arrangements. The council has scheduled a meeting next week on the proposals and the state of the peace process with African foreign ministers involved in the conflict.
Rwanda and Uganda, which helped put the late Laurent Kabila in power in 1997, turned on him a year later and backed rebels trying to topple his government. Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola have sent troops to bolster the Congolese army. The UN plan was hastily prepared to take advantage of subdued fighting and renewed peace pledges since Kabila's assassination, which propelled his son, Joseph, into power. Guehenno stressed the peacekeeping mission would not protect civilians harmed by any fighting, as some council members demanded last year. Nor would it extract military observers from hostile situations as Guehenno did not expect them to come under fire. The observers are to monitor a withdrawal of troops by the combatants and the UN troops are to protect the observers and UN property. "The main threat to the United Nations is not armed attack. It is pilfering and vandalism," Guehenno said. He gave no dates for when the stepped-up deployment would begin. But he said the nation has been relatively calm since Laurent Kabila's death. In Lusaka, Zambia said a summit to revive the Congo peace accord had been postponed for a few days because Rwandan President Paul Kagame was not available any earlier.
From The Star (SA), 12 February
DRC summit put off after Kagame pulls out
Lusaka - A summit to revive a peace accord for the DRC has been postponed after Rwandan President Paul Kagame refused to attend the meeting, a Zambian foreign ministry official said on Monday. "The summit is not tomorrow (Tuesday) any more. There have been some problems," the official said. "We are working on Wednesday or Thursday," he said, adding that Zambian President Frederick Chiluba would try to persuade Kagame to travel to Zambia.
Kagame told reporters in the Rwandan capital Kigali on Sunday he could not travel to Lusaka. Rwanda and Uganda support rebel groups that have fought for 30 months to oust the Kinshasa government, which has the support of men and equipment from Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia. A peace deal signed in Zambia in 1999 and subsequent agreements over the past two years have been ignored. Analysts expected African leaders to use the summit to test Congolese president Joseph Kabila's commitment to end the war. Joseph was catapulted to power by the assassination last month of his father Laurent Kabila.
African diplomats said a power play between South Africa and Zambia had complicated efforts to hold a summit. Pretoria said on Saturday the meeting had been put back to Friday from Tuesday, and Lusaka officials later disputed that. Last year, acting in the name of SADC, South African President Thabo Mbeki called several Congo peace summits in the Mozambique capital Maputo, to which Zambia was not formally invited. The Zambians did not invite a South African delegation to the Lusaka meeting, a move diplomats viewed as a slap in face for Mbeki, a key player in efforts to end regional conflicts.
Chiluba said at the weekend that South Africa had wanted the summit to be held in Pretoria. Regional analysts said Maputo or even New York would also be viable options. "Kagame's refusal to come to Lusaka is a major blow. The summit can and may go ahead without him - the problem is that Rwanda will refuse to be bound by anything it might agree on," said one Western ambassador in Lusaka. "What we are certain about is that there will be many phone calls between Kigali and Lusaka to try to fix the problem. No one says it will be easy," the ambassador told Reuters.
Rwanda's anger dates back to December, when suspected hardline Hutu militia were among hundreds of Congo government and allied forces that crossed into northern Zambia after Rwandan-backed rebels captured the Lake Mweru resort of Pweto. The Zambian government agreed to allow Rwanda to screen the soldiers to see whether any was involved in the 1994 slaughter of about 800 000 Rwandan Tutsi and their allied Hutu moderates. However, Zambia then allowed the soldiers to return to the Congo before the vetting by Kigali could take place. "We admit that problem has put Zambia in a bind. It was a fairly embarrassing situation. Everyone admits it was a mistake but how to proceed from that position presents the challenge," a senior Zambian intelligence source said.
From The Star (SA), 12 February
Zambia is no longer impartial, claims Rwanda
Nairobi - Rwandan President Paul Kagame will not attend a planned summit on the 30-month war in the Democratic Republic of Congo if it takes place in Zambia because Zambian President Frederick Chiluba is no longer an impartial mediator, an aide to the Rwanda said on Monday. Emmanuel Ndahiro, Kagame's security adviser, said Chiluba had jeopardised his credibility as a mediator in the regional conflict last month when he allowed about 6 000 Congolese troops and allied Rwandan Hutu militiamen to slip back into Congo from northern Zambia where they fled a Rwandan offensive in south-eastern Congo.
"The president would want to attend the regional summit, but not in Lusaka," Ndahiro said from Kigali, Rwandan capital. "Chiluba is not impartial in the conflict. We have precise information how he facilitated the Congolese army to first attack us in Congo, then let them go back into Congo with arms." Rwanda, together with its sometime ally, Uganda, is backing Congolese rebels who took up arms against the late President Laurent Kabila in August 1998, accusing him of harbouring Hutu militiamen who fled into Congo after taking part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Despite repeated Rwandan requests to be allowed to screen the Hutu militiamen who took refuge in northern Zambia, Zambian authorities let them return in Congo, Ndahiro said.
Earlier this month, Kagame met in Washington with Congolese President Joseph Kabila, who succeeded his father after that latter was assassinated on January 16 in Kinshasa. Ndahiro said Rwanda was taking a wait-and-see approach on the new president's public commitments to revitalising the 1999 peace accord for Congo. Troops from Zimbabawe, Angola and Namibia are backing Congo in the conflict. In July 1999, all sides agreed to a ceasefire and the deployment of 5 537-strong United Nations mission that is supposed to supervise the withdrawal of foreign forces from Congo and parallel political talks among the Congolese parties on a transitional government.
Chiluba has called for the summit in Lusaka to push ahead with a plan to disengage warring armies in Congo as well as the rapid deployment of unarmed UN military observers that had previously been blocked by the elder Kabila. Chiluba, who was named mediator in the Congo by SADC, has also had problems persuading Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia to attend the talks in Lusaka. Angola has accused Zamiba of sheltering its own Unita rebels. The meeting was originally planned for Tuesday, but South Africa has insisted it be pushed back to a later date. Ndahiro said consultations were underway to choose a new venue for the meeting.
The Countryside March - 18 March
The Liberty & Livelihood March, organised by the Countryside Alliance in the UK, will be taking place on 18th March, 2001. The organisers are expecting approximately 500,000 people - coming from all over the world - to demonstrate to the British government the importance of defending and protecting the rights of rural people -and not only in Britain.
There will be a large Zimbabwean contingent at the March, to focus attention on Zimbabwean commercial farmers and their employees, and show solidarity with rural communities in Britain, who despite their own very real problems have shown fantastic support for rural communities in Zimbabwe.
Please register by sending us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with contact names and numbers/addresses. We will then register you all with the Countryside Alliance organisers, who will then be able to send you all the information, instructions, badges, etc, related to the March. Alternatively, register direct with the March organisers on 0906 788 1680.
The Zimbabwean contingent will gather in the vicinity of the entrance to the Queen Mary boat on the Embankment in London. The March starts at approx. 9:30am on Victoria Embankment and finishes at Hyde Park. Marchers from London and the South East, however, are encouraged to march in the afternoon in order to assist those travelling longer distances. The Zimbabwean contingent will gather at 12:00pm in order to avoid total confusion at the start, and to ensure we all join up for maximum effect. Banners, placards and flags - please.