|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
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- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
From The Sunday Times (SA), 24 February
'There was nowhere to hide: We were trapped and being pelted from 360 degrees'
SA observers get first-hand experience of how Mugabe's thugs are fighting elections
'They were like an army formation. There was a back row providing the rocks and a front group who were throwing them. It was powerful." This is how a shaken member of the South African election observer mission to Zimbabwe described his terrifying experience on Friday, when the office of the Movement for Democratic Change at Kwekwe, about 200km southwest of Harare, was attacked by a mob of suspected Zanu PF youths. Economist Dr Bethuel Setai and National African Farmers' Union representative Eleazar Maahle, together with their South African driver, Elias Motswaledi, were on their way to Gweru from Harare when they stopped in Kwekwe to talk to political parties. "We went to the MDC offices because we wanted a list of their activities for the coming week - rallies, voter training and other related activities - that we needed to observe. We were there for about 45 minutes when we were told: 'They are here!'," Setai said. "Before we knew it, what seemed like 200 youths started stoning like hell. They were like an army . . . It was powerful. The building had been burnt previously, so there is no ceiling, no windows and the doors are all loose. There were about 30 of us inside. There was nowhere to hide. We just had the walls to navigate. We couldn't get out. We were trapped and being pelted from 360 degrees," he said. "It went on and on for about 15 minutes. It was like hail on top of the roof. They wanted to make sure that the roof falls in and takes care of us," Setai said.
The youth then began attacking the car, in which Motswaledi was waiting, with stones and iron bars. "Our van was clearly marked. It can't be mistaken," said Setai. "There was no reason to hit it as it was clearly away from the house." Motswaledi managed to drive to a police station - about 200m away - to seek help. "In the meantime, we had been phoning for help from inside the building. I even called Harare and told them that we were under attack," said Setai. The youths dispersed when Motswaledi returned with the police. Setai, Maahle and two MDC officials jumped into the car and sped off. Maahle was slightly injured during the incident, but four MDC officials were admitted to hospital. Setai said that when they went to the police station, they found two youths had been arrested. "But they were denying everything. They claimed they were just passing by," he said. The observers asked if they could interview the two youths. Under an agreement with the provincial commissioner, observers are allowed to do so, to establish the nature of the violence. However, the station's commanding officer refused. Setai said he was unable to reach the provincial commissioner to appeal. "We asked how long the police would hold the youths in custody. They said it would be as long as the investigation takes. But I don't believe we will get to interview them," Setai said.
The observers left Kwekwe for Gweru later that afternoon. "We will go back," said Setai. "It was no joke. We felt helpless and trapped, being stoned from all directions at high speed. But we will go back. This could easily turn out to be a setback for the mission. The situation still requires management. It ought not to happen again. The whole nation has been told to respect the observers so this should not have happened," he said, adding that the tension was thick on the ground. "You can feel it. You can pick it up from the reaction of people. They are so happy that we have come. They say we are saviours. Even now, after the attack, they are saying 'Please stay. We don't know what will happen when you leave.' " The South African government has vowed to continue its election observer mission in Zimbabwe, despite the attack. "There is no question of withdrawal of the SA observer mission," Foreign Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said. "On the contrary, the last batch of the observers leave for Harare in early March to participate in the mission." Presidential spokesman Bheki Khumalo said President Thabo Mbeki, who is in Sweden for the Stockholm Progressive Summit, had immediately been informed about the attack. "He has welcomed the strictness of the Zimbabwean police for the immediate arrests and said he hoped the perpetrators will be punished," said Khumalo.
From The Sunday Telegraph (UK), 24 February
S African poll monitors ignore Zanu PF attack
Harare - The South African observer mission to Zimbabwe's presidential election suffered a crippling blow to its credibility yesterday after its leader refused to acknowledge that Zanu PF supporters attacked some of his monitors. About 200 chanting youths laid siege to the office of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the small mining town of Kwekwe on Friday as South African observers were inside. They also stoned the monitors' car. Sam Motsuenyane, the leader of the South African delegation, insisted however that he could not identify the attackers. "They were an amorphous mob," he said. "I can't associate them with any group, though the motive must have been political." After the withdrawal last week of European Union monitors, the Zimbabwean opposition had hoped that the presence of the South African team would temper the worst excesses of followers of Robert Mugabe. Those prospects have now been ended. "It's pathetic," said David Coltart, the MDC's justice spokesman. "You know that Zanu PF has said we've attacked our own offices before, and if there's any doubt about who is responsible for the attack in Kwekwe, one needs only to consider the history of Zanu PF. "They're certainly responsible for the violence during the last two years - and for the attack on our Kwekwe office on Friday." Dr Motsuenyane said that the protection of buildings was not a matter for the observer mission.
Meanwhile, a mission spokesman dismissed Friday's police attack on the convoy carrying Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, saying: "We have limited power and it's not for us to protect the leader of a political party. That's not our mandate." Police turned teargas and automatic weapons on Mr Tsvangirai when he stopped for refreshments at a small trading centre in Masvingo Province. He was on his way to a party rally. As Mr Mugabe's Youth Brigades terrorised two white farmers in Mutorashanga, 60 miles north of Harare, yesterday, Musi Mulela, the South African Observer Mission's spokesman, told The Telegraph that he was unaware of the incident and was not sure where his observers were. The farmers, Bob Fraser-Mackenzie and Rootle Braunstein, had been helping workers check whether they were on the voters' roll when they were detained by the Youth Brigades and accused of meddling in politics. America on Friday joined the EU in imposing travel and financial sanctions on President Mugabe and his henchmen. The departure of the EU election observers has prompted fears that the government will unleash increasing violence and terror on the country. There are also concerns that Mr Tsvangirai may be arrested on trumped up charges of plotting to assassinate the president. Although diplomats say that Mr Mugabe assured President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique that Mr Tsvangirai would not be arrested before the election, the fawning state-controlled press leads with the story of the plot every day.
From ZWNEWS, 24 February
Summary evictions spread
The latest spate of evictions of farmers and their labour, which began in Chegutu on Friday, spread yesterday to farms in the Ayreshire district near Raffingora in northern Zimbabwe. Farmers have been forced out of their homes, and their labour dispersed, with only minutes notice, in the escalating violence ahead of the presidential elections in two weeks time. James Ogden-Brown of Chegutu was given 30 minutes to pack and leave his farm on Friday. He has only received preliminary notice from the government of its intention to seize his land, and there were no settlers present on it. A volatile incident, in which a mob of Zanu PF supporters also stole his firearms, was narrowly averted by the arrival of neighbours. The police only arrived after the Ogden-Brown family had left. The mob then attacked another farm in the area.
On Saturday, a Zanu PF rally in Raffingora was addressed by Ignatius Chombo, minister of local government, and MP for the area. Reports from people who attended the meeting say Chombo issued several threats against farmers in the area, warning some that their farms, and the local social club, were to be seized this week. One farmer was driven from his farm on Saturday evening. This is not the first time that Chombo has used threats of violence. Severe violence and intimidation were rife in the area in January following the wholesale trashing of farmsteads and workers housing in the neighbouring Hunyani Valley.
It is thought that these renewed attempts to completely clear farmers and their workers from commercial farming areas is part of Zanu PF’s attempt to prevent likely opposition supporters from being able to exercise their vote on March 9 and 10. The government recently changed the electoral laws to force people to vote in their constituencies. If there are driven from the areas in which they live and work, they are effectively disenfranchised. All previous presidential elections have been held on the basis that any registered voter could vote anywhere in the country.
From The Zimbabwe Standard, 24 February
Jonathan Moyo learnt his lesson
Bulawayo - The old saying, "once beaten, twice shy", might not make much sense to many Zimbabweans struggling to get elusive basic commodities such as maize meal and cooking oil, but it certainly means a lot to information minister Professor Jonathan Moyo. For the minister, who almost converted a local hotel here into his office last year while campaigning for George Mlilo, the ruling party candidate in Bulawayo mayoral elections, appears to have taken heed of it. Residents here who got accustomed to seeing Moyo on a daily basis drumming up support for Zanu PF, say his absence from the city a few weeks before the presidential poll is an indication that he has simply accepted defeat and doesn't want to get embarrassed again.
In Zanu PF, political heavyweights normally go to their grassroots in times of presidential elections to ensure that Robert Mugabe gets the maximum votes from their areas. Leaders whose provinces come up with outstanding results are normally rewarded with cabinet or politburo posts, as happened with the late minister Border Gezi, and now with Elliot Manyika, the secretary for the Zanu PF commissariat. But Bulawayo residents say this is not the same with Moyo, who after launching a high profile campaign punctuated by generous donations running into millions of dollars, had a rude awakening as opposition MDC candidate Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube trounced Zanu PF by wide margin. Ndabeni-Ncube polled 60 988 to dismiss Mlilo who got only 12 783 votes.
This defeat was a great embarrassment for Moyo who had personally taken charge of the ruling party campaign, assisted by some reporters from the state-owned Chronicle newspaper. The minister had worked tirelessly to ensure that his party, loathed by people here, most of them with relatives who perished in the Gukurahundi massacre of the early 80s, would win the election. Armed with millions of Zimbabwe dollars, he went around dishing money to co-operatives, schools and other institutions preaching the name of Zanu PF. Moyo unsuccessfully sought to sideline the local Zanu PF leadership which included local party heavyweights such as Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu and Dumiso Dabengwa, whose political roots are steeped in Matabeleland, raising the ire of party stalwarts.
The stunning defeat, analysts say, exposed the minister to the stark reality that he was a political novice who could simply not read that Matabeleland was a stronghold of the opposition MDC. Now the professor, who is yet to come and actively campaign for Mugabe in Matabeleland, appears to have understood this message clearly and seems eager to stay clear of the personal embarrassment he suffered last August. Zanu PF stalwarts blamed him for the party's poor showing saying Moyo, who sought to impose himself as the heir to the late vice president Joshua Nkomo, was using divisive tactics, which were not helpful. They said he had discredited the party by bringing millions of dollars a few days before the poll, a move widely seen as vote-buying.
"Jonathan must have realised that he made a mistake in last year's mayoral election which earned him more enemies than friends in his own party. He can't afford to come and get embarrassed again," says Moffat Mpofu, a Bulawayo resident. He adds: "Certainly professor is no longer day dreaming. He is too intelligent not to realise that bringing millions again would make him a very big fool. People will rush for his money but they won't vote for Mugabe." Commended a Luveve resident: "I am sure the professor is now afraid of Matabeleland. He has had enough embarrassment recently, especially from Zvobgo in parliament, and he doesn't want to be embarrassed again when his province fails to give Mugabe meaningful votes. He would rather stay in Bulawayo and blame those who campaigned for the president in Matabeleland. But sadly he will remain a leader without grassroots support."
From The Zimbabwe Independent, 22 February
Court orders RG to reinstate voter
The High Court this week reversed the Registrar-General's decision to de-register a permanent resident from the voters' roll in the forthcoming March presidential election. In a test case filed by Diana Elizabeth Feltoe against Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede, Justice Paddington Garwe declared that the applicant should remain on the voters' roll until her case is determined by a magistrate's court. This effectively means she is entitled to vote in the presidential election unless her name is struck off the register after a hearing at a magistrate's court. While Feltoe was born in Zimbabwe in 1940, her parents were born in England. For years, she was a holder of a Zimbabwean passport. At the beginning of 2001, she successfully applied for a British passport and with the passing of the Citizenship of Zimbabwe (Amendment) Act last year, she renounced her Zimbabwean citizenship. In September the same year, the Department of Immigration confirmed her as a permanent resident.
She was a registered voter but following her renunciation of Zimbabwean citizenship she, like thousands of others, lost her entitlement to vote on the basis of citizenship. The Registrar-General earlier this year notified Feltoe that she was no longer registered as a voter and that she could appeal in a magistrate's court. She then made an urgent application in the High Court appealing against the Registrar-General's decision. Feltoe argued that the section of the constitution used by the Registrar-General to disenfranchise her only applied to parliamentary elections and not presidential elections. In addition, she argued that as provided for in the constitution, she was entitled to remain on the voters' roll because she had been a permanent resident in Zimbabwe since before December 31 1985 and that she was being deprived of her constitutional right to apply to register as a voter as the voters' roll had already closed. "There is no provision in the law for the name to be removed prior to such determination (by the magistrate)," said Justice Garwe, ordering the RG not to remove her.
From the MDC, 24 February
We need further volunteers to: be polling agents from 8 – 11 March; to drive polling agents; to feed polling agents; to donate fuel and the use of vehicles; to assist with administration, telephone support, radio networks, computers, etc.
The polling agents will need to be available from 8 –11 March, and be present at the polling station throughout this period for 24 hours a day, as well as making sure the box is delivered intact to the counting station. The polling agent’s role is to observe, report back to the central teams whether there are any irregularities, to physically follow the ballot box to the counting centres and to wait with the box until it is opened so that s/he can verify that there has been no rigging of the vote. Since the recent changes to the Electoral Act prevent polling agents and monitors from travelling with the ballot boxes, we also need to assist polling agents and monitors to get to and from all polling stations throughout the country.
During the last election there was no violence at all during the voting period, and no comeback on volunteers in any areas. We do not expect any violence during the voting period this year. If you feel unsafe in your area, please volunteer to go to another area. Volunteers will be linked to a central support system with access to international observers, the press and there will be a reaction ream in each constituency.
The head of the Commonwealth team - former Nigerian head of state Abdulsalami Abubakar - said he had about 40 observers on the ground monitoring the run-up to the poll.
The Commonwealth ... seems to have been hoodwinked into believing that Mugabe would somehow listen to the voice of reason
In further unrest on Sunday hundreds of supporters of President Mugabe attacked followers of his main rival Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The violence flared up in Chinhoyi, Mr Mugabe's home town. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) said some of its election monitors were in a car pelted with stones by the pro-Mugabe militants, Reuters news agency reported.
Speaking on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme, Mr McKinnon said it was not easy to find experienced people to make up for the EU observers who left the country after the EU imposed sanctions against Mr Mugabe.
Mr Tsvangirai told the programme the Commonwealth was being hoodwinked by Mr Mugabe.
The chief Commonwealth observer said he was sending 20 teams of two observers each across the country.
"Our concern will be purely with the electoral environment and the process rather than the outcome," Mr Abubakar told a news briefing on Sunday.
"We will be impartial and objective, we will give an honest assessment."
Impact of sanctions
Mr Tsvangirai said the EU sanctions had been late, but the impact of their withdrawal had already made the elections "illegitimate".
The move had sent a strong signal to "Mugabe and his cronies that the international community will not accept any other result but the result that will reflect the will of the people of Zimbabwe".
Last week, two South African observers were holed up in an MDC office by 200 pro-government militants.
The pair were not injured, but Mr Abubakar said it was "unfortunate that the incident took place".
The deployment of observers from South Africa had somewhat improved the situation, according to Mr Tsvangirai, although there were still "isolated incidents".
The United States has joined the EU in banning Mr Mugabe and his ruling elite travelling to the their country - a move Mr Mugabe described as a "Western ploy".