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

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Regional Catastrophe Threatened By Breakdown of the Rule of Law

International Crisis Group (Washington, DC)
February 26, 2002
Posted to the web February 26, 2002
Washington, DC
The outcome of the presidential elections in Zimbabwe to be held on March 9 and 10 is crucial to the future of the country and of the entire southern African region. Zimbabwe stands on the brink of a catastrophe and the international community must act to prevent the total collapse of the rule of law and avert a humanitarian crisis in the region.
A volatile mix of factors renders the current situation in Zimbabwe highly dangerous. Should President Robert Mugabe declare himself the winner of the March presidential elections, in the face of clear evidence of vote rigging and subversion of the electoral process, these elements risk causing an explosion with devastating consequences.
Escalating state repression
Over the preceding months, President Mugabe has erected a highly repressive system of governance in Zimbabwe. Using mob violence, he has created an atmosphere of fear throughout the country. Using his power to install hand-picked judges in the place of those forced out by intimidation, he has ensured judicial support for his policies. Using his control of Parliament, he has forced through legislation that undermines basic freedoms of speech and assembly and effectively prevents any expression of criticism directed at the government. In particular, the recently adopted Public Order and Security Act prescribes criminal sanctions for a variety of forms of peaceful political dissent.
Undermining the electoral process
All available indicators demonstrate that popular support for President Mugabe is low. Recent polling shows that the vast majority of Zimbabweans do not wish him in office for another term. In spite of increasing political violence, there is still a high expectation that peaceful change can occur in the country, through the democratic process. If the outcome of the election is perceived as unfair, there is likely to be deep frustration among the population and this frustration may be expressed through violence. Protests and expressions of dissatisfaction are also likely to be met with increased government-sponsored violence. Moreover, the subversion of democracy in Zimbabwe will likely influence other countries where democracy is under threat, such as Zambia and Malawi.
Impending famine
Zimbabwe's economy has been devastated and famine is imminent. A severe drought has already ruined most crops in the south and threatens those in the north of the country. Thousands of starving people may soon be forced to move into neighboring countries in search of food.
The international community must recognize that this combination of factors threatens not only Zimbabwe, but also the entire region. The flow of refugees will have a serious impact upon South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia. In addition, destabilization will have extremely negative consequences for investment in southern Africa, damaging the economies of many states.
In Zimbabwe, very real fears are already being expressed about vote-rigging and subversion of the electoral process. If the election is seriously flawed, it is imperative that the entire international community respond immediately and all states refuse to recognize the results.
African states must take the lead in speaking out clearly to condemn any failure by the Zimbabwean government to afford its people the right to choose their leader through free and fair elections in accordance with national, regional and international norms and standards. The United States must use its power and influence in Africa and with its allies around the world to assist the Zimbabwean population in averting a human rights and humanitarian calamity through observance of the democratic process and restoration of the rule of law.
Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group, Belgium
Graeme Simpson, Executive Director, Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, South Africa
Greg Stanton, President, Genocide Watch, USA
Mike Posner, Executive Director, Lawyers Committee
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Daily News
Mugabe is my friend: Menashe 
2/27/02 8:17:15 AM (GMT +2)
By Sandra Nyaira Political Editor
ARI Ben-Menashe, the man at the centre of the alleged plot to assassinate President Mugabe, says his close friendship with the President goes back a few years.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader against whom the allegations have been made, was on Monday charged with high treason. If found guilty he could be hanged or sentenced to life in jail.
Ben-Menashe flew into Harare last week amid fresh revelations of his involvement in dubious deals with the Zambian government of the former president, Frederick Chiluba.
He told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s As It Happens programme he had been an acquaintance of Mugabe for a number of years. Asked whether Mugabe was a friend of his, Ben-Menashe said: “I hope he calls himself a friend.”
He said he worked for Mugabe “from time to time”. Asked what type of work he did for Mugabe, Ben-Menashe said: “Political consultancy - political advice, foreign affairs advice, lobbying in various places in the world.”
Asked whether Mugabe was a good man to work for, he said: “He’s a very smart, intellectual person. Meeting him is always a great pleasure because. . . because he’s a very educated person.”
Ben-Menashe secretly video-taped a meeting he held with Tsvangirai, allegedly plotting to assassinate Mugabe. It has emerged that Dickens and Madson, the consultancy firm in which Ben-Menashe is a director, was working for the government when the MDC hired it.
Tsvangirai says the MDC cancelled all dealings with the company when they discovered it was working under the direct instruction of Nicholas Goche, the Minister of State Security, and George Charamba, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information and Publicity. Charamba has denied the allegation.
Bill Cameron, the host of the programme, said: “I’ve been looking through the transcript of the Australian broadcast, and I can’t find a record of Mr Tsvangirai asking you to kill Mr Mugabe.”
Ben-Menashe responded: “Well, I believe . . . I believe there . . . words used, elimination and things. I have not seen the Australian SBS programme, but I have seen the tape that was made. It’s five or six hours long. They have it. It’s clear. It’s available to whomever wants to see it and hear it. It’s clear that that’s what he’s asking for.”
SBS is the Australian government-funded Special Broadcasting Service which first broadcast the tape. Asked if his relationship and meetings with Mugabe had been secret, he said: “It hasn’t been a secret. We just don’t advertise it.”
Ben-Menashe said Tsvangirai did not know that he had an association with Mugabe. “I don’t believe that he knew that at that time there was a relationship between us. He knew that in the past there was a relationship.”
Ben-Menashe said Mugabe was a victim of British neo-colonialism. “This is why the British are very upset about this tape. They can’t refute it.
They’re attacking me personally, they’re saying the tape is a forgery or a thing. I say hold on a second. Personally, okay, you want to attack me, that’s fine. The tape, you’re saying it’s a forgery. Look at it. Test it.”
Ben-Menashe refused to disclose the amount paid to his company by the Mugabe government over the years.
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Daily News
MDC rallies banned 
2/27/02 8:18:06 AM (GMT +2)
By Collin Chiwanza
THE MDC is challenging the banning by the government of its two key campaign rallies scheduled for this weekend in Harare and Bulawayo in unclear circumstances.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, was due to address his closing presidential campaign rallies at the Zimbabwe Grounds in Harare and White City Stadium in Bulawayo.
But the rallies have been cancelled to make way for President Mugabe.
Addressing journalists soon after meeting the heads of observer missions in Harare yesterday, Tsvangirai said the police had written to the MDC advising them they could not hold their rallies at both venues because Mugabe would be using them.
The MDC said it been granted permission by the responsible authorities to hold the rallies.
Innocent Chagonda, the MDC lawyer, is expected to file an urgent chamber application in the High Court today, challenging the decision.
A week ago, the police refused to sanction the Bulawayo rally arguing that Zanu PF had already secured the venue.
But the MDC successfully challenged the ban after the Bulawayo City Council said Zanu PF had not booked the stadium.
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Daily News
Mugabe pleads for Epworth vote 
2/27/02 8:27:18 AM (GMT +2)
Political Editor
PRESIDENT Mugabe, 78, yesterday refuted speculation about the state of his health, saying: “I’m as fit as a fiddle and I have many years before me.”
There have been reports that he suffered a mild stroke recently.
Punching the air with his clenched fist, he said: “This MDC paper says I’m not well. Wait and see, come 9 and 10 March, this fist is going to beat Morgan Tsvangirai and he is going to roll 78 times.”
This was in apparent reference to The Daily News, an independent newspaper.
Mugabe predicted he would win the election. He spoke at Domboramwari in
Epworth to thousands of people from Epworth, Mabvuku, Tafara and the surrounding suburbs.
Mugabe launched what has become his customary attack on the British government and Prime Minister Tony Blair.
He handed a $38 million cheque to the Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, Ignatius Chombo. He said the money was for self-help projects in Epworth, Mabvuku and Tafara.
He did not clarify whether all residents would benefit or it would be restricted to Zanu PF supporters only. Zanu PF did not win a single Harare seat in the parliamentary election in 2000.
Mugabe admitted the country was short of food and was having to compete with other countries in the region to buy maize and maize-meal from South Africa.
But he said his government was trying its best to ensure no one starved.
Mugabe evoked memories of the liberation struggle as he appealed to the people to vote for him.
He pleaded with them to reverse the 2000 parliamentary election result which almost toppled his party from power.
“So you really want Harare, the capital city of the country, to go so that it is ruled by the whites like David Coltart, Mike Auret and this troublesome Trudy Stevenson? What is wrong with you, sons and daughters of the soil?”
Grace Mugabe, wearing a Zanu PF chitenje emblazoned with her husband’s face, sloganeered at the rally.
She called Tsvangirai, tipped to win a free and fair election, a “tea boy” being used by the whites.
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Daily News
 Teachers flee Zanu PF terror 
2/27/02 8:32:11 AM (GMT +2)
From Brian Mangwende in Mutare
FOUR teachers at Rusiti High in Chimanimani on Monday fled the school after they allegedly received death threats from suspected soldiers, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) agents, war veterans and Zanu PF youths.
The teachers are Gilbert Undenge, Elijah Chitango, Howard Sibanda and Taona Tsopo. They went into hiding after the group descended on the school between Thursday and Monday.
A shaken Undenge, 37, who has been at the school since 1991, said yesterday:
“Last Thursday, Zanu PF led by Major Zephania Mutisi, organised a rally at our school and ordered all villagers to attend.
“The youths chanted slogans, threatening to kill us. They accused us of being MDC supporters. They demanded that we leave the school immediately. We defied them and remained at the school.”
On Saturday, Undenge said, while he was at Ngorima business centre, Mutisi threatened to kill him if he continued to defy his orders to vacate the school premises.
“The following day, a group of about 60 war veterans and Zanu PF youths invaded the school and surrounded my house,” said Undenge. “They chanted Zanu PF slogans and demanded that I come out of the house. I refused and then they proceeded to stone the house shattering all the windows.
“On Monday soldiers and members of the CIO led by Joseph Mwale threatened to kill us if we did not comply with the war veterans’ orders. They subsequently arrested three MD youths.”
A judge last year ordered that Mwale be probed for the murder of two MDC activists in 2000, but the Attorney General’s Office and the police have not obliged.
The other teachers are reported to have gone underground.
Meanwhile, about 100 suspected Zanu PF supporters on Tuesday torched the house of James Dhliwayo, an MDC supporter, at Tanganda business centre in Chipinge North.
Pishai Muchauraya, MDC’s spokesman in Manicaland, said: “We reported the case to the police, but were not issued with an RRB number.”
A policeman at Chipinge police station confirmed the incident and said investigations were underway. 

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Daily News
LEADER PAGE  Wednesday   27  , February 
Tsvangirai becomes a martyr in a comic opera 
2/27/02 7:31:19 AM (GMT +2)

THE government has tried very hard, but in vain, to convince a sceptical world that its campaign of harassment against the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has little to do with the prospect that he could beat President Mugabe in the presidential election.
In a radio interview on Monday, after Tsvangirai had been formally charged with high treason, the Minister of Home Affairs, John Nkomo, gave the impression that there was nothing at all bizarre about the government’s latest attempt to persecute the MDC leader.
But to many Zimbabweans, the depths to which the government have now sunk can longer be considered ordinary. Charging the man with high treason, which carries the death penalty, ought to be absolutely the limit of their aberration.
But to then let him free after hours of interrogation and promising to follow up the matter by way of summons - the police euphemism for we’re-not-sure-we-can-make-this-stick - smacks of psychological terror tactics.
The world is expected to believe that, on the basis of a video film made by a man who claims to have been a friend of President Mugabe “for a few years”, the police will to build a cast-iron case of treason against Tsvangirai.
The key witness will be this man, the 51-year-old Ari Ben-Menashe, whose company, Dickens and Madison, made the clearly doctored video film on which this entire case will be built like a house of cards.
As comic opera, it would probably win some prizes, but as a serious attempt to punish a citizen who cold-bloodedly planned to assassinate his then 77-year-old head of state, dogged by ill-health for years, it would be laughed out of any court, even in Zimbabwe.
Ben-Menashe, the key witness, is a man with such a fascinating past of dubious exploits he would fit in snugly into the essence of the comic opera.
Tsvangirai would be the martyr, a man persecuted for doing no more than his duty as a loyal citizen of his country -trying to give the people a chance to choose an alternative leader.
The more serious side of this whole caper is that it demonstrates Zanu PF’s desperation.
One suspects that even the police detectives instructed to bring this case to its logical conclusion are a bit bemused: on such rickety evidence, how do they build a case respectable enough to take to the Attorney General?
Much more relevant is the role of Ben-Menashe in the plot to entrap
Tsvangirai - for that is what happened as soon as the MDC unknowingly
“knocked on the wrong door” in their genuine search for a public relations company to polish up their image in the Americas.
By all accounts, Ben-Menashe had been working for the Mugabe government for some years before this bonanza of a new client fell into his company’s lap.
The rest, for a man apparently schooled thoroughly in the cloak-and-dagger business of bluff and double bluff, was almost routine.
They set up Tsvangirai.
Ben-Menashe came to Harare to bolster the government’s shaky case against Tsvangirai.
He did not portray himself as a witness determined to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.
He virtually made himself part of the prosecution team, leaving no room whatsoever for any doubt as to the MDC leader’s guilt.
In fact, in many respects, Ben-Menashe spoke as if he himself was the plaintiff.
As to how the case will eventually pan out, it would be wise to leave that to the police.
But a word of warning to the government: they could tie themselves into so many knots in this wild attempt to prevent Tsvangirai from challenging Mugabe on 9-10 March.
This persecution could convince the fence-sitters which way to vote.
The underdog in this election is Tsvangirai and he is already a martyr. Government must be careful they don’t provide with the missing element in his CV imprisonment.

Daily News
     LEADER PAGE  Wednesday   27  , February 
What will happen if MDC wins the presidential poll? 
2/27/02 7:31:52 AM (GMT +2)
By Dumisani Nkomo
NOT so long ago I expressed fear and trepidation at the mere thought of a Zanu PF victory in the forthcoming presidential election. In my analysis, I painted a very bleak future for the country if the ruling party won the election. It is, therefore, only fair to proffer an analysis of the implications of an MDC victory.
I am sure if the MDC won the 9-10 March presidential poll a lot of people employed by non-governmental organisations would lose their jobs. Imagine the millions of dollars that have been poured into workshops, seminars and campaigns on various aspects of Zimbabwe’s multi-dimensional crisis which has its centre of gravity in crisis of governance.
All of a sudden all these groups would be robbed of the worthy and noble agenda of dealing with Zanu PF’s misrule. Indeed, it would be a lonely world for advocacy if Zanu PF suddenly disappeared from the limelight.
Of course, this is only light talk because even if the ruling party and
President Mugabe are not re-elected, the nation will have to engage in the onerous task of rebuilding itself.
If the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai wins the election, there will be no time for him to celebrate his victory. The MDC president will find himself dealing with a Parliament dominated by the opposition Zanu PF.
Zanu PF would have the advantage of the current constitution which awards it an additional 30 or so non-constituency MPs “accidentally chosen from the ranks of the unemployed”.
Of those 30, only eight can be removed by virtue of ceasing to be provincial governors. Since the President can exercise his prerogative on choice of governors, Tsvangirai would obviously select pro-MDC governors so as to increase his party’s leverage in the House. Of course, he may choose not to have provincial governors which may result in a scenario which I am neither willing nor able to analyse because of constitutional complications arising from requirements on the number of MPs sitting in Parliament.
If he chooses to appoint provincial governors he would then have to ensure that he commands the support of the 10 chiefs who are Members of Parliament so that his government can pass laws and budgets effectively.
In order to circumvent complex political manoeuvres, the MDC may opt for an easier but more controversial option - the dissolution of Parliament. In terms of section 63 of the Zimbabwean Constitution, the President may at any time dissolve Parliament subject to other sections of the Constitution.
This move would benefit the MDC in a number of ways.
Firstly, the new President can then within six months call for a new parliamentary election, which could see the MDC gaining more seats.
This would enable the MDC to pass budgets and laws without the frustration of a Parliament dominated by the former ruling party. Obviously if the MDC proceeded under the status quo in Parliament they would be virtually useless as a government because they would not be able to implement policies effectively owing to an inadequate parliamentary majority.
Having hopefully walked this political tightrope, the MDC would then have to make what I consider to be a very important step - that of restoring law and order both in the rural and urban areas. The greatest challenge will be that of applying the law in a non-partisan manner and arresting avenging MDC members who by then will be the ruling party.
Another threat could be that of elements such as rogue war veterans and Zanu PF militias attempting to disrupt law and order. The Public Order and Security Act could come in handy at this stage before it is confined to its rightful place the trash can.
It is unlikely that the military will subvert the authority of a new government because contrary to popular belief, quite a lot of people in the army are professional and do not share the sentiments of the likes of General Vitalis Zvinavashe, which I will not magnify or dignify with a comment. This scenario is also unlikely because the international community, including the European Union and even our own cowardly Southern African Development Community, is unlikely to tolerate an armed insurrection.
Restoration of law and order will be an imperative for any meaningful economic stability by boosting both public and business confidence.
The major challenge for an MDC government will be to meet the needs of the ordinary man on the street. This is because the man on the street will not be satisfied with endless elections and what seems to be eternal posturing on rights and constitutional reform. The driving force behind this deep-rooted urge to remove Zanu PF is politics of the stomach and, therefore, the MDC would have to demonstrate an ability to solve bread and butter issues.
For the masses the most important post-electoral issues will be the availability of basic commodities, job creation, managing inflation and arresting the erosion of real incomes.
An MDC government would have a distinct advantage in the world of economics for the mere fact that they are not Zanu PF. In spite of investor competition from emerging economies such as Mozambique and relatively established ones such as South Africa, Zimbabwe will have a fairly competitive edge over its southern African neighbours because of a comparatively low crime rate as compared to South Africa and possibly an uncertain political environment in Pretoria originating from fermentation over years of African National Congress rule.
The country might be able to compete favourably with Botswana and Mozambique because of its broader resource base and better infrastructure.
I am, therefore, convinced that the Zimbabwean economy will experience a boom as a result of a new political environment which is investor friendly.
Many firms that have closed down or relocated to other countries are likely to return.
The political maturity of an MDC government will then be measured by their ability to balance economic logic and economic justice, factors which at times seem never to reach a point of confluence.
Whatever the case is, things will be far better off with an MDC government or even a Zanu government than life under a Zanu PF government. 


I expect most of you are aware by now of this secret video that was taken of Morgan Tsvangirai plotting to eliminate Mugabe with the cooperation of a Canadian outfit. One of the directors of this firm, Ari Ben Menashe - a well known Israeli liar & conman, was interviewed by BBC TV World on 25th Feb. & admitted that they were under contract from ZANU at the time of this alleged discussions.  So obviously the whole thing was a setup.  Anyway, all the promotion of this setup was originated  by a TV station here in Australia called SBS, & the reporter was Mark Davies.
I phoned the SBS's "Dateline" programme producer Sarah Parker informing them of their irresponsible behaviour in screening such a programme without prior establishment of it's authenticity, & that how they have become victim of Mugabe's dirty tactics etc.
I urge you to email her informing her of your disapproval of screening such material that could endanger many peoples' lives by promoting the return of Mugabe & another term of brutality & poverty.
For those in Australia the toll free number for Sarah Parker at SBS is 1800 500 727.
Thanks, xxxxx



The Age, Melbourne
Zimbabwe expulsion focus of Nigerian President's visit
CANBERRA, Feb 27 AAP|Published: Wednesday February 27, 6:34 PM
Zimbabwe's possible expulsion from the commonwealth will be the focus of talks when Nigerian President Olesugun Obasanjo meets with Prime Minister John Howard tomorrow.
President Obasanjo arrived in Canberra this afternoon and will have discussions with Mr Howard tomorrow in the leadup to the weekend Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Queensland.
Australia has threatened targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe if opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is prevented from contesting next month's presidential election because of conspiracy allegations.
Mr Tsvangirai has been charged with treason.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said yesterday that Australia would regard as unacceptable any move to stop Mr Tsvangirai challenging President Robert Mugabe in the looming poll.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, has so far not supported sanctions, already imposed by the European Union, instead pinning its hopes on a free and fair election overseen by commonwealth observers.
President Obasanjo, a former general who led Nigeria back to democracy in 1999 after a succession of military governments, has also been pushing for a political breakthrough on issues such as land reform in Zimbabwe.
Nigeria was itself suspended from the commonwealth in the mid-1990s and was only readmitted after the return to civilian rule.
The president will discuss Australia's position on Zimbabwe when he meets with Mr Howard tomorrow morning as part of the first-ever visit to Australia by a democratically-elected Nigerian leader.
The pair will also discuss a range of multilateral issues such as trade and Nigeria's emerging role as a peacemaker in west Africa and leader in Africa's push for greater development.
President Obasanjo will also visit the Australian Institute of Sport, where Nigerian athletes train under Australian government sponsored scholarships.
Tomorrow night he will be guest of honour at a state dinner at Government House hosted by Governor-General Peter Hollingworth before he heads to Sydney and then Queensland for the CHOGM meeting.
By Rob Taylor

 The Independent (UK), 27 February

Starving voters more worried about food crisis

Durban Food shortages are approaching critical levels in parts of Zimbabwe, raising the spectre of some voters starving to death before the presidential poll in two weeks. Children have been fainting in schools, pregnant women miscarrying from malnutrition and people going for days without food. Grain and vegetable oil shortages prompted by severe drought, endemic poverty and the state-sponsored invasion of commercial farms by "war veterans", are beginning to bite. The staple maize crop has dropped by nearly 50 per cent. The United Nations estimates that about half a million of Zimbabwe's 12.5 million people are already going dangerously hungry, and many of them are also angry - bad news for President Robert Mugabe, who blames the shortages on drought and grain hoarding by white farmers intent on toppling him. In the parched south, people have accused the government of "playing with their lives".

Outside a supermarket, a young woman with a baby on her back, begs: "Please buy me some food. Anything. I haven't eaten since yesterday." Around the country, irritated people stand in long queues for hours for small rations of maize, and police have had to calm unruly crowds. Eddie Cross, economic spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), whose head, Morgan Tsvangirai, is Mr Mugabe's main rival, said: "The situation is frightening. Food shortages are causing extreme hardship, across the board and across the country. The political implications are profound. I would hate to run a campaign amidst a food crisis for which there is no solution. Also, 'war vets' are leaving commercial farms in droves, because their crops have failed for lack of water. Zanu PF's fasttrack land reform - the heart of its programme – is collapsing. People are blaming it for their hunger."

People are most at risk of starvation in the south, west and far north of Zimbabwe, naturally arid areas where subsistence maize crops have shrivelled with the absence of rain for nearly two months. An estimated 2.7 million people in Masvingo and Matabeleland more than half of the population of those provinces - face extreme hardship. New figures by food industry leaders, released to The Independent, estimate a shortfall of maize of 300,000 tons, and stocks to deplete by February and March. In 2002-2003, there is forecast to be a shortfall of more than a million tons. Three years ago, Zimbabwe was the bread basket of southern Africa, fully self-sufficient in basic foodstuffs with surpluses for export including maize, wheat and soybean meal. It supplied 25 per cent of the world's flue-cured tobacco and 8 per cent of European horticulture imports. Now it is a large net food importer, and wheat, tobacco production and horticultural output are down 25 to 30 per cent. Most serious is the 50 per cent fall in maize. Because maize is in short supply, demand for bread has soared. This is rapidly depleting wheat stocks, which are expected to run out by June.

The World Food Programme began distributing imported food relief to 40,000 people in Matabeleland North this week. It calculates that 19 of the country's 57 districts are at risk. "The situation could get rapidly worse," says the WFP's Anna Shoffon in Harare. As the economy shrinks, companies close, jobs are lost and 117 per cent inflation erodes incomes and causes food prices to rocket. Even where food is available, growing numbers of people cannot afford to eat in a country where more than a third live below the poverty line, with less than $1 (70p) a day to meet their needs. Mr Mugabe has promised people in his reelection campaign that nobody will starve, and that 200,000 tons of maize are speeding their way towards Zimbabwe from South Africa. But the food is not coming in anywhere near fast enough.

 The National Post (Canada), 26 February

Mugabe gets ready to rig his reelection

With fewer than two weeks to go before the presidential election here the tension in this city is palpable. If the election were to be remotely free or fair there is no doubt the citizens of Zimbabwe's capital would vote against President Robert Mugabe almost to the last man or woman. Every time there is even a rumour that mealie meal (the staple African diet) is to be delivered to this or that supermarket people start mobbing the delivery lorries and forming huge queues at the shops. They are hungry, and in some parts of the country people are already beginning to die of starvation due to the government takeover of productive whiteowned farms.

At a cafe I stopped at today the waitress broke down and cried when I gave her a tip. "This means my child will eat tonight," she said. It turned out that she earns Z$8,000 a month (C$234) but that the bus home costs Z$500 (C$15) and home is 24 kilometres away, a distance she usually walked. I expressed amazement that she could walk 48 km a day. "I walk as far as I can and hitch lifts," she said, "but the men who pick you up all assume you want to sleep with them." So what do you do? I asked. "Carry condoms," she said with a grimace. She is apolitical, knows nothing about the main opposition candidate - Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change - and has heard endlessly on the state radio and TV that "he is a bad, bad man," but she will still vote for him. "The people are suffering," she says simply. "I'm one of the lucky ones, I'm employed."

But the bad news is that Mugabe's youth militia the Green Bombers, as they're known - are back in town. They've been booked into local hotels once or twice this month and created a fair amount of mayhem. The accountant I know who audits several of these hotels tells me that their bills are paid by the only two parastatals with any money left in the till, the Grain Marketing Board and the National Oil Company, Noczim. Eight hundred of these young thugs have been booked into Harare hotels for the past 10 days of the election campaign and they apparently have orders to beat up any whites they see, plus any MDC sympathizers. In general, their job is to minimize the MDC vote in Harare by making people too scared to vote.

The election observers here from South Africa and the surrounding African countries are trying hard to look the other way and will doubtless proclaim the election free and fair whatever happens. Even after two South African observers were attacked by a mob of 200 Zanu PF thugs who stoned virtually to destruction the MDC office they were in, the head of the observer mission, Sam Motsuenyane, refused to blame Zanu PF and said that it had simply been "an amorphous mob." The South African High Commission in Harare says it has been telling Pretoria for ages that Mugabe is responsible for the violence, that a free and fair election is not possible and that Mugabe will rig the result if necessary but that Pretoria just won't listen. It appears South African President Thabo Mbeki has, for his own reasons, decided that the election has to be "free and fair" and that he is instructing Motsuenyane to take that line.

Despite all of this, there is still the chance that a tidal wave of Tsvangirai support will prevail though there is a general assumption that the government will stuff the ballot boxes if it can. To make this easier the government has passed a new law making it illegal for election monitors to stay with the ballot boxes until they are counted. There is much speculation as to whether Mugabe will have Tsvangirai arrested before election day and charged with trying to murder him. The "assassination plot" Tsvangirai is supposed to have hatched with a Canadian firm has quite clearly been clumsily concocted by the Mugabe government itself and is believed by almost no one. It is difficult to see that Tsvangirai's arrest would help Mugabe much - unless some hand-picked judge were to refuse Tsvangirai bail. Perhaps more to the point is the threat by some Mugabe supporters that they will take the law into their own hands and deal with (i.e. kill) Tsvangirai if the state does not, though it would be impossible to convince most people that such an assassination had not been planned in State House.

Nonetheless, the possibility of the electoral process breaking down into violence is very real. The trade unions have already said they will strike if there is a "stolen" election and Mugabe has responded by saying that if reelected he will ban the unions, get rid of most whites and depose the courageous Roman Catholic bishop of Matebeleland, Pius Ncube. There is also far too much "kit" around, as it is called in hunting circles here: AK-47s and RPG-7s from Mozambique abound, as do all manner of other weaponry handed down from the wars in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and the Congo. Last week I met a man with a boat on Cabora Bassa who, to protect it from pirates, has mounted a three-barrelled rapid-fire anti-aircraft gun, a Yugoslav remake of a Swiss original, on the front of his boat which, firing level, he says, will blow any boat out of the water.

All of which is more than a shame. Each morning I get up and am freshly amazed at how beautiful Zimbabwe is, how friendly and welleducated its people are, what a blessed land this is. It is a country that could be turned round quickly. The main question is what will the international community do to prevent further mayhem here. It is a question which will have to be answered soon.

Tsvangirai detained again
News24 (SA): 27 February 2002

Harare - Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was held briefly on Wednesday at a house where he was meeting with his own party's officials in what police described as an illegal gathering, the party said.
"He was briefly detained together with Welshman Ncube and some party officials at a house in Milton Park (a Harare suburb)," party official Percy Makombe told AFP.
On Tuesday, MDC secretary-general Ncube and party shadow agriculture minister were charged with treason and accused of plotting with Tsvangirai to assassinate Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.
Tsvangirai was charged with the same alleged offence on Monday.
Although treason is punishable in Zimbabwean law by death, none of them were arrested and they were able to leave the police station freely after recording warned and cautioned statements.
As Tsvangirai did on Monday, Ncube and Gasela on Tuesday denied the charges.
Police are basing their case on a controversial Australian television documentary which last week broadcast a "surveillance" videotape of Tsvangirai meeting in December last year with executives of a Montreal-based "political consultancy" in which the 49-year-old former labour leader was said to have tried to hire the company to kill Mugabe.
Ncube and Gasela had been present in two earlier meetings with the company, Dickens Madson, in London last year.
However, subsequent examination of the tape has revealed evidence that it had been manipulated to show Tsvangirai answering in the affirmative to questions about an assassination conspiracy.
Tsvangirai on Tuesday challenged the company to show the videotape in full and said it would exonerate him.
Meanwhile, Tsvangirai on Tuesday urged international observers to demand that Mugabe shut down scores of camps of lawless ruling party militia bases all over the country.
"We have said they (observers) have a responsibility to go to Mugabe and say, 'can you disband these militia base camps'," he told journalists after a meeting with observer groups.
"Whatever is happening, the stoning of Movement for Democratic Change activists or of observers, it's coming from these bases," he said.
At the weekend observers from South Africa and from the Southern African parliamentary union were attacked by ruling party youth supporters in separate incidents.
Three Botswana observers were slightly hurt in the second attack.
"I am certain that on the day of the vote, they (the militias) will be used to frog-march voters to the polling stations."
The militias were "supported and sustained by the government", he said.
"They (the government) are the ones who are feeding them, training them and directing where to act and where not to act."
No comment was immediately available from any of the observer groups.
Duke Lefhoko, head of the parliamentary observer group of the Southern African Development Community, on Tuesday said he had met with home affairs minister John Nkomo and defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi to protest against the two attacks on the observers.
The ministers had said the incidents were "regrettable" and promised that "concrete action" would be taken to protect observers.
Lefhoko said on Monday that if there were any further attacks on his group, the mission would have to "review" its presence in the country. He said the incidents cast serious doubt on the possibility of free and fair elections being held.
The MDC on Tuesday issued a list of 146 sites all over the country where militias are based.
Human rights organisations say the militias have spawned into an amorphous army of several thousand since they were created in November last year.
"They are absolutely the worst perpetrators of violence right now," said Tony Reeler, director of the Amani Trust, which helps victims of political violence.
"The violence is certainly persisting in a much more overt and deliberate way than before parliamentary elections in 2000. There is also no evidence of the diminution of violence that there was before the 2000 elections.
"Last week it was business as usual for them and no change." - Sapa-AP, Sapa-DPA

Time's Running Out for Hero-Turned-Despot Mugabe
NewsDay: February 27, 2002

Robert Mugabe is a desperate man. Hailed as a hero of African liberation when he transformed white-ruled colonial Rhodesia into independent Zimbabwe in 1980, the aging despot now is grasping at bloody straws to retain power.
After 22 years of his misrule, the people of Zimbabwe are telling pollsters they're ready to vote him out of office in two weeks. So Mugabe, 78, has resorted to abhorrent tactics that merit condemnation throughout the world.
To stave off defeat, Mugabe has imposed stiff jail sentences on anyone criticizing him in print or on the airwaves; sent out thugs to beat up political opponents at rallies; kicked out independent observers sent by the European Union to monitor the election process; and, finally, charged the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, with treason in a plot to assassinate him - an accusation that no one finds credible. Tsvangirai's chief crime is that he is leading in all the opinion polls as the likely next president - if the vote is held fairly.
Though the EU and Washington have imposed travel and economic sanctions on Mugabe for his reprehensible behavior, foreign displeasure won't have much effect. The more telling criticism ought to come from Zimbabwe's African neighbors - particularly South Africa, which has a responsibility as a moral exemplar of Africans' political hopes to uphold democracy in that troubled continent.
Yet both South Africa and Nigeria vetoed a move by Britain to drum Zimbabwe out of the British Commonwealth. And South African President Thabo Mbeki has yet to condemn Mugabe's practice of rewarding his supporters with the illegal and violent takeover of white- owned land in Zimbabwe. Possibly that's because Mugabe's land grab has brought cheers among landless peasants in South Africa, where the pace of land reform has been glacial.
Mugabe has become a living caricature of a tin-pot dictator. It's time for him to leave and allow his nation to develop into a modern democracy.
Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.

National Post (Canada)
February 27, 2002

Chances of fair Zimbabwe vote dim but Chrétien not ready for sanctions
Two more opposition leaders charged; Canadian reporters among barred media

Sheldon Alberts
National Post
OTTAWA - Jean Chrétien yesterday said he fears the chances of fair elections in Zimbabwe are deteriorating amid news that two more leading opposition politicians have been charged with treason, and reports Robert Mugabe, the country's President, has banned foreign journalists who hail from nations considered hostile to his regime.
The Prime Minister said concerns about Zimbabwe's democratic abuses will lead the agenda at a meeting of the Commonwealth heads of state later this week in Brisbane, Australia.
But Mr. Chrétien continues to rebuff opposition demands to impose stiff sanctions against Mr. Mugabe's regime.
"In my view, the situation in Zimbabwe is getting worse every day," Mr. Chrétien told reporters.
"The situation is complicated there, and Canada will be in the forefront to ensure that democracy is maintained in Zimbabwe."
International fears that Mr. Mugabe plans to rig the March 9-10 presidential elections grew again yesterday when two leading politicians from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change -- Welshman Ncube and Renson Gasela -- were charged with treason for allegedly plotting to assassinate the President.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC's leader, was charged with treason on Monday, but has claimed the allegations are part of a plot to discredit him prior to the vote.
Zimbabwe is also denying foreign media accreditation to cover the presidential election, banning reporters from nations -- including Canada -- whose governments have criticized Mr. Mugabe.
The pro-Mugabe newspaper, The Herald, reported yesterday that five reporters from Canada and journalists from Sweden, Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands were barred because the countries' "media and governments were anti-Zimbabwe."
Bill Graham, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said he is seeking confirmation of the ban from the Zimbabwe High Commission. He vowed to launch a complaint if Canadian reporters are denied entry.
The Canadian news outlets which have yet to be accredited include the National Post, CBC Television and CTV News.
"I would be absolutely horrified if Zimbabwe is going to [ban Canadian press] because we, as a government, have expressed reservations about the way they are conducting their elections," Mr. Graham said.
Zimbabwe has also limited the number of journalists from the United States, Great Britain, Germany and South Africa.
Canada has so far resisted calls from some Commonwealth nations, predominantly Great Britain, to expel Zimbabwe from the 54-country organization.
The European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Mr. Mugabe's government last week, including freezing bank accounts and banning Mr. Mugabe and other senior officials from travelling to European countries.
Keith Martin, the Canadian Alliance foreign affairs critic, blasted the Chrétien government for failing to take stronger action against Mr. Mugabe.
Mr. Martin is demanding that Ottawa lobby for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth, recall Canada's high commissioner to Zimbabwe and expel Zimbabwe's high commissioner to Canada.
"The credibility of Canada, the Commonwealth and the international community is on the line. While Mugabe has consistently shown himself to be a thug, the international community has failed to act," Mr. Martin said.
Commonwealth leaders had been expected to suspend Zimbabwe at their March 2-5 summit in Australia, but the group's foreign ministers recently failed to reach consensus.
Mr. Graham and Mr. Chrétien said they will await reports on the election from Commonwealth observers in Harare and, if the elections are rigged, suspension is possible.
Canadian MPs, meanwhile, are twinning with opposition politicians in Zimbabwe in hope of deterring attacks on them during that country's tense election campaign.
Fourteen Canadian parliamentarians from all parties have volunteered to stay in touch with Zimbabwean MPs who have been attacked or are considered at risk in pre-electoral violence by government thugs.
Mr. Mugabe, a former guerrilla leader, has been in power in Zimbabwe since he was elected in 1980.
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Blair condemns Zimbabwe election ''outrage''  
LONDON, Feb. 27 — Prime Minister Tony Blair accused Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday of acting like a dictator and said Britain would push for action against him at a Commonwealth summit this weekend.  
       Mugabe, who has led the former British colony since independence in 1980, faces the toughest challenge of his 22-year rule in presidential elections on March 9 and 10.
       Opponents accuse his ruling ZANU-PF party of instigating a wave of violence against supporters of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who was charged with treason on Monday.
       The European Union recalled its election observers and imposed targeted sanctions against Mugabe's inner circle after the head of its observer team was expelled from the country and said Zimbabwean security forces had tried to intimidate his team earlier this month.
       ''What is happening in Zimbabwe is an outrage,'' Blair told parliament, one day before he was due to fly out to the Commonwealth summit in Australia, which is likely to be overshadowed by the violence in Zimbabwe.
       ''The actions of Robert Mugabe are completely undemocratic and wrong and dictatorial and it is for that reason that we argued with others inside the European Union for sanctions to be applied. We will make the same case at the Commonwealth,'' Blair said.
       Britain failed to win support for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth at a ministerial meeting in London last month and officials concede that they are unlikely to convince the organisation to act against Mugabe before the elections.
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Zimbabwe court invalidates election amendments  
HARARE, Feb. 27 — Zimbabwe's Supreme Court on Wednesday invalidated a law signed by President Robert Mugabe last month that was seen aimed at boosting his chances at next month's elections, an opposition party official said.  
       ''Yes it's true, the Supreme Court has invalidated the General Laws and Amendments Act,'' said Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) chief spokesman Learnmore Jongwe.
       ''The court found that parliament improperly passed the law after it had been rejected at the third reading and should have been re-gazetted (tabled) before they tried to pass it,'' Jongwe told Reuters.
       Parliament, in which Mugabe's ZANU-PF party holds 93 of the 150 seats, in January passed by 62 votes to 49 the General Laws Amendment Bill banning independent election monitors for the March 9-10 poll and denying voting rights to millions of Zimbabweans abroad.
       There was no immediate independent confirmation of the court ruling.
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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 16:40 GMT
Zimbabwe investment dries up
Land seizures have helped drive investment away
Zimbabwe's recent political and economic problems have turned off the tap of foreign investment, the country's central bank has admitted.

In 2001 Zimbabwe attracted just $5.4m of direct investment, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe said.

In contrast, 1998 - the best year on record - produced investments totalling $436m.

"Resource flows to Zimbabwe - a critical component of investment finance - have been declining over the past five years, reflecting an unfavourable domestic macro-economic climate," the RBZ said.

Tough times

The land seizures and, more recently, assaults on industrial plant when owned by Zimbabweans suspected to be backing the opposition by gangs armed and trained by the government have turned the economy on its head.

The drain of the long-running war in Congo has also taken its toll.

Inflation is now at 116.7%, and the currency is officially pegged at 55 Zimbabwe dollars to the US dollar but trades on the "parallel market" at about six times that.

Meanwhile, interest rates are kept artificially low, meaning Zimbabweans are investing in buildings, other concrete assets and the stock market to try to retain the value of what money they have.

That has driven a surge on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, up more than 250% in 2001.

But the surge disguises massive disinvestment by foreigners.

According to RBZ figures, the capital account was $424m in deficit in 2001, after a $298m deficit the year before, as foreign investors deserted the ZSE.

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Harare scavenges for fuel, food
Shonhiwa Muzengu, Media24 Africa Service
Harare- In a desperate effort to avoid a fuel crisis ahead of the March crucial Presidential election, the government has sent a delegation led by the Minister of Mines and Energy, Edward Chindori-Chininga to scout for oil in friendly countries.
Two weeks ago, Chindori-Chininga, accompanied by banker Gideon Gono and other government officials, went to Monaco, Italy, South Africa and Mozambique to establish oil deals.
The government wants to avoid a fuel crisis such as the one in 2000 when long queues at fuel stations became a common feature throughout the country.
During the parliamentary election that year, there were more people in paraffin queues in parts of Harare than those lining up to vote.
Won't vote while they're hungry
Many residents interviewed during the election said they would not bother going to vote while they were hungry.
The MDC supporters capitalised on the crisis and sold their membership cards and handed out campaign pamphlets to frustrated motorists waiting in fuel queues.
Chindori-Chininga said he had been scouting for oil deals to avoid "a dry situation" but he would not give details of his trips.
Fuel supplies have been erratic since October 1999 due to the shortage of foreign currency.
The corruption-riddled National Oil Company of Zimbabwe conceded last year: "Until the national economy is able to generate enough foreign currency or establish lines of credit with friendly institutions, Noczim cannot guarantee a substantial improvement on the current fuel situation."
Food security another headache
Meanwhile, food security remains a major headache for the government as supplies run dry and imports fail to ease the situation which has since become very critical.
Grinding starvation and humiliating famine threatens to cause a human catastrophe unless international goodwill is restored and donations begin to come in.
The seriousness of the situation has sparked a desperate plea for food from the United Nations World Food Programme whose officials have ranked Zimbabwe number two in the world, after Afghanistan, for urgent attention.
Within the Southern African Development Community region, Zimbabwe will compete for philanthropy and food handouts with Malawi and Zambia, where harvests fell by 25% last year, for different reasons.
Economists said the continued dry spell has wiped out the entire early crop in the south and west, densely populated areas where farming is the sole source of income.
Mass starvation
"There is mass starvation throughout the country," said Gareth Myburgh, an economist. "The seriousness of the situation has been overshadowed by the presidential campaigns. Already, there has been a significant movement of people to urban areas in search for food. Very soon a huge squatter problem will emerge."
Apart from the critical shortage of maize-meal, sugar, cooking oil, beef and many other basics are also scarce. If available, the quality of the food is bad and the prices on the black market have become so prohibitive that many families have suspended buying other items as they go after scarce food.
Aids killing 2 000 a day
"These shortages have come at a time when cholera and HIV/Aids are causing havoc among the poor. We are burying nearly 2 000 everyday because of Aids," said Learnmore Jongwe, spokesperson for the opposition MDC party.
The government says it imported 24 000 tons of maize, part of a consignment of 50 000 from a Cargill, a South African company. But the food has proved to be inadequate. Another consignment of 100 000 tons has been ordered with other SA companies, Blazepoint Trading, Farmers World, Trade Challenge, ADM Agri and Petter Trading FSI/Agricom.
"It is unclear whether this was actually done or whether it is an election gimmick because we are not seeing results on the ground," said Jongwe. "Many families are suffering because of the government's ineptitude."
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Mugabe learned, but how wise?
Jannie Ferreira
Cape Town - Boasting six university degrees, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is certainly one of Africa's most educated leaders.
At the same time he is also a difficult, almost perverse, power-hungry individual, biographer Martin Meredith told the Cape Town Press Club on Tuesday.
Meredith's biography of Mugabe, titled Robert Mugabe: Power, plunder & tyranny in Zimbabwe, will be sold under other titles in the US and Europe.
There are remarkable similarities between Mugabe and former president Nelson Mandela, Meredith said. They belong to the same generation, respectively being born in 1924 and 1918.
Both grew up at missions - Mandela at a Methodist mission and Mugabe at a Roman Catholic one.
Both studied at Fort Hare, where Mugabe excelled. Mugabe eventually obtained six degrees, three of them in prison. His cell was usually crowded with books during the 11 years he spent in prison.
None of Mugabe's degrees are honorary doctorates. He is presently working on his seventh degree - on land reform," Meredith said.
Mandela also successfully completed his university studies in prison.
A major difference between the two is that Mandela let go of power, while Mugabe is holding on to it at all cost. And in contrast to Mugabe, Mandela reached out to the white community, Meredith said.
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Zim a test for Commonwealth
Coolum, Australia - The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) will face a critical test of its credibility over its response next week to increasing political violence in Zimbabwe, Chogm sources said on Wednesday.
Australia, Britain, Canada and a number of African and Caribbean nations are tipped to support Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth councils if the March 9-10 presidential election is judged to be less than free and fair.
Although Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has been invited to Chogm, he is not expected to attend so soon before the election.
A failure by Chogm to deliver a strong warning to President Robert Mugabe would be seen by many as a damaging blow to its credibility and effectiveness, raising questions about the future usefulness of the 54-nation body in trying to extend democratic standards.
Australia threatening sanctions
Australia has already signalled its intention to take strong action against President Robert Mugabe by threatening sanctions targeted against him and key members of his regime.
The European Union (EU) and the United States have already imposed sanctions targeting Mugabe's inner circle over the expulsion from Zimbabwe of the EU monitoring team on February 16.
The latest threat by Australia came after police in Harare charged opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai with treason for allegedly plotting to assassinate Mugabe, a charge described by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer as "without credibility".
As evidence, police are using a grainy video shot in Canada by a former Mossad agent with a reputation for fantasy. The tape, screened by an Australian television station, purports to show Tsvangirai talking about "eliminating" Mugabe.
Tsvangirai has strenuously denied the accusation, accusing Mugabe instead of trying to remove him from the political process.
Britain and the United States condemned the charges as another sign that Mugabe is trying to fix the election result by thwarting a strong challenge by Tsvangirai.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters in Bali on Tuesday that Australia would impose its sanctions if the Mugabe government carries out its threat to jail Tsvangirai before the election.
"If Mr Tsvangairai is taken out of the election process altogether that will obviously generate a very strong international reaction," he added.
However, Commonwealth rules provide for a different set of sanctions, including suspension or in extreme cases expulsion.
Australia opposes economic sanctions against Zimbabwe because its economy has been shattered by years of mismanagement and corruption.
But Canberra has argued during recent meetings of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) that suspension is warranted.
Increasingly despotic
Such a measure would need the backing of a number of countries which had usually supported Zimbabwe and would therefore be seen as a powerful political blow against Mugabe's increasingly despotic government.
The issue is to be discussed at a CMAG meeting on the eve of the four-day Chogm summit beginning on Saturday and the CMAG decision, whatever it is, would then go to the full Chogm for endorsement.
However, the countries backing suspension are by no means confident they will succeed, Chogm sources said.
Nigeria, Pakistan and Fiji have all previously been suspended although Nigeria has since been re-admitted and the two others are likely to be. - Sapa-AFP
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'Fighting fit' Mugabe threatens industries

Harare - President Robert Mugabe has dismissed reports of his ill-health, and promised instead to "throw my fist" at opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai when voting starts in 10 day's time.
On Wednesday, the state-controlled daily Herald quoted him as referring to local and foreign reports around his 78th birthday last week that he appeared to have suffered a stroke.
He raised his clenched fist before a crowd of people in a poor Harare township on Tuesday and declared: "This MDC (opposition Movement for Democratic Change) newspaper says I'm not well. Wait and see.
"This is a 78-ton fist and I am going to throw it on March 9-10 (the election days).
"This political blow is going to floor this young man (Tsvangirai) and he is going to roll 78 times. I am as fit as a fiddle and I have many more years to come."
Threatens to nationalise industries
Mugabe, who is standing for a fourth consecutive six-year presidential term, also threatened that if he won the election the government would seize factories that had been closed "for political reasons" and give them to workers.
"We will take over industries that close or seek to close for no apparent reason. Those with political leanings, those with a political agenda, we will certainly take over.
"Industries should be national companies, not parties or political industries."
He said company seizures would follow the completion of the government's seizure of white-owned farms.
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Violence 'exaggerated' - Namibia
Harare - The chief election observer from Namibia, a strong ally of President Robert Mugabe, said on Tuesday that political violence ahead of Zimbabwe's hotly contested presidential election is "exaggerated".
"It is our considered view that the prevalence of violence is exaggerated," Kaire Mbuende told a news conference, adding that nonetheless "there is violence associated with the electioneering process coming from both sides of the political divide."
Rights groups and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have reported a surge in political violence that has left at least 26 people dead so far this year.
The MDC says more than 90 of its supporters have been killed in politically motivated attacks since the party shot to prominence two years ago.
People 'beyond intimidation'
But Mbuende said voter education had put "the majority of people in Zimbabwe beyond intimidation".
He also deplored sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States against Mugabe and his inner circle.
"These measures are in our view not helping the situation but aggravating it," he said. "The imposition of sanctions during an electioneering process could be construed as an attempt to influence the outcome of the elections."
The EU and the United States have imposed targeted sanctions on Mugabe's regime over the deteriorating conditions in the run-up to the March 9-10 elections.
Mugabe is battling to extend his 22-year rule, but faces a formidable challenge from MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. - Sapa-AFP
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Business Day
'Villagers forced to attend Zanu-PF meetings'
By Duncan Guy
The South African Observer Mission in Zimbabwe has called on people to report events that could affect free and fair elections to them, including night-long "pungwe" meetings the ruling party allegedly forces villagers to attend in rural areas.
According to Zimbabweans in Johannesburg, these meetings see members of the opposition being publicly beaten up.
Richard Shambare, who has been campaigning for the estimated one million Zimbabwean economic refugees in South Africa to be able to vote in their host country, said he was forced to attend part of a "pungwe" recently in Masvingo province. That he had a funeral to attend excused him from having to be there the whole night, he said.
Shambare said he believed international observers and monitors appeared to be "blind to the 'pungwes'", and only attended formal, daytime election campaign rallies.
Speaking from Harare, SA Observer Mission spokesman Mbulelo Musi said news of "pungwes" had not reached him and that the observer mission would act if it did.
"It is our duty to help the Zimbabweans have an environment without violence and intimidation so they can have free and fair elections."
Shambare's campaign to enable Zimbabweans to vote outside the country fell on deaf ears and eventually President Robert Mugabe passed legislation disenfranchising non-residents.
He said of his recent visit to the Zaka district of Masvingo province - an opposition stronghold - that pro-government militias and bands of youths have been intimidating people into not voting. "But in Zanu-PF areas they tell people they must go to the polls.
"They even tell old people that spy cameras tell them who they vote for and it had better be Zanu-PF."
Shambare said that at "pungwes", "they sing Zanu-PF songs all night, publicly beat up opposition supporters and are reminded of the liberation struggle against white rule".
"The political commissars tell you to go back to the bush if Mugabe loses the election."
Shambare also said that the militias and bands of paid youths ruled villages such as Zaka. "If people visit they must report to the Zanu-PF office. It's like a secret service."
He said such militias were particularly watchful of people's movements in the border towns of Beit Bridge (South Africa) and Plumtree (Botswana).
He also said carrying a Zanu-PF card in rural areas had become a survival tactic, even for staunch opposition members.
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No influx of Zimbabweans
Pretoria - The department of home affairs said on Wednesday there was no influx of illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe, as has been reported by the media.
Departmental spokesperson Leslie Mashokwe said reports that Zimbabweans were "flooding" into South Africa prior to the forthcoming presidential elections in their country, were more often based on speculation.
Mashokwe said there had been no marked increase in the number of Zimbabweans entering the country either legally - through border posts - or illegally.
In 2000, 68 106 illegal Zimbabwean immigrants were repatriated from the Northern Province. Last year, the figure was 42 939 - a marked decrease, Mashokwe said.
More in March
Up to February 15 this year, 763 Zimbabweans who entered South Africa illegally, were repatriated.
Home affairs expected the number of Zimbabweans to cross the border to increase in March, but this was due to migrant workers entering the country to assist farmers with tomato harvest.
Mashokwe said it was an annual occurrence.
"The department wishes to reiterate that there is no need for concern about the influx of Zimbabwean citizens into South Africa."
If a mass influx followed the elections in Zimbabwe, it would be handled by the National Disaster Management Centre.
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