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Farm Invasions and Security Report
Monday 8th January 2001 

We apologise for the late distribution of this report due to technical problems.
Every attempt is made to provide a comprehensive report of ongoing activities in relation to farm invasions, but many incidents are unreported due to communications constraints and a gereral weariness on the part of farmers. 
No report was received from Mashonaland West (North).
Mashonaland Central
Mutepatepa - The group of invaders at Amanda have moved from their agreed area to another part of the farm. 
Glendale - Farm workers on Chirobi Farm, which was over-run on 29th December 2000, have been unable to return to their homes and four farm guards were forced by war vets to leave the farm.  The situation exploded again after the owner and his family returned on the 6th January.  The owner's son, in his early twenties, was attacked by illegal occupiers who attempted to spear him.  Two neighbouring farmers were ambushed by the illegal occupiers when they responded.  The vehicle was badly damaged and they had to take refuge in the farm homestead.  A group of at least fifty surrounded and stoned the house and other farm property.  Police responded to defuse the situation and left a presence of eight police details to prevent a further flare up of violence.
Mashonaland East
Bromley/Ruwa - A supervisor was assaulted on Nyamasanga Farm.  At the meeting held on Friday on Xanadu the DA and police Officer-in-Charge emphasised the need for peaceful co- existence but nothing tangible was achieved. They then went to Upton and insisted that the farm was not part of the fast track programme and told invaders to stop ploughing on the farm and leave.  Invaders demonstrated at the DA’s office and police station, protesting that the fast track resettlement programme was too slow. The crowd was addressed by Minister Murehwa and they returned to their bases by evening.
Enterprise - Farm invaders on Mt Lothium refused to go onto land that had been indicated to them by the owner but went into a land included in the cropping programme.  Intentions to illegally plough on Marden was thwarted through lack of diesel.
Harare South A DDF tractor was ploughing for illegal occupiers on Verdun but the driver stormed off after an arguement.  Threats of beating up the owner after distorted allegations that he spoke aggressively to the illegal occupiers did not materialise.  Illegal occupiers on Kinfauns Farm stated that they wanted land and to cut down all the trees.
Macheke/Virginia - The owner of Mug Farm planted sunflowers and invaders arrived the next day and ploughed them up. When the farmer approached them and advised that he had recently planted sunflowers there they moved off.  Invaders threatened to plant their own maize in land that had been ploughed by the owner of Chizanza Farm for the farm workers, but the workers got in ahead to ensure that they planted their plots. Section 9 orders (notices to vacate) have been served on Heyford which has already been resettled as it was conceded and Lowlands. 
Wedza - Police informed illegal occupiers, who had cut the fences and started ploughing on Fells, to leave.  Some illegal occupiers were charged under the Fencing Act after they broke a lock on one of the gates on Nelson Farm moved oxen and a scotch cart onto the property. Another two individuals were arrested for poaching.  Late last week, the community responded with 300 farm workers and 12 tractors to assist the owner of Chakadenga to catch up with operations that had been disrupted through invader activity.  However, fences were cut again and ox-carts and cattle bought back onto the farm over the weekend. 
Mashonaland West (South)
Chegutu - A tractor with trailer load of stolen fire-wood (roughly 3 tonnes) was seen leaving a war veteran encampment on Farnham this morning. Police responded and have arrested two of the perpetrators. 
Kadoma -Workers were called to a ZANU (PF) meeting on Railway Farm 4 over the weekend, and were handed a list containing 16 names of workers who were instructed to start building houses on the farm, or else their plots would be taken away by ZANU (PF) "when the owner is kicked off the farm".  Only one worker has been allocated a plot on the farm. There are no permanent occupiers on the farm at the moment. 
Headlands - There are continued problems with war vets refusing to allow farm cattle to graze on Sandringham Farm which is not in accordance to the "deal" that was agreed to some weeks ago.
Nyamandhlovu - Over the Christmas period, there was extensive chopping down of trees including some huge msasas, to open areas for illegal occupiers on Mindoro Farm.  Trees and scrub bush is being used to pack bush walls around lands yet to be ploughed and planted.  Planted maize is of very poor quality and dying from drought.  Since Christmas, five eland and numerous impala have been poached and snared.
Beit Bridge - The DA and Aritex held firm against attempts by the local Land Committee to re-invade Jopempi Farm, which has a valid High Court Orders prohibiting occupation and Denlynian (Pvt) Ltd, which has been delisted.  There is pressure from a higher political level to occupy the property.
West Nicholson - The safari lodges on Chipisi farm were occupied by six invaders under war vet Major Tepela from Gwanda.  With co-operation from West Nicholson Police, the assistance of CIO Gwanda and support from the Officer Commanding Matabeleland South today, it is hoped that this situation will be resolved. 
Filabusi - On Saturday morning a farmer was abducted by  five invaders who took him to Filabusi village to District Administrator Malala.  The DA was visibly shocked when they arrived and after verbal abuse and various accusations the DA persuaded them to return the farmer unharmed to his homestead. 
General: The region is relatively quiet with no major changes.
Shurugwi: The tenants of the farm cottage on Edwards Farm were warned to vacate the cottage and were told that the owner would be killed if he set foot on the farm.
Somabhula/Daisyfield:  About 80 people have moved back onto Ruby Ranch in expectation of Agritex coming to peg. Agritex did not turn up and some of the people have already left again.  
Hunters Road: The owner of Bon Accord continues to be sujected to harassment and systematic tree felling continues.
Masvingo East and Central - Over the weekend, farm implements were stolen from
Yettom and Marah Farms.
Mwenezi - A calf was slaughtered on Sarahuru Ranch.  A guard was placed in an ambush position, and shot and accidentally killed one poacher after he woke up when a calf was being killed.
Save Conservancy - Cattle movement has not been controlled.
Chiredzi - About 100 people attended a meeting on Eaglemont Ranch chaired by war veterans. The DA for Zaka was present. The meeting was disrupted when traditional leaders walked out in disagreement with war vet demands that all farms from the northwest area through to Buffalo Range should be claimed.  The boundary fence on Bangala Ranch has been completely destroyed. Over 60 people gathered at the security gate on the 6th January, but the gathering had dispersed by midday. About 100 illegal occupiers were addressed on Samba Ranch and were told that if they did not utilise the plots allocated to them that others would take over the plots.  Two poachers, who were resident invaders, were apprehended on Dawlish Ranch. 

Malcolm Vowles, Deputy Director (Admin & Projects) 04 309800-18
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  • Chief Justice rebukes government - Star
  • Opposition urges Blair to arrest Mugabe - GHerald
  • Focus on Kabila deserters - IRIN

From The Star (SA), 8 January

Chief Justice rebukes Zimbabwe government

Harare - Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay on Monday publicly rebuked President Robert Mugabe's government for "harassment" of Zimbabwe's judiciary. In his customary remarks at the opening of the legal year - his only speech outside the confines of legal cases put before him - the 69-year-old jurist denounced the authorities' refusal, on Mugabe's orders, to enforce repeated judicial rulings for action to end the violence by ruling Zanu-PF party activists. Since Mugabe lost a constitutional referendum last February they have targeted political opponents and occupied 2 500 white-owned farms, saying they are agitating for the "fast track" land reform announced by Mugabe. Seven white farmers and at least 32 black Zimbabweans suspected of supporting the opposition MDC have been murdered but none of the killers brought to justice.

Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa and Home Affairs minister John Nkomo boycotted Monday's ceremony attended by 11 of Zimbabwe's 27 judges at the High Court. The ministers' reserved seats were left conspicuously vacant as diplomats, including acting German ambassador Werner Kohler and heads of the legal profession, crowded the courtroom amid strict security. Four of Zimbabwe's six white judges were present among the scarlet-robed jurists. Gubbay said judges' orders demanding an end to lawlessness were "not to prevent the government from pursuing land resettlement. This has never been the aim or policy of the courts which unhesitatingly accept that the past inequities in the distribution of land must be redressed urgently," he said.

"Thus, to assert that the judiciary is colonial in character and has been openly opposed to every move that the government has tried to implement for the people is untrue and grossly unfair. It reveals a basic misunderstanding of the rule of law. There is no hidden agenda behind such rulings of partiality for one party or another. But the most disturbing conduct has been harassment of the High Court and Supreme Court judges by war veterans and their followers. Judges should not be made to feel apprehensive for their personal safety."

Militants claiming to be ex-guerrillas from the 1972-80 independence war in former Rhodesia stormed the Supreme Court room on November 24 just before a scheduled hearing of a constitutional test case on the rights of invaded farmers. Mugabe's "fast track" plan denies them compensation if Britain refuses funding. "The mob shouted political slogans and even called for judges to be killed. Such deplorable behaviour sent the clearest message that the rule of law was not to be respected. Disappointingly, there was no official condemnation of the incident, not a word was heard from the Minister of Justice," said the Chief Justice. Cabinet ministers' claims the six white judges were dual British nationals who "should go home" were "hurtful and insulting". The state had admitted the allegations of the judges holding illegal dual citizenship were "unsustainable" during a test case last month, Gubbay noted.

Diplomats present on Monday felt the speech by the internationally-respected Gubbay may increase pressure on Mugabe by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and UN secretary General Kofi Annan to restore the rule of law, and accept a plan proposed by UN Development Programme experts for land reforms that will safeguard white farmers' rights and attract international donor funding. Gubbay and the other four members of the Supreme Court, Zimbabwe's highest tribunal, are due January 19 to hear another crucial test case in which MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is contesting Mugabe's attempt to bar investigation of corruption and gross malpractice during last June's general election. Annulment of 38 of the 62 seats won by Zanu-PF would unseat his 21-year rule. In parliament the 58 opposition MPs are pressing for his immediate impeachment as the economic crisis bites deeper into the plight of 70 percent of the 13m population living below the bread line, according to UN statistics.

From The Glasgow Herald (UK), 8 January

Opposition urges Blair to arrest Mugabe

A guerrilla leader has urged Tony Blair, the prime minister, to arrest Zimbabwe’s president the moment he next sets foot in Britain. Robert Mugabe should be charged with the murder of 40 people killed by his supporters during the run-up to last year’s elections, said Sekai Holland, 56, who is ranked third in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change ( MDC). She said Mugabe’s assets should be frozen and he and his cronies should be put on trial.

Holland, the MDC’s director of international affairs, returns to Harare today after a month-long tour of the UK in which the MDC has established branches in Scotland, England and Wales. Her name is on a death list being circulated in Harare and Bulawayo. Her suggestion that Tony Blair lives up to his commitment to helping third world countries pursue democracy and get rid of dictators, coincided with a statement in Cape Town from Peter Hain, the foreign minister (for Africa). Speaking at his holiday home near Cape Town, Hain told a local newspaper that the African attempt to modify Mugabe’s fast-track land reform programme had failed. Referring to attempts by leaders such as South Africa's Thabo Mbeki to resolve this, Hain said: ’’I sometimes wonder whether the leadership of southern Africa understands the gravity of the situation. ’Mugabe has created a police state comparable to the one that imprisoned him. How a freedom struggle can be so badly prostituted is a question for Zanu and Mugabe’s conscience.’’

Seven white farmers have been killed along with 33 black supporters of the MDC which won 57 of the 120 parliamentary seats last June amid wide-spread claims of vote-rigging. ‘’Blair says that the world is a global village,’’ Holland said.’’ Why should we have to wait until Mugabe kills all our top leaders? That would set the democratic cause by at least 30 years. ’We need help and when Britain and the EU countries talk about land reform in Zimbabwe, they must not just talk to Mugabe. They must talk also to the MDC.’’ Commentators said Holland’s and Hain’s statements indicate that Britain will be talking to the MDC as a government-in-waiting.

From IRIN (UN), 8 January

Focus On Kabila Deserters

"We're tired of Kabila's war and we don't even know why we're fighting," a fugitive Congolese soldier from President Laurent-Desire Kabila's army told IRIN on Saturday. He, and a group of soldiers who had fled into northern Zambia last month, said they had had enough of a pointless war and spoke of widespread human rights abuses in the ranks. The soldiers, a mixture of Congolese, Rwandan Hutus and Burundians were speaking from Nchelenge where they were awaiting a UNHCR decision on whether they could become refugees.

Dressed in second-hand civilian clothes, a nervous Bomba Zeko Ziki, a Congolese platoon commander who crossed into Zambia with his men, said that he no longer had any interest in the war and that it was high time the conflict was resolved politically. They fled fighting in the DRC's southern Katanga province that led to Rwandan-backed rebels seizing control of the towns of Peta, Pweto and Mulilo. Another told IRIN that pay and conditions in the government army were appalling and that physical punishment, starvation rations and imprisonment were common.

Housed in a secondary school and closely guarded by heavily-armed Zambian troops, the deserters that spoke to IRIN are part of a group of 115 that have renounced their military status and have refused to be repatriated to the DRC. Although the soldiers interviewed complained bitterly about conditions in the army, more than 3,020 of their comrades chose to be repatriated to the DRC last week. Their return followed the intervention of a high-ranking Congolese officer close to Kabila, a humanitarian source told IRIN on Saturday. The soldiers went home by bus to Lubumbashi, capital of Katanga province.

The Rwandan soldier who spoke to IRIN, who identified himself only as a Hutu named Michel, said that he had not been involved in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda but that he had fled the country after reprisals on Hutus by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). He is likely to be screened by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), that has been cleared by the Zambian government to look for genocide suspects and witnesses among the fleeing troops and civilians.

"I'm a Burundian, I was forced to join Kabila's army, now I'm tired of the war, I just want to continue with my studies and I want the international community to help us," said Issac Makambo, a 24-year old former law student in Kabila's army now seeking asylum in Zambia. He added that when his comrades were repatriated and he expressed a desire to remain in Zambia he was afraid he would be forcibly returned. Makambo spoke of rock-bottom morale among troops serving in the government army, following the rapid fall of three key towns to the rebels since November. "Why did Pweto fall so easily to the Rwandans? Because nobody was prepared to defend it, doesn't that show you that there is no morale left in Kabila's army?" He said that Zimbabwean troops were also not prepared to fight to defend the town, adding that those he had spoken to wanted out of a foreign war "of no concern to Zimbabwe or Zimbabweans". Some 300 Zimbabwean troops crossed into Zambia with the fall of Pweto, but have since been repatriated to the DRC.

The soldiers' cases will be decided by UNHCR in Geneva. If they become refugees they'll be sent to a special camp for ex-combatants at Ukwimo in eastern Zambia. With other towns in southeastern DRC under threat from rebel attack, Zambian authorities are bracing themselves for a new influx of civilians and soldiers seeking sanctuary on their soil. Kabila, backed by Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola, has been fighting rebels seeking to overthrow him since 1998. The various rebel factions are supported by Rwanda and Uganda.

Dear All
Please Note:
1. The Court Hearings Continue .......
    Tredgold Building - Criminal Court
    Thursday 11th January, 08:00 onwards
It is regretted that no fixed time has been given to us. Would as many people as possible attend to provide support to the Nyambanyama family.
It is understood that the accused persons are going to request that their Bail Conditions be relaxed. The psychologically damaging effects to the Nyabanyama family - that this would cause, if granted - are obvious.
2. The Vigil Continues ....
Please meet at the steps of the Small City Hall at 13:00 hrs on Friday 12th January. Our protest must be seen to continue - not only for Patrick, but for all Human Rights and the return of Rule of Law !
MDC Support (Southern Region), Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

A few entries from Trudy Stevenson's diary of last year
Zimbabweans Grapple With Economic Crisis - January 7, 2001
As Joblessness Soars, Zimbabwe Pins Hopes On Informal Sector: ANALYSIS January 8, 2001
Child Rape On the Rise in Zimbabwe: January 5, 2001

Rangarirai Shoko
Harare, Zimbabwe

In March last year, Zimbabwean furniture maker, Fungai Mandiwanza, drew up plans to expand his enterprise to regional markets by the start of 2001, with the greater part of the investment coming from a hard-won bank loan.

But 12 months later, he has shelved export plans and cut staff by more than half to 13 to survive.

"I didn't know 12 months could make such a big difference in business. I'm almost bankrupt and yet at the beginning of last year I was so financially stable," he said, starring at bank correspondence demanding immediate repayment of the loan he had secured for the shelved furniture export project.

Mandiwanza, a carpenter-turned entrepreneur, is in a typical situation most Zimbabwean businessmen find themselves in as the southern African country grapples with its worst economic crisis in two decades.

Zimbabwe, with inflation and interest rates of more than 60 percent, and unemployment of over 50 percent, has the weakest economic fundamentals in the region, if not the whole of Africa.

The country is under undeclared international sanctions for pursuing a land reform programme disapproved by powerful Western countries, led by former colonial master Britain.

Both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, under pressure from the big Western nations, pulled the plug on Zimbabwe last year, under the guise the government was not seriously committed to economic reform.

The IMF alone withdrew a balance of payments support package worth 193 US dollars million, influencing several other multilateral and bilateral donors to similarly cut off aid to the country last year.

Unable to access crucial international funding, the economy has been in free fall since, experiencing acute shortages of most imported products such as power and fuel which were rationed throughout 2000.

It declined by minus 4.2 last year, while the budget deficit ballooned to 23 percent from a planned 3.8 percent.

The sectoral slump was even much worse. The manufacturing sector declined by 10.5 percent, tourism by 16 percent and mining by 14 percent.

The agriculture industry, the mainstay of the economy, however, grew by three percent last year; not enough to stabilise the whole economy.

It is against this background that Mandiwanza and other Zimbabwean entrepreneurs are finding it increasingly difficult to keep their businesses afloat, let alone pursue expansion plans, however viable.

The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), the country's main business representative body, says more than 800 companies in the manufacturing sector alone closed shop last year because of the prevailing unstable macro-economic situation in the country, particularly shortage of foreign currency.

"Several companies have informed us that they are closing down for good or will re-open when the situation gets back to normal, but if things do not improve, even more companies will be forced to close their businesses," said CZI business development manager, Bernard Mubvute.

"The issue of foreign currency needs to be addressed urgently. Companies do not have the money to import raw materials, so they are having to close their businesses," he said.

A survey carried out by the CZI last year indicated most of its members were operating at a maximum of 50 percent of capacity due to the myriad of difficulties businesses faced in the country.

Its counterpart, the Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe (EMCOZ), says more than 60,000 jobs in the formal sector were lost in the first ten months of last year, and expects the figure to be much higher this year.

But the government, which is widely blamed for the economy's troubles, says Zimbabwe's difficulties are largely caused by external factors beyond its control, citing inflation and low mineral prices, among others.

"A lot of inflation is not because of the goods we produce here. A lot of inflation is imported," President Robert Mugabe told the nation in a New Year message.

He also blamed the economic crisis on low prices for Zimbabwe's chief agricultural and mineral exports, and denied his government had mismanaged the economy.

"I know that there are areas where the government is being blamed for following wrong policies and that we are responsible for prices going up," he said.

But critics of the government say top-level corruption in the public service, excessive state borrowing, among other factors, were chiefly responsible for the country's economic ills.

Senior government officials allegedly siphoned off billions of dollars from a state-owned oil company, while the cash- strapped administration is borrowing more than two billion zimdollars a week on the local capital markets to finance its operations.

The government partly admits its rising domestic debt, estimated at more than Z$200 billion (4 billion dollars), was crowding out the private sector from the capital markets and hardening interest rates.

"Government is increasingly spending beyond its means, for consumption, at the expense of capital investment," Finance Minister Simba Makoni said in a budget speech in November.

Economists say they were pessimistic 2001 would be any better for the economy, unless the government restored links to international capital.

"Our long-term salvation lies in the government re- establishing contacts with the IMF, World Bank and other international financial players. We need their assistance desperately," said a bank economist.

As Joblessness Soars, Zimbabwe Pins Hopes On Informal Sector

By Rangarirai Shoko
Harare, Zimbabwe

Alfred Nyamuziwa puts finishing touches to a coffin for delivery to a waiting customer, while his neighbour, Simon Phiri, folds up newly made fencing wire, also ready to be dispatched to his client.

The two are informal sector businessmen operating from small cubicle premises rented from the Harare City Council at Mbare Musika, the biggest multi-purpose market place in the country.

Hordes of fellow entrepreneurs, vending anything from home-made ox-drawn ploughs to lounge suites, car parts and house security gadgets, swam the market everyday, generating business estimated at millions of dollars daily.

"Business is good on most days. In September (2000), I managed to buy a house and I have no problems sending my children to school," Nyamuziwa said.

Phiri agrees: "The least I can take home in a day is 1,500 Zimbabwe dollars. On average I make more than double that, which is more than what some people in formal employment are able to earn in a day."

The two entrepreneurs, like hundreds of thousands others across Zimbabwe, were thrust into business accidentally in the last few years when they were retrenched from their formal employment because of a biting economic crisis the country is currently grappling with.

Thousands of companies, unable to withstand the whooping inflation and interest rates of nearly 70 percent, have shut down in recent years, spewing tens of thousands of staff on the job market.

But instead of endlessly waiting for new formal sector jobs to be created, many of the retrenched have ventured into business on their own, usually in the trade they were previously employed in.

For instance, Nyamuziwa was a carpenter at a construction company which closed shop, and is using his skills to make coffins, tables and other household furniture.

"I now feel I wasted a lot of time at the construction company. I should have ventured into business a long time ago," said the 57-year old businessman, who now has employees of his own.

The government, widely held responsible for Zimbabwe's economic troubles, is enthusiastically jumping on the bandwagon of the informal sector to promote its growth to deflect criticism over growing unemployment.

In the national budget for the current fiscal year, it has set aside 1 billion Zimbabwe dollars (10 million US dollars) to finance informal sector businesses, particularly those in the rural areas to arrest the rural-urban migration.

"Our focus (in provision of finance) will be the rural areas. We want to redress the imbalance in terms of access to capital between the rural and urban areas," Border Gezi, Youth and Employment Creation minister, said.

Economists say while Zimbabwe's economy declined by minus 4.2 percent in 2000, the informal sector grew by anything up to 6 percent, creating thousands of jobs for the retrenched and the growing army of school-leavers who are unable to secure employment in the formal sector.

Estimates put the number of jobs created by Zimbabwe's formal sector at between 30,000 and 40,000 a year, far too few for nearly 700,000 school and college leavers joining the labour market annually.

The informal sector, on the other hand, is estimated to contribute 25 percent to the country's GDP, and employing more than four million people, nearly double the formal sector's employment levels.

"While it costs so much money to create one job in the formal sector, it costs far less to create one in the informal sector, and I think this sector should be given incentives to develop," a bank economist said.

"We should be emulating countries like India where the informal sector is very powerful, not only in terms of job creation, but also in terms of contribution to overall national economic activity," he added.

Child Rape On the Rise in Zimbabwe

Rangarirai Shoko
Gweru, Zimbabwe

"So, what does that child call you and what do you call her," Garainesu Mawadze, a magistrate in this central Zimbabwean city, asks a 66-year old man he had just convicted of raping his 15-year old grand daughter resulting in the birth of a child, to explain his relationship to the new baby.

"My grand child like other illegitimate children at my home," replies the man, to which the magistrate, visibly angry, retorts: "But that girl is your own child. Why don't you call her your daughter."

"Because she was born by my grand daughter," the man, a witch doctor, argues, pleading with the law officer, however, for a lighter sentence.

Confounded by the man's actions, Mawadze jails him for 12 years.

This is just one of the 2,000 reported rape cases involving children as young as three months old brought before the courts last year in Zimbabwe, which the authorities and civic groups believe is a mere tip of the iceberg.

Child sexual abuse is on the increase in the country, a phenomenon the southern African nation is deeply divided over its cause and how to handle it.

In most of the cases, the children are raped by relatives in whose custody they would have been entrusted, making the abuse difficult to detect.

But most worrying to the authorities and women pressure groups is the emerging trend in which the crime is increasingly being committed by people advised by witch doctors to rape a minor to be cured of illnesses not responding to treatment.

The belief among the rapists and witch doctors is that the sexual purity of a young girl's soul and body has medicinal value, and in some cases, the crime is committed in the belief it would bring luck.

The result has been devastating to both the victims and their parents: Many of the children raped are infected with sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.

Studies show as much as 70 percent of child rape victims in Zimbabwe are infected with a sexually transmitted disease of one form or another. Estimates indicated that among 5,000 people who succumb weekly to AIDS in the country, 30 percent are children who would have suffered sexual abuse.

Delays in detecting child sexual abuse, because of the home environment in which most of the rape cases occur, make the victims particularly vulnerable to disease infections.

A pressure group, Child and Law Project, estimates that most of the rape cases only come to light after one year, if the victim does not suffer immediate physical harm or disease infection from the abuse.

Other studies indicate child sexual abuse cases are so widespread in the country that most girls in Zimbabwe were becoming sexually active at the age of eight, which is just half the country's legal age of consent.

A commission of inquiry set up by President Robert Mugabe two years ago found most young girls lived under the constant threat of sexual abuse, and suggested stringent laws to protect the children.

"Such a development (growing child sexual abuse) is of great concern because of the risk of these children contracting STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) and HIV," said the commission in its report.

But the nation is still unsure, despite the various studies on child sexual abuse, of the exact causes of the increase in the number of rape cases involving minors which occur even in remote corners of the country.

While court evidence from child rape cases point to a growing involvement of witch doctors in the crimes, the traditional healers argue instead that the expanding influence of Western culture was the main culprit.

Handson Gwindi, research and education officer at the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers' Association (ZINATHA), admits some members of his group advised their clients to sleep with young girls for medicinal purposes, but said the majority of rape cases involved people influenced by Western culture.

"There are people who are told to sleep with young children for various reasons such as to make money. This is done by people using bad medicine," he said.

"The other reason for the increase is because of migration. The things we are seeing today are foreign - they are not African. Our culture does not allow us to sleep with our children or even to look at them with sexual thoughts. Westernisation has destroyed our culture," he added.

But women pressure groups say the crime is becoming prevalent because of sentences passed by the courts on offenders were not stiff enough to deter people from child sexual abuse.

They are advocating death sentences for rape offenders, or better still castration, two possible punishment forms which they feel would be proportional to the gravity of the crime and also serve as a sufficient deterrent.

"We should not look at the sentences, but the purpose of passing the sentences. Castration should be considered in rape cases so that you remove the problem permanently," said Tsitsi Nzira, a researcher at Women and Law in Southern Africa.