|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
The anthrax gimmick is the latest strategy that has been authored by the now panic-stricken Zanu-PF election strategists
MDC spokesman Learnmore Jongwe
The state-owned Herald newspaper reported on Thursday that white powder found in an envelope addressed to Information Minister Jonathan Moyo had tested negative for anthrax.
Two envelopes of white powder were reportedly intercepted earlier in the week at a Harare post office after two postal workers fell ill.
Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo accused white people and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of masterminding the alleged attack.
But MDC officials described the government's claim as a "cheap gimmick" aimed at discrediting the opposition ahead of presidential elections in March.
Despite the negative test on the powder, police said the fact that one of the envelopes was addressed to the information minister was cause for grave concern.
"We are therefore viewing this as terrorism designed to cause fear in the population as well as create insecurity," police spokesman Wayne Bvudijena told the Herald.
A health official told the paper that the powder was a type of bacteria, and efforts to identify it were under way.
As to the identity of the perpetrators, Mr Nkomo had few doubts.
"Those responsible for these terrorist attacks are people who formed the MDC and supported it," he was quoted as saying.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who enjoys huge support among urban blacks, is set to present the strongest challenge yet to President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF in the forthcoming presidential election.
MDC spokesman Learnmore Jongwe said the anthrax allegations were entirely baseless.
"The anthrax gimmick is the latest strategy that has been authored by the now panic-stricken Zanu-PF election strategists," he said in a statement.
The ruling party is currently trying to push three bills through parliament that would introduce draconian new measures on the press, public security, and electoral laws.
In the latest development, Zimbabwe's military chiefs declared they would only back leaders who fought in the country's wars of liberation, dealing a fresh blow to Mr Tsvangirai.
Rights groups, journalists and MDC politicians say Mr Mugabe is trying everything in his power to stifle dissent ahead of the elections.
He has seen his popularity slide amid a collapsing economy, growing international criticism of his human rights record and the violent seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks.
Britain has said it will press for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth if it did not tackle political violence and human rights violations.
The European Union has threatened to impose targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe's leaders unless it is allowed to monitor the elections.
Last year, the United States House of Representatives also passed legislation urging President George W Bush to impose sanctions.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's attitude to the outside world is summed up on a new website set up by his government - zimday.com.
British policy, Mr Moyo says, is reminiscent of an equally "diabolic" strategy by Western intelligence groups which once worked with former Rhodesians - most of whom are now commercial farmers - to fuel disturbances.
With such a background, it is hardly likely that President Mugabe will be swayed by diplomatic representations and pressure.
There will be repercussions for him internationally if he continues his present course, but he probably could not care less.
Indeed, such pressure will probably fuel his mistrust of outside influences and reinforce his determination to clamp down on any threat to his re-election.
Zimbabwe could have economic sanctions imposed on it by the European Union and be suspended by the Commonwealth.
The EU process takes some time - 60 days under the trade agreement with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.
Against the clock
Under the agreement, ACP countries which violate human rights can have economic benefits withdrawn, but this process cannot now be finished before the elections. Mr Mugabe could be home and dry by the time sanctions are put in place.
A confrontation on this will take place in Brussels on Friday between EU and Zimbabwe delegations.
The Commonwealth conference - CHOGM, or Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting - is being held in Australia in early March, just before the Zimbabwe elections, and in theory could suspend Zimbabwe.
It is unlikely that Mr Mugabe will attend in person. But a CHOGM decision requires consensus, which means unanimity, and this is by no means certain, though it could become more likely if the situation gets worse.
But again, Mr Mugabe might regard suspension as a badge of honour. He has long ago ceased to be worried about what the Commonwealth thinks.
How to act?
What to do about a country heading for dictatorship and repression is a very common dilemma in the modern world.
In the old days, people turned a blind eye under the principle of "non interference in internal affairs".
This has now changed, but governments are unsure as to how far to take the process.
On occasions, there is direct intervention (Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Afghanistan).
On others, there is UN action (Somalia), but at the end of the day, economic pressure and diplomatic isolation are usually all that can be used, and governments bent on power tend not to take much notice.
This appears to be the case with Zimbabwe.
|Mugabe given 'dictatorial powers' by parliament|
The Zimbabwean parliament has passed two controversial bills critics say give President Mugabe dictatorial powers in the run up to elections.
The so-called Security Bill will give police sweeping powers to search and arrest opponents of the president.
A bill intended to muzzle the press is also scheduled to be debated.
Mugabe, who faces an uphill battle to stay in power after 21 years in office, has announced that presidential elections will be held on March 9 and 10.
Military chiefs have also handed a blow to the opposition by declaring they will only support a leader who fought in the struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe from the British in 1980.
Mugabe led that revolution.
Main opposition party, The Movement for Democratic Change, is Morgan Tsvangirai, who was a civilian labour activist before Zimbabwe won independence.
Mugabe has described Tsvangirai as a traitor backed by Britain and wealthy white Zimbabweans.
Story filed: 17:01 Thursday 10th January 2002
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said parliament would be asked to pass a bill which gives Mr Mugabe sweeping powers against opponents.
An equally uncompromising bill restricting journalists will be brought forward before the end of January, he said.
If the situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate, Britain will argue for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
The new legislation has been attacked by Zimbabwe's opposition and foreign critics as being intended to help Mr Mugabe win re-election in March's presidential poll.
Mr Chinamasa's move follows Tuesday's defeat when the opposition Movement for Democractic Change (MDC) blocked a bill which sought to ban foreign and independent local election monitors and outlaw election posters and leaflets without prior permission.
The MDC outvoted the ruling Zanu-PF party by 36 votes to 22 when many government law-makers were absent from the house.
MDC chief whip Innocent Gonese said the vote would spell defeat for the bill, if Zimbabwe were "a normal democracy".
"But in our case we must accept it only as a moral victory because the government is obviously going to exploit some parliamentary rules and reintroduce the bill," he said.
Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF controls 93 seats in the 150 seat parliament.
In London, Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw warned that he would urge for Zimbabwe to be suspended from the Commonwealth if political violence worsens.
The European Union has threatened to impose targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe's leaders unless it is allowed to monitor the elections.
The government had intended to fast-track all three bills through parliament on Tuesday but debate on the two high-profile pieces of legislation was postponed when it became clear that there was not enough time.
It is not clear whether some Zanu-PF MPs then boycotted the vote on the third bill because they were unhappy with the new measures or whether they had simply gone home when the main business was postponed.
Mr Chinamasa accused the MDC of "treachery", saying they had agreed to support the bill.
Under the constitution, the government has to announce a date for the elections by 13 January.
Mr Mugabe is facing the toughest challenge to his presidency since he came to office in 1980, from the MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai.
Zimbabwe's journalists say the media bill is draconian and have said they will ignore it.
The new law would ban foreign journalists from Zimbabwe and local journalists would need government accreditation, renewable every 12 months.
Tough jail terms are threatened, as are hefty fines, for journalists publishing news "likely to cause alarm and despondency".
Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said it would stop "lies" being told by foreign correspondents about the situation in Zimbabwe.
The BBC has been banned from Zimbabwe and few foreign correspondents are being given work permits.
The Public Order and Security Bill makes it an offence to criticise the president, which observers say would make life intolerable for the opposition during an election campaign.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has called some of the new measures "preposterous".
"If the situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate, Britain will argue for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in March," he said on Tuesday.
The meeting is due to take place in Australia.
If the Zimbabwe parliament passes the draconian access to information and protection of privacy bill as widely expected on Wednesday, then this might well be my last contribution to the British media if I choose to obey the new law.
However, I am determined not to do this despite the hefty fines and two-year jail terms that linger over the head of anyone offending the terms of the law.
Even though President Robert Mugabe has stuffed the judiciary with loyalists and has frustrated many independent judges into resigning, I do not see any self-respecting judicial officer jailing any journalist defying the patently illegal and unconstitutional bill.
My defiance of the bill will be based on many of its prescriptions which I cannot simply afford to countenance.
First, the bill will require all journalists to seek one-year renewable licences from the eccentric Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, who deported three journalists from Zimbabwe last year including the BBC's Joseph Winter.
The net effect of the new law is to reduce any journalist to an official biographer, something I am not prepared to be
This is something I will simply not do. My career has over the years thrived on my ability to get information on the proceedings of President Mugabe's confidential cabinet meetings and on exposing his ruling party's distinguished career of misrule.
Protecting the corrupt?
The bill contains very broad provisions purporting to protect the privacy of individuals. It makes it possible for any corrupt people in government to hide under the banner of privacy.
Writing a story for a British media when you are Zimbabwean will inevitably be construed as aiding terrorism
A journalist can only publish information voluntarily released by a department head. The bill prescribes heavy fines of about $3,000 and two-year jail terms for journalists publishing stories likely to cause "alarm, fear and despondency".
However, the scope of these stories is not defined in the bill. Anything that offends President Mugabe might be interpreted as having the effect of causing "alarm and despondency" as we have seen in the past.
It threatens to jail journalists who practise "unethical journalism" and it bans foreign correspondents from working in Zimbabwe. Most of them are currently being refused entry into the country anyway.
Information Minister Jonathan Moyo will have the power to veto accreditation for any journalist he does not like. The net effect of the new law is to reduce any journalist to an official biographer, something I am not prepared to be.
Coupled with the new media bill is the equally draconian public order and security bill (POSB) that will impose life and death penalties on Zimbabweans accused of assisting in terrorism, espionage, banditry, sabotage and treason against President Mugabe's government. These offences are not clearly defined in the Bill.
But just as an example five journalists, including myself, were earlier this year accused by Mr Mugabe's government of aiding terrorism through our reports in the British press.
After having read the bill several times over, the only good thing about it is that it might in fact expedite the demise of President Mugabe if he implements its foolish provisions
So writing a story for a British media when you are Zimbabwean will inevitably be construed as aiding terrorism.
The new media bill effectively reduces all journalists in Zimbabwe to entertainment reporters who can only cover musical shows, discos, films and other limited events that will guarantee producing copy which may not cause "fear, alarm and despondency".
Seasoned political writers might have to merely restrict themselves to covering ruling party rallies in glowing terms to avoid being penalised under the sweeping provisions of the bill.
I am only glad that the obnoxious terms of this new law have only united all journalists working in the private media who are all unanimously agreed on the need for a boycott.
This will leave the Zimbabwe Government with the stark option of arresting over 100 journalists who will boycott the bill all at once.
After having read the bill several times over, the only good thing about it is that it might in fact expedite the demise of President Mugabe if he implements its foolish provisions.
Basildon Peta is secretary general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, and works for the Financial Gazette in Harare and London's The Independent.