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Defiant Mugabe rules out opposition rule in his lifetime

Yahoo News

by Godfrey Marawanyiaka

HARARE (AFP) - President Robert Mugabe made a defiant campaign speech
Saturday a week ahead of perhaps his toughest election battle, saying
Zimbabwe's main opposition party would never rule during his lifetime.

Mugabe, 84, the only head of state Zimbabwe has known since independence in
1980, also threatened to expel companies from former colonial ruler Britain
after the March 29 polls.
The veteran leader, whose bid for a sixth term must overcome an economy
crippled by record inflation, dismissed the electoral aspirations of
Zimbabwe's main opposition party -- the Movement for Democratic Change

"It will never happen as long as we are still alive -- those (of us) who
planned the liberation struggle," Mugabe told thousands of supporters at his
first rally in the capital since hitting the campaign trail last month.

He made no mention of Simba Makoni, who has broken ranks with the ruling
Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) to stand against
Mugabe as an independent.

Mugabe has called Makoni a "prostitute" for taking him on and the former
finance minister was expelled from the ZANU-PF last month after announcing
his challenge.

But on Saturday, his barbs were directed fully at the MDC and its leader
Morgan Tsvangirai.

"You in the MDC, it's treasonous to continue assisting the British to make
sure they have a say here," he said -- although the opposition denies any
direct links with Britain.

Mugabe warned Britain to stay out of Zimbabwean politics if it wanted to
safeguard the interests of British companies still allowed to work in the
former colony.

"They still have companies which are still here and we did nothing to
them... 400 British companies and so they must take care, after elections,"
he said.

Britain, which has led international criticism of Mugabe for violating
political and human rights in his country and plunging it into a disastrous
economic crisis, says only 40 British firms remain operating in the country.

Mugabe's relations deteriorated with Western nations after he embarked in
2000 on a controversial land reform scheme that saw some 4,000 white-owned
farms seized and handed over to landless blacks.

Mugabe also urged Zimbabweans on Saturday to help acquire a majority stake
in mining and manufacturing firms after a new equity law that only allows
firms to restructure or merge if locals hold 51 percent of shares.

There are fears the law could plunge the country even deeper into the
economic mire.

Once a net agricultural exporter, Zimbabwe is currently reeling under food
shortages, while the economy buckles under a mindboggling annual inflation
rate of 100,000-plus percent.

Both unemployment and poverty rates hover above 80 percent and at least a
quarter of the population has fled misery to seek economic refuge elsewhere.

Tsvangirai has warned that the March 29 poll could be rigged in favour of
Mugabe and has threatened to pull out of the elections if presidential
ballots are counted at a separate venue from concurrent legislative and
local votes.

He told a news conference on Thursday that independent investigations had
revealed that 90,000 names appearing on the roll for 28 rural constituencies
could not be accounted for.

His MDC has also deplored new electoral regulations passed this week by
Mugabe which allow police officers into polling stations during the

The regulations allow policemen in polling stations to assist illiterate or
physically challenged voters.

The southern African country's police have often used brutal force against
opponents of Mugabe and the police boss recently warned that his force could
use firearms if necessary to crush protests after the polls.

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Mugabe says opposition "treasonous"


Sat Mar 22, 2008 12:36pm EDT

By MacDonald Dzirutwe
HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe accused the main
opposition on Saturday of forging a "treasonous" alliance with Britain to
oust him.

The 84-year-old leader is seeking re-election for another five-year term in
a presidential race in which he faces former finance minister Simba Makoni
and Morgan Tsvangirai, who leads the main faction of the Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC).

Mugabe, a former liberation hero in power since independence in 1980, took
his election campaign to the capital Harare in the final stretch to the
March 29 general election, the biggest challenge to his rule since he took

He told thousands of supporters in an open sports ground in the poor
township of Mbare that Britain was sponsoring the MDC in a bid to reverse
the seizure of white-owned land for blacks.

"It is treasonous for the MDC to continue to help the British so that they
have any influence here," Mugabe told supporters in a speech delivered
mainly in local Shona.

"They (MDC) still look up to the British in this day and age. They want to
rule this country, that will not happen as long as we are still alive, those
of us who fought the liberation struggle," Mugabe said, predicting the
opposition would break apart after the March 29 poll.

Mugabe has often resorted to a strategy of attacking his Western foes,
mainly Britain, in a bid to deflect attention away from an economy critics
say he has left in tatters, analysts say.

The combative leader repeated threats to punish British companies that still
operate in Zimbabwe for what he said was London's continued meddling in the
country's internal affairs.

"They have companies here and so they must take care because after elections
we will move on them," he told cheering supporters.

Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF has lost seats to the MDC in Harare and other major
towns in elections since 2000, but on Saturday the veteran leader promised
his government would ease prices of basic goods. He donated public buses and
pledged to equip crumbling hospitals.

Urban workers have borne the brunt of an economic crisis that has sent
inflation past 100,000 percent -- the world's highest -- and resulted in
shortages of food, fuel, water and electricity.

Mugabe said foreign-owned companies would be compelled to cede majority
stakes to local blacks, adding that businesses were hiking prices to turn
voters against his government.

"These companies are joking, they don't know us. We ask them, are you with
us or you are working for someone else?" Mugabe said.

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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Poll run-up a 'dog's breakfast'


    March 22 2008 at 04:33PM

By Peta Thornycroft

Zimbabwe's pre-election playing fields are so skewed that undisputed election results are impossible, according to the Human Rights Forum and opposition leaders.

"It's a dog's breakfast," said opposition leader Tendai Biti this week.

President Thabo Mbeki's goal of free and fair elections following last year's SADC dialogue he facilitated between Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has been blown away.

The HRF produced a lengthy analysis on Wednesday that concluded that old laws had been broken, ignored or rewritten two weeks before the polls.

HRF also reported:

  • The media is grossly biased towards Zanu-PF and President Robert Mugabe.

  • Zimbabwe's service chiefs have intimidated voters and threatened treason against voters who said they would serve any party other than Zanu-PF or any leader other than Mugabe.

  • The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is a front for the partisan Registrar-General's office which will effectively run the election as in the past.

  • Mugabe has issued a proclamation reversing reform of the electoral act which banned police from being inside polling stations.

    Opposition political leaders say election day next Saturday will be chaotic and only a fraction of voters in opposition strongholds of Harare and Bulawayo will cast their votes as the number of polling stations in both cities is wholly inadequate.

    Both secretaries-general of the divided MDC, Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube, who spent most of last year in gruelling negotiating with Zanu-PF, say they are outraged that new laws agreed during last year's negotiations have been ignored, broken, or at best, abused.

    Biti said he was also concerned about political violence. "I am still looking for Edson Muwengwa, a candidate for the parliamentary election, who disappeared on February 15" in Rushinga, a small town in Mashonaland Central.

    "I am also worried about some polling agents who are missing."

    Biti said he had briefed the head of the SADC observer mission, Angolan Foreign Minister Joao Miranda last week. "He was totally misinformed, and I told him the conditions for free and fair elections were not there, and he said he would take it up with President Mbeki."

    He also slammed the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which he said was no more than a "public relations" office for the pro-Zanu-PF Registrar-General's office which would run elections.

    Biti described preparations for elections as a "dog's breakfast".

    He said the Command Centre, a quasi military body that managed announcements of results in both the 2002 presidential election and the 2005 general election would be in control again.

    In the 2005 election neither SADC nor South African observer groups knew about the existence of the Command Centre.

    The SADC dialogue produced a new law, an amendment to the Electoral Act, which stated that members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police may not be in the polling station area on election day.

    On Tuesday President Robert Mugabe, who has enormous powers within the executive presidency, issued a decree which allows the police to be there.

    Biti said the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission did not know until he told them that the law banning policemen from polling stations had been overtaken by Mugabe's proclamation.

    Ncube said: "The proclamation reverses specific agreements made during the SADC dialogue.

    "The agreements had a purpose and there are valid reasons why the police should not be there.

    "The elections will be as uneven as ever," he said.

    The SADC dialogue also produced a law allowing all political parties access to the electronic version of the voters' roll.

    Ncube said in his constituency in Makoba in Bulawayo every house in the high density suburb had two dead voters still on the roll.

    Joseph Mkatazo, director of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Bulawayo described the shortcomings in election preparations as a "litany of uneven and unfair processes".

    He said that the shortage of polling stations in Harare and Bulawayo, was a form of election rigging.

    In southern Zimbabwe the campaigns so far had been "very peaceful", he said.

    The state media has accepted advertisements from the MDC for the first time but continues to publish blatantly biased editorial coverage.

    On Wednesday, the only daily newspaper in Harare, the state-controlled Herald, continued to distort opposition leaders' statements, for example: "At the same rally, the MDC faction leader Mr Morgan Tsvangirai admitted that his party actively participated in the imposition of sanctions that are causing untold suffering to the majority of Zimbabweans."

    So far the government does not appear to have accredited any non-Zimbabwean western journalists and spokesperson George Charamba has made it clear in his weekly column in The Herald that white journalists will not be welcome.

    Godfrey Chanetsa, spokesperson for presidential challenger Simba Makoni, said he was "very disturbed" by some of the recent developments in the run up to the poll next Saturday.

    This article was originally published on page 12 of Cape Argus on March 22, 2008

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    'MDC will not be taken for a ride again'


           Basildon Peta
        March 22 2008 at 03:24PM

    Zimbabwe's main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has threatened to
    pull out of general elections next week if electoral authorities proceed
    with a plan to count presidential election ballots at a national command
    centre instead of polling stations.

    Tsvangirai has also demanded that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission
    (ZEC), which is dominated by ruling party supporters, account for the tens
    of thousands of ghost voters appearing on the voters roll and three million
    extra ballot papers he claimed had been printed to rig the vote.

    In a statement released in Johannesburg and Harare, Tsvangirai warned
    that his party was not ready to be taken for a ride again and it would pull
    out of the elections unless its concerns were addressed.

    He also hit out at at President Robert Mugabe's last-minute decision
    to change the law to allow police to "help illiterate and disabled voters"
    at polling stations. This is a reversal of earlier legislative changes
    agreed in talks mediated by President Thabo Mbeki.

    These ensured that police, accused of routinely intimidating voters in
    elections, would be kept at least 100m away from polling stations.

    Tsvangirai spoke as a confederation of Zimbabwean civic groups urged
    voters to look beyond the Saturday elections in their quest for
    re-democratisation. Meeting under the banner of the Zimbabwe Solidarity
    Forum in Johannesburg this week, the civic groups said the electoral playing
    field was already so heavily tilted in favour of Mugabe's regime that a free
    and fair election was not possible.

    Tapera Kapuya, SA representative of the National Constitutional
    Assembly, said those who were arguing that the election environment was much
    better because of less violence were missing the point.

    "The key issue here is the institutional framework of these elections,
    that heavily favours Mugabe," he said.

    He questioned how anybody could regard the elections as being free and
    fair when top military officials were openly scaring voters with threats of
    staging a coup d'etat if Mugabe lost the elections, when the opposition was
    shot down from the dominant state media and when electoral authorities
    ignored legitimate opposition concerns to address the flawed voters' roll.

    Kapuya and other speakers urged Zimbabweans to prepare for the long
    road in their fight for democracy, suggesting that the civic groups are
    resigned to Mugabe stealing a victory.

    But in a major reversal of their earlier positions, the civic groups
    suggested a government of national unity could be the best way forward.

    Such a government would then overhaul the constitution, compensate
    victims of human rights abuses and organise proper elections in future.

    Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change faction (MDC) fears the
    plan to transport all ballot boxes to a central counting centre is a brazen
    way to facilitate rigging for Mugabe.

    "I will not participate in the election if counting of presidential
    ballot papers is done at the so-called command centre. It is against the
    law," said Tsvangirai, who is trying for the fourth time to end Mugabe's

    The election commission has said counting of votes and announcement of
    results of council, senate and parliamentary elections will be done at
    polling stations while results of the presidential vote will be tallied and
    announced at a national command centre in Harare.

    ZEC chairman George Chiweshe said his commission would wait for
    Tsvangirai to formally raise his concerns with the commission or
    alternatively take his grievances to court.

    Chiweshe, a former senior army officer and judge of the High Court,
    who has previously declared his open support for Mugabe, said he was unfazed
    by Tsvangirai's threat. "I do not understand what he is talking about. They
    should put their concerns to us and we will respond. Since this is
    potentially a court case, I would rather wait for their concerns."

    The MDC says it has already filed an urgent application at the High
    Court compelling the electoral commission to disclose the number of ballots
    printed and permit an audit of the ballot papers.

    Tsvangirai claims the commission had ordered state-owned Fidelity
    Printers to print nine million ballot papers against 5.9 million registered

    The opposition leader said the firm was also printing 900 000 postal
    ballots for the police, army and Zimbabwean diplomats abroad.

    "We need to know why there is such a big difference. ZEC has to
    explain that, hence we have resorted to courts for recourse. The integrity
    and credibility of ZEC and the election result is very questionable," said

    This article was originally published on page 13 of Cape Argus on
    March 22, 2008

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    The art of gerrymandering, France

    If Zimbabwe were any other country, President Robert Mugabe, would be
    out of office after elections next week on March 29.

    Saturday 22 March 2008, by Dingilizwe Mathe

    The economy is in shambles with inflation at more than 100 000 percent and
    rising, unemployment is above 80 percent while food, fuel and foreign
    currency shortages have become endemic.

    Social services have all but collapsed and more than half the country's
    estimated 13 million population lives in grinding poverty. No wonder why the
    International Monetary Fund has said the southern African country has the
    fastest shrinking economy outside the war zone.

    But Mugabe, whom analysts blame for not only ruining one of Africa's most
    promising economies, but also ruled his country with an iron fist since
    independence from Britain in 1980, looks set to win a sixth term successive
    in office.

    He could win, political analysts and the opposition fear, not because he is
    popular with the electorate, but because of a combination voter
    intimidation, violence against his opponents and outright ballot rigging.
    Already democracy campaigners and the opposition have unmasked a Litany of
    systematic electoral irregularities, which they say are designed to result
    in a pre-determined outcome.

    Unseating Mugabe

    University of Zimbabwe constitutional law lecturer, Lovemore Madhuku says it
    is difficult for the opposition to unseat Mugabe in the election because of
    the flawed electoral field, which heavily favours the ruling party.

    The despot, says Madhuku has already manipulated the voters' roll,
    constituency boundaries and the government-appointed Zimbabwe Electoral
    Commission (ZEC), the body that runs elections.

    "It will be difficult for them to win," says Madhuku, who is also chairman
    of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) an organisation that is
    campaigning for a new constitution for Zimbabwe. "The electoral climate will
    not result in a free and fair election and he (Mugabe) is in charge of the
    elections. The electoral laws, processes are meant to bring one
    pre-determined outcome - a Zanu - PF victory."

    Electoral theft

    Mugabe will be up against Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the mainstream
    faction of the divided Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), former
    minister, Simba Makoni and little-known Langton Towungana, another

    The electoral theft, says Nelson Chamisa, spokesman of the main MDC faction
    started with the voter registration exercise last year when civil servants
    conducting the exercise systematically turned away youths, generally known
    to be pro-opposition were denied the right to register. The government adds
    Chamisa ensured that there were few voter registration centres in opposition
    strongholds in urban areas, thus making it difficult for prospective voters
    to register.

    To the contrary, registration centres were more in rural areas, which
    generally vote for ruling party.

    "Then came the delimitation process under which Mugabe's appointees
    drastically slashed the number of constituencies in towns and Matabeleland
    region where they know we are strong," Chamisa notes "It is made more
    sinister because while cutting constituencies and drawing up boundaries in
    such a way that our support is diluted, the delimitation process increases
    the number of constituencies in Zanu -PF rural power bases."

    Ingenious schemes of gerrymander

    Of Zimbabwe's estimated 5, 9 million voters, about three quarters live in
    rural areas. Soon after the presentation of the delimitation report late
    January, both factions of the MDC protested at what they said was clear
    government gerrymandering.

    The report redrew the country into 210 Lower House constituencies, up from
    120 and 90 elective senatorial seats up from 60. Of the 90 new Lower House
    constituencies, a massive 62 were drawn up in Zanu -PF's rural strongholds
    with only 28 going to urban centres where the opposition draws most of its

    The opposition, European Union and the US have rejected the results of the
    2000, 2002 and 2005 elections, citing massive electoral theft by Mugabe's
    ruling party.

    Charging that the Delimitation Commission used a "fraudulent" voters' roll,
    Ian Makone, elections director in the Tsvangirai-led camp says it is strange
    that Bulawayo, the second largest city in which the opposition holds all the
    eight Lower House seats, now has only 13 yet largely rural Mashonaland East,
    Mashonaland West, Masvingo, Manicaland, Mashonaland Central provinces now
    have 23, 22, 26, 26, and 18 respectively.

    "Like I said when the delimitation report was issued," Makone notes, "our
    elections directorate has established that of the 210 constituencies in the
    House of Assembly, 143 are rural constituencies while just 67 are urban and
    peri-urban constituencies. So technically speaking Zanu - PF already has the
    crucial two-thirds majority in the Lower House before a single vote is

    After the delimitation process, he continues, urban constituencies in
    Harare, Mutare and Bulawayo were merged with portions of rural areas in a
    way to dilute the opposition's dominance.

    Campaign propaganda

    Yet the alleged bias is not only limited to constituency gerrymandering, but
    also the right to hold political meetings and rallies and access to the
    public media in a country where the government still has strong influence in
    the press.

    While the opposition has staged some campaign rallies in other parts of the
    country, police this week, rejected an application by the MDC to hold
    meetings in Harare and Chitungwiza, claiming that Zanu -PF had already
    booked the venues.

    Largely, the local media industry remains under the government's tight grip.
    There are only two national dailies, and three weeklies, one television
    station and four radio channels, all of which are government-controlled. The
    public media is generally accused of being biased against opposing views and
    as such the opposition is left scrambling for coverage in three
    privately-owned weeklies which have limited circulation.

    "We thought that the inter-party dialogue we are having with Zanu -PF would
    even the electoral playing field," Chamisa says. "But we were wrong. --- 
    Conditions for a free and fair election have not been met. That is why we
    say any result that comes out of this election would be contestable."

    Voters' roll with names of the dead

    This week, the opposition and civic groups unearthed massive irregularities
    in the voters' roll which still lists long deceased people as registered

    The voter lists for at least 27 of 70 constituencies civic groups have
    examinedshow discrepancies between what the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission
    (ZEC) has declared as the number of voters and those on the roll, reflecting
    variations as high as 31 percent.

    For instance, Goromonzi South constituency in the ruling party's stronghold
    Mashonaland East province has 19 422 registered voters yet ZEC declared that
    28086 were registered.

    Other affected constituencies include Bulawayo Central, Gokwe-Nembudziya,
    Chikomba East, Bubi and Chipinge East.

    In Harare's Mount Pleasant constituency, a former minister who served in
    colonial times, Desmond William Lardner Burke who was born in 1908 and died
    in South Africa a few years ago is listed as a registered voter.

    The electoral commission's position

    The sorry state of the voters' roll is now the subject of a court case in
    which the MDC wants the ZEC to provide them with electronic copies of the
    lists. They also want to be furnished with information on the number of
    ballot papers printed for next week's polls.

    Paul Siwela, president of the Federal Democratic Union (FDU) thinks that the
    electorate has lost confidence in the electoral process because of electoral

    "The electoral process," he notes, "cannot deliver a new dispensation as
    long as the process is controlled by Zanu -PF's visible and invisible

    He was particularly unhappy about the fact that an estimated three million
    potential Zimbabweans have been driven into exile because of the prevailing
    economic crisis and political persecution at the hands of government agents.

    The Zimbabwe Election Support Network has also raised concerns at the small
    number of polling stations in the opposition's urban strongholds, saying
    this could be used as a ploy to disenfranchise eligible voters who would
    have no chance to vote at the limited number of polling centres.


    Former colonial master, Britain and the United States have also joined in
    the chorus casting aspersions over the possibility of a free and fair poll.

    The two countries, as well as the European Union fear that the conditions do
    not guarantee a free and fair election. As if to compound their fears,
    President Mugabe has only invited observers from friendly countries and
    refused to invite westerners claiming the latter are biased against him.
    Democracy activists fear that in the absence of independent-minded European
    and American observers, Mugabe could use that cover to silently rig the
    election in his favour.


    Another factor that could dash hopes of a free and fair poll, according to
    Human Rights Watch is politically motivated violence.

    In a report released in Johannesburg, South Africa, the watchdog said
    President Robert Mugabe's government had in the run-up to poll engaged in
    widespread intimidation of the opposition to render the election result

    "Despite some improvements on paper to the election regulations, Zimbabweans
    aren't free to vote for the candidates of their choice," said Georgette
    Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

    "While there are four candidates running for president and many political
    parties involved, the election process itself is skewed," said Gagnon.

    On Tuesday, this week the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said cases of
    politically motivated violence shot up last January with 300 cases having
    been recorded in that month alone.

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    Mugabe's Maneuvering Dims Hopes for Fair Election

    Wall Street Journal

    March 22, 2008

    Anxious to ensure his victory in next Saturday's polls, the government of
    Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has banned Western observers, intimidated
    the opposition and bribed starving rural dwellers with food, international
    watchdog groups say.

    All that has dimmed hope that despite international pressure and two strong
    opposition candidates, the elections in Zimbabwe will be any fairer this
    time around than in previous years.

    Still, the election will be the first time in Mr. Mugabe's 28-year rule that
    he will face a serious challenger from within his own ranks. The president's
    former finance minister, Simba Makoni, is running against him, as is
    longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

    Mr. Tsvangirai, a dedicated human-rights activist and trade unionist, has
    endured beatings and intimidation for opposing the government in previous
    elections. But his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, has never
    succeeded in defeating Mr. Mugabe.

    A chemist trained in the U.K., Mr. Makoni was fired from the government
    cabinet after criticizing the president's economic policy. When he announced
    his candidacy in February, some outside observers and Zimbabweans in the
    diaspora had held out hope that he might at least be able to loosen Mr.
    Mugabe's iron grip on power. Mr. Makoni appeared to be backed by
    high-ranking members of the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National
    Unity-Patriotic Front.

    He also had the support of a breakaway faction of the MDC, led by Arthur
    Mutambara, a businessman and Rhodes Scholar. He threw his weight behind Mr.
    Makoni on the premise that a divided opposition would guarantee Mr. Mugabe a

    The Zimbabwean government agreed -- after negotiations brokered by South
    African president Thabo Mbeki and the Southern African Development
    Community, a respected regional body -- to implement new guidelines aimed at
    ensuring a free and fair election.

    But hope that this poll would be different has waned as the brief campaign
    season comes to a close. The government hasn't implemented the reforms and
    has banned observers from countries that it says are critical of Mr. Mugabe,
    which includes all European nations.

    "We do not expect a free and fair election," said Andebrhan Giorgis, senior
    adviser for the International Crisis Group's Africa program. "We're hoping
    for the best, but that's hope against hope."

    According to a report by Human Rights Watch, an independent group, Zanu-PF
    supporters have harassed and beat up opposition supporters. The report also
    said that government and party officials have bribed rural voters with food
    and farming equipment, and withheld it from those who weren't registered
    Zanu-PF members. The government has dismissed the report, saying that Human
    Rights Watch is biased against Zimbabwe.

    Both opposition candidates have highlighted the economic devastation in
    Zimbabwe, a country rich in platinum and gold but wrecked by corruption and
    mismanagement. Inflation is the highest in the world, and people have little
    food or running water.

    Yet Mr. Mugabe is still popular in rural areas, where access to unfiltered
    information is scarce and people still remember the president when he first
    came to power in 1980 as a young revolutionary who overthrew white
    supremacist rule.

    In a bid to keep those votes, Mr. Mugabe signed a bill into law this month
    that will allow locals to take majority shares in foreign companies.
    Analysts fear the populist move could further devastate the shattered
    economy, similar to his 2000 decision to hand over white-run commercial
    farms to untrained black workers.

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    SADC to rule on farm seizure

    From Business Day (SA), 22 March

    Sarah Hudleston

    A landmark hearing next week, prior to a final ruling by a Southern African
    Development Community (SADC) tribunal, might decide the future of Zimbabwe's
    programme of land reform. It could, in addition, determine whether white
    commercial farmers - who bought farms after 1980 with the blessing of the
    government - can retain ownership or be compensated for their farms. At the
    heart of the case is that land is being taken from white farmers solely on
    the criterion of race, and that an amendment in Zimbabwe's constitution made
    it legal for the government to expropriate land without compensation. Last
    December the SADC's Namibian-based tribunal prevented President Robert
    Mugabe's government from evicting Chegutu farmer Michael Campbell, his 65
    employees and their families from his Mount Carmell farm - one of the
    country's main exporters of mangoes and citrus fruits.

    The interim ruling was made in accordance with the declaration and treaty
    that Harare and the SADC signed in August 1992 on regional trade agreements.
    One of its main points states that the "SADC and member states shall not
    discriminate against any person on grounds of gender, religion, political
    views, race, ethnic origin, culture or disability". Campbell's counsel,
    Jeremy Gauntlett, Jeffrey Jowell and Adrian de Bourbon, say in their heads
    of argument that the regional court ought to find Harare in breach of its
    obligations under the treaty, after it signed into law Amendment 17 more
    than two years ago. The amendment allows the seizure of white-owned farms,
    for distributiion to landless blacks, without compensation. It also bars
    courts from hearing appeals from the dispossessed white farmers.

    Counsel for Campbell argue that "Amendment 17 plainly discriminates on
    racial grounds. Conversely it favours a class of beneficiaries on a basis of
    political connection and favour. It is thus wholly arbitrary . as well as
    racially discriminatory." Despite the fact that the SADC tribunal had given
    a favourable interim ruling, Land Reform Minister Didymus Mutasa said Mount
    Carmell would be handed to a black owner, and in January a full bench of
    judges in the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe dismissed a constitutional appeal by
    Campbell to try to avert the eviction. Campbell bought the farm in 1974
    after leaving SA. In 1999 he sold the farm to legal entity Mike Campbell
    (Private) Ltd of which he was the main beneficiary. To do this he had to get
    a certificate of "No Interest" from the Zimbabwean government, which gave
    him an assurance that the farm was not earmarked for resettlement. This he
    duly received and the transfer took place 19 years after Zimbabwe's

    In November 1997, before the farm was transferred into a company name with
    the government's consent, a preliminary government notice to acquire the
    farm was issued, but then withdrawn. In July 2001, amid large-scale land
    invasions by "war veterans", Campbell received another notice in the
    Government Gazette, but it was declared invalid by the high court. In July
    2004, a new notice of intent to acquire Mount Carmell was published in the
    gazette, but no acquisition notice was actually issued. However, two months
    later, "persons purported to occupy the farm on behalf of Zanu PF spokesman
    Nathan Shamuyarira, claiming the former minister had been allocated the
    farm", the court papers say. After a further three preliminary notices to
    take the farm were published in 2004, Campbell applied to the high court for
    a protection order. It was granted. Campbell launched proceedings in the
    court, challenging the validity of Amendment 17 in September 2005; 11 days
    after the challenge was filed, a notice of acquisition was published.

    The SADC tribunal may be the Campbells' last resort. According to court
    papers, the SADC treaty is not directed at economic goals alone, but relates
    to "human rights, democracy and the rule of law". The papers also argue that
    "a failure by member states to uphold the principles of human rights,
    democracy and the rule of law" would cut across the range of commitments
    SADC states had entered into under the constitutive act of the African Union
    and African charter on human and people's rights. Ben Freeth, Campbell's
    son-in-law, said from Mount Carmell that he and Campbell would attend the
    hearing in Windhoek. They were still managing to farm, although six tons of
    mangoes had been stolen in the past two weeks. "Intimidation is still
    continuing. Last month we were invaded and fires were lit on the lawn
    surrounding our houses." He confirmed Shamuyarira wanted to occupy the
    property. "In 2004 he came here under armed escort and told Mike he could
    stay on the farm as his 'boss boy', but that he would own the farm and its

    The SADC treaty is the second one entered into by Zimbabwe that has been
    tested in the past six months in respect of white farmers' land tenure. In
    October a group of 11 Dutch farmers effectively won the right to
    compensation at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment
    Disputes, a World Bank investment forum. The group, together with UK-based
    AgricAfrica, registered the case. Claims total more than $15m, but the final
    award has not yet been announced. The case was brought in terms of a
    bilateral investment treaty between the Netherlands and Zimbabwe. According
    to the treaty, the Zimbabwean government promised to pay compensation to
    Dutch nationals in the event of a dispute arising out of an investment in
    Zimbabwe. The ruling has set a precedent for similar claims. AgricAfrica
    will now work with nationals of other countries with bilateral agreements
    with Zimbabwe, namely Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

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    Robert Mugabe turns the screw on Zimbabwe's dwindling white farmers

    The Telegraph

    By Peta Thornycroft in Chinhoyi
    Last Updated: 1:56am GMT 22/03/2008

    President Robert Mugabe's regime is stepping up its intimidation of
    Zimbabwe's white farmers as he seeks a sixth term in office.

    A few hundred landowners managed to stay put on small portions of
    their original properties despite Mr Mugabe's land seizures, which began in
    2000 and destroyed commercial agriculture, the backbone of the economy. But
    the president's re-election campaign ahead of next weekend's election is
    driven by the notion that the country's independence is under threat.

    He has long presented the farm confiscations as part of Zimbabwe's
    struggle for freedom.

    Deon Theron, a vice-president of the Commercial Farmers Union, is on
    trial in Harare magistrates' court. He faces a two-year prison sentence if
    he is convicted of trespassing on the farm he bought 24 years ago.

    His farm in Beatrice, about 40 miles south of Harare, used to produce
    about two per cent of all the milk consumed in the capital, but an eviction
    order was issued against the Therons a year ago.

    Their property has been targeted by Elias Musakwe, an executive of the
    Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. He has planted maize, which will never germinate,
    on the cattle pasture, and is intimidating the family by parking a tractor
    against the Therons' daughter's bedroom window.

    A court ruled this week that Mr Theron could not fight prosecution
    claims that a state document allowing them to stay on the farm was a
    forgery. "It is not fair, it's not fair," said Mrs Theron.

    Scores of white farmers who have survived daily torment from Mr
    Mugabe's travelling "war veterans" are now appearing in shabby courtrooms
    around the country, accused of defying eviction orders.

    Zimbabwean-born George Fick and his wife Jill, who are also dairy
    farmers in Beatrice, went on trial in Harare this week and were told by the
    state that their desire to remain in their home was "frivolous and

    "We don't have money to leave the farm or a house in town or money
    overseas," said Mrs Fick. "We have nowhere else to go." There has been one
    glimmer of hope. A ruling in Chinhoyi said that another farmer, Doug
    Taylor-Freeme, had no case to answer as he had been granted an extension to
    his eviction order.

    But the rule of law is a hazy concept in Mr Mugabe's Zimbabwe. Mr
    Taylor-Freeme has a gang of men allied to the ruling Zanu-PF party camped
    outside his kitchen door, ordered there by Chief Wilson Memakonde, a Zanu-PF
    senator who has already taken possession of five white-owned farms.

    In Chiredzi, in south-eastern Zimbabwe, Digby Nesbitt and his wife
    Jessie share their home with the area's assistant commissioner Edmore
    Veterai and 15 of his relatives, who moved in earlier this year.

    The Nesbitts say they are determined to stay in the house because if
    they leave they will not be able to return.

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    Mugabe opponent warns ahead of election

    The Telegraph

    Stephen Bevan in Pretoria and special correspondent in Zimbabwe
    Last Updated: 6:58pm GMT 22/03/2008

    Zimbabwe's main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has accused
    President Robert Mugabe of preparing to rig next Saturday's election as
    evidence mounts that he faces a humiliating defeat.

    Mr Tsvangirai, who leads the Movement for Democratic Change, said that
    his party's candidates and supporters were being abducted and beaten with
    increasing frequency.

    The Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum, an independent monitoring group, has
    reported 300 cases of political violence since January.

    Mr Mugabe said that he would not let the MDC rule Zimbabwe. "It will
    never happen as long as we are still alive, those of us who planned the
    liberation struggle," he told supporters at a campaign rally in Harare.

    Mr Tsvangirai has accused the government of packing the voting roll
    with the names of dead, or non-existent, voters. He claimed that more than
    1,000 voters were registered to fictitious addresses in one ward alone.

    The Sunday Telegraph has uncovered evidence of a plot to use army
    postal ballots to boost the vote of the ruling Zanu PF party. Soldiers at
    the KGV1 army headquarters in Harare said last week that they were being
    forced to use postal votes and were being closely watched to guarantee the
    way they vote.

    An independent poll put Mr Tsvangirai more than eight percentage
    points ahead of Mr Mugabe, on 28.3 per cent. The other main challenger - the
    former finance minister Samba Makoni - is trailing in third place with only
    8.6 per cent.

    It is not clear how much hidden support he has among the 23.5 per cent
    who refused to divulge their intentions.

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    ‘This Country Is In Crisis’


    An unexpected presidential contender discusses Zimbabwe's crippling problems and why he feels he can oust Robert Mugabe.

    Zimbabwe's most recent presidential polls have been marred by controversies over corruption and vote rigging. It's upcoming ballot, on March 29, is unlikely to be any different. The southern African nation's dictatorial leader, 84-year-old Robert Mugabe, faces two challengers. The first is Morgan Tsvangirai, a longtime labor-union activist, has stood against Mugabe in the past and lost. The second, Simba Makoni, emerged only recently from within Mugabe's own ZANU-PF party apparatus, and his candidacy has energized those who considered Mugabe unassailable. Makoni, a former finance minister and senior party apparatchik, now stands poised to give one of the continent's longest-standing strongmen a run for his money. Makoni spoke to NEWSWEK's Scott Johnson recently in the presidential suite of the Rainbow Hotel, in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Excerpts:

    NEWSWEEK: Why are you running?
    Simba Makoni:
    Our country needs new leadership, we need another direction.

    When did you decide to enter the race?
    The trigger was the failure of the party congress on Dec. 15 to solve the leadership question. The congress was convened to endorse one candidate [Mugabe] instead of electing one.

    What was the mood at the time?
    It's irrelevant now. But my colleagues were frustrated, they were angry, they were anxious. All of them agreed that change was overdue for the party and for the country. Everybody was convinced that we almost lost the elections in 2002 because of the leadership question.

    Explain what is wrong with the leadership.
    The current leadership is stuck in the past. Their reference points are the liberation struggle and colonialism, but this country is in crisis--in many crises. History is important, but it must give way to the future. We have to deal with people's problems--food, water, electricity, the fragmentation of society, the breakdown of families, the breakdown of respect for the rule of law. Even something as simple as people not obeying traffic signals. The social fabric has disintegrated. There's a tremendous manipulation of natural resources. Our leadership has no feeling for the people. We are preoccupied with staying in power. We don't look at the suffering. The state has to serve the people, not the people the state.

    What about corruption?
    People are corrupt. Even Mugabe has spoken publicly about people in his inner circle, people in the leadership who are corrupt, but he doesn't do anything about it.

    Isn't the responsibility as much with ZANU, your party, as with Mugabe?
    The problem is not a lack of policy. There was a U.N. report which found that Zimbabwe ranked [in the] 95th percentile in policy formulation and [in the] fourth percentile in policy implementation, so we have to energize policy implementation.

    If you're elected, what will you do in the first days and weeks?
    I don't have specific policies. But we will constitute a national authority or a government of national unity, call it what you will. We will bring together competent people, we want to engage the people of Zimbabwe for self-determination. We don't want to give them things. They are caught up in this captive dependence psychology. We have a food crisis, and we will need international assistance to tackle it.

    You have a lot of support from within ZANU, that bothers some people.
    I have broad support among the people of Zimbabwe. I can't measure support from within ZANU, but it's not important, it's a small party in terms of members. When my nomination was made public, a deluge of people went to register [as voters].

    What will you tell foreign investors interested in returning to work in Zimbabwe?
    With all due respect, foreign investors are not my first priority right now. My first priority is to mobilize Zimbabweans to take up their lives again and to re-energize people. I cannot fail to win.

    What went wrong with the land-distribution program?
    Corruption. It wasn't done in a transparent manner, we had guidelines. People just went on to the farms. There are people now who are multiple farm owners. There were gross irregularities. We have people on farms who are not farming. Mugabe is extending favors in the mechanization process. There were people who got tractors, for example, who didn't even own land, so those tractors are just getting dusty now.

    Many people say you were sent [as a candidate] by Mugabe himself.
    This has been deliberately staged against me. There are two storylines. One is that I'm a Mugabe stooge, a plant. The second, which Mugabe uses, is that I'm a stooge of the West, of Britain and America. I was part of the liberation struggle as the chief representative of ZANU in Europe. I was in the politburo until 2005, and I was in charge of a number of highly sensitive dossiers. So that whole time the president kept me in a high position in the government while I'm an agent of the West? That doesn't make sense. He is smearing me because we parted ways.

    What will happen to Mugabe?
    He will become an ordinary citizen and become subject to the law of Zimbabwe. We will give him protection, which is accorded to a former head of state. I would hope that he would be respected for his age and left to live in peace. The former president will be subject to the due process of law as any other subject according to the constitution of Zimbabwe.

    Some Zimbabweans have called for him to be held accountable for past crimes.
    He will be treated like an ordinary Zimbabwean.

    How much support are you getting from the military?
    Are they Zimbabwean military? Yes. So they're also in the group that supports me.

    What does the pin on your lapel signify?
    It's a sunflower. It symbolizes freshness. Yellow is the color of spring, renewal.

    In the Shona language, what does your first name Simba mean?
    It means power and strength.

    And your last name, Makoni?
    It comes from a sentence which means "one who is invincible."

    Do you feel invincible?
    No, I don't. I'm humbled to serve.

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    Mugabe Threatens to Imprison Deportees From Britain

    World Press

    Ambrose Musiyiwa
    Dudley, England
    March 21, 2008

    President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has said that an unspecified number of
    Zimbabwean asylum seekers in Britain will be arrested and imprisoned when
    they are deported from that country.

    The government-controlled Herald in Harare reported that Mugabe had
    "castigated those who tried to tarnish his name alleging political
    persecution when they were mere criminals fleeing the law, saying they
    should come back to atone for their ruinous actions" ("Zimbabwe: No Mercy
    for Fugitives From Justice - President,", March 13).

    The paper said Mugabe told a ZANU-PF rally at Hama High School in
    Chirumhanzu rural district that some among those who had sought refuge in
    Britain were criminals fleeing from the law. He emphasized that once the
    British government deported them and they arrived in Zimbabwe, they would be
    arrested, and that some of the deportees would be made to pay fines while
    others would be imprisoned.

    Speaking in the vernacular Shona language, he said:

      Britain is now full of those who fled from here claiming that they were at
    risk of being arrested for political reasons. We do not want to arrest any
    of those except those who fled crimes, and those who fled crimes are not the
    only ones who went to Britain, no. There are so many of them that you cannot
    count them on your fingers, a few, those are the ones who have big cases
    that they fled from here. Those one, their cases will never rot. There in
    Britain, if they do not want to come back to admit that "Yes, I stole; I did
    wrong," if you are to pay a fine, then you pay a fine, if the penalty means
    you go to prison, then you go to prison because you stole people's money.

    His statement comes in the wake of letters sent out by the Home Office
    informing failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers that because their applications
    for political asylum had failed and they had exhausted their rights of
    appeal, they had no other basis of stay in Britain and should now make plans
    to return home.

    "Your claim for asylum has been refused," the letters say. "I am now writing
    to make sure that you know that the Border & Immigration Agency is expecting
    shortly to be able to enforce returns to Zimbabwe. The Asylum and
    Immigration Tribunal has now found that there is no general risk on return
    for failed asylum-seekers."

    Immigration lawyer Taffy Nyawanza, writing in an article that appears on ("U.K. Poised to Resume Zimbabwe Deportations," March 10),
    said the timing of the British government's new position toward Zimbabwean
    asylum seekers was as unfortunate as it was baffling.

    "This is because there is a high stakes election which is scheduled for Mar.
    29, 2008. There has already been wide publicity of the rising political
    temperature, Mugabe's ominous threats to the opposition, as well as the
    beatings of opposition activists and teachers," Nyawanza said.

    He added that since 2000, real or perceived opposition political party
    supporters in Zimbabwe have experienced more intimidation and attacks in the
    periods just before and after presidential and parliamentary elections:

      The main Country Guidance cases, in particular S.M. (Zimbabwe), already
    confirm the existence of an "election cycle" with reference to the
    heightened risk during election periods and the period immediately after the
    election. The tribunal has also accepted that this is a pattern which has
    been followed since 2000 and that before an election, there is intimidation
    of real or perceived opposition supporters particularly teachers and civil
    servants. It also confirms that following an election, there is
    well-documented evidence of the post-election retribution on political

    The Independent on Sunday in London ("Britain's Refugee Shame," March 16)
    revealed that the mass removal program that the British government is
    currently planning could affect more than 1,000 Zimbabweans who had sought
    refuge in Britain.

    "The first phase of the new asylum removal drive will target 500 failed
    asylum-seekers from Zimbabwe living in the northwest of England. In all,
    more than 1,000 people are likely to be affected in the near future, out of
    some 7,000 Zimbabwean asylum-seekers in the U.K.," the paper said.

    Legislators, civil rights groups, and organizations that represent asylum
    seekers and refugees have condemned the plans by the British government to
    resume deportations to Zimbabwe.

    Following deportations of Zimbabwean opposition political party activists
    that took place in December, Victoria Helyar-Cardwell, the correspondence
    manager in Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg's office, told
    that they were doing all they could to raise the issue of deportations for

    "The Liberal Democrats have long called for the halt on deportations to
    Zimbabwe while the political situation is monitored. The Home Office has let
    down Zimbabwean refugees who have fled to Britain in fear of persecution at
    home," she said in an e-mail on Jan. 31.

    Movement for Democratic Change (United Kingdom and Ireland) interim
    chairperson and Simba Makoni central parliamentary candidate John Nyamande
    told that some failed asylum seekers had committed suicide to
    escape from the torture and ill-treatment they would face if deported back
    to Zimbabwe.

    "The U.K. government must reconsider its position and give asylum seekers
    temporary work permits that become invalid as soon as the situation in
    Zimbabwe is resolved," he said by telephone earlier this month.

    Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, told The Independent on
    Sunday that it was unacceptable that the British government should be
    considering forcing asylum seekers to return to Zimbabwe.

    "There has been no improvement in the human rights situation there, which
    remains dire," she said. "We know most Zimbabweans want to return when it is
    safe and to contribute to rebuilding their country. We should be offering
    them a form of temporary status here allowing them to work and retain their
    skills so they're fully equipped when the situation has improved."

    Kate Hoey, Labor M.P. and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on
    Zimbabwe, told the same newspaper that it would be "ridiculous" if the Home
    Office tried to force mass returns of asylum-seekers.

    "The situation in Zimbabwe is worse than ever, and to send people back in a
    blanket way like this is not something that anyone with an understanding of
    the country would support," she said.

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    Mugabe's Last Stand


    A former close ally may offer the best chance yet of toppling Zimbabwe's
    dictator at the ballot box.

    'A Gorbachev Type': Makoni's candidacy is evidence that the system is
    fracturing from within
    By Scott Johnson | NEWSWEEK
    Mar 31, 2008 Issue | Updated: 1:33  p.m. ET Mar 22, 2008

    Politics is dangerous business in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe. So this crowd of
    4,000 tired-looking peasants and factory workers, packed into a soccer
    stadium in the town of Gweru, is understandably subdued. They chat quietly
    among themselves, listening to a popular Zimbabwean song, "We Are Afraid of
    the Father," about a patriarch's violent rages. The tune suits the event-a
    rally for Simba Makoni, the 57-year-old technocrat who is challenging
    Mugabe, one of Africa's last "big men," in elections this week. The crowd
    roars when Makoni jogs onto a giant stage and doffs his blue cap. "I am
    taking off my hat so you can see that I am a man," he says, shouting. "My
    name is Simba Makoni! And I am the one!"

    If ever Zimbabwe needed a savior it's now. An inflation rate that tops
    100,000 percent has destroyed the economy. One in five adults in Zimbabwe is
    infected with HIV; women have the lowest life expectancy-34 years-in the
    world. And at 84, Mugabe refuses to ease the grip in which he's held the
    country since independence in 1980. Like dictators everywhere, he's long
    been sustained by cronies who don't much care what happens to the nation as
    long as they get their cut. That's why Makoni's political insurgency is so
    threatening: a former Finance minister, he comes out of Mugabe's inner
    circle. The system, finally, may be turning on itself.

    Makoni is an unlikely giant-killer. Born in rural Zimbabwe, he excelled at
    school and, in the early 1970s, was one of only about 120 blacks nationwide
    admitted to the University of Rhodesia. He protested against white minority
    rule, narrowly escaped arrest and fled to Botswana. He later emigrated to
    England where he earned a Ph.D. in chemistry at Leicester Polytechnic. Back
    in Zimbabwe after 1980, and already close to Mugabe, he became the youngest
    minister in the new government, and later Finance minister. Until he was
    expelled last month for challenging Mugabe, Makoni was comfortably ensconced
    in the ruling party's top echelons.

    Now he claims to have the backing of key figures within the party. Earlier
    this month Dumiso Dabengwa, a former military commander and hero to
    thousands of veterans of the independence struggle-a constituency that has
    proved unfailingly loyal to Mugabe in the past-endorsed Makoni. There are
    persistent rumors that retired general Solomon Mujuru, whose wife, Joyce, is
    the current vice president, may also be quietly backing him. And one faction
    of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has thrown its organization
    and money behind him.
    Makoni says he's been trying to change the government for years. As Finance
    minister in 2002 he fought to stave off hyperinflation by devaluing the Zim
    dollar but was rebuffed, and later fired for his efforts. He spoke out when
    government thugs beat up opposition activists in March 2007, even visiting
    some who had been hospitalized in South Africa. Abiathar Mujeyi, a close
    adviser, says Makoni's bid has been "a couple of years in preparation."
    Makoni says he only decided to run last December, after a ruling-party
    congress rubber-stamped Mugabe's candidacy. "My colleagues were frustrated,
    they were angry, they were anxious," he says. "Our leadership ... [is]
    preoccupied with staying in power. We don't look at the suffering."

    Not everyone is convinced. Many believe Makoni's bid is part of a plot by
    Mugabe to keep power in the hands of a small and vested minority, one that
    will protect him from The Hague. (Makoni says that if he's elected Mugabe
    would be subject to due process "like any ordinary citizen.") Morgan
    Tsvangirai, the former labor leader who has led the opposition for nearly a
    decade, still commands wide support. And Mugabe remains a ruthless opponent.
    He's approved big pay raises recently for soldiers, teachers and civil
    servants. And he just amended the electoral law to allow police to enter
    polling stations and "assist" illiterate voters. Mugabe is widely believed
    to have rigged elections in 2002 by stuffing voter rolls and intimidating

    That the elections are up for grabs at all speaks to the cracks forming
    within the ruling party, much as the collapse of the Soviet system began
    from within. "Makoni is a Gorbachev type of person," says David Coltart, an
    opposition parliamentarian and supporter. Makoni's advisers say many
    establishment types can't go public yet out of fear. "Mugabe can't trust his
    politburo anymore, or his intelligence or his military," says Mujeyi. "We
    talk to them all the time." One source in Bulawayo, who cannot be named for
    fear of retribution, reported last week that soldiers were tearing down
    Mugabe posters near their barracks. Makoni may be their best chance to pull
    down the big man himself.

    With Karen MacGregor in Durban

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    Digital power to the people

    Toronto Star

    Mar 22, 2008 04:30 AM
    James Travers

    OTTAWA-To drift around southern Africa after a decade away is to be slapped
    hard by a couple of changes. One is the omnipresence of orphanages that
    reveal more poignantly than any United Nations study how a virus is
    infecting the once sustaining structure of extended families. Another is the
    ubiquitous cellphone.

    Not much more can be said or written about HIV/AIDS that's likely to make a
    difference. Statistics that overwhelm and our guilty relief that the worst
    of it is over there have stunned the world's response and dulled its
    conscience. But the portable phone is a different, lifting story with
    surprising Canadian parallels.

    Never really the Dark Continent except in European sensibilities, otherwise
    boisterous Africa has been until recently, and in a singular way, the Silent
    Continent. Poorly matched against seasonal rains and rugged distance,
    colonial phones, with their porous insulation and steam age exchanges, were
    better suited for making new crossed-lines acquaintances than connecting

    An inconvenience for the many, that disconnect was a political tool for the
    powerful few. Without a phone network, whole regions could be isolated with
    just a few roadblocks.

    Robert Mugabe was only one of many African autocrats to maximize the
    advantage. Before morphing from socialist darling to international pariah,
    Zimbabwe's rogue leader shut down Matabeleland to let his North
    Korean-trained troops rampage largely out of sight.

    Atrocities are still too large a part of Africa's story, but now they're
    more easily told, harder to mute. Remarkable for a place where so many live
    on less than a dollar a day, the personal phone is everywhere. Even those
    who can't afford one themselves can use the sprouting kiosks.

    One result of technology's trickle-down is quaintly amusing: The tree or
    hill with the clearest reception draws a crowd of climbers. But the most
    profound outcome, the one that draws first and third worlds closer together,
    is that the unforeseen consequence of affordable technology is the slow drip
    of acid on authority.

    Here and there, somebody is always watching Big Brother. We now know when,
    say, Mugabe is mugging his political rivals and, sooner or later, we find
    out when domestic authorities abuse public trust.

    Two examples from opposite Canadian coasts make the point. In Vancouver, an
    eyewitness video recording knocked gaping holes in the apparently
    cock-and-bull RCMP story that it had no option but to use a Taser in the
    fatally muscular handling of Robert Dziekanski. In Halifax, a passerby
    caught a hit-and-run on a camera cellphone leading to the downfall of Nova
    Scotia human resources minister Ernie Fage.

    This sort of thing is not entirely fresh. Nearly 20 years ago the Los
    Angeles police beating of Rodney King sparked riots there and made news
    around the world. But back then it was more the exception than the rule that
    someone stumbling on a crime scene would also be lugging along a video
    recorder. Today, with cameras everywhere and 2 billion cellphones ringing
    worldwide, it's a pretty safe bet that someone arriving at the intersection
    of time and circumstance will be able to preserve for posterity the evidence
    as well as the event.

    Among techno-geeks, this is known as "sousveillance," the delightfully
    democratic practice of keeping an eye on those who would just as soon
    operate out of sight. But it might just as well be known as digital power to
    the people.

    James Travers' national affairs column appears Tuesday, Thursday and

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    The Lion of Zimbabwe looks to polls to end exile

    Monsters and Critics

    Mar 22, 2008, 7:19 GMT

    Harare/Johannesburg - Five years of separation from the country whose
    struggles inspired all his music has wounded the Lion of Zimbabwe, Thomas

    Speaking down the line from his home in Oregon, United States, he admits: 'I
    feel so bad.'

    Mapfumo is talking about his exile from Zimbabwe, where he

    invented the country's own brand of struggle music during the last days of
    minority white rule in the 1970s, earning him a short prison term and the
    status of national icon.

    'I've been away from home for such a long time,' he sighs.

    Mapfumo, 62, is probably the best-known of the estimated 4 million
    Zimbabwean exiles who have been squeezed out of the country by economic
    hardship and/or political oppression over the past decade.

    His fall from grace with President Robert Mugabe's government began in 1989
    when the voice of the chirumenga (struggle in his native Shona, also the
    term for his style of protest music) trained his sights on the new

    In 1989 he released an album entitled Corruption and for years afterwards
    was harassed by the state. Government spies used to come looking for him at
    his home. They also warned one of his friends, who worked in the presidency:
    'The president doesn't like you to go to Mukanya's (Mapfumo's nickname)

    In the late 1990s he moved to Oregon. Since 2003, he hasn't been back
    Zimbabwe - not even for the funeral of his mother who died on Christmas Day,

    'I've been hearing a lot of rumours, you know, about some people trying to
    harm me,' he says.

    Mapfumo still sings in Shona mostly and tries to stoke opposition to
    Mugabe's repressive rule but the tone is less angry, more reflective.

    In his 2005 album entitled Rise Up, he urges 'Let's go, father' while trying
    to reason with Mugabe, saying: 'I'm one of your own so don't hate me for
    what I say.'

    Several of his more recent songs are banned in Zimbabwe, where
    state-controlled radio prefers his old revolutionary tunes, but his name is
    still spoken with reverence across the country.

    'Mapfumo was the best but they chased him away,' says Eddie, a taxi driver
    in Harare about half the singer's age.

    Like many Zimbabwean exiles Mapfumo is sceptical about the prospects for
    change in the upcoming elections, in which 84-year-old Mugabe is seeking to
    extend his 28 years in office.

    Asked for his thoughts on former finance minister and ex-ruling Zanu-PF
    politburo member Simba Makoni, who is standing against Mugabe in the polls,
    Mapfumo shoots back: 'How can you trust someone like that?'

    Longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai gets a slightly more favourable
    response. 'We all used to think that Tsvangirai would be given enough room
    to manoeuvre but he seems to be doing not much for the people.'

    Mapfumo, by now a grandfather, continues to tour internationally, keeping in
    touch with his fans through his page on the Myspace social networking
    website and keeping tabs on the situation in Zimbabwe.

    'I have friends who are in the ruling party, even some ministers, and
    police. They sometimes call me on the phone,' he says.

    'I was thinking maybe if there's any chance of these elections coming out
    clean ... maybe if there's a moderate leader, there's a chance we'll be able
    to go back home.'

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