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Cholera toll at 121 in Zimbabwe, doctors say; closing in on Harare

Posted : Thu, 30 Oct 2008 12:18:19 GMT
Author : DPA

Harare - An outbreak of cholera, the deadly diarrhoeal disease
that doctors say has claimed dozens of lives in crisis-hit Zimbabwe in
recent weeks, has spread to the city's crowded townships, state media
reported Thursday. One person died in the city's Budiriro township and 20
more from across the city were being treated for the disease in hospital,
the state-controlled Herald newspaper reported. Some of the cases are from
areas very close to the city centre.

The death brings to 121 the number to have died of the disease
this year, according to the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights

"We are worried by the way is spreading around the country, but
we are putting in measures to eradicate it," Health minister Dr David
Parirenyatwa was quoted in the Herald as saying.

Medical sources say the problem is far more widespread than
President Robert Mugabe's authorities admit.

Since September, 16 people have died in the dormitory township
of Chitungwiza on Harare's southern outskirts.

ZADHR said the repeated outbreaks of the disease "indicates the
absence of capacity and ability of the government to manage public health."

As the country's economy collapses under the weight of multi-
billion percent inflation, a health system that was once the pride of
sub-Saharan Africa is also crumbling.

Observers say the health crisis is but one facet of a national
disaster, which is claiming more and more lives from hunger-related

Water supplies to the crowded townships that house most of the
capital's poor have dried up, resulting in burst pipes and drains that send
rivers of raw effluent running through the streets, filtering into the
unprotected wells that people are forced to dig to for water.

Without an urgent operation to restore water supplies, the onset
of the rainy season "could result in cholera becoming endemic," ZADHR said.

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Cholera outbreak leaves one dead and 20 hospitalised in Harare

By Tichaona Sibanda
30 October 2008

A wave of cholera in the country that has affected thousands of people and
killed more than 120 so far, claimed it's first victim in the capital this
week, amid fears the disease is proving difficult to contain and has spread
to many cities.

Dr Henry Madzorera, the MDC Senator for KweKwe, told Newsreel there are
fears the waterborne disease will become endemic if the authorities fail to
address the water and sanitation crisis plaguing the country. Cholera is an
intestinal infection causing acute diarrhoea and vomiting and, if left
untreated, can cause death from dehydration within 24 hours. He said the
disease is however easily treatable with rehydration salts.

But Health Minister David Parirenyatwa told state radio Thursday the main
government hospitals faced severe shortages of medicines and supplies.

Morgan Femai, the MDC Senator for Chikomo in Harare, said Thursday that the
country has been sitting on a time bomb since raw sewage started finding its
way into water sources such as streams and rivers, more than a year ago. The
Senator said he has been to almost every town and province in the last three
months and the situation was the same.

'The government tells us there is no foreign currency to buy water treatment
chemicals but the central bank can, at an hour's notice, raise US$24 million
for Robert Mugabe to fly to New York for one week,' Femai said.

He added; 'So where are their priorities. They should prioritize improving
water and sanitation infrastructures as a long term goal and not waste the
precious hard currency dashing out of the country on all those useless
foreign trips'.

Areas in Harare such as in Mabvuku have had no water for the last two years,
while in Ruwa and Dzivarasekwa, residents last had water supplies nine
months ago.

According to the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights the
disease has so far claimed over 120 lives and warned many more will perish
if government fails to take immediate measures, such as water treatment at
household level.

There are reports government is suppressing information on the disease,
described by medical sources as 'spreading like wildfire'. Reports suggest
the problem is far more widespread than the authorities admit.

Across the country in recent weeks at least 27 people have died from
cholera, mostly in impoverished districts, and hundreds have been treated
for the highly infectious intestinal disease spread by contaminated food and

Treating the condition requires only simple measures, but the clean water
and rehydration salts required are in short supply in areas where they are
needed most. An outbreak of cholera spreads very quickly in areas where
there is poor sanitation and where water supplies are tainted.

SW Radio Africa Zimbabwe news

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Pressure grows for African leaders to step up action against Mugabe

By Alex Bell
30 October 2008

The call for African leaders to take action in resolving the political
impasse between Robert Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is slowly
growing in volume; this as the date and venue of the emergency summit of
Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders on the Zimbabwe
political crisis is yet to be confirmed.

The SADC troika on politics, security and defense failed on Monday to
resolve the stalemate over the allocation of key cabinet ministries - in
particular the Home Affairs Ministry which controls the highly politicised
national police force. The troika then referred the matter to a full summit
of the 14-nation regional grouping, to take place within the next fortnight.
It's widely believed the meeting will take place in South Africa, which
holds the chairmanship of the regional bloc.

But as the wait continues, the ongoing deadlock between the political rivals
is finally ringing alarm bells, as millions of Zimbabweans continue to
suffer in a country devastated by economic and humanitarian turmoil. The UN's
shock assessment that almost half the population will face starvation by
January has not prompted any form of change on the part of the politicians,
while regional leaders have also not used their considerable weight to put
an end to the growing humanitarian disaster.

In response to the impasse UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged African
leaders on Wednesday to take "decisive" action to end the deadlock and told
reporters in the Philippines that the power-sharing process "has been taking
too long." He added: "I sincerely hope that President Mugabe will no longer
disappoint the international community," and said Mugabe "should meet"
international expectations.

At the same time, in a statement released on Wednesday, the US State
Department said the 21 African leaders who witnessed the signing of Zimbabwe's
power sharing deal, have a responsibility to ensure the impasse is resolved
as a matter of urgency. The State Department's spokesperson, Sean McCormack
said in the statement: "We urge African leaders to work with the Southern
African Development Community, the African Union, and the United Nations to
address the urgent needs of the Zimbabwean people." "We condemn the Mugabe
regime's refusal to implement a genuine and equitable power-sharing
agreement and its continued use of violence against peaceful demonstrators,"
the statement read.

The statement also echoed the concern of the UN's Secretary General about
the negative effect the impasse is having on the people of Zimbabwe, and
said the US would "continue to provide food aid and other humanitarian
assistance, to assist the people of Zimbabwe."

Dr Lovemore Madhuku from the National Constitutional Assembly said on
Thursday that he doubts whether any regional grouping or international
grouping would be able to influence the impasse. He said that SADC "does not
have the power to change the situation, only the power to make
recommendations that will likely only aid Mugabe." Madhuku also argued that
Mugabe will not feel any pressure if the talks move to higher bodies such as
the UN. "Mugabe will not suffer anything, because as far as most groups are
concerned, he has moved by agreeing to power share in the first place,"
Madhuku said. "I doubt therefore that the UN will have any power over him."

Meanwhile, despite no agreement being reached over the allocation of
ministries for a power sharing government, a South African delegation is in
Harare to discuss implementing a R300 million aid package put together to
assist Zimbabwe with farming inputs. South African Finance Minister Trevor
Manuel last week announced the package in his mid-term budget to Parliament
and it has since been endorsed by President Kgalema Motlanthe. According to
the government mouthpiece Herald newspaper on Thursday, the South African
team arrived in Harare on Monday for consultations with their Zimbabwean

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki pledged to assist Zimbabwe with
inputs soon after he brokered the power sharing agreement, that has so far
done little to bring about change. The seemingly unconditional R300 million
aid package, which is set to be controlled and distributed by the still
firmly entrenched Mugabe government, appears to be yet another signal that
South Africa's leaders support Mugabe, no matter what the outcome of his
brutal leadership.

SW Radio Africa Zimbabwe news

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Youth Forum calls for mass action to pressure Mugabe regime

By Alex Bell
30 October 2008

The Zimbabwe Youth Forum has added its voice to the choir of condemnation of
the current political impasse threatening the future stability of the
country, and on Thursday called "upon all democratic forces to continue
piling pressure on the Mugabe regime."

There has been muted response from crisis weary Zimbabweans as the impasse
between Robert Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai over the allocation
of cabinet ministries has popped the last bubble of hope for meaningful
change on the ground. Talks on the deadlock are set to continue at a full
summit of Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders only in the
next fortnight, and in the interim millions of people will continue fighting
a day to day battle for survival as the humanitarian crisis takes hold.

In a statement released on Thursday, the Youth Forum accused SADC and the
African Union of being "mere paper tigers without the capacity to implement
their decision." The Forum's Wellington Zindove argued on Thursday that the
power to bring about change does not lie in regional bodies such as SADC and
the AU, but rather in the Zimbabwean people themselves.

"We respect the efforts being made by African leaders to alleviate the
crisis bedeviling this nation," Zindove explained. "But we feel local
actions are not loud enough to mount pressure on the Mugabe regime and we
feel all the pro-democratic forces in the country should join hands on the

Zindove added there is little belief after the failure of the SADC Troika
that the full summit will make any difference to the current situation. He
said the time has come "to divert attention away from the ongoing talks and
advance the struggle for true democracy and the fight to end the suffering
of the Zimbabwean people."

SW Radio Africa Zimbabwe news

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Bulawayo Prisoners Go Without Food

BULAWAYO, October 30 2008 - Bulawayo prisoners have been going without
meals since October 24 and relatives have since been asked to bring food.

Prison officers at Khami and Grey's Prison in the city told RadioVOP
that relatives were being encouraged to bring food three times a day.

The prison officers said Zimbabwe Prison Services (ZPS) had since
recruited public relations personnel to mann gates at Khami and Grey's
prisons during visiting hours, advising relatives to bring food for their
loved ones. The public relations officers were sometimes reported to turn
away visitors who would not have brought food.

Seven inmates at Mutimurefu prison in Masvingo died of hunger related
diseases, in August.

A report released by the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and
Rehabilitation of the Offender (ZACRO) recently revealed that at least two
inmates die everyday due to hunger and disease at two of Zimbabwe's biggest

ZACRO said conditions in prisons across the country had deteriorated
over the years with the Zimbabwe Prison Service (ZPS) out of cash to buy
drugs to treat HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, rampant in jails because of

ZACRO said the ZPS  had no money to buy enough food for inmates and in
some cases even failed to raise cash to pay for pauper burials for those who
succumb to disease and hunger in jail.

A survey of the country's 55 prisons carried out by ZACRO this year,
showed that the jails were holding a total of 35 000 prisoners, more than
double their designed carrying capacity of 17 000 inmates.

ZACRO indicated that an amnesty granted to some categories of
prisoners by President Robert Mugabe in June appeared to have had little
impact on the inmate overload.

The organisation said an outbreak of pellagra disease in 2007 killed
at least 23 inmates at the notorious Chikurubi Maximum Security prison.
Pellagra is a vitamin deficiency disease caused by shortage of vitamin B3
and protein.

A parliamentary committee that toured Chikurubi and other prisons in
2006 was shocked to find inmates clad in torn, dirty uniforms and crammed
into overcrowded cells with filthy; overflowing toilets that had not been
flushed for weeks as water had been cut off due to unpaid bills.

The committee said in a report that the conditions in prisons were

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Zanu PF violence flares up in Epworth

Thursday, 30 October 2008 13:52
by Nelson Chamisa

MDC Secretary for Information and Publicity

AT least 20 MDC supporters in Epworth in Harare had to seek medical
attention on Wednesday while five of them have been hospitalised.

The whereabouts of one is unknown after Zanu PF youth militia wreaked
havoc following the deadlock between the two major political parties over
the SADC-brokered political settlement.

Zanu PF youth militia this week set up two torture bases in Epworth
just outside Harare and on Wednesday afternoon they moved around the area
assaulting known MDC activists.

The bases are located in Ward 4 at Rueben Shopping Centre and at

The assaults started after losing Zanu PF candidate for the area, Amos
Midzi, was spotted visiting the bases earlier in the day. Midzi is also the
chairman of the Zanu PF Harare province.

Those leading the terror have been identified as Zanu PF youth
chairman for Epworth only identified as Zimbwe. The others are Garakara,
Chikandiwa and Makangira.

One of the MDC activists who were attacked is the Ward 4 councillor,
Didmus Bande.

The behaviour of these Zanu PF thugs is a violation of the Global
Political Agreement (GPA), which recognises the basic freedoms of people
such as association, assembly, speech and movement. The latest violence and
thuggery once again exposes Zanu PF's sincerity deficit in this political

The people of Zimbabwe know what they want. They want freedom,
prosperity and development.  No amount of violence will stand between the
people and their vision.

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Operation of Hope Surgical Mission to Zimbabwe

By Staff Reporter
30 October 2008

Some great news for Zimbabweans for a change. The respected US volunteer
surgical team, Operation of Hope, will be in Harare offering free surgeries
for children and adults afflicted with facial deformities.
A statement by the organization said anyone with a facial deformity will be
evaluated free of charge and if a candidate is selected they will be placed
on a surgery schedule that runs between November 3rd to November 14th - and
there is no age or location rules.

Operation of Hope Doctors said: "Typical deformities include, but are not
limited to, cleft-lip and cleft-palates." To learn about and see samples of
these deformities, please visit
Evaluations will be held on Sunday 2nd November at 8am at the Harare Central
Hospital in the pediatric ward. So if you know anyone who needs their help,
please encourage them to take this opportunity to be assessed.

"This visit will be the fourth trip made by Operation of Hope dating back to
October of 2006. The surgical team is very excited to once again help those
in need and offering some relief to the families of Zimbabwe," the statement

SW Radio Africa Zimbabwe news

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SA's boost for Zim farmers


The South African government has earmarked R300-million in the foreign
affairs budget vote to assist Zimbabwe's struggling agricultural sector.

The amount has been allocated for "the recapitalisation of the African
Renaissance and International Cooperation Fund for agricultural inputs for
Zimbabwe", Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said. The money is "subject to
acceptance of an appropriate role for international food relief agencies by
a recognised multi-party government".

While former president Thabo Mbeki was in meetings last week to break the
impasse between feuding protagonists Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe,
South African officials met the heads of key Zimbabwean agriculture agencies
as part of a regional drive to save the country's farming season.

Last month the South African government established a task team -- 
comprising foreign affairs, finance and agriculture officials -- to help
with Zimbabwe's immediate needs. The team held meetings with key figures in
Zimbabwe's agriculture ministry -- agriculture secretary Ngoni Masoka,
Douglas Nyikayaramba, an army officer who heads an input allocation
programme, and Stuart Hargreaves, head of the country's veterinary services.

It is not only South Africa that is stepping in to save Zimbabwe. The
country's Agriculture Minister, Rugare Gumbo, confirmed this week that the
Southern African Development Community and the African Union have asked his
government to specify its needs for the farming season.

Brazil is also at hand to help. Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva,
who was in the region last week, sent Foreign Minister Celso Amorim to
Harare to hold discussions with Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara.
Amorim said Brazil had "pledged cooperation with a new government on areas
such as agriculture and energy". Investment would increase with a return to

Trevor Gifford of the Commercial Farmers' Union said the country has
produced maize seed to plant about 40 000ha, compared with the one million
hectares that should be put under maize to meet national needs.

As Zimbabwe's economy deteriorates, peasant farmers resettled on formerly
white land are being asked to pay up to US$40 for a 10kg bag of seed.

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Rhodes University students hold sit-in to support WOZA leaders

By Violet Gonda
30 October 2008

South African women's rights activists, feminists and students are stepping
up pressure on their government and parliamentarians to speak out about the
increasing repression in Zimbabwe. Women's groups in Johannesburg and Cape
Town coordinated solidarity actions in support of detained WOZA leaders
Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu.

Rhodes University students in Grahamstown held a half hour solidarity sit-in
on Thursday calling for the release of the outspoken Women of Zimbabwe Arise
pair and an end to human rights violations in Zimbabwe.

The action comes in the wake of growing activism by South African civil
rights groups. On Tuesday, women activists in Cape Town held a symbolic
march calling on their government to put pressure on the authorities in
Zimbabwe to release the WOZA leaders, and to provide access to food to all
Zimbabweans and to form a proper power sharing government.

Women's groups had gathered in Johannesburg also on Tuesday to mobilise
support for the detained WOZA leaders and also to condemn the rights abuses
taking place in Zimbabwe.

Sipho Mthathi from the Feminist Collective said: "We cannot watch while our
sisters are being unlawfully arrested by a regime that is playing a
duplicitous role because on the one hand the Mugabe regime is saying they
are negotiating and ceasing all hostilities to make sure that a new
government is in place and yet they continue to repress and deny people
freedom of expression."

WOZA accuses the judiciary in Zimbabwe of working in cohorts with the state
machinery by deliberately delaying a bail ruling of their leaders, who had
been unjustly detained during a peaceful protest. The pair have been in
prison since their detention on October 16th.

The SA women activists urged their president to play a role in intensifying
SADC pressure on Zimbabwean leaders to resolve the political stalemate and
said the silence of South African women parliamentarians and other women in
power, in the face of massive injustices and suffering particularly by
Zimbabwe women, is unacceptable.

SW Radio Africa Zimbabwe news

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Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe must remove cash withdrawal limits

HIV/AIDS, Human Rights and Law Project

30 October, 2008
The HIV/AIDS, human Rights and Law Project is gravely concerned with the
current cash crisis in Zimbabwe, especially as it relates to the issue of
access to health and in particular access to treatment for PLHIV in
Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has more than 321 000 people in need of ART and currently
only 100 000 people are able to access ART. The remaining 221 000 are forced
to either source personal funds to purchase anti retroviral drugs or are
condemned to the disastrous option of taking none at all. Yet even those
intent on and capable of purchasing medication have been faced with an
inordinate challenge of accessing their monies from the bank owing to the
cash limits that have been instituted by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. The
requirement that people who need to withdraw more of their money than the
cash limits thus prescribed should present prescriptions/invoices without
any further substantial confidentiality safeguards is mischievous and a
guile violation of the right to privacy of PLHIV. We would like to highlight
that adherence is a critical aspect of successful ART. Non adherence may
result in drug resistant HIV strains emerging among PLHIV.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR-
Article12) recognises the right to "the enjoyment of the highest attainable
standard of physical and mental health" as does Article 28 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and Article 16 of the African Charter on Human
and Peoples' Rights. More importantly health facilities, goods and services
must be accessible to everyone. In Zimbabwe accessibility also implies that
access to cash is (regrettably) an underlying determinant of the right to
health, but unfortunately for most Zimbabweans cash is not within safe
physical reach. Adequately understood in this context, the limit imposed by
the RBZ is a retrogressive measure incompatible with the core obligations
under the right to health. We call upon Dr Gono, the Reserve Bank Governor
to urgently address this issue with the urgency it deserves and lift the
limits imposed on cash withdrawals.

A Project of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

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ROHR activists released from police custody without charges....

Thursday, 30 October 2008 05:47

... After 3 alleged attempts by CIO operatives to abduct them during

Six ROHR Zimbabwe activists who were arrested on Monday 27 October 2008
after a peaceful protest we released last night without any charges. Mercy
Ncube, Simbarashe Sibanda, Joseph Mutizi, Adam Muchiriri, Tonderai Moyo and
Clever Nyoni spent a night at Harare Central police station only to be
released yesterday (28-10-08) at 2100hrs after numerous failed attempts by
our staff to identify and rescue them. Joshua Mwale, the seventh ROHR
activist was released the same day on Monday. Adam Muchiriri, who was
earlier on feared to be abducted, had actually been detained by police.

ROHR Zimbabwe only managed to confirm the names after their release. From
reliable information made available to our office, their detention was kept
secret by sympathetic officers who wanted to protect the detainees from the
Central Intelligence Organisation. An inspector from inside the station said
that the operatives from intelligence visited the station three times
between Monday and Tuesday morning looking for them and demanded their
handover to the CIO. The police told them that the activists had already
been released on Monday so as to dissuade them from continuing with the
hunt. On Tuesday afternoon ROHR Zimbabwe liaised the inspector to secure
their release. They were not beaten or tortured during detention, except for
Clever Nyoni who was beaten by police during his arrest.

This comes in the wake of  reports from our members and public that some
police officers also fell victim of Zanu PF violence on Monday. An eye
witness, a ROHR member who escaped from the Zanu PF headquarters at night
after an abduction on Monday, saw a police officer in uniform being beaten
inside the headquarters. She said he was  being accused of being sympathetic
to opposition activists and disregarding Zanu PF instructions. At the time
of writing this alert the police could not be reached to confirm if they
have a report of a missing officer.

ROHR Zimbabwe condemns all forms of violence, lawlessness, intimidation from
anyone, whether  law enforcement agencies,  political parties or private
citiznes. It is a gross violation of people's rights protected in the
constitution and international conventions such as Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR).

Tel: +263 4 744593

Mobiles: +263 912 426638, +263 912 713410

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Foreign currency shops join profiteering bandwagon

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Business Reporter

MOST consumers countrywide still prefer to purchase groceries from
neighbouring countries because of overcharging by businesses licensed to
sell goods and services in foreign currency, an official has said.
In an interview, the National Incomes and Pricing Commission chairman, Mr
Godwills Masimirembwa, said the commission was disappointed that some
businesses licensed under the Foreign Exchange Warehouse and Retail Shops
(FOLIWARS) programme had joined the bandwagon to profiteer instead of
supporting the Government's efforts of improving the economy.
"The Government has gone out of its way to license some shops to trade in
hard currency but the prices charged by shops are just unreasonable.
"While we understand that these shops cannot charge the same prices charged
where the goods are sourced, we have noted with concern that prices are
beyond profiteering and the reach of majority. That is why the majority of
people are still flocking outside the country to buy their groceries which
proves to be far much cheaper," he said.
Mr Masimirembwa said NIPC would monitor these shops to ensure that consumers
were not exploited.
The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe regional manager for Matabeleland, Mr
Comfort Muchekeza, said the council had made similar observations.
"The retailers selling in hard currency should know that they are competing
with neighbouring countries if they overcharge because as we are close to
the border, consumers would prefer facing hustles of travelling to buy where
it's cheaper rather than buying locally.
"These shops seem to be missing the idea behind trading in foreign currency,
that's why some shops are fully stocked because they are pushing away
customers in the way they price their goods. The foreign currency that is
supposed to circulate locally will continue to be taken to other countries,"
he said.
The RBZ introduced FOLIWARS last month to allow designated businesses to
sell their products in foreign currency to increase formal foreign currency
inflows in the country and increase supply of commodities and services in
the economy.

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Journalists Barred From Covering Talks

Media Institute of Southern Africa (Windhoek)

29 October 2008
Posted to the web 30 October 2008

Several journalists were barred from covering the SADC Troika-mediated talks
held in Harare on 27 October 2008 as part of efforts to break the impasse
over the allocation of ministerial positions in accordance with the terms of
an agreement for an inclusive government signed by the Zimbabwe African
National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the two Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC) formations.

Security details manning the entrance to the premises of the Rainbow Towers
Hotel, where the talks were being held, turned away a number of freelance
journalists who are not accredited with the statutory Media and Information
Commission (MIC) and demanded they produce MIC accreditation cards allowing
them to cover the event. Accreditation of journalists by the MIC is no
longer compulsory following the December 2007 amendments to the repressive
Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

Previously, on 15 and 16 October 2008, an official from the Ministry of
Information and Publicity approached Brian Hungwe and Peta Thortnycroft, who
freelance for foreign media organizations, and ordered them to leave the
hotel where they were mingling with other journalists who were maintaining a
vigil on the talks that were being facilitated by former South African
President Thabo Mbeki. The official reportedly told the journalists that he
was acting on instructions from his superiors.

MISA-Zimbabwe calls upon the Parliament of Zimbabwe to repeal the AIPPA as a
matter of urgency as it poses serious violations to media freedom and
freedom of expression and also violates the 2002 Banjul Declaration on the
Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa, which frowns upon statutory
regulation of the media as is the case in Zimbabwe under the MIC.

The Banjul Declaration states that self-regulation is the best system of
instilling professionalism in the media. MISA-Zimbabwe reiterates that
journalists have the professional mandate to cover and report on the
country's socio-economic and political developments as they unfold without
any hindrance.

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Zimbabwe Bishop Bakare receives prize for human rights work

By Matthew Davies, October 30, 2008
[Episcopal News Service] Bishop Sebastian Bakare of the Diocese of Harare,
Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, has been awarded Sweden's 2008 Per Anger prize
for his "committed work for human rights in a politically unstable

The Living History Forum -- known locally as Forum för Levande Historia -- 
has been commissioned by the Swedish government to award the prize in memory
of ambassador Per Anger, a Swedish diplomat who participated in efforts to
rescue Hungarian Jews from arrest and deportation by the Nazis during World
War II. The prize was first awarded in 2004 and is worth 150,000 kronor
(US$19,700 dollars). Bakare will participate in the prize-giving ceremony in
Stockholm on November 10.

Bakare replaced the controversial former bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga,
in December 2007, and has repeatedly spoken out against human rights
violations in his country and condemned the "brutality" of the
government-backed police who have persecuted and assaulted Anglicans in an
attempt to stop them from worshipping. Bakare is supported by the majority
of Zimbabwe's Anglicans and has been praised by Archbishop of Canterbury
Rowan Williams as "a deeply respected and courageous elder statesman of the
Zimbabwean Church."

The prize citation acknowledged that Bakare has "given voice to the fight
against oppression and for the freedom of speech and of opinion in a
difficult political situation, with courage and personal sacrifice."

A news release from the Living History Forum described Bakare as "an
incredibly important voice in the Zimbabwe of today," which is characterized
by a political and humanitarian crisis, record inflation and growing famine.
"Bakare has himself received threats as a result of his open and clear
criticism of the government, his condemnation of local police brutality and
his defense of human rights."

Eskil Frank, director of the Living History Forum, said the prize is awarded
to persons displaying great bravery and initiative and who have acted for no
personal gain and often at great personal risk. "With this award, we want to
inspire people to make a stand, to dare to contradict and to show moral
courage. Good role models are important," says Frank.

-- Matthew Davies is editor of Episcopal Life Online and Episcopal Life
Media correspondent for the Anglican Communion.

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Zimbabwe on slippery slope toward civil conflict


Last updated: 10/31/2008 15:31:34
THERE was a time, in the 1980s, when villages across Zimbabwe became hosts
to young men like Mukoma Zhuwawo. These were young men from Mozambique,
having crossed the border to eke out a living far from the raging war in
their homeland. They worked hard, these young men, tilling the land and
herding cattle.

There was a time, too, in the 1990s, when we received young men and women
who had travelled thousands of miles, hitch-hiking along the way, from the
genocide in Rwanda.

Some of them became good friends when they joined university. They were
decent young men and women who sought shelter and comfort in our home.

I remember speaking to our guests and asking about the conditions they had
left behind. Their stories weighed heavily on our hearts. They carried many
wounds of war - they had lost families and friends.

I remember wondering at the time whether we, too, could find ourselves in a
similar situation. At the time, that Zimbabwe could descend into absolute
poverty and utter chaos was far from the mind. It is not far anymore.

There has been a reversal of fortunes. The likes of Mukoma Tendai are now
foraging in the Mozambican hinterland, perhaps Mukoma Zhuwawo is now his
host. Young Zimbabweans are paying the last penny; they are using the last
of their energies to cross borders into Botswana, South Africa and thousands
of miles away into Britain, Australia, USA, etc.

But what are the chances that Zimbabwe could also descend into civil
conflict, the type that made young men and women run from their homes in
Rwanda, Somalia, Mozambique and the DRC into Zimbabwe?

The possibility is certainly no longer far-fetched. There are already
situations we thought we could never have. I remember the wild laughs when
visitors from Zambia in the late eighties brought the worthless Zambian
Kwacha. Yet it never quite fell to the depths that the Zimbabwe Dollar has

At this rate, that Zimbabwe could descend into civil conflict is therefore
not beyond imagination. It is no longer something to be easily dismissed.
There are number of reasons why the situation may deteriorate to the state
of conflict:

Political Failure: Zimbabwe has failed and continues to fail to find a
political solution to its problems. Normally, questions of leadership are
decided through elections. This has, so far, not worked in Zimbabwe.

The other option, as we saw in Kenya earlier this year, is to submit to a
negotiated settlement. This has not worked either and holds little prospects
of success.

When politics fails and when politicians fail, this creates opportunities
for military strongmen to take power. This will not allay fears of conflict;
it will only heighten them.

Desperation: With political failure comes desperation and desperation causes
people to think of crazy things. Desperate men develop very dangerous minds,
especially when coupled with poverty and a paucity of options for survival.

Zimbabwe is reaching, if not so already, the Hobbesian state of nature where
life is 'nasty, brutish and short'. In this kind of world it is only the
fittest who survive by virtue of force.

Big Men and Lords of War: Beyond and, indeed, within the large political
party structure, the Zimbabwean political landscape is characterised by deep
cracks along regional and tribal lines. This is an often understated reality
but only because it is an inconvenient reality. Zanu PF's unity, or what
appears on the surface, is driven by the common desire to retain power and
the mutual benefits accruing to rival factions. If the equilibrium that
sustains the mutual interests shifts, there is likely to be chaos between
the rivals.

For its part, the MDC (already divided since 2005) is united only by a
common desire to drive out Zanu PF from power, perhaps less so by any common
vision or ideology that would withstand the challenges of a post-Mugabe era.
The different factional conflicts, which simmer under the surface like a
volcano, could erupt at any time.

When it all breaks down, the Big Men, especially within or connected to the
military who have their spheres of influence could easily mobilise
impressionable and desperate young men to engage in a free-for-all brawl.
There is a huge reserve of unemployed young people, the type that Frantz
Fanon referred to as the Lumpen Proletariat which is vulnerable to
manipulation and easily led.

Militarisation of Society: Violence has always been employed by the powerful
to suppress the largely pliant majority of ordinary people. There is a
growing pool of desperate young men who in their crucial teenage years who
have been led to believe that violence is a perfectly legitimate way of
resolving disputes. The then burgeoning middle class of the nineties has
been severely eroded and in its place is the growing Lumpen Proletariat.
They have very little to lose; nothing but their lives to protect and when
it comes to the worst, who knows what risks they could take?

Add to this the large numbers of Youth Militias, better known as the Border
Gezi Youths or Green Bombers, after their olive green garb, who have been
indoctrinated in the virtues of the fist. They have killed, raped and
assaulted at will without fear of the law's enforcement. Then there is also
the growing number of deserters from the military, as recently reported in
parts of the media. These are poor young men who know how to use arms; they
are desperate and who knows what they might do if they got hold of arms?

An unhealed nation: Zimbabwe has experienced a tumultuous history since it
was founded as the colony of Southern Rhodesia in 1890. The culture of
violence and impunity did not commence in the Zanu PF - MDC era as is often
presented. Right through the violence of the colonial era, the bloodshed of
the liberation war in the 1970s, to the unmitigated atrocities in
Matabeleland during the 1980s, Zimbabweans have endured pain, loss and
suffering. There are divisions and suspicions along the fault lines of race,
tribe and class. The nation has not healed.

The post-2000 violence has undoubtedly received greater coverage and
intensified the hostilities. People naturally want to account for what
happened; they want justice and accountability in order to have closure. If
there is no proper system in place, people could easily resort to chaos,
where they take the law into their own hands, with devastating results. All
these episodes in the history of the nation are festering wounds and chances
are that they will burst, and when they do, it will not be a pretty sight.

We Zimbabweans have long thought of ourselves as a sophisticated nation. We
got independence late in the day, long after our African counterparts had
experienced the political and economic demise of the post-colonial period.
We had our sunshine years when dark clouds hung over most of Africa. We
never thought we would get to their sorry state. But they have moved on;
they are moving on and we are where they were in their dark days, only

If we still think civil conflict is unimaginable in Zimbabwe, perhaps it is
time to wake up and smell the coffee. There are too many factors building up
to create a very dangerous situation, largely because politics and
politicians seem to be failing.

Now after the failure of the SADC Troika, we have to wait for the SADC
Summit. The question is: what if that, too, fails? But even if it does
succeed, there is little evidence of good faith and political will on the
part of politicians to make things work. No amount of beautiful clauses, not
even control of 'key ministries' will transform Zimbabwe's fortunes unless
the politicians invest sufficient trust, confidence in each other and act in
good faith. Things could get much worse. Politicians have the responsibility
to halt the slide on the slippery slope toward civil conflict.

Alex Magaisa is based at Kent Law School, The University of Kent. He can be
contacted at

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Mad Bob won't change his spots


      Rich Mkhondo
    October 30 2008 at 02:21PM

Used well, democracy guarantees peace, liberty and prosperity. Used
arrogantly and wrongly, democracy can be dangerous and backfire to become a
handmaiden of the worst kind of dictatorship. This is what we are seeing in
neighbouring Zimbabwe today.

Testimonies to the flagrant disregard of the principles of democracy
by Robert Gabriel Mugabe, president and persecutor of Zimbabwe, have been
catalogued in atlases and history books.

President Mugabe is an example of how a single twerp can cause
instability around an entire region and get away with it.

His people are starving and dying, his country has no functioning
economy or government. What does he say to his people and fellow leaders on
the continent and around the world? Burn with your hatred of Zimbabwe.

For me, insistence on a government of national unity (GNU) in Zimbabwe
is making a mockery of any democratic process.

In a region not known for its improving democratic processes or
governance, the declarations that Mugabe's election was legitimate are only
symptoms of a larger malady.

The nations that are willing to overlook the obviously flawed
electoral process in Zimbabwe have little credibility left on the subject of
democracy and legitimate governance.

Everything was there for everyone to see. The illegitimacy of Uncle
Bob's re-election could be traced to long before polling day last March.

Let us recap: Thousands of arrests and about 100 politically motivated
assassinations marked the months leading up to the election, as Mugabe
sought to consolidate his power and prevent any truly organised opposition
from functioning.

New legislation prevented opposition political rallies and private
voter education, and independent journalists were intimidated and driven
from the country.

Everybody knows that President Mugabe has sacrificed economic wisdom
for political expediency in his desperate quest to stay in power through a
government of national unity.

Any insistence on a GNU is not only a blow for the country; but it
also dashes confidence in elections for the whole SADC region and our

After the forced government of national unity in Kenya, and now
possibly in Zimbabwe, elections in Africa may become a farce with losers
refusing to relinquish power in exchange for a power-sharing deal or GNU.

Zimbabwe's power-sharing will not work because the strongman refuses
to release or share control of the state's security forces and other key
levers of power.

His intransigence comes as no surprise. After three decades of
tyrannical rule that transformed one of Africa's most promising economies
into a disaster zone in which the annual inflation rate runs at millions, at
least a third of the population has fled the country and its 95 percent

Under the terms of the deal, which is supposed to end the debate about
Mugabe's brazen theft of the recent presidential election and several others
before this one, his party is supposed to control 15 ministries,
Tsvangirai's MDC 13 and a splinter opposition party three.

The mistake our former president Thabo Mbeki made was that he did not
specify to the Zimbabwean leaders how the powers were to be divided between
Mugabe, who retains the role of president, and Tsvangirai, who becomes prime

So why are we surprised that negotiations for the composition of a
government of national unity have been bogged down because the strongman
insists on retaining authority over both the powerful security and
information portfolios in the new cabinet?

Those are the same tools that the autocrat has used to intimidate the
general populace, brutalise political opponents and maintain his iron grip
on power.

If any power-sharing or credible government of national unity is to be
successful, it is essential that Tsvangirai gains control of either the army
or the police, preferably the latter. That would help quell the violence
that has killed hundreds and driven tens of thousands from their homes.

It would also enable relief workers to start delivering food to the
estimated 2-million Zimbabweans who are in danger of starvation - a number
that is expected to more than double by the end of the year.

One of the most important challenges facing Mugabe's successor will be
to reverse the disastrous agricultural policies that seized the country's
white-owned corporate farms and handed them over to Mugabe's cronies.

Those policies transformed Zimbabwe from being Southern Africa's
breadbasket into a land of famine and desperation within the course of a

Mugabe will not yield control of the army. Even if he did, his
generals would not submit to Tsvangirai's authority, despite his pledge that
they will not face criminal charges for the murder, rape and torture of
Mugabe's political opponents.

But an agreement to give Tsvangirai control over the police and to
order the army to steer clear of domestic politics would be a major

So why are our former president and our leaders within the 14-nation
Southern Africa Development Community tolerating Uncle Bob's antics?

The answer is that they are beholden to the dynamics of international
relations, which state that despite President Mugabe's erosion of state
sovereignty, they still have to respect the internal and external
sovereignty of their neighbour.

Therefore, military intervention, armed conflict, cross-border raids,
propaganda, isolation, severe economic sanctions, coercion and the violent
removal of Uncle Bob and his cohorts are the only remaining options.

All members of the Southern African Development Community have armies.
Why are we paying for these armies if not to use them in times of need?

The need is now. The SADC must please send a force in to remove him
from power and install a caretaker government excluding all the current
politicians to prepare for fresh elections.

President Mugabe has contravened every single principle and value that
decent people should believe in. Ridding the world of Uncle Bob would be an
act of humanity.

For me, it is leaving him in power as the leader of a purported
government of national unity or power-sharing arrangement that is inhumane.

Yes, there are consequences to removing him by force. If he is removed
by force, people will die. But every region, every country, should be
prepared to live with the consequences of an armed invasion, even the
unintended ones.

A government of national unity in Zimbabwe will be a damp squib.

Either President Mugabe must be forced to go peacefully, or once and
for all, through bloodshed.

*Rich Mkhondo, writer, author and former editor and foreign
correspondent, is an independent marketing communications and public
relations strategist.

This article was originally published on page 18 of The Star on
October 30, 2008

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Ongoing repression shows Mugabe not sincere

30 October 2008

By Fortune Tazvida

Ongoing state sponsored repression is a clear indicator Zimbabwe's power
sharing accord is doomed from the start and President Robert Mugabe lacks
the sincerity to make it work. WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga
Mahlangu are still in police custody 12 days after embarking on a peaceful

This week 47 women from the Women's Coalition were arrested before being
released by an embarassingly partisan police force. Another 7 activists from
the Restoration of Human Rights in Zimbabwe pressure group were arrested on
Monday during their own demo against the delay in forming a government.

In other reports the CIO are said to have taken over the weekend burial of
murdered Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) official Ignatius Mushangwe.
Instead of the burial taking place at Granville Cemetary in Harare as
initialy stated on the burial order, CIO agents moved the body from his
Waterfalls home and took it to Mukumba Village in Chihota for burial.

Information trickling through is that Mushangwe was assassinated by members
of the military intelligence led by a Sergeant Makwande. Mushangwe is
alleged to have exposed information on how the Mugabe regime planned to rig
the June 27 presidential run-off this year by printing surplus ballot

Analysts say events this week alone show that Mugabe has no intention of
sharing power. In taking part in the SADC talks aimed at breaking the
cabinet deadlock, he is simply buying time for the next outrageous move.

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Mugabe's Zimbabwe

demonstration_mugabeHarrare, Zimbabwe. The 1000 bed Parirenyatwa teaching hospital, in the capital city Harare in Zimbabwe, once a showpiece with the best equipment, teaching and treatment available is now a filthy, crumbling shell and practically empty under the dictator Robert Mugabe's rule.

The handful of doctors and nurses who have not fled the country are unable to treat patients as there are almost no drugs, bandages or working equipment and no food. Patients who do make it to the hospital have to pay in wads of cash before they can be treated and even then without the medication or equipment, many who should have lived just die.

A patient is given a list of supplies needed to be purchased from a pharmacy, before returning to the hospital for treatment. Pharmacies however are also short of supplies and the costs staggering. Special clearance from the Reserve Bank is required as the cost runs into millions of Zimbabwe dollars. Even if one has the money the delay in actually obtaining the cash could, and in many cases does, cause the unnecessary death of loved ones.

Due to the hyperinflation in Zimbabwe, shops that have to buy their stocks using foreign currency are now refusing to accept the local currency. Shops too are no longer accepting checks or debit cards as they take too long to clear. Credit cards are not accepted anywhere. Most people don't have access to foreign currency such as the US dollar or the South African rand, now demanded by most shops. So even if one has the money, they cannot buy any food. The only place food is available for local currency is from a street vendor.

Shopkeepers say they do not know how to mark up goods as the Zimbabwe dollar is worthless. It is too difficult to sell in local currency as the rate changes by the hour. All goods except meat and most vegetables are imported from South Africa. These goods are subject to a 75% government tax, payable only in foreign currency, making basic items four to five times more expensive than in South Africa even with a low mark up.

Zimbabwe, which was once the bread basket of southern Africa, able to totally feed itself and its neighbors, is now a basket case. Life has become impossible for ordinary Zimbabweans. Hyperinflation is driven by the central bank creating more money to fund the government's activities. At independence in 1980, the Zimbabwe dollar was worth more than the US dollar, but Robert Mugabe's regime has destroyed the economy with the slide accelerating in recent years, months and weeks. It is now a valueless currency said independent economist John Robertson.

The aid agencies, banned from operating in Zimbabwe for three months by Robert Mugabe during the violent election period have now been allowed back. However they are struggling to feed even a tiny fraction of the people in need. Aid workers are frequently stopped at road blocks, harassed by police and part of the food donated for the starving people stolen. Children are dying from malnutrition; people have resorted to eating rats, grubs, leaves and berries. The tragedy of Zimbabwe is unbelievable and yet while his people suffer Robert Mugabe, who has a history of outmaneuvering his political opponents, continues to exploit events to his own advantage. The so called power sharing agreement signed with the opposition some months ago still has not been implemented. It's time the world sat up and did something.

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From frying pot into fire- Zimbabwean immigrants face harsh realities in Musina

Thursday, 30 October 2008 13:01

The Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF) is appalled by the treatment and arbitrary
arrest of Zimbabwean immigrants in Musina, the majority of who are fleeing
torture and persecution and are genuinely seeking asylum and peace in South
Africa. These victims of human rights abuses face insurmountable challenges,
from lack of access to the Refugee Reception Office for service, to being
kicked out of places of safety where they would have sought refuge by
intolerant local authorities. Their only option is to stay within the show
grounds where the Reception Offices are. Here there is no shelter from the
harsh Musina weather, with only a few toilets to cater for hundreds of
applicants, many of them unaccompanied minors, women and children. If they
try to leave, they risk being detained and deported, if not, they are
abducted, robbed and assaulted by the ever lurking magumaguma (robbers) or
malayitshas (human traffickers) who take anything and everything.

During a 3-day mission to the Zimbabwe-South Africa border on the 15th of
October, the ZEF team visited the show grounds where the asylum seekers are
staying. ZEF was alarmed by the level of suffering the applicants were
experiencing, amongst them hordes of women and children. There are hundreds
of asylum seekers cramped into the little spaces where there is shelter from
the sun and the rain, huddled together for protection. These brothers and
sisters are hungry and scared, and there seems to be no one to hear their

Upon being interviewed, most of the applicants alleged that they were
exposed to all sorts of challenges, among them lack of access to legalise
their stay, exploitation and intimidation by officials, being chased from
places of safety such as churches, as well as in some instances experiencing
abductions, rape and assault. There were also reports that minors were
detained with adult detainees under inhumane conditions in the Detention
Centre at the Musina Army Base or at the police station. ZEF also received
confirmation of these incidents from local humanitarian organisations
operating in Musina. It is unbearably hot in Musina (38 degrees Celsius) and
the detainees are made to sit on the floor, in a warehouse building with no
air conditioning. The roof of the detention centre is of corrugated iron,
which makes the heat inside the building intolerable.

From the migrants ZEF interviewed, it is clear that the majority fled from
Zimbabwe fearing for their lives either because of starvation or political
intolerance. As such, these people deserve fair treatment in line with
universally accepted refugee principles to which South Africa is a party. It
is no secret that gross human rights violations are still ongoing in
Zimbabwe, despite the so-called deal between the major political parties.
Instead, the asylum seekers are subjected to all forms of harassment and
labelled economic refugees.

The unfair treatment and inhumane conditions to which asylum seekers from
Zimbabwe are subjected to are in contravention of universal human rights
norms and principles to which South Africa is party. Breaches of this nature
seem to be carried out irrespective of whether these men, women and children
are genuine asylum seekers or not, the determination of which can only be
made after a transparent, victim friendly process, in respect of the South
African Refugee Act and Constitution.

In this regard, ZEF is appealing to the South African Government, Local and
provincial authorities and the reception office to address the needs of
migrants in Musina. The urgent needs are food, security, shelter and medical
assistance. It further appeals to the responsible authorities to allow
humanitarian and other service organisations to offer such assistance
without fear of retribution. ZEF believes that a partnership between
authorities and these organisations would go a long way in alleviating the
suffering of the already traumatised migrants. Lastly, ZEF appeals to all
humanitarian organisations, churches and well wishers to help the asylum
seekers who are in such dire need, not only in Musina but all over South
Africa and the Diaspora at large. It is no secret that unaccompanied minors,
women and children are bearing the brunt of this suffering.

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Clock Ticking for Zimbabwe Bearer Checks

zimbabwe bank notes, five hundred million dollar bank note By Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News
October 30, 2008
zimbabwe bank notes, five hundred million dollar bank note

Zimbabwe's currency system remains in chaos despite the Aug. 1 currency reform that lobbed 10 zeroes off the old bank notes. The problem is now in calculating what is worth what.

Right now the system consists of circulating older bank notes in which 10,000,000,000 of the previous Zimbabwe dollars are now worth 1 new Zimbabwe dollar, bearer checks issued under the previous currency system that expire on Dec. 31, and a mix of recently released coins dated 2003 and older coins that had been previously ignored as having no purchasing power.

The greatest hurdle the new system will soon have to face is the $5 million Zimbabwe denominated bearer checks that expire Dec. 31. Issued May 2, at the time of issue these are the highest denomination ever issued by the beleaguered African nation. The front of these checks depicts the heraldry of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and a geometric design. The reverse vignette depicts a tigerfish as well as the Kariba Dam and reservoir on the Zambezi River.

Inflation has not subsided despite Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe's attempts to virtually outlaw inflation. The expiration date on the bearer checks encourages people to spend the notes faster, thus furthering inflation due to the higher velocity of money in circulation. The reason bearer checks were issued was to control inflation by limiting the ever growing money supply. This is a similar strategy to that used unsuccessfully in post-World War I Germany during Germany's period of hyperinflation. Zimbabwe's inflation rate has recently exceeded 1 million percent annually. By the date of the bearer checks expiration it is difficult to determine for what value the checks will really be redeemed.

Adding to the mix is a 2007-dated Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe $5 bank note on which the Chiremba balancing rock formation appears in a vignette on the front, with the Kariba Dam and reservoir as well as an elephant appear in a vignette on the back. Despite recent attempts by the European Union to block Zimbabwe's attempts to print new bank notes the Zimbabwe government had these $5 notes produced, likely in anticipation of the EU's efforts.

The $5 bank notes valued at current currency rates are likely not that confusing, however the coinage that has been released is another story. Coins dated 1997 to 1999 in denominations of 1, 5, and 10 cents had been previously ignored by the public due to the low purchasing power of the coins. Many of these coins had been scrapped by the public for their metallic value. Now these coins have re-entered the currency system  valued at full face value in the new currency. This is exactly what the Soviet Union did when its currency was re-denominated in 1947 and in 1961. New coins were also issued during 1961.

In addition the Zimbabwe government has issued $10 and $25 face value coins dated 2003 that had not been previously released. Each of these coins depicts the ancient stone Zimbabwe bird on the obverse. The $25 coin, which replaces a $250 million bank note, depicts a group of soldiers on the reverse. The $10 coin that replaces a $100 million bank note depicts the head of a water buffalo on the reverse. Both bank notes are still in use as well. Incidentally the 10-cent coin features a baobab tree, the 5-cent coin depicts a rabbit, and the 1-cent coin depicts the denomination numeral.

Looking at it another way, the newly released coins have increased in value 10 trillion times!

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Review: Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 24/10/2008

Tim Butcher is impressed by the scale of a correspondent's penetrating analysis of the grief and glory of Africa

It is a well-worn path for foreign correspondents covering Africa that after a couple of years they feel empowered to knock off a "whither Africa" book. They open with what editors call a soft, colour intro - a description of an adventurous journey or darkly spiritual scene, as if to establish their I-know-Africa credentials - and then they dissolve into a cut-and-paste history followed by some preaching. Richard Dowden was a foreign correspondent in Africa but his new book completely breaks this stereotype.

At one level, it is a masterly overview of the world's most troubled continent. He takes us to Somalia and its denizens - "very quarrelsome people", as, Dowden tells us, they were astutely described by the first Chinese explorers to reach Africa in the 15th century. He is particularly good on the continent's long-established links with China and the parallel with today's African asset grab by the insatiable Chinese economy.

From the dusty Horn of Africa, Dowden takes us on a journey through history and geography through the steamy forests of the Congo River basin, where warring factions replicate like bacteria in a petri dish, and we find the abandoned palaces of that king kleptocrat, Mobutu Sese Seko; the drug-fuelled chaos of war in Sierra Leone and Liberia; the vibrantly corrupt megalopolis of Lagos in Nigeria; the morally topsy-turvy world of Angola's civil war, where US-backed rebels attacked US oil installations protected by Cuban revolutionaries; the growing madness of Robert Mugabe as he truculently turned Zimbabwe from Africa's breadbasket to its basket-case.

The continent's worst friction points of recent years are all covered and it's all bang up to date. It even includes a convincing account of why Kenya, complacently viewed as one of Africa's saner countries, exploded into violence just a few months ago. The depth of Dowden's knowledge and connection with his subject is hugely impressive.

His personal understanding of Mugabe, for example, dates back to the late 1970s, when they first met in the dingy basement of a Notting Hill flat. It was winter and Mugabe huddled in an overcoat several sizes too big, plotting how to beat off rivals for the leadership of Zanu PF. Mugabe has been plotting ever since.

For many years, Dowden covered the continent for the Independent and the Times, and I can almost hear the groans from his old sub-editors when he gets some key dates wrong, but the occasional chronological glitch can be forgiven in light of the astuteness and economy of his analysis overall.

This is how he categorises the differing international attitudes to Africa: "where the French see international status and the British see an object of charity, the Chinese see a business opportunity. The Americans, it appears, see Africa as a threat."

On a more personal level this is the story of Dowden's love for the continent, first kindled in 1971, when he arrived in Uganda as a teacher. It continues to this day as he heads the Royal African Society in London. That love makes this book soar.

"If some catastrophe destroyed my home in Britain I know where I would want to be; here in Africa. New ideas and new ways may not always be welcome but people always are. The stranger is greeted and fed. Here I would survive," he writes, without a scintilla of insincerity.

It is a brave journalist who confesses to losing the ability to do his job but Dowden admits that he was twice too overwhelmed to write, where images stormed his mind and he struggled for focus. The first was during the Rwandan genocide, when he stood by a river so full of bloated corpses it looked like a poisoned fish farm.

The second was when he witnessed how Aids is hollowing out the beautiful rural hinterland of South Africa, the land described by Alan Paton as "lovely beyond any singing of it", leaving a community of orphaned children and heartbroken grandparents.

This is non-fiction writing at its most authentic - where the author has true conviction, a connection so deep with the subject that it even allows him to admit flaws. Indeed, the 553-page book begins with an admission that trying to categorise Africa is in many ways a fool's errand. "Every time you say 'Africa is…' the words crumble and break. From every generalisation you must exclude at least five countries… Africa is full of surprises."

But I, for one, am grateful he did not give up. Dowden's love affair with Africa is so authentic that you can feel his sense of occasional exasperation, regular bafflement but permanent excitement.
Book Review
Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles They do things differently thereRichard Dowden
Portobello, 576pp, £25,
Patrick Marnham
Wednesday, 29th October 2008

Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, by Richard Dowden

Out of Africa always something new in armchair solutions, with the eternal certainty that none will work. Colonialism? Bad. Decolonisation? Disastrous. Neo-colonialism? Wicked. Bob Geldof? Er, no. So, leave the place alone and its bonjour Mugabe, or worse.

For well-wishers from the north it has been a slow learning-curve. Colonialism was designed by Whitehall mandarins and old Wykhamists who knew what was best for the natives. Settlers were sent in to grow food and extract minerals and generally bring the place forward. The settlers managed to grow a vast amount of food, although they needed rather a lot of land to do so profitably, which left the natives feeling restless. When the colonies became expensive they were abandoned and decolonisation was designed by a new generation of mandarins who also knew what was best for the natives. The Punch humorist, Pont, summarised both situations:

The most disturbing nightmare

Which haunts each White Man’s son

Is: ‘If there had been no White Men

What would the Blacks have done?’

Nearly 50 years ago the Colonial Office hauled down the Union Jack and lined the natives up beneath brand new flags telling them that henceforth they belonged to nations they had never heard of. These uneasy national arrangements replaced the tribal regions of old, and tribalism was recategorised as a colonial invention. The word ‘tribe’ did not appear in the index of the Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Africa (1981). It had been abolished by massed ranks of tenured experts from SOAS, the LSE and the International Disaster Institute. The Encyclopaedia’s entry on newly independent Zimbabwe refers to President Mugabe’s ‘avowedly conciliatory stance’. How very perceptive. (This was just a few months before Mugabe sent his 5th Brigade into Matabele land, where its Shona officers arranged to massacre 25,000 of their fellow citizens.) In a Cultural Atlas of Africa, also published in 1981, in Oxford, tribalism was described as ‘a prejudicial term’. In its place over 1,000 African languages were listed. The same po-faced nonsense lives on today and has infected the Oxford English Dictionary, whose Compact edition (2008) solemnly warns readers that ‘the word tribe can cause offence’ if used about a living community.

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New Book: Soldier Blue by Paul Williams

 <> Soldier Blue by Paul Williams

A brilliant, captivating and deeply moving coming-of-age memoir set against
the backdrop of the Rhodesian bush war of the 1970's. Paul William's writing
sparkles with wit, irony and pathos as he explores the appalling truths of
the battlefield, and the fragile world of romantic love.

Visit the website:

Contact the author: Paul Williams  -

Product details

*   Paperback: 410 pages

*   Publisher: David Phillips Publishers (1 Jul 2008)

*   Language English

*   ISBN-10: 086854714X

*   ISBN-13: 978-0868547145

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