- Farmers first, then
business, who next?
In what it claims is a crackdown on
corruption, the Zimbabwean government has
taken its terror campaign a step further by
turning on business leaders at possibly the
worst time for the country's economy
DONNA BLOCK reports
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe's
government is now targeting top
Zimbabwean businesspeople who are
independent of the ruling Zanu-PF party as land
invasions and violence against farmers and
opposition supporters continue.
The head of Zimbabwe's third-largest company, Strive Masiyiwa, is now
pondering his future surrounded by bodyguards in London after being warned by
sympathetic security police that his life could be in danger if he returned to
Masiyiwa, CEO of Econet, the largest cellular provider in the country, believes
one of the reasons he is under threat from the government is that subscribers to
his network circulated slogans supporting the opposition during Zimbabwe's
referendum earlier this year.
Nigel Chinakara, the CEO of Kingdom Financial Holdings Limited and a member
of Econet's board, was detained for two days last week.
Another prominent businessman, Gordon Christie, the director of Tauya Coach
Services, was arrested last month for allegedly stealing diesel for his buses.
Christie, who denies the charges, is a prominent supporter of the opposition
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
In February, Christie had his buses adorned with pro-MDC stickers, but he
removed it after suspected Zanu-PF militants torched one of his vehicles.
In recent weeks, police have arrested four top executives of Innscor (Pty) Ltd, a
restaurant group, for allegedly smuggling $118 000 in hard currency out of the
country over three years. The men deny the charges.
Zimbabwe government insiders suggest the explanation for the arrests is
Mugabe's suspicions that Innscor's owners and managers sympathise with the
More than a dozen other independent businessmen have also recently been
detained on dubious corruption charges, hauled before courts and then freed.
Indian businessmen in Bulawayo are now living in fear of their lives following the
distribution of a pamphlet urging the forcible seizure of their property and the
expulsion of their community -- Idi Amin-style -- from Zimbabwe.
Other prominent Zimbabwean businesspeople have been accused of conspiring
to destabilise the economy. Those who have had talks with the opposition MDC,
or who have made donations to the group, told the Mail & Guardian that they
have received anonymous phone calls telling them to back off from politics or
face unspecified consequences. Some have been threatened with death.
The government claims the arrests of businesspeople is a crackdown on
corruption, but well-placed observers in Zimbabwe say the government is trying
to cut off all financial support for the MDC. Financial support has been the
missing link for the opposition and the main reason why there has not been a
serious opposition threat to Zanu-PF in the past.
Meanwhile, a number of white farmers
are considering decamping to
Mozambique, which is seeking their
The government's campaign against the
country's top independent
businesspeople started in February after
Mugabe was defeated in the
referendum to adopt a new Constitution
that would have given him sweeping
The "No" vote handed Mugabe his first
electoral defeat in 20 years. Furious at
the rejection, he unleashed the
campaign, first against white farmers
and then opposition supporters.
The harassment of Zimbabwe's
business community could not come at
a worse time for the country. The
economy is in a desperate state, with
unemployment at more than 50%, an
acute shortage of foreign exchange, manufacturing output at its lowest level in 15
years, interest rates at more than 60%, and a crippling shortage of fuel. The
country is also in danger of defaulting on its debt.
The businesses being targeted are among the few providers of sustainable and
new employment opportunities.
Mugabe believes Masiyiwa had a role in his defeat because his network carried
most of the traffic of a simple six-word message that was transmitted from
cellphone to cellphone across Zimbabwe hundreds of thousands of times. All it
said was: "No fuel No forex Vote No."
"You can say my latest troubles go back to those messages," Masiyiwa told the
M&G. "In fact, everything the president has said and done in recent weeks
reflects the impact of that referendum.
"The whole thing started with just 50 messages. It was probably started by
teenagers," says Masiyiwa, pointing out that youngsters are the biggest users of
the free short-message service.
Within days, the number of people receiving the message multiplied as
subscribers passed it on around the country. "It was a deluge," said Masiyiwa.
Realising that there could be severe political implications, he says he immediately
called an investigation to ensure that none of his staff were behind the wave. He
ordered overnight billing and system diagnostics records. He discovered the
messages originated from subscribers themselves.
But Mugabe took a different view. According to newspaper reports and
government insiders, Mugabe accused Masiyiwa of being behind the message
campaign -- a charge fuelled by the fact that Econet is the only cellphone
company with no ties to the government.
Masiyiwa says: "Making me responsible for the messages sent on my network is
like holding me responsible for the contents of private conversations. I was told
that the president was so angry that he actually said I should be eliminated."
The government denies that the president made any such comment.
Army set up farm occupations, says insider
Revelations by senior Zanu-PF officials provide fresh evidence that
Zimbabwe's land occupations were organised at the highest levels of
By CHRIS MCGREAL in Harare
THE occupation of hundreds of white-owned farms in Zimbabwe was
organised by senior military officers, including the former commander of
the notorious Fifth Brigade which carried out atrocities in Matabeleland in
the mid-80s, according to senior sources in the ruling party.
On Wednesday, President Robert Mugabe denied prior knowledge of the land
seizures by self-styled "war veterans" and thousands of poor black people,
although he said the government welcomed and supported the occupations.
But according to senior officials of the ruling Zanu-PF party, who are unhappy
about the destabilising impact of the land crisis on Zimbabwe, the farm seizures
were ordered by the party's politburo and coordinated by the military.
The revelations provide fresh evidence that the land occupations were organised
at the highest levels and give the lie to President Mugabe's claim that the seizures
were a spontaneous outburst by desperate landless blacks. Zanu-PF leaders
hammered out the strategy at a meeting in February in the wake of the
government's politically devastating defeat in the national referendum on
"No one trusted the war veterans to
organise it on the scale the leadership
was thinking of," said one senior party
source. "They thought the veterans
would just loot the farm houses and go
home so the army was brought in to
make sure they got onto the farms and
stayed there. So they called in the
military men who know how to do
these things. The soldiers were also a
restraining force, to make sure it only
went so far. They didn't want it getting
out of hand."
The occupations were coordinated by
General Perence Shiri and retired
Brigadier Ben Matanga. Gen Shiri
formerly commanded the Fifth Brigade,
widely held responsible for the
massacre of tens of thousands of
people while putting down an uprising in
Matabeleland between 1982 and 1987.
Gen Shiri is now head of Zimbabwe's
air force, which has been flying the war
veterans' leader, Chenjerai Hunzvi,
between farms in a helicopter.
The party officials say the military
deployed at least 1 000 soldiers and air
force personnel - and possibly twice
that number - to lead the occupations.
The troops were ordered to wear
civilian clothes and some were issued
with army weapons, including
Kalashnikovs. But the officials deny
there was any intention to kill despite
the murder of two white farmers during
The military also provided food and
transport to move the "war veterans"
and others between farms. The army worked in coordination with Zimbabwe's
Central Intelligence Organisation, which actively recruited war veterans and other
people to occupy land. Zanu-PF provided the cash to pay the veterans.
When the occupations first began three months ago, the farmers and their union
noted the evident coordination of the land seizures across large parts of
Zimbabwe. The army's involvement explains why there were so many young
faces among supposed "veterans" of a war which ended 20 years ago, how
armed groups were able to move around relatively swiftly, and why some were
carrying guns only issued to the military and police.
The Zanu-PF official claimed the farm occupations were partly motivated by a
genuine anger within the party at the open support given by some white farmers
and businessmen to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which
spearheaded the government's defeat in the referendum.
"You must not underestimate the anger at the farmers who support the MDC, so
it was a logical step to make land the issue. Once that is decided, then of course
the state will use all the means at its disposal," he said.
The army spokesman, Colonel Chancellor Diye, denied the military's involvement
in the land occupations. "The ministry of defence wishes to reiterate that the
Zimbabwe Defence Force is a professional force guided by the established roles
and functions as provided for in the statutes and regulations," he said.
But the defence minister, Moven Mahachi, was more circumspect. "We don't
oppose the invasions because the army also wants land and this has been brought
to my attention but what we don't want is anarchy," he said.
Zimbabwe's military chiefs have barely bothered to hide their role in meetings with
white farmers union leaders.
The head of Zimbabwe's army, Vitalis Zvinavashe, and the head of the Central
Intelligence Organisation, retired colonel Happison Bonongwe, paid separate
visits to the president of the Commercial Farmers Union, Tim Henwood, on
consecutive days a month ago. The CFU represents almost all the 4 000 white
farmers in Zimbabwe.
Each time the message was the same; that the farmers had made a "fatal mistake"
in supporting the opposition and that unless they backed away from politics
"retaliation will be massive", according to a source close to the meeting. Gen Shiri
also met CFU officials to convey a similar message.
As the land crisis has worsened, Mugabe has increasingly fallen back on military
rhetoric to justify his government's backing for the land seizures and the political
row it has sparked with Britain. He portrays the land issue as a continuation of the
liberation war, and threatens to fight anyone who resists.
- Zim police raid churches, round up displaced
21 July 2005 04:25
Police raided church halls in Zimbabwe's second city of Bulawayo, rounding up people who had been sheltering there since their homes were destroyed in a so-called urban renewal drive, a human rights lawyer said on Thursday.
Wednesday's raids came just days before the release of a United Nations report on Zimbabwe's controversial Operation Murambatsvina.
On Thursday, some of the hundreds of thousands left homeless were allowed to return to the demolished township of Hatcliffe, on the northern outskirts of the capital, Harare, state media reported.
Police have torched and bulldozed townships, informal markets and other structures deemed illegal since launching the demolition campaign on May 19. Vendors accused of black-market dealing have also been arrested or had their goods confiscated.
Independent estimates of the number affected range from 300 000 to more than a million.
Only a small number of people were removed in the church raids, said attorney Jenny Coltart.
"Many of the churches have already moved the people last week on to a farm they had negotiated for, but there were some who had not moved," she said. "The police came in late last night, loaded them on to trucks and drove off."
Church leaders were trying to locate them on Thursday.
An estimated 20 000 people had their homes destroyed in Hatcliffe, on the northern outskirts of the capital, in May. Many of them were given just 30 minutes to pack their belongings and were forced at gunpoint to tear down their own houses.
Late on Wednesday, Deputy Housing Minister Morris Sakabuya told Parliament about 3 100 plots have been demarcated in the township and are being allocated to "vetted" families, the national broadcaster and state-run Herald newspaper reported.
"Only those with lease agreements were allowed back, while those with receipts showing they had paid for their stands were also given lease agreements," Sakabuya was quoted as saying.
Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo told Parliament the government will help the displaced rebuild but warned that any returnees who fail to meet state building standards will be evicted again.
Trudy Stevenson, an opposition Movement for Democratic Change lawmaker who represents the area, was not impressed.
"How will they all find out about this when some have gone to Mozambique, Malawi or [been] chased back to their 'rural areas' by police?" she asked. "What about the seven weeks schoolchildren have missed, the people on anti-retrovirals and other medication who have been without it? How many have died? Who is going to find the orphans and tell them?"
Many of the displaced also lost their livelihoods and do not have the means to rebuild, she added.
President Robert Mugabe's government has promised Z$3-trillion (R2,1-billion) for the reconstruction effort, but economists question whether the funds are available at a time of economic crisis.
The government defends the campaign as a clean-up drive in overcrowded, crime-ridden slums.
But the opposition says it is aimed at breaking up its strongholds among the urban poor and forcing them into rural areas where they can be more easily controlled by chiefs sympathetic to the government.
Last month, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan sent an envoy to assess the humanitarian impact of the campaign.
Anna Tibaijuka, the Tanzanian head of UN Habitat, submitted her report earlier this week. A copy was also sent to Mugabe for review before it is made public, expected on Friday or Monday. -- Sapa-AP
Zim defiant over loan conditions
Nic Dawes and Rapule Tabane
21 July 2005 11:59
If South Africa agrees to a loan request from Zimbabwe, one of its conditions would be an end to the Murambatsvina campaign to demolish illegal structures in urban areas. (Photograph: AP)
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe may well choke on the tough conditions attached to any loan package offered to him by the South African government -- despite Zimbabwe's worsening foreign currency crunch.
Mugabe's spokesperson, George Charamba, told the Mail & Guardian that Zimbabwe would not accept financial help tied to conditions, adding that South Africa was one of numerous countries Zimbabwe had approached.
"I don't understand why the South African media is treating the loan request as unique to South Africa. We have also made representations to the Indian government," Charamba said.
Mugabe is due to visit China this weekend and diplomatic observers believe China is the country most likely to step into the breach.
Beijing is anxious to secure access to minerals such as platinum and chrome, which Zimbabwe has in abundance, and may provide a way for Mugabe to acquire hard currency without making political concessions.
In the first clear sign that South Africa is prepared to use its economic leverage to break Zimbabwe's political logjam, President Thabo Mbeki's Cabinet was expected this week to discuss Mugabe's request for a $1-billion loan facility. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), meanwhile, is taking final steps in preparation to expel Zimbabwe for its persistent failure to pay a $295-million debt.
Government officials stress that no decision has yet been taken to extend a credit line, but that any help will be based on a South African assessment of what is appropriate for Zimbabwe's needs and will entail stringent terms.
These are understood to include the resumption of talks on constitutional reform between Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), an end to the Murambatsvina, or "drive out filth" campaign to demolish illegal structures in urban areas, and economic reforms.
Charamba, was adamant that Zimbabwe would reject conditions, particularly a call for new talks with the MDC. "We meet the MDC on a daily basis and dialogue with them in parliament," he said.
"Should the MDC request talks outside Parliament, it will be considered. But firstly, they would have to clarify their call for sanctions, which are now causing untold suffering to ordinary Zimbabweans. That would be our precondition."
He added: "I don't understand why South Africans will put a condition that we end Operation Clean Up when it has already ended. We are now at the next stage, Operation Hlalani Kahle (stay and live well), which will focus on housing delivery that goes beyond people affected by Operation Clean Up."
Nevertheless, the IMF's threatened withdrawal appears to have created a window of opportunity for the South African government to push ahead with plans for a "carrot-and-stick" package, which Finance Minister Trevor Manuel has been quietly punting for some time.
Zimbabwe needs hard currency to buy fuel, electricity and basic commodities. With its reserves exhausted, the government has been reduced to buying dollars on the black market to fund imports.
After a visit to Harare by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Deputy Finance Minister Jabu Moleketi, Manuel and Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni met officials, led by Zimbabwe Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono, last Friday.
South African sources said that while the Zimbabwean delegation "painted a picture" of their currency crisis, any funding would be shaped by their own assessment of the situation. The credit facility was unlikely to amount to the reported $1-billion.
"It is far from a done deal," one official said. "The conditionalities will be tough and Mugabe isn't going to like them at all."
China is seen as Zimbabwe's most likely benefactor, as it makes no pretence of using aid to promote democracy and good governance.
Western and African diplomats are worried that the link between economic assistance and good governance, established by initiatives such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), may be undermined in China's drive for resource security.
In 2004 it agreed to a $2-billion line of credit for Angola after an IMF loan fell through when the MPLA government would not agree to anti- corruption conditions. The loan is backed by oil guarantees and commitments to employ Chinese construction firms in the rebuilding of infrastructure.
Mugabe has already concluded agreements to buy fighter jets and riot control gear from the Chinese government. Despite these concerns, observers in Harare are buoyed by what they see as a marked difference in pace and tone from South Africa and the African Union. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangarai embarked on a hectic round of African diplomacy ahead of the G8 summit at Gleneagles, meeting, among others, current AU chairperson and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to insist on the importance of linking democratic reforms and economic recovery.
Obasanjo and Mbeki, who split in 2003 over Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth, appear to have gone to Gleneagles united on that issue, even as Zimbabwe's urban demolition campaign refocused international attention on the crisis.
Chief government spokesperson Joel Netshitenzhe was reluctant to give details of the Cabinet discussions or the recent meetings with Zimbabwean officials. "The discussions have been about how we can assist in the Zimbabwean economic recovery programme as well as the normalisation of the political situation," he said.
"There is no agreement on a loan, but if the issue arises, it would be referred to Cabinet and a loan facility would have to be confirmed by Parliament."
Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon, meanwhile, questioned whether South Africa could afford the loan, saying taxpayer funds should not be used to bail out a dictator.
In a speech in Cradock on Thursday, he said: "South Africa should not provide any assistance beyond emergency relief until the Zimbabwean government meets strict conditions, including, but not limited to: ending Operation Murambatsvina; opening formal, public negotiations with opposition parties under the supervision of the African Union and the United Nations; allowing international aid agencies to operate freely within Zimbabwe; and providing proof of all purchases made with money donated or loaned by South Africa."
UN condemns Zimbabwe slum blitz
A major UN report has called for an immediate end to Zimbabwe's slum clearance programme, declaring it to be in violation of international law.
Hundreds of thousands of homes in the country's shanty towns have been torched and bulldozed in recent months.
Zimbabwe says the demolitions aim to clean up urban areas and ensure building regulations are followed.
But the UN report, to be released in full later on Friday, says the policy is disastrous and inhumane.
The BBC's Susannah Price at UN headquarters in New York says the UK and US are likely to use the hard-hitting document to renew their calls for the UN to take immediate action.
To date, the Security Council has refused to call a meeting on the clearances.
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe usually rejects any criticism, as coming from racists, or their stooges, opposed to his nationalist stance but correspondents say this will be more difficult with this report.
It was compiled by Kofi Annan's special envoy Anna Tibaijuka, a respected international diplomat from Tanzania, a country with close political links to Zimbabwe.
The report calls for an immediate halt to the slum clearances which it says have affected a total of two million people.
"While purporting to target illegal dwellings and structures [the operation] was carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering," it says, according to an excerpt cited by the Associated Press news agency.
Zimbabwe says the policy - known as Operation Murambatsvina [Drive Out Rubbish] - is intended to crack down on black-market trading and other criminal activity in the slum areas.
But the report says, whatever the motive, the result is ill-conceived and inhumane.
Hundreds of thousands have been forced to seek shelter elsewhere as their homes are destroyed.
The opposition says the evictions are meant to punish urban residents, who have rejected President Robert Mugabe in favour of the opposition in recent elections.
The report has already been presented to Zimbabwe's government and will be presented to all UN members on Friday.