- The madness of Robert Mugabe
Johannesburg [Mail & Guardian's headline, not mine]
As Zimbabwean police continue to arrest farmers, two
senior US officials
have called for the removal of President Robert
Mugabe, whom they accuse
In addition to imperilling the lives of Zimbabweans,
Mugabe also stole
presidential elections earlier this year, destroying
his credibility and
legitimacy as a democratic leader, the officials
"The political status quo is unacceptable," said
Walter Kansteiner, the
assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
"We do not see President Mugabe as the
democratically legitimate leader of
the country," he said. "The election was fraudulent
and it was not free and it
was not fair."
"So we're working with others ... on how we can in
fact together encourage
the body politic of Zimbabwe to in fact go forward
and correct that situation
and start providing an environment that would lead
to a free and fair
election," Kansteiner said.
He said the United States was working with
opposition elements within
Zimbabwe as well as with the country's neighbours
and the European Union
to further isolate the Mugabe regime.
Washington is contemplating a toughening of
sanctions against Mugabe
and his top officials, which now include a travel
ban and freezing of assets,
to impress upon them their "pariah" status,
Meanwhile, police have arrested 215 whites for
attempting to defy eviction
orders while one farmer at Karoi, 300 kilometres
north west of the capital,
has been charged with attempted murder after
allegedly attempting to drive
his vehicle at four policemen.
The incident is the first in which a farmer is
accused of violently resisting
Mugabe's "fast track land reform", aiming to
transfer 5 000 properties to 350
000 black Zimbabweans before the end of August.
A police representative alleged Ian Barker drove at
high speed and tried to
crash into the vehicle carrying four policemen
arriving to arrest him for not
quitting his property by the August 9 deadline given
2 900 whites.
He was freed on Tuesday on $40 bail after appearing
before a local
magistrate on four counts of attempted murder.
Police reported that hundreds of farmers have "gone
on the run" - evading
details trying to enforce seizure and eviction
A representative, Sergeant Lovemore Sibanda, said:
"The farmers we are
looking for are those who vacated their farms,
leaving behind their wives and
children. Others left the doors of their farmhouses
locked, with all the
property inside, hoping to return later."
In addition to the 2 900 given the August 9
deadline, 2 000 others have
orders to quit, regardless of court judgments
declaring the notices invalid
Mugabe's ministers have appealed to land recipients
to move onto their plots
immediately and prepare for rains due in November,
in order to alleviate the
dire food crisis.
His government says 7,8-million people are in danger
of starvation before the
next harvests can be expected in March-April. Deputy
Margaret Sangarwe said the Zimbabwean Government
delegation planned to
make its stance on the land situation take centre
stage at the forthcoming
World Summit on Sustainable Development in
She told the Herald the official delegation would
explain the government's
position on equitable distribution of resources and
indigenous people to reduce poverty and starvation.
- Sapa-DPA, Sapa-AFP
Mozambique train crew
in the dock
Many of those killed were market traders
State prosecutors have demanded stiff
penalties for four railway workers accused of
causing the crash which killed 195 people in
They pleaded not guilty and said they were
following the instructions of their managers.
If convicted of involuntary
homicide, they could face
up to 24 years in prison and
be made to pay
compensation to the victims'
The crash occurred after a train travelling from
the South African border to the capital,
Maputo, encountered problems going down a
The train was stopped and rocks were used to
wedge passenger carriages, while the crew
went for help.
But the rocks came loose and the wagons
rolled down the hill into the freight sections of
the train, near the town of Muamba.
"Those who will be found guilty should be given
an exemplary sentence," state attorney Arone
Nhaca said at the start of the trial before a
Prosecutors accused the crew of negligence
for not verifying the mechanical state of the
train before leaving Ressano Garcia, on the
South African border.
During the journey the
from the rest of the
train on three
occasions but the
prosecution said the
crew carried on
Around 150 people,
including crash survivors and victims' relatives
were in court, reports the French news
Many of those killed were women traders on
their way to market.
The freight section was carrying cement and
some were buried alive in choking cement dust.
In their defence, the crew members said trains
had been circulating with defective brakes for
some time, and that they lacked the radio
equipment necessary to inform stations of any
The train's driver,
Abrao Simbine told the
court that putting
stones under the
wheels of the carriage
was not his idea.
"We did what we were
told - to disconnect
the section and get
some stones to
prevent the passenger
train from moving," he
The prosecution follows separate inquiries by
the Mozambique Port and Railway Company
(CFM), which owned the train, and an
independent commission, reports AFP.
The trial resumes next week.
Inflation reaches 123,5% in Zimbabwe
While queues lengthened for maize meal, sugar,
cooking oil and other
staples, Zimbabwe's Central Statistic Office on
inflation had reached at all time high of 123,5%.
Increases in the prices of food and clothing were
the main contributors to
the latest surge, said a bulletin released by the
office, covering the period to
the end of July.
Inflation fell back temporarily from 120 to 114% in
economists fear inflation could exceed 200% by
year-end as the nation is
hit by the combined effects of drought and political
In addition to scarcities of basic food items, there
has been a return to
sporadic shortages of petrol and diesel over the
past week, allegedly due to
troubles with Libyan suppliers.
Police reported on Wednesday that a man was beaten
to death in Harare's
Old Mbare market in a dispute over a bag of maize.
The country needs to
import 1,5 tons to avert famine, but has so far
managed to bring in only a
fraction due to logistical problems.
Industrialist Jonee Blanchfield said runaway
inflation caused particularly
severe hardship to those on small fixed incomes.
"Most pensioners are now suffering because of the
inflation scourge," she
said. - Sapa-DPA
- 'Voting doesn't fill the belly'
12 December 2004 23:59
Mozambique's ruling party, Frelimo, surged ahead last week in unofficial results from the country's recent election, puzzling analysts who had expected a neck-and-neck finish with the opposition Renamo. At the same time, evidence of ballot-stuffing in some remote districts cast a shadow over the clean bill of health that international observers gave the elections.
Projections suggest that Frelimo's presidential candidate, Armando Guebuza, will get 60% of the vote, as compared with 35% for Renamo's Afonso Dhlakama, who in 1999 collected nearly 48% of the vote. These projections are based on results posted by individual polling stations and collected by Radio Mozambique correspondents around the country.
The sharp drop in Renamo support was accompanied by an equally dramatic fall in voter turnout, with numbers expected to be between three million and 3,5-million: less than half of the eligible voters. Turnout in the 1994 and 1999 general elections was 5,4-million and 4,9-million respectively.
Analysts agreed that abstention had been highest among Renamo's traditional supporters in the largely agricultural centre and north of the country, who felt that the government had let them down, and the opposition had failed to provide a viable alternative.
"People chose to stay in the fields -- voting doesn't fill the belly," said independent journalist Marcelo Mosse.
"In the cities, the absence might have been a criticism not only of [outgoing president Joaquim] Chissano, but also of Guebuza -- he is not someone who inspires support."
The political weekly Savana described the low turnout as "a red card to the political class", which it accused of being out of touch with voters' interests.
Reports of irregularities were concentrated in Tete province in western Mozambique.
"In Tete there was clearly fraud, though not enough to affect the final result," said Luís de Brito of the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (Eisa).
He said two voting stations in the province's Changara district had reported turnout of close to 100%, with most of these votes going to Frelimo. De Brito said the high turnout for the province as a whole gave reason for suspicion.
"In Tete, we have an average of 400 voters turning out at each voting table, compared with fewer than 300 per table in all the other provinces."
De Brito said Renamo activists had been forced to leave certain areas of Tete province early in the election campaign, which had prevented them from sending monitors to polling in those areas. Elsewhere in the country, the presence of party representatives during voting and counting was hailed as Mozambique's best safeguards against fraud.
The Mozambican Political Process Bulletin -- an independent newsletter with a wide network of correspondents -- also cited evidence of ballot-stuffing in Tsangano district of Tete province, as well as in Chicono in northern Niassa province. In the latter, 996 out of 1 000 voters registered at one station appeared to have voted, with Guebuza gaining more than 900 of the votes.
Such reports contradicted the positive assessment of international observation teams, who praised Mozambique's strong legal framework for elections, the professionalism of polling station staff, and balanced coverage both in state and private media. Asked why the international teams had not picked up the incidents of fraud cited by Eisa, De Brito said these incidents had occurred mostly at remote and inaccessible polling stations.
The international teams, including Southern African Development Community parliamentarians and representatives of the Commonwealth, the Carter Center and the European Union, were however concerned at the low electoral turnout. Several of the observer teams also mentioned the mistrust that had been created by the party-political structure of the National Electoral Commission, where Frelimo is able to force through decisions by majority vote.
Elderly pay the price for raising Aids orphans
14 December 2004 08:21
Until a week ago, elderly Hannah Dube and her five grandchildren living in the dusty village of Kezi in soutwestern Zimbabwe had been surviving on small portions of dried white melon.
Then Zimbabwe's social services stepped in, handing the 75-year-old Dube emergency aid of the staple corn grain to feed her family, caught in the grip of an HIV/Aids pandemic and a crippling drought.
Her face worn by grief and stress, the aging grandmother's plight in this remote and rural corner of Zimbabwe tells the story of the burden of many other pensioners in this southern African country where HIV/Aids has turned a million children into orphans.
The UN children's organisation Unicef estimates that more than one in five children will be orphaned in Zimbabwe by 2010, with more than 80% of those orphaned by HIV/Aids, which kills about 3 000 people per week on average.
Nine of her grandchildren are orphaned -- she is looking after five children between the ages of five and 13.
Three successive years of drought in this naturally dry region some 600km southwest of the capital, characterised by unproductive soils, and a political and economic crisis have exacerbated food shortages.
"We only eat one meal a day," said Dube, who lives in a hut next to a dusty road, where her cooking fire has long since gone out.
"We are used to it now and there is nothing unusual about it," she said.
While food is available in the shops, people like Dube and her family, who have no source of income whatsoever, cannot even dream of buying any.
Driving up to Dube's home along a narrow dust road, hundreds of people, dangling empty sacks, were seen walking back home, looking tired, hungry and dejected.
They are coming from the local business centre where they had gone to register their names for food aid to be handed out three days later.
"We were told [by an international aid organisation] to come and register our names for food coming next week. But now they say only those on the old list will be given food," Dube said.
The Zimbabwean government this year turned away foreign food aid, saying the country produced enough to feed its people.
But Harare has recently allowed the United Nations World Food Programme to undertake a one-off free food distribution to get rid of its stock left over from April when the government stopped general food aid.
Volunteer workers confirm the hunger in the area.
"It is depressing to go out there visiting the sick, handing out a few bars of soap, diapers, some antiseptic solutions -- but seeing that what is urgently needed is food," said volunteer Georgina Tshabalala.
Dube is not only struggling to provide food for her orphaned grandchildren, but also shelter.
She cleans up grass that fell while she was thatching the roof of her new mud and pole hut in this remote rural area of Zimbabwe.
With nobody to help her build or maintain their home, Dube has to risk climbing onto the roof to patch it up before the rains bring it down.
Inside, the fire has gone out.
Dube said besides the fact that their one meal has already been cooked, she could not afford to keep the fire going because she does not have the energy to regularly go to the bush to cut down firewood.
The elderly woman -- old and weak enough to be a dependent herself -- said she had no choice but to look after her some of her grandchildren.
Those who are not under her wing are probably involved in illegal gold mining, rife in the area.
"I don't really know how they are surviving, but no one helps me with anything. The chickens and the goats you see outside I sell to send these children to school," she said.
Despite the difficult living conditions and lack of food, one of her grandchildren, Dan, (7), passed his year-end school examinations with A grades. - Sapa-AFP
Improved Zim inflation still world's highest
14 December 2004 15:15
Zimbabwe's official inflation rate dropped to 149,3% last month, down from 209% in October, the state Central Statistical Office said on Tuesday. The new rate still leaves Zimbabwe with the highest inflation in the world.
The troubled Southern African country is in the midst of its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1980, with inflation peaking at more than 600% last year.
With the local currency plummeting, sending a Christmas card to Europe by air mail now costs Z$40 000 (about R41) -- twice as much as a one-bedroom apartment did shortly after independence.
A dollar was equivalent to Z$2 at the time, compared with the current official rate of Z$5 600, or Z$8 000 on the black market.
The Reserve Bank attributes the recent drop to tighter fiscal policies aimed at reining in rampant profiteering and a lucrative black market in scarce commodities and hard currency.
However, the official inflation rate excludes prices on a wide range of services and imports that have continued to soar throughout the year.
The cost of medicines, vehicle repairs and health, agriculture and mining equipment has risen by more than 600%. The state telephone and postal companies have increased their fees by 1 000%.
The agriculture-based economy has collapsed in the four years since the government began seizing thousands of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to black Zimbabweans.
The country routinely faces acute shortages of food, gasoline, hard currency and other imports. -- Sapa-AP