- Blow for Zambia's ruling party
By Penny Dale
Zambian Defence Minister Michael Mabenga has lost his job and been
stripped of his parliamentary seat after the Supreme Court annuled his
The Supreme Court in Zambia delivered its final judgements on two cases
outstanding from the country's controversial presidential and general
elections nearly two years ago.
After the elections in December 2001, which brought current President
Levy Mwanawasa to power, the opposition launched a series of legal
challenges to the results of both the presidential and parliamentary
Today's verdict was a major blow to Mr Mwanawasa's ruling Movement for
Multi-party Democracy [MMD] party.
The court upheld the complaints of the runner-up, Sikota Wina, of the
opposition United Party for National Development [UPND].
'Broke the law'
The judges ruled that Michael Mabenga broke the law when he used
government money and vehicles while campaigning for the Mulobezi seat in
When delivering their ruling, the judges recommended that what they
called appropriate action be taken by the authorities on the misuse by
Mr Mabenga of $6,000 earmarked for the people of Mulobezi.
The judges said this misuse amounted to theft.
A disappointed-looking Mr Mabenga, who drove away from the courtroom to
the boos of a delighted UPND crowd, was not the only ruling party MP to
be booted out of parliament.
The courts also ruled that the Mpika Central seat in the north of
Zambia was not won fair and square.
The MMD has brushed off what the opposition describes as a bad news day
for the ruling party.
Spokesperson Aka Mbikusita-Lewanika says the party is not exactly
happy, but neither is it overly distressed, because, even with the
losses, the MMD still has a majority in parliament.
Having won three out of the last four by-elections, it has three more
seats than the opposition.
But today's court rulings mean yet another round of by-elections over
the next few weeks.
And with four seats now vacant the MMD's slim majority is once again up
Zimbabwe rolls out its new money
24 September 2003 07:46
The now routine long lines of customers outside of banks eased on
Tuesday for the first time in two months after Zimbabwe's central bank
launched new temporary bank notes printed in full only on one side.
The poor quality notes, valid as legal tender until January 31, are the
latest in a series of desperate and unorthodox measures intended to
bolster the struggling economy and end acute shortages of cash in this
troubled Southern African country.
The so-called "bearer cheques" resemble bank notes but will only be
valid as legal tender until January 31, the Reserve Bank said.
The notes were issued to banks on Tuesday in denominations of Z$5 000,
Z$10 000 and Z$20 000 amid fears they were open to easy forgery, even by
The highest existing denomination bank note is Z$500, or 60 United
States cents at the official exchange rate of 824-1 or about 10 US cents
at the black market rate of 5 000-1.
The new notes are also available in automatic teller machines.
In recent weeks, Zimbabweans have taken to waiting several days in bank
lines to draw their money or cash pay checks. Some have slept on the
sidewalk outside their banks to secure a place at the front of the
Customers said they were served with the new notes after waiting for as
little as 20 minutes in swift-moving lines on Tuesday.
The central bank said it was releasing nearly Z$9-billion at the
official rate (or $2-million at the black-market rate) this week.
A total of Z$390 billion ($470 million or $80 million) of the new notes
is to be released, nearly double the value of existing conventional bank
notes in circulation.
The dramatic increase in money supply was expected to spur already
Inflation rose to a record 426% in August, one of the highest in the
Zimbabwe is suffering shortages of local money blamed on its runaway
inflation, the central bank's inability to print conventional notes
quickly enough and hoarding of money amid uncertainty in the crumbling
The government has resisted calls to introduce large denomination bank
notes, citing fears they would further fuel inflation.
It argues the temporary notes, printed with a faint watermark and a
simple security thread compared to elaborate security features on
conventional notes, will restore consumer spending and revive
productivity in the economy.
In another unique attempt to ease the currency crisis, the central bank
last month issued a range of new local travelers' cheques valid only in
Zimbabwe in denominations of up to Z$100 000 that it said were legal
tender accepted by major stores and businesses.
Some stores, however, refused to accept the travelers' cheques that
were described as "funny money" vulnerable to forgery and fraud.
The nation is suffering its worst economic crisis since independence in
The deepening economic crisis is blamed partly on the state programme
that seized thousands of commercial farms from white farmers for
redistribution to black Zimbabweans.
The state-owned Herald newspaper raised its cover price on Tuesday to
Z$500 (60 US cents at the current official exchange rate, or 10 US cents
at the black-market rate), up from Z$300. In 1985, five years after
independence, the paper cost 10 Zimbabwe cents. -- Sapa-AP
Mugabe calls for unity at ally's funeral
24 September 2003 14:17
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday called for unity with
the opposition as he led tens of thousands of mourners in paying tribute
to the country's late vice president, Simon Vengesayi Muzenda.
Muzenda, who was buried in a state funeral broadcast live on national
television, died on Saturday aged 80, after being hospitalised for
months for diabetes and hypertension.
"Unity of our nation is vital ... unity in a directed manner towards
the attainment of certain goals, on the basis of certain fundamentals,"
In his salutations, Mugabe recognised the presence at the Harare
ceremony of over a dozen opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)
lawmakers, city mayors and municipal councillors.
"To our friends from the MDC who are here, we say to them, you are
welcome, you are Zimbabweans," Mugabe said in a sharp contrast to his
usual reference to opposition members as puppets of Britain.
"We are sons of the soil together, and sons of the soil should behave
like sons of the soil, [and] not rise against each other," he said.
Differences could always be resolved internally, and not in "[Britain's
Prime Minister Tony] Blair's home", he added.
Mugabe, who has previously accused the MDC of being bankrolled by the
former colonial power Britain, has recently toned down his vitriol
against the party that has posed the most serious challenge to his
political career in independent Zimbabwe.
Wednesday was the second time he spoke of unity. In August he told the
opposition to repent if they wanted to seek unity with his government.
Muzenda was buried with full military honours including a 19-gun salute
and a fly-past by MIG-23 fighters over his grave at the country's
shrine, set aside for heroes of the country's war of independence.
The government declared three days of national mourning starting on
Flags have flown at half-mast since Muzenda's death, while most
regularly scheduled programmes on national television and radio have
been replaced by special shows dedicated to the veteran nationalist and
The funeral was attended by vice presidents of Botswana, the Democratic
Republic of Congo, Malawi and Tanzania.
South Africa and Zambia were represented by Cabinet ministers. --
Condom supply to Africa hit by US abortion policy
25 September 2003 08:03
United States President George Bush's administration's ban on funds to
family planning clinics that offer abortion counselling is adversely
affecting the supply of condoms to countries hit by HIV/Aids, it was
claimed on Wednesday.
Clinics have had to close in a number of African countries because the
family planning organisations running them refuse to sign a declaration
that they will not offer abortions or even discuss them.
Many healthcare workers consider it unethical to refuse help to a
pregnant woman who may endanger her life by seeking a backstreet
abortion if she is turned away.
On Wednesday the biggest international organisations affected by the
so-called Mexico City policy, or Global Gag as the activists call it,
launched a report quantifying the disaster they say it is visiting on
the developing world.
Amy Coen, president of Population Action International, the lead
sponsor of the study, said: "The policy significantly reduces access to
vital family planning and health-related services for some of the
world's poorest women and weakens vital HIV/Aids prevention efforts."
The rule was "another example of how the Bush administration is
allowing political ideology to trump science".
The report documented the closure of many clinics that are often the
only provider of sexual healthcare in their areas because of a cutoff of
funds from USAid, the US agency which is the world's biggest source of
development funding. About $430-million, which the administration
earmarks for family planning in poor countries, can only go to
organisations that have signed the anti-abortion pledge.
The policy was introduced by Ronald Reagan, thrown out by Bill Clinton
and reinstated on Bush's second day in office.
Family planning groups say the policy is damaging the cause that Bush
has espoused in a bid to show the compassionate side of his
administration, that of HIV/Aids.
USAid is the most important single donor of condoms to the developing
world, procuring and delivering more than a third of all donated
supplies, worth about $75-million a year.
The report said that by 2002, the policy had ended shipments of
USAid-donated condoms to 16 developing countries whose family planning
associations are affiliated to the International Planned Parenthood
Federation and who refused to sign the pledge. They include Swaziland,
which has one of the highest HIV rates in the world, Burundi, Chad,
Gambia and Mauritius.
USAid's condom supplies to a further 13 countries have been cut because
the main, although not the only, family planning organisation will not
sign. They include some with the worst HIV problems in Africa: Uganda,
Zambia and Zimbabwe. -- Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited
- '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