- Cardoso trio in bank fraud trial
Seventeen people go on trial in the capital, Maputo, accused of involvement in Mozambique's largest bank fraud.
Three of the men have already been convicted of killing of Mozambique's best known journalist, Carlos Cardoso, who had been investigating the fraud.
Some $14m disappeared from the Commercial Bank of Mozambique, prior to its privatisation seven years ago. The trial is at a top security prison because of safety concerns after several attempted escapes.
Unlike in the Cardoso murder trial case, Judge Achirafo Abubacar turned down a request by Radio Mozambique and Mozambican television, TVM, to broadcast the trial live.
Mozambique's Attorney-General, Joaquim Madeira, has condemned as illegal the current restrictions on the three men convicted of ordering the assassination of investigative journalist Carlos Cardoso.
Since last Sunday, the three, former bank manager Vicente Ramaya, and brothers Ayob Abdul Satar and Momade Assife Abdul Satar, have been kept handcuffed inside their cells, and have not been allowed visits. This is reportedly to ensure that the three do not escape.
Mr Madeira said he understood the prison authorities' concern with preventing these high-profile prisoners from escaping, but that did not justify illegal measures.
The BBC's Jose Tembe in the capital, Maputo, says the prison is particularly jittery because last week a convicted drug baron, Andre Timana, attempted to escape.
That attempt was foiled - but only after Timana had managed to make his way out of the prison premises.
Foreign Envoys Face the Boot
Financial Gazette (Harare)
December 11, 2003
Posted to the web December 11, 2003
A CAUCUS meeting of ZANU PF parliamentarians last night resolved to boot British, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand diplomats out of the country - a move immediately condemned by political observers as "retrogressive".
The parliamentarians had met to endorse Cabinet approval of a ZANU PF decision to withdraw the country's membership from the 54-nation Commonwealth "club" of mainly former British colonies.
However, the party had by last night brought to parliament a decision to withdraw the country's membership from the Commonwealth as the first step towards introducing a ban on the four countries' missions.
The motion was moved by Foreign Affairs Minister, Stan Mudenge, but was shot down by opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) MP, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, who argued that President Robert Mugabe had been expelled from the Commonwealth.
The motion was then amended by Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and immediately seconded by ZANU PF MP Philip Chiyangwa. The maverick politician then moved the caucus decision to close down the diplomatic missions of the four countries.
Parliamentary sources said a charged exchange had ensued after opposition MDC members vigorously opposed the motion. The outcome of the heated debate could not be established at the time of going to press as Parliament was still in session.
The move by ZANU PF MPs marked an intensification of a row between President Mugabe and the "white" members of the Commonwealth "club", whom he accuses of being racist and bent on effecting regime change in Zimbabwe.
Observers, expressed apprehension over the planned expulsion of the four countries' missions, and said the decision would create more problems for Zimbabwe than could be imagined.
"I have strong doubts that action of such a nature would get support from the President," said political commentator, Heneri Dzinotyiwei, of the Zimbabwe Integrated Programme. "Remember, (President) Mugabe is out of the country. These are views being expressed by the MPs but I would be very surprised if Mugabe endorses such a decision despite the fact that he is in a fighting mood," Dzinotyiwei said.
"ZANU PF is paving the road to Armageddon," warned Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, currently lobbying for a new national constitution. "The decision shows what people have been saying about the extent to which ZANU PF is determined to destroy this country. Why target a few individual countries and not the whole grouping that expelled the country from the Commonwealth?"
Tourists' money is needed, but boosts Mugabe regime
15 December 2003 08:56
It is a ghost town. The few tourists on the streets -- Japanese, German and South African and a sprinkling of Britons -- are followed by polite hawkers with wood carvings. "Give me some business, please, I haven't eaten today."
For these Zimbabweans there is no ethical ambiguity about foreign visitors in a country sliding into penury: the more the better. "The only way I have to feed my family is to sell CDs and for that I need tourists," said Joko Nyirongo (24) of Vuka Mthwakazi, a group which performs Ndebele songs and dances.
Hotels are four fifths empty. Guests' conversation centres on whether the falls were as impressive as expected. Most thought they were. Guests are also much preoccupied by the black market rate for converting foreign currency into Zimbabwean dollars. Left undiscussed are the rights and wrongs of holidaying in hell -- a dictatorship which has stifled free speech and jailed and brutalised political opponents.
"Hadn't really thought about it. Coming here was a last minute thing," said Joseph, a 34-year-old German. The ethics of such visits, however, are preoccupying those Zimbabweans who say tourism benefits the regime by injecting foreign currency as well as legitimising its claim to be ruling a normal country.
"I wish the tourists would not come now. They play into Mugabe's hands by giving the state machine money," said Nkosilathi Jiyane, a Victoria Falls councillor and member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Many ordinary Zimbabweans relied on tourists for jobs but the regime's coffers also benefited. The tourists still posing for snaps at Victoria Falls are a minority. According to the president of the Zimbabwe Council for Tourism, Shingi Munyeza, money earned from tourism and downstream activities had collapsed from $700-million in 1999, when the political and economic crisis accelerated, to just $70-million in 2002 and it is still falling.
Zimsun, the country's largest hotel operator, was working with the government to improve the country's image as a safe destination but its occupancy rates fell to 39% in the six months to September. But the government strives to be upbeat. The Central Statistics Office told a Harare-newspaper last month that arrivals from Europe have soared 67%, Asia 80%, and America 19%.
It makes no difference to Khowmani Tshuma, a former member of Vuka Mthwakazi, a group which performs Ndebele songs and dances, and has been forced to retire at 25. He was beaten up by the ruling party's youth militia last February.
Interviewed at his home in Mkhosana, outside Victoria Falls, Tshuma said he had been targeted because Vuka Mthwakazi had performed at an MDC election rally.
The group did it for money, not politics, but that did not matter to the youth militia who detained him for 14 hours of punching and hitting with a stick studded with nails.
The singer tried to resume performing for tourists but bleeding in his lung left him short of breath and unable to dance. Tshuma wanted tourists to continue coming - "otherwise we have no work" -- but also wished they knew the reality of Zimbabwe. - Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003
- '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