- MDC battles to hold policy meeting
29 January 2004 16:48
Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was on Thursday frantically trying to get a court order to allow it to hold a meeting in the evening to launch a proposed rescue package for the beleaguered economy.
"We are making an urgent application to the [High] Court so that the police are barred from preventing us to hold the launch," said MDC secretary for economic affairs and lawyer Tendai Biti.
The meeting, at which the MDC's economic blueprint, dubbed Restart -- which stands for Reconstruction, Stabilisation, Recovery, Transformation -- would be launched, has been denied police approval as required under the controversial Public Order and Security Act.
Party spokesperson Paul Temba Nyathi said the police had witheld approval despite the application having been lodged a week ago, as required by law.
"The police now claim that the application was left in the wrong office and thus was not processed," Nyathi said in a statement.
A fresh application was lodged on Monday but "the police say that this is insufficient notice for them".
Under the law a notice has to be made four days in advance of a planned meeting.
"These are merely lies and excuses from a regime that seeks to prevent the people ... access to a comprehensive programme," said Nyathi.
The MDC accused the ruling Zanu-PF party of preventing it from publishing policies that offer a solution to Zimbabwe's grave economic crisis.
"Zanu-PF fears that this MDC programme will fully expose its own shortcomings," said Nyathi.
"We condemn this clear anti-democratic act, which is yet another demonstration of the Zanu-PF government's contempt for freedom of speech. What sort of country are we living in when an opposition party that controls 12 major cities ... is denied the basic right of communicating policies to the people?" he asked.
Zimbabwe's economy has been in a nose-dive in recent years with international support drying up, and rates of inflation and interest skyrocketing to record highs.
The central bank recently introduced measures that have seen prices of certain basic commodities come back down and the country's currency firming against international currencies on the foreign exchange market.
A two-and-half year food crisis has meanwhile seen the country seeking international humanitarian aid to feed millions of people faced with starvation. -- Sapa-AFP
Two-thirds of Zimbabweans in need of food aid
02 February 2004 07:12
The number of Zimbabweans needing food aid has increased to 7,5-million, nearly two-thirds of its population, according to a joint assessment by United Nations experts and Zimbabwean officials published on Sunday. It said there had been a remarkable increase in the number of people going hungry since September, when five million were considered in need of help.
International donors say they are scrambling to provide adequate supplies and accuse President Robert Mugabe's government of refusing to admit that the policy of widespread land seizures has reduced food production.
Mugabe's government is withholding food from opposition supporters, according to human rights groups -- an observation confirmed by interviews with hungry rural people. There are 5-million in rural Zimbabwe who are dependent upon international food aid.
But the new study also shows that hunger is now widespread in the cities as well. It estimates that 2,5-million urban dwellers cannot get enough food.
Urban Zimbabweans are also struggling to cope with an unemployment rate of 70%. Many people are finding it difficult to feed their families because of food shortages and a 600% inflation rate.
"My pay is not enough to feed my children," a factory worker said. "Prices go up every week yet my pay stays the same. We can barely afford one meal a day. We haven't tasted meat for a month."
The price of Zimbabwe's staple, maize meal, has soared.
Last year the state grain monopoly sold a 50kg bag of maize for Z$580. Now maize is generally available only from illegal traders who sell a 50kg bag for as much as Z$40 000 (R360).
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is struggling to provide enough food. According to Zimbabweans and human rights groups the government routinely withholds supplies to rural people in southern Matabeleland and many other areas which voted for the opposition in Mugabe's disputed presidential election in 2002.
But the WFP has been criticised by Human Rights Watch for not taking a strong line against the political manipulation of food aid. WFP officials say they have corrected any problems.
"We categorically deny that the government interferes with our food distribution," its spokesman Richard Lee said.
"We determine who should get our assistance by collaborating with the entire community and we never rely solely on a beneficiary list given to us by the government."
WFP's Zimbabwe representative, Kevin Farrell, has been widely criticised for failing to say that the land seizures are the primary cause of the growing food shortages.
"What we need are UN representatives who, without losing their diplomacy, are prepared to tell it like it is," Iden Wetherell, editor of the Zimbabwe Independent, wrote in a recent column.
"Dancing around the problems in some misdirected concern for the sensitivity of their hosts is simply going to compound official complacency and discourage donors."
Even when nearly two-thirds of Zimbabwe's people are either hungry or dependent upon international aid, the government has forced through parliament a law to speed up land seizures and to take big sugar plantations and more farms.
It has already taken more than 90% of the country's privately owned, mostly white-owned, farmland.
Now it is preparing to seize the rest, according to agricultural experts. - Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003
Power cuts loom in Zimbabwe
02 February 2004 09:59
Zimbabwe's debt-stricken power supply utility faces a crisis as South African and Mozambican utilities demand up-front payment for supplies, the state press said Sunday.
Last week, South Africa's Eskom switched off electricity to the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) for two days because of non-payment.
Meanwhile, Mozambique's Hydroelectrica Cahora Bassa had cut its supply to Zimbabwe by 40% since the end of last year, the state-controlled weekly Sunday Mail reported.
Zesa's finances have gone from bad to worse since January 2000 when it failed to meet payments to neighbouring countries after hard currency earnings slumped with accelerating economic decline.
Widespread blackouts, that would worsen the country's already devastated productive sectors, have been avoided only by President Robert Mugabe's appeals to South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki and Mozambique's President Joaquim Chissano to intervene with their power utilities.
Since then, Zesa has been able to keep going through soft credit deals agreed to by Eskom in South Africa and HCB in Mozambique. The Sunday Mail reported that Zesa's annual contracts with Eskom and HCB ran out on December 31 and both were now demanding payment in advance.
Zesa's total bill to African utilities and to international financial institutions now totals $410-million, the Sunday Mail said.
Mandizvidza was quoted as saying in the report that Eskom "was willing to renew the contract" as a result of new tight fiscal and financial policies promised by recently appointed Zimbabwe central bank governor Gideon Gono.
Zesa is a major casualty of Zimbabwe's economic crisis, marked by the fastest shrinking GDP in the world -- 40% in four years -- and the highest inflation, now at 60%, as well as famine for the third consecutive year in which 7,5-million Zimbabweans -- about 60% of the population -- are facing starvation. - Sapa-DPA
- 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.