- Vote will test strength of Mozambique democracy
02 December 2004 11:47
As Mozambique calmly voted on a second and final day on Thursday for a new president and parliament, foreign observers and voters said the strength of its maturing democracy will be measured by the transparency of the count - and the reaction to the outcome.
Afonso Dhlakama, the former rebel commander in Mozambique's disastrous 16-year civil war and the main opposition Renamo party candidate, bitterly claims the presidency was stolen from him in the two previous post-conflict elections that international observers called basically free and fair.
If he loses again in elections seen as transparent, free and fair, Dhlakama says he'll be the first to congratulate the winner.
But he has also hinted darkly that he will not accept a third defeat he considers unfair.
Dhlakama narrowly lost five years ago to retiring President Joaquim Chissano, who has led the country since the death of independence hero Samora Machel in 1986. With the popular Chissano stepping down after two elected terms, most observers saw this election as Dhlakama's last best chance at the presidency.
With 17 parties running for Parliament and five contesting the presidential race, many here believe the county is moving toward a presidential runoff next month.
David Pottie, an international observer with the Atlanta-based Carter Centre human rights group, said Mozambique may not be mentally or financially prepared for a runoff.
Tomas Varieria Mario, a Mozambican political analyst, was more blunt about the consequences of a second round of voting. "The second round will be very tough, and we could see a lot of political violence," he said.
Voters who trickled to the polls in very small numbers in the capital on Thursday morning appeared more confident that Mozambique would pass the test of a runoff.
"Democracy is not new in Mozambique," said Luis Sambele, 29, who works for Save the Children's HIV/Aids programme in Maputo. "It is possible there will be a second round, but I don't think it will be a problem. We've had peace for more than 10 years. The country is under control."
Chissano's Frelimo party has governed since independence from Portugal in 1975.
Dhlakama's deputy, Raul Domingo, bolted from Renamo and formed his own party, splitting the opposition. Domingo's popularity has drawn votes away from Renamo, and some fear the consequences of a close runoff between Dhlakama and Chissano's hand-picked successor, Frelimo candidate Armando Guebuza.
Guebuza, returning to government after becoming wealthy as a businessman, is a former Frelimo negotiator in the Rome peace talks. But he is also seen as a tough politician.
He demonstrated his toughness as the interior minister who implemented the then-Marxist government's forced relocation program in the early 1980s that saw urban unemployed arrested and resettled in the remote rural north.
Dhlakama is no stranger to violence as the rebel commander in the civil war that killed a million people before it ended in 1992.
He also still maintains his own "presidential guard," a well-armed private militia of 500 members that he contends was authorised by the 1992 Rome peace accord.
Seemingly confident of victory after Chissano announced his retirement, Dhlakama abandoned his confrontational campaign rhetoric of past elections and campaigned as a statesmen. Even if a party had done well for 30 years, he said about Frelimo, it is still time for change, for new leadership to deal with old unsolved problems.
Veteran journalist and political commentator Moise Mabunda said under the pressures of a close runoff, many fear Dhlakama could become a party leader who tolerates violence and fuels it with fiery campaign rhetoric.
But many voters in Maputo, a traditional Frelimo stronghold, dismiss the threat.
"Dhlakama always does that," said Cesar Jose, a 22-year-old student. "I don't think there will be a problem." - Sapa-AP
Mugabe purges challengers
02 December 2004 07:12
Robert Mugabe has purged seven senior officials of his party, Zanu-PF, and humiliated a Cabinet ally in an effort to quell debate on who will succeed him as president of Zimbabwe.
He slapped down young challengers and relied on the old guard to bolster his authority in a "night of the long knives".
Six of the party's 10 provincial chairmen were suspended for six months and the head of the war veterans, Jabulani Sibanda, was suspended for four years. The information minister, Jonathan Moyo, was reprimanded, the state media reported.
The action exposed deep rifts in the party on the eve of its annual congress, which opened in the capital Harare on Wednesday, tense with the expectation of further possible purges.
Meanwhile the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) indicated that it is likely to take part in the general election in March, even though it fears that voting may not be free and fair.
Triggering what some analysts called the party's worst split for 20 years, a meeting of its politburo chaired by Mugabe decided late on Tuesday to punish an apparent cabal of senior but relatively youthful officials.
Their crime was to hold a meeting on November 18 at which they reportedly plotted against Mugabe's choice for a second vice-president, Joyce Majuru, in favour of the parliamentary Speaker, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Majuru is not seen as a serious contender to replace the 80-year-old president but clinching the vice-presidency would position Mnangagwa to do so. Delegates at the congress are to vote on who should fill the post.
The state media said Moyo had organised the meeting in his home district, Tsholotsho, to lobby for Mnangagwa, a mistake for which he had apologised.
As the architect of oppressive media laws Moyo grew close to the president, but the state media, which he has recently controlled, has hinted that he might be sacked.
Despite its turmoil, Zanu-PF, with the states' resources and the near-monopoly media on its side, is favoured to retain its parliamentary majority in next year's elections.
The MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, speaking in London at the end of his first foreign trip since his passport was returned after he was cleared of treason, urged other countries to press Mugabe to guarantee a fair poll.
The MDC's national council is to meet soon to decide whether to contest the elections. Although MDC officials see little hope of immediate reforms, they expect the council will decide to do so.
"Because of the disadvantages of non-participation, my guess is that the council will decide unanimously, or by a large majority, to take part", Welshman Ncube, the Secretary General, said.
European governments have been urging the MDC not to pull out of the elections. - Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
Zim govt appeals Tsvangirai verdict
02 December 2004 12:02
The Zimbabwean government is seeking leave to appeal the acquittal of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of treason, a newspaper reported on Thursday.
In October, the Harare High Court acquitted Tsvangirai of plotting to kill President Robert Mugabe and stage a coup, saying there was insufficient evidence against him.
Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), denied the charges and claimed he was framed by the Zimbabwean government to discredit him ahead of 2002 presidential elections, which Tsvangirai lost to Mugabe.
The state-owned Herald newspaper reported that the state had filed court papers on Monday requesting leave to appeal the acquittal. The government argues that Tsvangirai's acquittal was wrong and that the state faces a good chance of getting a conviction on appeal.
"The [state] wishes to apply for leave to appeal against the decision of the High Court, sitting at Harare on 15 October 2004, wherein it found the respondent [Tsvangirai] not guilty and acquitted him of the charge of treason," the newspaper quoted from the court papers.
"It is respectfully submitted that there are reasonable prospects of success on appeal," it added.
It was not clear when the appeal will be heard.
Tsvangirai's acquittal came more than a year after the start of the high-profile trial in February 2003, in which Tsvangirai was accused of trying to enlist Canada-based political consultant Ben Menashe to assassinate Mugabe and organise the alleged coup.
Tsvangirai is currently on a whirlwind tour of Europe, after visiting several African countries to enlist worldwide support for his party's efforts to pressure Mugabe to effect electoral reforms ahead of general elections due next March.
The MDC has vowed to boycott the polls unless reforms are undertaken. - Sapa-AFP
- '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