- Zimbabwe moves to bring in food
The Zimbabwean government has announced it will import 1.2m tons of the staple food, maize, over the next few months.
However, the state-run Grain Marketing Board head denied opposition charges that the country had run out of food.
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) official Renson Gasela accused the government of failing to act while the country faced "a national catastrophe".
President Robert Mugabe has accused the MDC of exaggerating food shortages and turned down offers of food aid.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwean newspaper, The Standard, has reported that a national park was instructed to slaughter elephants in order to feed villagers at last week's Independence Day celebrations.
GMB head retired army Col Samuel Muvuti called the MDC "ignorant and irresponsible," and said it wanted to spread "alarm and despondency", reports the state-run Herald newspaper.
He said imports had already started to arrive and said feeding the nation was the government's priority after drought in February and March.
On Wednesday, Mr Gasela said Zimbabwe would harvest only about 500,000 tonnes of maize against a demand of 1.8m tonnes.
"Any honest government, having misled the nation that there was more than enough maize, even to the extent of stopping donors, would apologise to the nation for its omission or commission," he said.
There are also shortages of other basics like toothpaste and margarine.
Ahead of parliamentary elections in March, President Mugabe did admit that Zimbabwe would have to import grain following drought and a poor harvest.
The country is facing a foreign exchange crisis, with production of cash crops such as tobacco only a fraction of what it was before the seizure of white-owned farms.
Critics blame food shortages on the land reform programme which has seen thousands of white farmers forced to leave their land in the past five years.
The government blames food shortages on drought and economic sabotage by Western countries, led by the UK, opposed to land reform.
Protests at Zimbabwe rights role
By Susannah Price
BBC News, United Nations
The United States and other countries have protested about the re-election of Zimbabwe to the UN's main human rights body, the Human Rights Commission.
Zimbabwe was one of 15 countries chosen by members of the UN's Economic and Social Council in New York. All but one were chosen by consensus.
Critics say too many countries with appalling human rights records have been on the commission.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has recommended it should be replaced.
Zimbabwe will sit on the UN Human Rights Commission for the next three years.
It was, like other candidates, put forward by its regional grouping - in this case the Africa group.
There were immediate protests from the United States, with the deputy US representative to the Economic and Social Council, William Brencick, accused Zimbabwe of maintaining repressive controls on political assembly and the media.
He asked how they could expect Zimbabwe to support international human rights at the commission while it disregarded the rights of its own people.
Australia and Canada also objected.
However, Zimbabwe's ambassador to the UN, Boniface Chidyausiku, said that when it came to human rights no country was beyond reproach.
The Human Rights Commission, based in Geneva, has been widely criticised because of the poor human rights records of many of its members.
Kofi Annan has said that its declining credibility has cast a shadow on the UN's reputation as a whole.
He has suggested that as part of wider UN reforms, the commission should be replaced by a smaller human rights council directly elected by the General Assembly.
Harare reaches state of collapse
29 April 2005 08:13
Picture a township of 100 000 people going two weeks without water, suffering sewerage bursts, no fuel, and power blackouts that often last half the day.
That is the reality in Mabvuku/Tafara township, one of at least seven Harare suburbs afflicted by the progressive collapse of basic services.
"It's a recipe for disaster," said John Chirosvo, of Mabvuku. "The city's crumbling," says Mark Davies, chairperson of the Harare Residents and Ratepayers Association. "Water and power cuts are widespread; the people who have run the city for the past 25 years have failed us."
Davies said several suburbs had gone for two months without water, while there were intermittent power cuts. In Mabvuku/Tafara residents are surviving on water from boreholes and streams that are considered a health hazard. Timothy Mabhawu, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) MP for the constituency, said he had been warned the township might be without piped water for a year.
The Mail & Guardian witnessed scores of Mabvuku residents trudging long distances to collect water from streams in Gosden.
Marceline Nyika (32) was interviewed while fetching water from a borehole at RC Hondo building contractors, meant for brickmakers. "We don't know who's to blame," she said, sitting on two tins in a 100m queue. "It's two weeks now, and no word from the government."
About a kilometre south sewerage pipes that burst a few weeks ago remain unrepaired.
Inquiries established that the water supply had been interrupted in six other black residential areas in and around the capital, including Ruwa, Epworth, Mbare, Mufakose and the dormitory town of Chitungwiza. Davies said up-market areas of Harare, such as Borrowdale and Greendale, had not been spared.
The "overall state of the economy" was to blame. City engineers had told him the government would need $100-million for the construction of another waterworks. The existing facility could service only half the townships and nearby industry.
Lake Chivero dam, about 30km west of Harare, has been the traditional water source for the city. However, rapid population growth * fuelled by the government's land reforms and the collapse of the rural economy * has outstripped capacity. To ease the pressure, the government proposed building Kunzwi dam and a new waterworks. The project has been on the drafting table for eight years, sources said, as its huge budget required Cabinet approval.
Engineers at the city council said the problem was that "everything is centralised". "It was foreseen 50 years ago that Harare would need a new waterworks. But government has sat on the plans."
Mabhawu said he had tried to break the water impasse. "Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo is running meetings at the party headquarters, and the mayoress and her town clerk are at a trade fair in Bulawayo," Mabhawu said. "There is nobody to assist."
Former Harare Mayor Elias Mudzuri said nearly all the engineers had left the council. "We now have many incompetent people running city affairs because the [national] government bullied its way into council affairs," he said. "[Local Government Minister] Chombo is an educationist, not an engineer," he added.
Harare's regular power cuts flow from a crippling foreign exchange shortage that prevents the Zimbabwe government from servicing its debts to Eskom and Mozambique's Cahora Bassa.
Zimbabwe's Standard newspaper has estimated that the Zimbabwe Electricty Authority owes $200-million, of which $12-million (R70-million) is owed to Eskom.
However, Eskom spokesperson Fani Zulu said Zesa owed Eskom "less than R15-million". Eskom was in no way responsible for Harare's power cuts. "Several schools may have to be shut down," Mabhawu said. "Children can't use filthy latrines * it's a health hazard."
Driving into town from Mabvuku, one sees meandering fuel queues that have resurfaced since the elections. Most Harare garages have run dry.
The woes of Harare residents are compounded by a shortage of basic food commodities at most supermarkets. Sugar, maize meal, cooking oil and margarine have disappeared from shelves.
The MDC on Wednesday said Zimbabwe had run out of food, including the national staple, maize, and demanded an apology from President Robert Robert Mugabe's government for lying about abundant harvests. "The country has run out of maize, this a fact," Renson Gasela, MDC's shadow agriculture minister told a news conference.
The government, which last year claimed Zimbabwe had produced a bumper harvest, should apologise for misleading Zimbabweans and start approaching international aid donors, Gasela said.
Mugabe admitted before the parliamentary elections in March that Zimbabwe would have to import grain following drought and a poor harvest.
Interfin Securities economist Farayi Dyirakumunda said shortages of fuel and basic commodities were linked to Zimbabwe's critical forex problem.
"People could be holding back on fuel supplies in anticipation of a devaluation of the Zimdollar, which would trigger price hikes," Dyirakumunda said.
"Many producers of basic food commodities have scaled down their operations because they don't have forex to import inputs," he said. "The government has aggravated the situation with price controls."
Zimbabwean economist Eric Block confirmed that the country's economy was "in continuing decline", and that Harare was suffering from a lack of forex to maintain equipment and buy water purification chemicals. Tourism was depressed, because of both the political climate and rising prices.
The only bright spot was the fall in the inflation rate from a high of 622% in January 2004 to its current 123%.
However, Block predicted inflation would start rising again because of oil price increases and Zimbabwe's poor harvest. The country had produced only a third of the basic foodstuffs required to feed the population. Drought was a factor in this, but "chaos in the agricultural sector" had also played its part. Block suggested the government had subsidised food prices before the election, but said this was not sustainable.
- 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.