- 'Slow start' for Zimbabwe strike
A two-day opposition general strike in Zimbabwe in protest against a wave of arrests and demolitions has got off to a slow start, reports say.
Correspondents in the capital, Harare, say that although early morning traffic was lighter than usual, most businesses are open, as are schools and shops.
Security is reportedly tight, with a heavy police presence in poor areas.
Meanwhile, the opposition called for a boycott of Thursday's state opening of parliament by President Robert Mugabe.
The Movement for Democratic Change's National Chairman, Isaac Matongo, said the call had gone out to some members of the ruling party as well.
"We are asking even some Zanu-PF members to stay away because this is not being done to the MDC alone, it is being done to every Zimbabwean, who is up in arms with this government," he said.
Mr Mugabe is expected to announce constitutional changes, including the reintroduction of an upper house of parliament, which correspondents say are aimed at strengthening his grip on power.
Correspondents say the usual rush hour traffic in Harare was far lighter than normal and there are reports that while many factories are open, up to half their workers have stayed at home.
The situation seems to be the same in the southern city of Bulawayo, where normally busy shopping areas are quiet.
The government has put on a show of force - with military helicopters clattering overhead - leaving people in no doubt that those who do strike could face punishment, he says.
Police have warned they will deal "ruthlessly" with any street protests.
The strike comes in response to a crackdown in which police say 30,000 people were detained, while thousands of homes and businesses have been demolished and as many as 200,000 made homeless.
The government says the demolitions are necessary to clean up Zimbabwe's urban areas and crack down on those involved in illegally trading foreign currency and scarce foodstuffs, such as sugar.
The sweep has been heavily criticised by church groups and opposition parties, which have combined to form the "Broad Alliance" and call the strike.
They say the crackdown is aimed at driving opposition supporters back to rural areas, where they have less influence.
The UN has demanded that Mr Mugabe stop the eviction operation, which it describes as a new form of "apartheid".
The UN Human Rights Commission estimates that up to 200,000 people may have been made homeless by the operation.
BBC southern Africa correspondent Barnaby Phillips says Zimbabwe is set for another test of strength between an embattled opposition and a repressive government.
Zim clean-up drive spreads to farms
08 June 2005 05:47
Three weeks after Zimbabwe launched an unpopular urban clean-up drive that has drawn widespread criticism and made thousands homeless and destitute in the height of winter, authorities on Wednesday widened the crackdown to previously white-owned farms now in the hands of blacks.
Newly settled farmers at two farms on the outskirts of Harare -- Lowdale and Chitamba -- were "ordered" by police to vacate their properties by Wednesday, the state-run daily Herald said.
Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena said the farms have been earmarked for "peri-urban" housing settlements.
Black settlers moved to the two farms in 2000 when the government embarked on a land-reform programme by driving away white farmers and redistributing their properties to landless blacks, saying it was to correct colonial-era imbalances in land ownership.
Witnesses at Lowdale farm reported increased activity, with farmers frantically trying to harvest their corn before the police moved in.
The operation, dubbed Restore Order or Clean Out Trash, was initially interpreted by some commentators as retribution against the urban electorate for having voted for the opposition in the March parliamentary elections.
But supporters of President Robert Mugabe's government also saw their homes demolished and the crackdown has now been extended to some rural areas, where illegal shacks and market stalls have been demolished.
Rights groups, international organisations and foreign diplomats have openly condemned the operation.
"It is with great concern Sweden has noted the merciless destruction of informal structures and dwelling in Zimbabwean cities, having left hundreds of thousands of poor families destitute and homeless in wintertime," said Swedish ambassador Kristina Svensson.
"The winter is cold in Zimbabwe and it is freezingly cold for those who now lack shelter and income," she said at a function to mark her country's national day this week.
A grouping of churches in the eastern province of Manicaland said that though the churches appreciate the need to clean up cities, "we are left shocked and numbed by the utter havoc and destruction being currently wreaked".
"A man-made humanitarian crisis has been created," the churches said in a statement.
An association of Zimbabwean NGOs, Nango, said that while no audit has been carried out yet on the impact of the operation on the livelihoods and welfare of people, the exercise "points to the significant entrenchment of an already dire urban poverty, unemployment and human rights violations".
"By no means should the prerogative of fostering a clean environment be allowed to override government's obligations to protect the interests of the poor, the marginalised and the vulnerable," said Nango.
Analysts struggled to find explanations.
"I think a number of actions being done now don't have planning behind them; they don't have much period of thinking and analysis," said political commentator Heneri Dzinotyiweyi.
"I think Mugabe wants to clean up his mess before he leaves office," said another commentator, who asked not be named.
Opposition lawmaker Trudy Stevenson said the agenda is to "drive everyone out of towns and cities back into the rural areas, so they cannot organise themselves and challenge the regime".
Another theory making the rounds in the capital is that the government wants people back in the villages and on the farms, which have experienced a shortage of agricultural labour since the land reforms began in 2000. -- Sapa-AFP
- 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.