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NCA boycott Tsvangirai’s stakeholders’ forum
Violet Gonda
27 March 2009

Lovemore Madhuku, chairperson of the National Constitutional Assembly, said his pressure group did not attend the Stakeholders Forum opened by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Friday, because it was ‘not a genuine meeting but a mere talk shop.’

The Prime Minister opened a consultative forum with stakeholders from civil society, the business community and the employment sector, as well as gender and development partners, to hear the concerns of Zimbabweans regarding the crisis in the country.

But the civic leader accused the Prime Minister and his team of trying to undermine the NCA constitutional-making process. Madhuku said the inclusive government wants a ‘parliament driven’ constitution, whereas his group is calling for a ‘people driven’ constitution.

“We now know that the Prime Minister and his team have an idea of undermining the NCA so that they can get their defective process of making a constitution through. They are trying to sideline and undermine the NCA and create some groups in civil society who will just sing their tune.”
A statement from the Prime Minister’s office had said: “The one-day workshop will afford the inclusive government the opportunity to hear the views and concerns of ordinary Zimbabweans regarding economic stability, food security, restoration of basic services, guaranteeing of rights and freedoms, and improving international relations.”

But Madhuku says the forum was convened by a government which believes the role of civil society is just to support it – and not to hear the other side.

According to the civic leader, his group was not invited as NCA but was invited by the National Association of Non Governmental Organisations (NANGO) and not through the Prime Minister’s office. He said the NCA is not a member of NANGO and therefore cannot be represented by this group. Madhuku said there was a misrepresentation that the whole process was to go as a cluster, and then NANGO would in turn present their position to the plenary. The NCA objected to this.

He maintains the Prime Minister and Eric Matinenga, the Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, are already aware of the NCA’s position and therefore meeting them again this time will provide nothing new. He said this was a talking workshop and no grievances would have been solved.

Critics of this approach have expressed disappointment at Madhuku’s attitude, saying that this was an opportunity to ask tough questions of the new government – an opportunity that Zimbabweans rarely have.


Minister confirms Mugabe refusing to swear in Bennett
By Violet Gonda
27 March 2009

Sam Sipepa Nkomo, the MDC Minister of Water Resources and Development, has confirmed a report SW Radio Africa broadcast on Wednesday, that Robert Mugabe is refusing to swear in MDC National Treasurer Roy Bennett, as the Deputy Minister of Agriculture.

Nkomo was speaking on Friday’s Hot Seat programme, where he discussed a number of wide ranging issues, including the water crisis

The Minister said Mugabe’s argument is that Bennett is facing serious allegations in the courts, but Nkomo said this is totally wrong. He said Bennett is still innocent until proven guilty. The former commercial farmer is facing trumped up terrorism charges, of plotting to acquire weapons.

Nkomo said Mugabe made the statement about Bennett during a meeting that was attended by the Deputy Minister Arthur Mutambara and that it was the Deputy Prime Minister who told them about it.

Nkomo said Prime Minister Tsvangirai has a right to appoint his own Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers, and Mugabe’s job is only to formalise the appointments. “We will not accept it. Bennett is our man and he will have to be sworn in whether Mugabe likes it or not,” said the water Minister, who is also the MDC’s Secretary for Home Affairs.

He said the biggest challenge he is currently facing in his ministry is the issue of funding, to buy much needed water purification chemicals, for sewage management and borehole rehabilitation.

But Nkomo admits the problem of funding will remain a problem if ZANU PF does not accept reform. The international community has refused to come to Zimbabwe’s aid until there are clear signs of change. Minister Nkomo said he does not blame the west’s stance on Zimbabwe, saying there are some ‘hygiene’ issues that still need to be resolved in the coalition government.

Major outstanding issues revolve around the distribution of governors, permanent secretaries, ambassadors and the ongoing farm invasions, plus the continued detention of political prisoners.

Nkomo believes his party should get South Africa and SADC involved, since they are the guarantors of the Global Political Agreement (GPA).

“I think the MDC itself must put its foot down and say this is an agreement and we must follow that agreement to the spirit and latter of the agreement. And I think until that happens we could be playing games.”

He went on to say: “I think until we do that they will just believe that because we are already in government, therefore everything is alright. Everything will be alright – once we comply with the GPA.”


Tsvangirai vows to end impunity and to arrest farm invaders
By Alex Bell
27 March 2009

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has vowed to take tough action against the perpetrators of the ongoing farm invasions sweeping the country, stating on Friday that the culture of entitlement and impunity in Zimbabwe has ‘stained’ the country for too long.

Tsvangirai was speaking to stakeholders from civil society, the business community, employment sector, plus gender and development partners, at the opening of a one-day consultative forum in Harare on Friday morning. The workshop was organised to give the unity government the opportunity to hear the views and concerns of ordinary Zimbabweans, including representatives from the farming sector, who were also present. The Prime Minister stated during his opening speech that the ongoing farm invasions, “which are being done in the name of the land reform process, are actually acts of theft, using fraudulent offer letters.”

“Those continuing to undertake these activities will be arrested and face justice in the courts,” Tsvangirai said.

The comments have highlighted the deep divisions that are present in Zimbabwe’s so called ‘unity’ government, as they are completely opposite to the sentiments of Robert Mugabe. The ageing dictator, who initiated the original land grab campaign in 2000, once again condoned the often violent action during his lavish birthday celebrations last month, declaring that the remaining commercial farmers are not welcome in Zimbabwe. His comments saw the current land attacks intensify, leaving many hundreds of farm workers destitute and stopping critically needed production of food. SW Radio Africa’s Harare correspondent, Simon Muchemwa, explained on Friday that Tsvangirai’s comments “have come too late for many, especially since Mugabe has already encouraged the attacks.”

The farming community has been left reeling by the fresh wave of farm attacks that started mere days before Tsvangirai was sworn into the unity government as Prime Minister last month. More than 100 farmers are now facing prosecution on trumped up charges of ‘occupying state land illegally’, as part of a two pronged campaign to remove the remaining commercial farmers. The second, and more sinister part of the campaign, has forced many farmers off their land and into hiding, as violent farm evictions have intensified.

How Tsvangirai plans to keep his word is yet to be seen, as it is not the first time, since becoming Prime Minister that he has condemned the farm attacks – condemnation that has not sparked any meaningful action. The offensive against the farmers has been ignored and in many cases supported by police officials, and even local magistrates have been instructed by the Attorney General to ignore court orders protecting the farms and fast-track the prosecution of the farmers. There is therefore doubt that Tsvangirai will be able to sway the proven allegiance of either the police force or members of the judiciary to secure the arrest and prosecution of land invaders, as in many cases, they are themselves beneficiaries of Robert Mugabe’s land grab campaign.

The President of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), Trevor Gifford, explained on Friday that the Prime Minister’s comments are welcome, despite him making similar promises in the past. But Gifford also acknowledged that Tsvangirai’s comments “are going to be difficult to keep,” because of the involvement in the farm attacks of police, members of the judiciary, and ZANU PF loyalists in the government. Gifford expressed hope that the land issue, which was finally raised in Cabinet this week, will start to gather positive momentum in the wake of Tsvangirai’s promises, saying that the farmers “just want to get on with the business of reconstructing agriculture and growing food for the nation.”


University of Zimbabwe not opening Monday due to high fees
By Tichaona Sibanda
27 March 2009

Almost 10 000 students from the University of Zimbabwe have failed to pay their fees for the first term of the 2009 academic year, and this has forced the institution to postpone opening its doors on Monday next week.

The UZ initially resumed lectures in January this year but was forced to close, following demonstrations by students after authorities asked them to pay their fees in foreign currency.

Clever Bere, the President of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) told us each student was being asked to pay at least US$800 for this academic term. He told us government’s attitude towards students was creating ground for conflict.

‘Our parents are being paid US$100 a month so where do authorities think we get that sort of money from,’ asked Bere.

The student leader said 95 percent of students at the UZ had failed to pay for their fees. He said this represents about 10 000 out of 13 000 students registered with the institution.

‘When we demonstrated against the high fees in January, they had asked us to pay US$200 but that amount has since gone up to US$800. It’s unfortunate that most of us can’t afford that amount,’ Bere said.

He added; ‘We are actively involved in talks with the stakeholders but so far these negotiations have not yielded anything positive. In fact, the higher education minister Stan Mudenge has been avoiding us, so how do you hope to solve this problem when the major player is not sincere.’

The student leader said the hold up to the academic year was a major blow to many students who were hoping to graduate this year. Already many students have lost a year of studies following a series of clashes with university authorities.

Hot Seat 270309

Violet’s guest is Sam Sipepa Nkomo, Minister of Water Resources and Development. Water is a basic human right that is central to everything, including public health and stability. What is the status of Zimbabwe’s water crisis, now that it’s in the hands of the MDC and how does he plan to improve the distribution of this critical resource? The Minister also gives us a rare glimpse into the progress of the inclusive government, which he says is suffering from ‘hygiene’ issues. Nkomo also confirms that Robert Mugabe is refusing to swear in MDC official Roy Bennett as the new deputy Minister of Agriculture.

Callback 270309

Mai Alberto says she is barely surviving by selling bananas and cool drinks to support her family; Dzinganisai says Grace Mugabe’s diplomatic immunity over her assault of a journalist in Hong Kong, is indicative of the many injustices that take place in Zimbabwe. And, Dambudzo says things may have appeared to be improving before the death of Mai Tsvangirai, but they seem to be far from improving now.

Letter from Zimbabwe 270309

A budget which halves spending plans? Promises to uphold the rule of law? A stop to any further farm invasions? A government that will operate on a cash budget basis? Zimbabwe’s government operating on a cash budget basis – this is like some weird, wild, psychedelic dream!

Newsreel 260309

Continuing concerns over Mugabe’s insistence that he is in charge
By Violet Gonda
26 March 2009

Robert Mugabe spoke to a visiting Norwegian envoy on Wednesday about the progress of the inclusive government. He said: “At the moment, we feel in partnership with those who have joined the Government. It is smoothly running. It is now in our rhythm. It’s like tradition… we no longer have an opposition and we are working together towards the same goals we have set as a government.”

He also went on to appeal for international financial help, but insisted it must have no strings attached.

Observers have commented on how worrying Mugabe’s statements are. As far as he is concerned, nothing had changed, as he’s managed to get rid of the irritating opposition.

The only thing that has changed is that after years of food shortages, goods are returning to shop shelves and prices of basic commodities are beginning to fall, but the basic infrastructure remains broken.

Journalist Jan Raath reported this week, saying: “The sense of optimism is alive, but after the repeated violent destruction of expectations of the past decade people have also learnt to recognise the fragility of their hope. It’s like walking into a pool of delicious, cool water, while knowing that broken glass lies on the bottom.”

Exactly a year has gone by since the disputed March elections (which many feel the MDC convincingly won) and some months have elapsed since the agreement leading to the power sharing government, but there is an on-going avoidance of key policy reform issues. Land reform and tenure, repressive legislation, a transitional justice mechanism and constitutional reform still remain as just some of the major outstanding issues.

The political leaders in the coalition government are still stuck on appointments and a display of unity and togetherness, while human rights abuses continue.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti made a passionate appeal to the international community to pump in aid to avoid the collapse of this fragile government, warning of anarchy if it fails.

Threats of this may have been evident Thursday with reports from the Zimbabwe Observer website that soldiers and police officers engaged in fist fights in the capital city. The report said that uniformed forces were waiting for the arrival of their foreign currency salary allowances at a local bank in Harare and that desperate civil servants invaded Biti’s office after they failed to withdraw their US$100 salaries, using their vouchers at Agribank. It went on to say that the Finance Minister went to the Bank to try and resolve the problem. We were unable to get through to anyone to clarify this story.

Many observers say the energy Biti is expending in trying to persuade the international community to provide massive funds is wasted, because Mugabe just takes to his podium, insults these same nations and ensures Zimbabwe remains trapped in the crisis he has created.

Furthermore, calling for international investment and engagement when the foundation of the Zimbabwean economy- the agricultural sector – is still being pillaged and violently invaded, is a complete waste of time.

A number of critics have said that the greatest block to any recovery plan is Mugabe’s belligerence and the MDC obsession with appeasement.

Father Oscar Wermter, a Jesuit Priest who works with the poor in Harare’s Mbare suburb, says many victims of Mugabe regime’s disastrous policies are crying out for out for vengeance, as they continue to suffer. He gives an example of 90 year old James Banda, a victim of operation Murambatsvina, who lost everything that he had ever worked.

“It is an outrageous injustice which cries to high heaven for vengeance that a good worker whose labour has sustained our economy for so long should end up as a beggar, having to ask for charity, as if he had never done a day’s work. His work record is such that he deserves a carefree retirement,” Father Wermter said.


Prime Minister to open Stakeholder Forum Friday
By Staff reporter
26 March 2009
Stakeholders from civil society, the business community, employment sector, plus gender and development partners, are to have a consultative forum with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and cabinet ministers on Friday.
The Prime Minister’s office issued a statement saying:” The one-day workshop will afford the Inclusive Government the opportunity to hear the views and concerns of ordinary Zimbabweans regarding; economic stability, food security, restoration of basic services, guaranteeing of rights and freedoms and improving international relations.”
The outcome from this consultative forum will feed into discussions that will take place at a ministerial cabinet retreat, to be held in the first week of April.


Biti warns of total collapse without urgent donor investment
By Alex Bell
26 March 2009

Finance Minister Tendai Biti’s pleas for foreign investment in Zimbabwe’s power share government have grown increasingly desperate, and on Wednesday the MDC official strengthened his warnings to international donor governments about Zimbabwe’s possible fate.

Biti has previously warned that foreign investment is crucial to rebuild the shattered country, but on Wednesday he raised the bar by warning of potential anarchy, without donor support. Biti was addressing a joint press conference in Harare with the visiting Norwegian International Development Minister, Erik Solheim. The Zimbabwean Minister told reporters the unity government was set to fail without donor support, and explained the consequences would include possible violent civil unrest.

“The consequences of it (unity government) not working are drastic, it will
lead to a failure of the state, a collapse of the state and all the civil
unrest that follows the failure of a state,” Biti said.

Biti’s could be viewed as almost threats to donor countries, but observers have argued that Biti has little choice but to intensify his pleas for foreign investment. Economist John Robertson told SW Radio Africa on Thursday that Biti’s comments are “earnest forms of pleading rather than threats from a man who has no choice but to plead.”

Western countries however, have insisted that they want Zimbabwe’s unity government to submit not only a credible economic recovery programme, but that it is also vital to implement genuine and comprehensive political and economic reforms, before they will lift targeted sanctions or provide direct financial support to the government. The United States has gone even further by demanding a new and democratic constitution in Zimbabwe within the next 18 months, followed by fresh elections, before it lifts targeted sanctions or provides significant financial support.

The donor countries are understandably hesitant to commit the billions needed to rebuild Zimbabwe, as the man at the heart of the country’s collapse still has the reins of power firmly in his grasp. In the past year, the flood of Zimbabweans leaving the country has reached record levels, with an 82% increase in asylum seekers from Zimbabwe recorded in 2008. This is according to a report by the United Nations Refugee Agency, and the figures are a testament to the reality that is Zimbabwe, with Robert Mugabe in charge.

A delegation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has been in the country exploring the possibility of restoring financial ties with Zimbabwe, meanwhile has dampened the hopes of many who expected a surge of aid following the IMF visit. The delegation made it clear in a statement released Wednesday that it was cautiously holding back on investment in Zimbabwe until such a time that the government can produce “a track record of sound policy implementation, donor support and a resolution of overdue financial obligations to official creditors.”

At the same time, those countries that have pledged money to Zimbabwe in recent weeks have only done so by channelling money into humanitarian agencies working on the ground – rather than handing the money over to the government. This includes a financial boost of US$10 million from the Swedish government that was announced on Thursday, which will be channelled through the UN Consolidated Appeal Process, the International Red Cross and a host of other international NGOs. Sweden’s aid package comes not long after Australia’s recent multi-million dollar financial commitment to Zimbabwe, which will also be channeled through UN agencies and other humanitarian groups on the ground.

Robertson explained on Thursday that the IMF’s decision has not come as a surprise, given the obvious violations of the power share agreement by ZANU PF. He cited the recent arrest and detention of the MDC’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture designate, Roy Bennett, as well as the ongoing farm invasions, as justifiable reasons for countries to withhold aid.

“It is right and proper that the IMF and donor countries stay reluctant, because there is clearly no change to justify financial support,” Robertson said.


Advocacy group calls for human rights reforms before aid
By Tichaona Sibanda
26 March 2009

International advocacy group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), on Thursday called on the inclusive government to carry out comprehensive justice reforms without delay, to ensure accountability for past abuses.

The human rights group also urged Southern African leaders meeting next week Monday in Swaziland, to withhold development aid until clear steps are taken to punish abuses. SADC leaders are meeting in Mbabane to consider a request from the inclusive government for US$2 billion in short-term aid.

The country is desperately in need of aid to rebuild its economy, which has collapsed from years of Mugabe’s misrule.

Georgette Gagnon, HRW’s Africa director, said that the government of Zimbabwe should take clear action towards restoring the rule of law and respect for human rights, before the international community releases longer-term development aid. She said these are essential for economic recovery and restoration of investor confidence.

‘The new inclusive government should carry out comprehensive justice reforms without delay to ensure accountability for past abuses,’ she said, adding that her organization noted that the one-year anniversary is approaching for the controversial elections of March 29th 2008, which ultimately resulted in the new government.

Tiseke Kasambala, an advocacy officer with HRW, said that ZANU PF’s violence campaign against the MDC had caused extensive human suffering, but no one has been held accountable: ‘Since then, no one, whether from the police, military, war veteran or ZANU-PF official has been held to account for the crimes. The authorities have not provided victims of abuses with effective remedies, as required by international law, including judicial redress and other forms of reparation.’

In the campaign against the MDC, well over 200 MDC activists were killed, some in truly horrible circumstances, while at least 5,000 were badly tortured, and at least an additional 10,000 required medical treatment for various injuries. Over half a million people were displaced in the rural areas.

Kasambala added; ‘Zimbabwe’s political situation remains precarious, but unless the new power-sharing government promptly brings perpetrators of abuses to account and makes clear that no further abuses will be tolerated, the country risks sliding back to possibly even greater political turmoil.’

HRW urged SADC leaders to press the authorities in the country to set a specific timeline for tangible progress on key human rights reforms. Actions that could be undertaken immediately and that would help demonstrate a real commitment to justice and human rights.


Deputy Prime Minister’s mother dies
By Violet Gonda
26 March 2009

Catherine Mabhiza, the mother of Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe, died on Thursday morning from injuries she sustained in a road accident last month.

A statement by the MDC said Mrs Mabhiza died “at Arcadia Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa where she had gone for treatment following a fatal car accident along the Harare-Bulawayo Road on 10 February 2009, which killed the Vice President’s aide, Timond Dube.”

She had been traveling from Bulawayo to Harare to attend her daughter’s swearing in as Deputy Prime Minister in the inclusive government.

The death of the Deputy Prime Minister’s mother follows that of Amai Susan Tsvangirai who also died in car crash on the 6th March. Prime Minister Tsvangirai, who sustained head and neck injuries, flew back to Harare on Tuesday, from South Africa where he had gone to recuperate.

The roads in Zimbabwe are extremely poor, but the odds of having the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister involved in car crashes that have fatalities, over the same period, has given rise to much suspicion, especially as ZANU PF stands accused of eliminating numerous opponents through car crashes in the past.

Mrs Mabhiza is expected to be buried in Bulawayo on Sunday.


Southern African artists in Zimbabwe freedom concert
By Lance Guma
26 March 2009

Leading Southern African artists from South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana and Zimbabwe will this Sunday feature in a concert demanding freedom for Zimbabwe. The concert, to be held at the Bassline venue in Johannesburg, will feature artists Zubz, Thandiswa, Napo Masheane, Kwani Experience from South Africa and Comrade Fatso, Chirikure Chirikure and solo guitarist Steve Makoni from Zimbabwe. The show has been dubbed ‘Make Some Noise: A concert For Freedom In Zimbabwe’ and has been organized by Magamba, the Cultural Activist Network, Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum and LNM Entertainment.

A press release from the organizers says; ‘The people of Zimbabwe are crying out for a new constitution, freedom of expression and for their social, economic and human rights. Zimbabwe is in real need of regional solidarity at a time when a shaky unity government is ill-equipped and lacking will to address these issues.’ The feeling amongst participants is that SADC is watching in complicit silence while opposition activists are abducted and thousands of people die from curable diseases like cholera. The organizers say they want to build regional solidarity around the Zimbabwean crisis.

The date of the concert has also been set to coincide symbolically with last year’s election victory by the MDC in the 29 March harmonized elections. ‘The event is expected to have big media reach and a tangible effect in developing real solidarity. Major media organisations will be invited to film the event and a press conference will be held in advance. Buses will be provided to transport hundreds of Zimbabwean asylum seekers and other exiles from their neighbourhoods.’ This will be the fourth ‘Make Some Noise Concert’ to date.

Heart of the Matter 260309

Tanonoka focuses on the smart sanctions against the ZANU PF leadership, and the calls they are making for them to be lifted. Tano says that as long as repressive laws remain in effect, and the balance of power is still skewed in favour of ZANU PF, sanctions must stay! He asks, “Why should sanctions be lifted? So that Mr Tsvangirai can go on foreign trips accompanied by Mugabe, his insatiable wife and a million hangers on to milk away whatever little assistance the world wants to give to the people of Zimbabwe?”

Callback 260309

Taylor says Gono is responsible for Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown and for that he should be tried in the courts; Chitanda says that things are so tough that the only way they are able to survive is by helping each other and propping each other up. And, Memory says if it was not for her strong faith in God she, like all her peers, would have resorted to prostitution in order to survive. Now they are all dying from AIDS related illnesses.

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Mutambara urges gvt to reform to have sanctions lifted
By Tichaona Sibanda
25 March 2009

Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara on Wednesday told parliamentarians that the inclusive government should first ‘put its house in order’ before the western world can lift its targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe.

Delivering his first speech in the House of Assembly, Mutambara said the inclusive government should first improve its image to the international community by stopping the farm invasions and returning the rule of law.

‘Those sanctions were imposed on us by things that we do – like farm invasions, abductions and the breakdown of the rule of law. People have perceptions about governance in Zimbabwe, so we should do something to correct these perceptions,’ Mutambara said.

Donors remain sceptical about Robert Mugabe’s commitment to change and have withheld the much needed funds to kick start the country’s economy. Most of the Western donors are not prepared to allow resources to flow into the country because of the number of issues that still need urgent reform – the freeing of the media, observance of property rights and the rule of law.

Meanwhile, the venue for the forthcoming South African Development Community (SADC) summit of heads of state and government has now changed from Cape Town to Mbabane, Swaziland next week Monday.

The summit has been convened to consider an economic recovery aid package for Zimbabwe. The SADC summit will be preceded by a meeting this Sunday of the SADC Council of Ministers, chaired by South African Foreign Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, to process reports to be considered by the heads of state and government.

With respect to Zimbabwe, the SADC Finance Ministers had met recently in Cape Town, where they made recommendations to the SADC Council of Ministers, regarding the economic recovery plan for Zimbabwe.

Accordingly, the SADC Council of Ministers will present a report on the economic recovery plan to the SADC heads of state for approval by the summit. Analysts hope this will lead to South Africa opening a credit line to help Zimbabwe rebuild its shattered economy after years of political and economic crisis.


Mugabe refusing to swear in Bennett
By Violet Gonda
25 March 2009

It’s reported that Robert Mugabe is refusing to swear in Roy Bennett, the MDC Deputy Minister of Agriculture designate, to the new coalition government. It was expected that the former commercial farmer would be sworn in at the same time as the governors. But the issue of the governors is also still unresolved.

The MDC politician fulfilled the first stage of becoming a cabinet minister by being sworn in as a non-constituency Senator last Wednesday. This was to enable him to take up his role, as only members of parliament and the senate can be government ministers.

He missed the swearing in of Deputy Ministers after he was slapped with what the MDC has described as extremely dubious terrorism charges, and locked up in a Mutare Remand Prison.

According to MDC officials, Mugabe told a cabinet caucus on Monday that he will not swear in Bennett, claiming he is facing serious charges. This is despite the fact that the President swore in some MDC officials such as Minister Eric Matinenga, who also still faces trumped up political charges.

During the meeting it’s alleged that Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara asked Mugabe what would happen if Bennett was acquitted. Mugabe is reported to have said; ‘He will never be acquitted’.

We were not able to reach the Deputy Prime Minister to confirm this.

But MDC officials in the meeting say Mugabe’s true feelings for Bennett were exposed during the caucus meeting on Monday. Apparently the President wanted to know why everyone is ‘so fixated with Bennett’, with Mugabe asking questions such as: “What is it about Roy Bennett? Who is he? Can’t the MDC get another person?’

It is not clear why Mugabe is so hostile towards Bennett or what Bennett might have done to warrant such deep hatred.

We were not able to get a comment from Bennett but it is understood he is seriously concerned about his welfare. He also told the MDC leadership that he would not mind stepping down from the position of Deputy Minister if it would help, as he could still concentrate on working within the party. But we are told the MDC leadership insist that they are entitled to choose whoever they want to put in government and will stick with their decision as a matter of principle.

What happens next waits to be seen, as it has also emerged that Mugabe is refusing to give any ground over the issue of governors and permanent secretaries. He is insisting that he won the June 27th run off and is entitled to appoint these officials. All three political parties had agreed that the MDC-T would have 5 governors, ZANU PF 4 and 1 from the MDC-M.

But MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said the issue of the governors and permanent secretaries is still under discussion by the three principals – Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara. He said the discussion had been put on hold because the Prime Minister was not available, having taken time off to recuperate after the tragic accident that killed his wife and left him injured.

Chamisa said there are several issues that remain unresolved for the unity government such as, the appointments of Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and Attorney General Johannes Tomana, Bennett’s swearing in, the issue of the farm invasions and the dispute over Chamisa’s Information and Technology Ministry.

In a related matter, a Prime Minister traditionally moves into State House, but it is also reported that Mugabe is refusing to make way for Morgan Tsvangirai as he uses State House for official functions, such as receiving ambassadors and visiting Heads of State. Mugabe occupies Zimbabwe House and uses the State House for official engagements.

When asked for comment, Tsvangirai’s spokesman James Maridadi said the Prime Minister was not keen to occupy the State House. Maridadi said: “The last time I spoke to the Prime Minister about the issue of his residence, he said Zimbabwe needs economic stability and national healing and those are his issues of priority. Not the kind of house he is going to sleep in or the kind of car he is going to drive.”


Farmer makes desperate plea to Tsvangirai over farm invasions
By Alex Bell
25 March 2009

A Chegutu farmer has made a desperate plea to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, to put a stop to the fresh wave of farm invasions sweeping the country – a campaign that is standing in the way of crucial foreign investment into the country.

Ben Freeth, who has repeatedly been on the receiving end of violence and intimidation by land invaders, has written a heartfelt letter to the Prime Minister, urging him to ensure the safety of commercial farmers. In the letter Freeth argues that the country cannot be rebuilt without the success of agriculture, which he calls “the engine that will drive Zimbabwe towards change.”

Freeth also explained that so far there has been no open policy decision of support from the MDC over last year’s SADC Tribunal ruling, which was set to protect commercial farmers from future invasions. However, many of these SADC Tribunal ‘protected’ farmers and farm workers have since been invaded, prosecuted, stopped from farming and thrown out of their homes, all with State assistance. Freeth told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday that there needs to be a clear statement by the Prime Minister over the SADC ruling and the MDC’s support of it, if the farm invasions are to stop.

“If the farm invasions continue and farms are left to become unproductive, tens of thousands of people will be left homeless and without food,” Freeth explained. “One day there won’t be foreign donors pumping money into Zimbabwe because they will have had enough of funding a failed country. What then?”

Most potential foreign donors, whose cash is vital to restoring the country’s devastated economy, want to see the farm invasions cease before committing funds towards the US$5 billion Finance Minister Tendai Biti has said is needed to restore basic government functions. However, in the days since the new power-sharing Government between the MDC and ZANU PF was formed last month, the land seizures have escalated to the point where more than 100 farmers face prosecution and more than 80 farms have been seized. This means hardly there are hardly any farms left to produce food.

An interim economic blueprint that was released last Thursday has, among other things, demanded an immediate halt to the fresh wave of farm disruptions, in an effort to kick-start the country’s economy. But no clear plan of action as to how this is going to be enforced has been detailed.

The offensive against the farmers started just days before Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in as Prime Minister last month and pressure on farmers to vacate their land has been increasing ever since. Many farmers have now been forced into hiding as the campaign continues – a clear violation of the unity deal between the MDC and ZANU PF, which calls for the return of the rule of law and which also says that farmers should be encouraged to produce food.


MDC names missing abductees
By Violet Gonda
25 March 2009

Scores of civic and political activists were released on bail recently, while three known political detainees are still in custody. The victims were part of a group of about 40 individuals abducted between the months of October and December last year. On Tuesday the MDC published the names of the activists who they know are still missing and said it is worried about the whereabouts of these seven individuals, abducted last year.
Gwenzi Kahiya – abducted 29 October 2008 in Zvimba,
Ephraim Mabeka – abducted 10 December 2008 in Gokwe,
Lovemore Machokoto – abducted 10 December 2008 in Gokwe,
Charles Muza – abducted 10 December 2008 in Gokwe,
Edmore Vangirayi – abducted 10 December 2008 in Gokwe,
Graham Matehwa – abducted 17 December in Makoni South
Peter Munyanyi – abducted 13 December 2008 in Gutu South.
Three other activists who the police had denied holding were released last week, after spending over four months in illegal detention. Their names were released for the first time by the MDC, also on Tuesday. Lloyd Tarumbwa, Fani Tembo and Mrs. Terry Musona were part of the group kidnapped from their homes in Banket, Mashonaland West province at the end of October and accused of plotting to topple the Mugabe regime through banditry and terrorism training.
A detailed statement from the MDC said the three, like the other political prisoners “were severely tortured and subjected to inhumane treatment by State security agents during their illegal detention in a bid to force them to confess to the false charges.” They said they were denied food and medical treatment.
The activists were also denied their right to lawyers and were not taken to court in the four months they were incarcerated. Tarumbwa said: “In fact when we told the persecutors that we wanted access to a lawyer or to be brought before the courts, we were severely beaten, threatened with death and denied food for up to two days.”
The three were released last week without charge. The MDC said after spending months in isolation the three abductees were taken away quietly at night and dumped some kilometers outside Banket. They had to complete the rest of the journey on foot.
Three other political detainees, Chris Dhlamini the MDC head of security, Gandhi Mudzingwa, a former personal assistant to MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai and photo journalist Shadreck Andreson Manyere are the three known abductees still in detention.
They are all facing terrorism charges despite repeated statements by the MDC, the Botswana government and South African President Kgalema Motlanthe that these are flimsy charges.
It was reported Wednesday that Robert Mugabe told the visiting Norwegian Minister of Environment and International Development, Erik Solheim, that there are no political prisoners in the country and that all those arrested have criminal charges to answer to.


Allegations of deliberate ploy to block MDC security trainees
By Lance Guma
25 March 2009

There are allegations that a team of MDC security agents, sent for formal training within a state supervised programme, are being deliberately failed to block their deployment to protect VIP’s from the MDC.

Under the unity deal signed up to by both ZANU PF and the MDC, it was agreed that all security personnel driving state owned cars supplied by the Central Mechanical and Engineering Department (CMED), have to undergo special training first.

But as our correspondent Lionel Saungweme reports, things are not going according to plan with what seems like a deliberate attempt to retain security personnel loyal to ZANU PF. The exact numbers involved are not known but with over 15 MDC ministers and deputies requiring protection, the number of trainees could be well over 20.

MDC ministers in the coalition government have so far refused to speak to Newsreel about the issue, claiming they are bound by the Official Secrets Act. But one senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told us he knew of two security agents from the party who had just failed the training and have to go back for ‘retraining’.

It’s not clear so far what the training involves, although we know some of the drills are being done near Harare’s Glamis Stadium. ‘The MDC security guys are being failed mostly when it comes to driving drills and this is crucial to them being allowed to escort our VIP’s,’ the source told us.

Following the tragic accident which killed Susan Tsvangirai, the wife of Prime Minister Tsvangirai, the security for party officials has become a sensitive issue. Several other accidents involving officials and ministers, like Sam Sipepa Nkomo and Gorden Moyo, have raised eyebrows. Some weeks ago a Toyota Vigo, said to be owned by Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe, was involved in a serious accident along the Harare-Bulawayo road. Khupe’s mother sustained head injuries while a passenger, believed to be her employee, died in the crash. The accident happened when a Santana vehicle, a type normally used by the police, suddenly made a U-turn in front of Khupe’s car resulting in the crash.

The election of Lovemore Moyo from the MDC as speaker of parliament last year is said to have initially triggered the debate over whether senior MDC people going into government should get state protection. Moyo was given a Mercedes Benz vehicle by the CMED, plus bodyguards provided by the state. Many party activists felt uncomfortable with this arrangement.

Several weeks ago Moyo sent his driver from Harare to Bulawayo with the new government-issued Mercedes, but it suffered two burst front tyres according to reports. ‘That was a brand new vehicle, with brand new tyres, there is something amiss,’ a party official said.

Former ZANU PF Secretary General Edgar Tekere wrote in his book that the only reason he survived several assassination attempts, was because he drove his own cars.


84 year old WOZA member released after night in Bulawayo cells
By Alex Bell
25 March 2009

Pressure group, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) has lashed out at a primary school headmistress in Bulawayo, after two WOZA members, including a grandmother in her eighties, were arrested at the request of the school leader on Tuesday.

Patricia Ndlovu, aged 53, and Georgina Muzaza, aged 84, were both released from custody on Wednesday after a night in police cells, when the case against them was dismissed.

The pair was hauled into custody while trying to engage with the headmistress of Mpumelelo Primary in Mpopoma. WOZA members had gathered outside the school, as part of the group’s ongoing engagement with schools over ‘unreasonable demands on parents’. The women that were eventually arrested both have grandchildren at the school and were acting as WOZA representatives in trying to meet the headmistress. But while waiting for the meeting, the headmistress called the police who arrested both grandmothers and detained them for two hours at a local police station.

The women were eventually taken to Bulawayo Central Police Station where they were charged under Section 37 of the Criminal Law Act, and were accused of “participating in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of the peace or bigotry.” The women were forced to stay overnight in police cells, despite efforts by their defence lawyer to get them released into his custody because of their age.

WOZA said the arrest and detention of the two women, merely for wanting to discuss their concerns as parents with the headmistress of the school, “is further evidence that very little has changed on the ground for ordinary Zimbabweans.”


Anglicans sue police commissioner over Kunonga saga
By Lance Guma
25 March 2009

Parishioners from the Anglican Church have taken police commissioner Augustine Chihuri to the High Court and want him charged for assisting ousted Bishop Nolbert Kunonga to drive them out from their churches. The Diocesan Registrar for the Church of the Province of Central Africa, Michael Chingore, told a news agency; ‘We have already pressed charges against Chihuri at the High Court for sending police to disturb our services. We are simply saying the police or commissioner-general should not be anywhere near our services. Mr. Chihuri is sending police to provoke
Anglicans and on the other hand he is saying he does not know anything about it.’

Controversial Bishop Kunonga was excommunicated in 2007 from the church, after he attempted to unilaterally withdraw the Diocese of Harare from the Central African Province. This province includes churches from Zambia, Botswana, Malawi and Zimbabwe. He claimed at the time he was protecting the diocese from ‘rampant homosexuality’. He was replaced by Bishop Sebastian Bakare but has since used youth militia and the police to chase away Anglican parishioners loyal to the new bishop. Most of this violent drama has played out at the main Cathedral in central Harare. Kunonga continues to cling onto Anglican property and seems to have the blessing of the Mugabe regime to act with impunity and defy court orders.

Anglican bishops have meanwhile released a statement saying; ‘We do not recognize Mr. Kunonga as a bishop within the Anglican Communion
and we call for the full restoration of Anglican property within Zimbabwe to
the Church of the Province of Central Harare.’ But Kunonga has continued to defy these calls and every Sunday conducts his sermons under the watchful eye of ZANU PF youth militia and riot police. Unfortunately for the sacked Bishop nobody attends his services and he preaches mostly to his own thugs while genuine parishioners attend services led by Bakare, whenever they are allowed to do so.

Kunonga triggered controversy after publicly backing Mugabe’s violent land grab. He began a campaign to intimidate all his opponents in the church and several fled the country after receiving death threats from the Bishop himself. A church trial against him for abuse of church funds and intimidation collapsed under very technical circumstances. Kunonga received a farm from Mugabe’s regime for his troubles, effectively sealing his status as a blue-eyed boy of the regime.

Democracy 101 250309

Willy, Dominic and Freeman discuss the military coup in Madagascar and SADC’s negative response to the hand over of power and compares it to their lack of response to the power crisis in Zimbabwe. They also focus on Kofi Annan’s call for younger leaders in Africa who, he said, would bring a more vibrant leadership with better and newer ideas on achieving true democracy. Annan even mentioned Mugabe as an example of the old guard that are still stubbornly clinging to power.

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Florence says since the introduction of the use of forex for everything there have been ridiculous increases in rate charges; Aaron says there are mixed reactions to the unity government from Zimbabweans in South Africa. Some view it with suspicion, while others are hopeful that this will herald a return to normality. And, Nyamayaro say things are much better with basic commodities now available in the shops, and prices are going down.

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