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Taruwona says that in his area of rural Gutu they are facing starvation this year, and they did not receive any government help to get fertilizers; Poison remains sceptical about the new inclusive government and talks about their fears in South Africa over mass repatriation of Zimbabweans. And, Ruzivo says most people in Chinhoyi don’t trust ZANU PF and believe that Mrs Tsvangirai was assassinated.

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US embassy says car crash driver was not a USAID employee
By Violet Gonda
12 March 2009

The United States embassy has said the driver that was responsible for the crash that killed the Prime Minister’s wife was not their employee.

35-year old Chinoona Mwanda was the driver of the Nissan UD truck that hit the right bumper of Morgan Tsvangirai’s Land Cruiser, causing it to overturn 3 times and land on its roof.

In a statement extending their deepest condolences to the Tsvangirai family, the US government said the truck involved in the accident with the Prime Minister’s vehicle does not belong to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), but was purchased with USAID funds by a contractor, and belonged to the contractor.
Early this week Professor Jonathan Moyo, an independent Member of Parliament, was quoted on the website calling for an international investigation into the activities of USAID in Zimbabwe following the car crash which killed the Prime Minister’s wife.
Professor Moyo said the involvement of a USAID employee in the tragic crash added a worrying dimension given that ‘it is the second incident in which a USAID driver has been involved in a matter affecting senior leadership of the country, this time with tragic consequences.’
The other USAID driver, referred to is Frank Muchirahondo, who was arrested in January on allegations of attempting to assassinate the Commander of the Air Force, Air Marshall Perence Shiri. He was freed last month after a Bindura magistrate refused to place him on further remand. At the time of his arrest the US embassy said they had clear evidence that their employee was not anywhere near the scene of the alleged shooting and had had been on a humanitarian mission, monitoring food aid.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Minister of Defence was also reported by Voice of the People (VOP) to have accused America and Britain of trying to eliminate the Prime Minister. Radio VOP reports the official told a ZANU PF meeting in Masvingo ‘that the West wanted to kill Tsvangirai, and not his wife, and that they might attempt to kill him again.’
However, the US embassy has said: “The driver of the truck, a Zimbabwean national, was an employee of the contractor, not a USAID employee.”
The US statement said the contractor was delivering essential HIV and AIDS drugs and medical supplies to health clinics under an effort co-financed by USAID and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DfID). The U.S. government maintains it remains committed to helping the people of Zimbabwe as it has done for decades.

Meanwhile Chris Mhike the lawyer of the driver of the truck, who is being charged with culpable homicide, is arguing that Chinoona Mwanda was not to blame for the accident, blaming instead the poor state of the road.


Another accident at same spot that killed Susan Tsvangirai
By Lance Guma
13 March 2009

An MDC district chairman was killed and several people injured in two separate accidents that took place in Rusape and Beatrice, with both incidents involving mourners coming from the burial of Susan Tsvangirai in Buhera. Francis Muswere the MDC district chairman for Makoni West constituency in Manicaland province died Wednesday night in one of the accidents. He died on admission at Rusape Hospital, while four people he was travelling with were seriously injured and admitted to the same hospital.

About 15 MDC mourners were injured when a truck slammed into a Kukura Kurerwa bus ferrying them from the burial. The incident took place opposite the same spot that killed Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s wife last Friday. Although the MDC say the circumstances of this crash are still being investigated, our correspondent Simon Muchemwa told us the bus driver was trying to avoid 2 speeding Toyota vehicles which overtook him and forced him to swerve. A truck coming from the opposite lane is then said to have hit the bus, forcing it into a ditch.

Passersby assisted the injured and managed to get the injured into passing commuter minibuses which took them to hospital. Among those who also assisted the injured was Tsvangirai’s spokesman James Maridadi. Muchemwa told us the former ZBC Radio 3 DJ carried some of the injured to hospital in his own car. The accident happened around 6pm but by 8pm the injured were still being ferried to hospital. By late in the evening police had managed to remove the bus from the ditch. Our correspondent told us the driver of the truck ran away from the scene of the accident.

A press statement from the MDC on Thursday said the area of the road on which the two accidents have taken place has since been declared a dark spot and warning signs are being erected to warn motorists and pedestrians. Last Friday Susan Tsvangirai died when an aid truck hit their Land Cruiser, forcing it to overturn 3 times and landing on its roof. While Prime Minister Tsvangirai, a driver and other aides survived, Susan was not as lucky as she was flung out of the vehicle before it eventually landed on her. The aid truck driver claimed he was trying to avoid a hump on the road when he swerved into the lane used by the Tsvangirai convoy.


Roy Bennett released from prison
By Violet Gonda
12 March 2009

Roy Bennett the MDC National Treasurer and Deputy Agriculture Minister designate was finally released on Wednesday after spending a month in prison, in spite of two High Court rulings ordering his release. On Wednesday the Supreme Court also upheld the original High Court bail decision, ignoring a concerted effort by the State to keep Bennett locked up.

The extreme lengths the State has gone to in order to keep the MDC official behind bars do not auger well for the prospects of a government of national unity. Bennett himself believes Patrick Chinamasa, the Justice Minister, has a personal vendetta against him.

Speaking to SW Radio Africa shortly after his release, the MDC official said it felt good to be out of prison but that he was not really free. “I can’t really say I am free. I am under stringent bail conditions. I am in a country where the rule of law is questionable. There is no separation of powers and there is interference of the judiciary from the highest level. So you don’t feel safe at all. I could be re-arrested any minute.”

Bennett was told to pay US$5000, surrender his passport and title deeds and to report to the police three times a week. He is facing terrorism charges, which he described as ludicrous and without substance. He said he has been accused of ‘possessing arms of war without authorisation,’ and ‘funding the purchase of Peter Mike Hitschmann’s weapons,’ even though Hitschmann is a registered arms dealer.

The outspoken MDC politician believes there are hardliners in the inclusive government who have not taken on the spirit of moving forward, ‘who are still filled with hatred and vengeance and have personal vendettas against me.’

He said the people who control the prison service and the Attorney General’s office were behind his arrest. “I would think there is none other than Patrick Chinamasa who still has a vendetta against me over the issue in parliament and the fact that I served eight months in prison is not enough.” Bennett said.

He added: “I have forgiven him, a long time ago, and I asked for his forgiveness. And I pray for him that one day he will repent and get on his knees before he meets his maker, because the sort of things he does and he is involved in destroy a country rather, they don’t build a country.”

The MDC official said he was ready to take up his post of Deputy Agricultural Minister. He also hopes the one good thing to come out of his spell in jail will be the exposure of the appalling conditions in Zimbabwe’s prisons. In the four weeks that he was in Mutare Remand prison five inmates died, and starvation is rampant. “There are gross human rights abuses behind those walls,” he said.

Scores of MDC supporters were at the prison to witness the freeing of the official, who was let out at around 11am on Thursday. Bennett left shortly after his release for Buhera to pay his condolences to Prime Minister Tsvangirai, who lost his wife in a car crash on Friday. Susan Tsvangirai was laid to rest on Wednesday.

The full interview with Roy Bennett will be aired on the Hot Seat programme on Friday.


ZCTU sets June deadline for minimum monthly wage payments
By Alex Bell
12 March 2009

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has said its demands for workers to receive a minimum monthly wage of over US$400 are non-negotiable, and has set June as a tentative deadline for businesses to adjust the salaries of their workers.

The country’s union federation, which is the largest labour body for Zimbabwean workers, has recommended that a monthly wage of US$454 be set as a minimum salary for workers. In a statement released earlier this week, the ZCTU said its own research shows the Poverty Datum Line in Zimbabwe, which indicates the theoretical minimum cost of living, has increased to more than US$400 – compared to US$200 just over a year ago.

The majority of the country’s remaining workforce, including the civil service, are still earning below US$200, with some workers still being paid in the valueless local currency. The total dollarisation of the economy, which has seen the local dollar become worthless, was made official in last month’s budget speech which set all new figures in US dollar value. The budget announcement last month also gave local businesses the green light to trade in multiple currencies in a bid to rescue Zimbabwe’s collapsed economy. The end result has seen living costs being pegged in US dollar value, setting a poverty datum line far higher than what wage-earners have been taking home on a monthly basis.

Employers argued earlier this year that they did not have the foreign currency since they were still trading in the local dollar. At the time, they said they needed approval from the central bank before they could start paying out salaries in foreign currency. The ZCTU has since counter-argued that employers now have no excuse for not adjusting the salary figures of their workers as trade in foreign currency has been approved by both the government and central bank.

ZCTU Secretary General, Wellington Chibhebhe explained on Thursday that the union’s previous fears about the effect of dollarisation on workers has been realised, saying it is a financial move ‘good for the economy, but not that good for workers who are still earning such low wages.’ Chibhebhe argued that the current salaries are closer to ‘slave wages,’ despite businesses beginning to reap the benefits of trading in foreign cash.

“Between now and June we would expect businesses to adjust salaries and pay their workers the new minimum wage,” Chibhebhe said. “That should leave enough time for all businesses to meet our demands.”


Independent & Standard publisher to launch daily paper
By Tichaona Sibanda
12 March 2009

Newspaper mogul Trevor Ncube on Thursday announced his plans to launch a daily newspaper in Zimbabwe.

The 47 year old Ncube told us from his base in Johannesburg, South Africa that his latest project will create at least 300 jobs in the media industry at an initial investment of US$4 million.

The Bulawayo born entrepreneur is the publisher of the Zimbabwe Independent and the Standard newspapers. In South Africa, he publishes the weekly Mail and Guardian newspaper, which is part of The Guardian group of newspapers.

“We are encouraged by the Global Political Agreement that recognises that a vibrant press is important to underpin its efforts to rebuild the country,” Ncube said.

“We have been having discussions with the government and the regulatory authorities and I can tell you that we are also encouraged through our conversations that we should get a licence pretty soon,’ Ncube added.

The new paper ‘NewsDay,’ will play a vital role in empowering people to interact with the government, he said. The publisher also said the country is presently high polarised and currently, if people differ on opinions they are seen as enemies.

“This is a paper that will give voice to Zimbabweans. We want to help bridge gaps that exist between societies,” Ncube said.

He added that independent NewsDay paper will provide a platform for fresh ideas in order to create a vibrant economy, and to address the needs of the education, health and social systems, as well as providing a voice for the diaspora.

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