Teachers fail to return to work
Many teachers have yet to return to work after the academic year was finally set to get underway on Monday, because of the fact that a number of them were unable to cash government vouchers that were issued to bring the teachers strike to an end.
Teachers were set to resume their duties after striking an informal deal with the new education ministry, which now has Senator David Coltart at its helm. An almost year-long strike by teachers over salaries and working conditions has contributed to the collapse of the education system, to such an extent that the start of the 2009 academic year has been repeatedly postponed. Teachers had been holding out for monthly salaries of US$2000 but after the Finance Ministry agreed to pacify civil servants with redeemable vouchers worth US$100 each, teachers unions informally agreed to end the strike.
The ministry was forced to make the concession to civil servants following an undeliverable promise by Morgan Tsvangirai to pay all civil servants in foreign cash by the end of February. The Prime Minister made the promise during his inauguration speech last month and pressure had been building for the government to make good on the vow. But the plan to provide redeemable vouchers has proved problematic, with many teachers not being able to cash vouchers at participating banks and shops.
The demand for foreign cash has grown significantly after the total collapse and subsequent dollarisation of the economy saw the local dollar become completely worthless. The agreement to give civil servants redeemable vouchers, on top of their usual local-currency salaries, had been greeted with caution and concern and there have since been some hitches in the program. Banks are reportedly running out of cash to honor the vouchers, while at the same time many civil servants, including teachers working in the countryâ€™s rural areas, have also had trouble reaching financial institutions to cash the vouchers, which are said to be good for cash and goods.
The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe said about half of its members, mostly in schools in cities and towns, reported for duty on Monday, whereas many in rural areas stayed home as they did not have money for transport costs. At the same time the Zimbabwe Teachers Association has said most of his members have not been able to cash the vouchers and have stayed home.
Tsvangirai takes oath as leader of government in Parliament
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was on Tuesday sworn in as a Member of Parliament, effectively making him the leader of government business in the House of Assembly.
The hour long swearing in ceremony was celebrated with much pomp and fanfare by parliamentarians from opposing sides. Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara and Minister of State in the Prime Ministerâ€™s Office Gorden Moyo, were also sworn in at a ceremony presided over by the speaker of Parliament, Lovemore Moyo.
This was the last of the ceremonies under the Global Political Agreement that cements Tsvangiraiâ€™s position in the inclusive government. The first was his swearing in as the Prime Minister two weeks ago.
According to the agreement those appointed to the posts of Vice President, Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, and are not MPâ€™s, become ex-officio members of the House of Assembly.
A statement released by the Prime Ministerâ€™s office said Tsvangirai would deliver his maiden speech in Parliament on Wednesday. Itâ€™s expected he will use this opportunity to outline government plans for the coming year. MDC MP for Makoni central John Nyamande, told us there was euphoria and excitement in the House of Assembly as the MDC President took the oath of parliament.
Interestingly, Johannes Tomana, the ZANU PF appointed attorney general was also sworn as an ex-officio member of parliament. The swearing in of Tomana also buttresses his position in the government following several protests from the MDC that his appointment was done against the spirit of the GPA. The MDC want his appointment reversed, together with that of Gideon Gono, the Reserve Bank Governor.
â€˜Tomana had a day to forget in parliament. MPs from ZANU PF just gave him a cold shoulder while those from the MDC jeered and booed when he took his oath. You could see he was uncomfortable during the ceremony while Tsvangirai and Mutambara were upbeat,â€™ according to Nyamande.
Tomana is apparently very unpopular in ZANU PF and government circles.
High court grants bail to eight MDC activists from Mbare
A High court judge in Harare has granted bail to eight of the 13 MDC activists arrested two weeks ago in Mbare, following disturbances involving ZANU PF supporters.
Piniel Denga, the MDC MP for Mbare, told us five of their activists including Friday Muleya, their ward 4 councillor, still remain in police custody. The eight released on Tuesday were granted Z$1000 bail each.
â€˜Five of our activists were denied bail but another date has been set for another bail hearing. That date has been set for the 9th March,â€™ Denga said.
The MDC supporters were arrested after violence erupted between them and ZANU PF supporters, when they attempted to reclaim homes and property taken from them during last yearâ€™s turbulent election period.
Denga explained that the MDC supporters had gone back to their homes to confront the new occupants and had attempted to reclaim what was rightfully theirs.
He said that at the height of the volatile electioneering period last year, scores of known MDC supporters were evicted from municipal accommodation. The houses were then given to ZANU PF supporters.
Following the disturbances several people, including some from ZANU PF were arrested. Denga however complained that almost all known ZANU PF supporters were bailed out, leaving only MDC supporters in custody.
The MDC MP reiterated that the case should be seen as a test of the country’s judicial reform, following the formation of the inclusive government. He repeated his accusation that law officers and magistrates were dealing harshly with MDC supporters, while treating ZANU PF supporters with kid gloves.
89 MDC supporters still in custody in Nyanga
150 MDC supporters were rounded up during a door to door raid in ward 2 -Avilla village, in Nyanga on Friday. Pishai Muchauraya, the MDC MP for Makoni South and spokesperson for Manicaland province, said they were arrested after they had gone to reclaim their livestock, taken during the one-man Presidential run off in June last year.
Some of the arrested were immediately released because of poor health, or because they were elderly or young children. However 89 people have spent five days in police custody. They were due to appear in court on Tuesday.
Muchauraya said the irony of the arrests is that the police have so far done nothing to help the people who had their properties destroyed or looted by ZANU PF supporters during the controversial election. The victims are now arrested for trying to reclaim their belongings.
What is happening in Nyanga is what happened in Mbare two weeks ago, where clashes broke out between MDC and ZANU PF supporters. 13 MDC supporters were arrested when they attempted to reclaim homes and property taken from them during the election period. Five people are still in custody.
An observer said this is an example of the lawlessness created by Robert Mugabe. People cannot turn to the police for assistance and they have no alternative access to justice. For the supporters of Zanu PF it is still a free for all but for MDC supporters there is no redress. If they try and take back what is theirs, they are arrested.
WOZA activists released on bail
Five WOZA activists who were arrested last week were finally released on bail on Monday, after spending six days in police custody. WOZA released a statement saying the individuals were released on US$50 bail each and remanded out of custody to March 19th.
They were arrested last Wednesday in Harare during a peaceful march to the government buildings for an official meeting with David Coltart, the new Education Minister.
The pressure groupâ€™s statement said: â€œWOZA would like to salute the courage and determination of these parents in enduring beatings, arrest and detention in horrific conditions to ensure that their concerns about their childrenâ€™s education were brought to the attention of the Minister of Education.â€
â€œThe extended and unlawful detention, the extortionate bail demanded and the reporting conditions imposed, also show that the inception of a unity government has done nothing to change the way democracy and social justice activists are treated by a hostile and repressive state.â€
Zimbabwe court orders release of Bennett
High Court Judge Tedious Karwi has thrown out the Stateâ€™s application for leave to appeal and ordered the immediate release of MDC official Roy Bennett. This may now happen on Wednesday.
Last Tuesday the judge granted Bennett bail of US$2 000, told him to surrender his travel documents and report twice a week to Harare Central policeâ€™s Law and Order section, but the State opposed this.
The State was given seven days to lodge an application for leave to appeal and that matter was heard on Tuesday. Defence Lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said the State came back arguing for more stringent bail condition.
She told SW Radio Africa: â€œThey were proposing that instead of US$2 000, it should be US$5 000. Instead of reporting twice a week, he should be reporting everyday and that there should be a 40km radius condition imposed.â€ Mtetwa said the Attorney Generalâ€™s office also had a problem with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai standing as surety for Bennettâ€™s bail application.
However the judge dismissed the Stateâ€™s bid to appeal and said the conditions he imposed last Tuesday were fair.
Mtetwa said this means that if the State does not interfere and frustrate the process, Bennett would be a free man on Wednesday, after he appears in the magistratesâ€™ court in Mutare. She said the release of a person in custody is an involved process in terms of paperwork. But she hoped the paperwork would be worked on and brought before the magistrateâ€™s court on Wednesday morning.
However the defence team representing the jailed MDC Treasurer General and Deputy Minister of Agriculture designate, have expressed concern that State authorities are already trying to complicate and frustrate their clientâ€™s release.
Mtetwa said: â€œWe have been told that they are thinking of ensuring that the policeman who has his passport becomes unavailable so that the passport is not lodged with the clerk of court, which will result in him not being released.â€
The MDC official was arrested two weeks ago at Charles Prince airport, on his way to South Africa where he had been living in exile since 2006. He is being charged with the illegal possession of firearms for purposes of committing banditry, terrorism, insurgency and sabotage.
The MDC says: â€œIt remains our well considered view that the charges against Roy Bennett are scandalous, frivolous and vexatious at law, in that they are driven by a vindictive and malicious political vendetta against Roy Bennett.â€
Meanwhile, the incarceration of the MDC Treasurer General has exposed the alarming and shocking prison conditions facing all inmates in Mutare remand Prison. Mutare Mayor Brian James, who has been visiting Bennett regularly, said the prison is not fit for human habitation and that more than a dozen inmates have died since Bennett was thrown into jail two weeks ago.
The Mayor visited him on Tuesday and said the body of a fellow prisoner who died on Saturday is still lying in the laundry room at the prison.
Prisoners are not getting medical attention and starvation is widespread. Like all prisons countrywide it is extremely overcrowded. It has a capacity of about 160 inmates, but is currently holding at least 300.
MDC officials have said Bennett is being held in the D-Class section of the jail that houses dangerous criminals. But Bennett is said to be in good spirits and has become quite popular with inmates, helping to raise awareness about conditions within the prisons.
One prisoner in particular has much to thank the MDC official for. Elvis Nodangala, a South African, was arrested on October 3rd last year and had yet to be charged or appear in court. The MDC information department said: â€œAt the time of his arrest, he had a broken arm. For the five months or so he has been in prison, he has not received medical attention, and his fellow inmate, Roy Bennett is worried that gangrene may have set in.â€
Itâ€™s reported Bennett has raised the plight of the South African with the prison authorities and there is indication Nodangala may also be released on Wednesday.
SA willing to consider credit lines for Zimbabwe
South African President Kgalema Motlanthe on Monday said his country was considering the possibility of availing credit lines to Zimbabwe, following an appeal by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Despite a troublesome start to the new coalition government Motlanthe responded favourably to Tsvangiraiâ€™s plea for US$2 billion to rescue the shattered economy. Speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Cape Town Motlanthe said, â€˜What they are really asking for are credit lines, and of course as South Africa we have to consider that favourably because it means their traders, their business people in terms of economic recovery will be buying whatever they need from South Africa.â€™
Last week Finance Ministers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) met and agreed that a full summit of the group should consider a financial aid package for Zimbabwe. That summit might be Zimbabweâ€™s only hope, given the wait and see approach of the West towards the coalition government. Several violations of the power sharing deal have not helped assure skeptical donors and countries that genuine reforms are going to be made. Mugabe also didnâ€™t help by using his lavish birthday party over the weekend to boast that he was still in charge and that white farmers had no place in the country. Critics have warned that the continued lack of respect for property rights is hardly going to get investors flocking into the country.
Prominent banker Dr Julius Makoni, who left Zimbabwe for the United Kingdom several years ago, told Newsreel on Monday that â€˜unless there is rule of law and respect for property rights you will not get investment, period. Itâ€™s as simple as that.â€™ He also said the global financial crisis affecting most western countries would mean Zimbabwe will be at the end of the queue in terms of countries that will get financial help. Commenting on SADC plans to bail out Zimbabwe he said governments should â€˜not be in the business of lending money and should instead focus on creating an enabling environment and everything else will fall in place.â€™ He argued that such transactions should be driven by economic rationale and not politics.
While Tsvangirai is busy working to raise funds to rebuild the country, questions are being asked about the bloated 71 member government that Mugabe has imposed on Zimbabwe. Newsreel understands some of the new ministers still do not have their own offices and are squatting in various buildings. The amount of money needed to accommodate over 61 ministers and their support staff, in addition to a further 10 governors who are yet to be appointed, is staggering. Each of these individuals is expected to receive a luxury car, driver, bodyguard, office space, furniture and other perks.
Such extravagance is going to make it very difficult for Tsvangirai to find real financial help for the nation.