Reporters’ Forum 230209

Lance Guma is joined by broadcaster Brilliant Pongo and former ZBC journalist and now political commentator Bekithemba Mhlanga. The panel examines attempts by new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to secure a financial rescue package for the country. MDC ministers in the new government have already hit the ground running, while their counterparts in ZANU PF are keeping a low profile. What is the strategy being employed? The panel debates.

Letter from America 230309

Dr. Stan Mukasa discusses the demand by ZANU for blanket amnesty for its officials as a condition for releasing abducted MDC officials and supporters

Callback 230209

Amai Tusera says people should support the GNU for the sake of the country; Munhumutema hopes that the situation for teachers will soon improve and they can go back to work. But, he says, just as teachers might have to make some sacrifices for the sake of education for the youth, the government must also be prepared to make sacrifices. Then, Arnold says that the GNU is ‘one-sided’ in ZANU-PF’s favour as people are still being arrested and Mugabe still holds the power.

Through the Valley 210209

Rebuilding Zimbabwe 210209

Callback 210209

Letter from Zimbabwe 200209

Cathy Buckle comments, ‘the arrest of Roy Bennett gave credence to the sceptics and doubters of this unity government. There is no good faith here by the old order, and the leopard has not changed its spots.’

Callback 200209

Tengwende says that Mugabe and his wife Grace are ‘heartless’ to be splashing money around overseas, while people at home are dying of starvation; Chibahwe says it’s clear the purpose of the GNU is to allow Mugabe to use the MDC to get overseas investment back and to have smart sanctions lifted, then Chihoni believes that ZANU PF has something up their sleeves, that’s why they agreed to the GNU. He criticises the MDC for going along with the agreement without consulting the people.

HotSeat 200209

Violet’s guest on the Hot Seat is political commentator Professor Brian Raftopoulos, with his analysis of the inclusive government. Given the confusion over the swearing in of the cabinet on Friday and the arrest of Roy Bennett, does Mugabe really want the power sharing government to work? How should the new Prime Minister respond to these challenges? And given the degradation of the economy, what can this transitional government realistically achieve.

Newsreel 200209

Freelance photojournalist and others further remanded in custody

Photojournalist Anderson Shadreck Manyere and six MDC activists accused of organising a series of bombings of police stations and railway lines, were further remanded in custody on Friday.

Their lawyer Alex Muchadehama said they had appeared for a routine remand hearing at the Magistrates’ court to be advised for a trial date, but the State failed to provide one. The defence lawyer said as usual the State is using delaying tactics, because “it has no evidence against the accused persons and have been providing just excuses.”

There are about 30 civic and political detainees in detention or missing, some for almost 4 months now. Muchadehama said currently five are detained in hospital at the Avenues Clinic, 11 are being held at Chikurubi Prison, three are in protective custody (the State claims they are wanted as State witnesses). He said the whereabouts of the rest are unknown. All the accused persons are linked to alleged plots to destabilise the former ZANU PF government.

The seven who appeared in court on Friday were the same group who had appeared in the High Court the previous day, for a bail hearing. Four individuals had been granted bail by High Court Justice Yunus Omerjee, but that order was immediately suspended by the Attorney Generals office, who said they would be making an appeal in the Supreme Court.

The farce continued Friday when State prosecutor Florence Ziyambi said a trial date would be set when police investigations on allegations of torture had been completed. But the lawyers say the police report on torture allegations cannot be credible, as the court is basically asking the perpetrators to investigate themselves. Muchadehama said: “But the report was actually an attempt by the police to exonerate themselves because they are totally denying that they did anything untoward against the accused persons.”

He said the police did not ask the doctors of the accused for their findings and they did not even interview the political detainees on the matter. “They never did anything to try and go to the roots of the complaints.”

The seven have now been remanded to March 6th and it is hoped that then a trial date will finally be set. But the State prosecutor said it was difficult to set a trial date before the end of March, as the first term of the High Court ends in March, and that term is full – an indication of more delaying tactics.

Of the seven who appeared in court on Friday, three were remanded in absentia, because they are in hospital. The State has so far disobeyed numerous court orders for all the political detainees to receive proper medical treatment in a private hospital. So far only Chinoto Zulu, Zachariah Nkomo, Jestina Mukoko, Fidelis Chiramba and Ghandi Mudzingwa, are hospitalised at the Avenues Clinic.

Meanwhile, lawyers representing MDC Treasurer General and Deputy Minister of Agriculture designate Roy Bennett, filed an urgent bail application in the High Court on Thursday. His Lawyer Trust Maanda said the matter would be heard on Tuesday. Bennett was slapped with terrorism charges this week and remanded in custody until 4th March.

The MDC issued a statement on Friday saying wardens at Mutare Prison were being vindictive and attempting to punish the MDC official by limiting his visits to one per week.

The party said Mutare Mayor Brian James visited Bennett on Friday and said: “The conditions in the prison are so deplorable that one person in Roy Bennett’s cell died yesterday and the body is still to be removed. Prisoners are literally starving to death.”

There has been an outpouring of support for Roy Bennett, with a USA Senator highly criticising the arrest. Senator Russ Feingold, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs said: “I am deeply concerned by the arrest of Roy Bennett. This appears to have been a deliberate attempt to keep him from being sworn in with other cabinet members last week and to undermine the newly formed unity government.”

“If so, this calls into question Robert Mugabe and his allies’ commitment to genuinely share power and implement democratic reforms. I will continue to monitor the situation in Zimbabwe and Mr. Mugabe’s actions closely. I urge the Obama administration to do all it can to ensure that Mr. Bennett is not tortured and to press for his immediate release.”

However Robert Mugabe has played down the arrest and told reporters on Thursday he doesn’t see why the arrest has made news around the world. He said: “The issue of Roy Bennett is making headlines worldwide. I wonder why? This is a court case. Let the courts decide for themselves.”

Tsvangirai in South Africa seeking bail out funds

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai met South African President Kgalema Motlanthe in Cape Town on Friday, for meetings that focused on his request for a financial aid package. The continued incarceration of political prisoners such as Roy Bennet, Jestina Mukoko and 30 others, was also expected to take centre stage in the discussions. On the back of a promise to pay civil servants in foreign currency Tsvangirai is now under pressure to raise the required funds. This follows unconfirmed reports that he made the promise without first securing the money needed to meet the commitment. Finance Minister Tendai Biti, and Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi from ZANU PF, also traveled with Tsvangirai.

At a press briefing soon after the meetings Tsvangirai said the country would need as much as US$5 billion to repair the battered economy. He said they were looking at attracting direct foreign investment to help resuscitate the economy. Tsvangirai also said they planned to use a number of currencies in the meantime, but ruled out adopting the Rand as legal tender. ‘Our currency is devalued almost to a point of non-use, so we are going to use a multi-currency approach,’ he said

The absence of Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono from the meetings exposed deep divisions between him and the new Finance Minister. Biti is alleged to have likened Gono to an ‘Al-Qaeda’ like official, deserving to be put before a firing squad for the mess he has created as central bank governor. Biti has already made several changes to schemes which were introduced by Gono, including the voucher payment scheme. On Wednesday Biti directed that ‘with immediate effect, all vouchers issued to civil servants as payment of allowances will be redeemable into cash at designated banks’. Gono sniped back saying this had the potential of creating an ‘acute foreign currency crisis’ and chaos in banks, since government was broke.

Little wonder Tsvangirai is hoping to get a R10 billion aid package from South Africa to shore up the economy. He is also approaching South Africa because President Motlanthe pledged to rally support for Zimbabwe, once a coalition government was in place.

The full extent of the lack of cash can be seen by the fact that staff at Zimbabwean diplomatic missions around the world have been reduced to destitution, after not being paid for months. And on Friday the country’s biggest building society, CABS, announced it was closing 37 branches, due to what it called an ‘unfavourable economic environment.’

The only relief for Tsvangirai has been the fact that the teachers union has agreed to get their members back to work on Monday, despite not being happy with the US$100 allowances.

New Deputy Minister promises media reform

A day after being sworn into office, Jameson Timba, the Deputy Minister of Media, Information and Publicity says his immediate task will be to restore media freedom in the country.

He said this will include working on the immediate return of closed publications and the freeing of the airwaves. Timba will work alongside ZANU PF Minister Webster Shamu, who has reportedly ordered the state media to start reforming by toning down it’s inflammatory language against the MDC.

It is understood Timba, the outgoing chairman of the Association of Private Schools and a media columnist, has laid out a plan that he has already presented to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai that will involve asking Parliament to repeal the government’s tough media legislation. He has also promised to look into the issue of banned international news organisations such as the BBC and CNN. He has pointed out that the Global Political Agreement, signed by all parties to the inclusive government, calls for the country’s tough media laws to be changed and to allow private radio, television and daily newspapers to operate under a unity government.

Zimbabwe’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), is currently one of the harshest media laws in the world, under which journalists can be jailed for two years for working without a licence from the state Media and Information Commission.

The Criminal Codification Act imposes sentences of up to 20 years in jail on journalists or other citizens, convicted of publishing false information or statements that are prejudicial to the state.

A source told us the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists was preparing to make its representations to the new ministers, on the need to speed up the process and ensure they start work on the deregulation of the draconian media laws.

Sunsley Chamunorwa, a former editor of the Financial Gazette, said; ‘If the state media can criticise the government and report things as they are and allow other media players to operate, only then can we say there seems to be some kind of reform in the country.’

Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF government, which has in the last five years banned four newspapers, including the country’s biggest daily paper, The Daily News, is regarded as one of the most media repressive regimes in the world. Broadcasting regulations ensure that no one is able to set up an independent radio station.

The country has two daily papers, both of them owned by the government.
The government-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings operates four radio and one television station, all tightly controlled by the Ministry of Information.

The media sub-committee of the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC) told us last week it would meet with the new information minister as soon as he was appointed, to start working on the reforms. But many observers are concerned that the appointment of Webster Shamu as Information Minister, the government has no real intention of reform and it will be extremely difficult to enforce changes.

JOMIC is a special multi-party taskforce mandated with supervising the implementation of the inclusive government. In theory this includes working to ensure the immediate processing by the appropriate authorities of all applications for re-registration and registration, in terms of both the Broadcasting Services Act as well as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

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