Letter from Zimbabwe 230109

Cathy Buckle describes how, “at the beginning of the week one US dollar bought 40 billion Zimbabwe dollars, by the end of the week that same foreign dollar realised 500 billion Zimbabwe dollars. It’s impossible to keep up and most people have given up trying to operate in Zimbabwe dollars.”

Behind the Headlines 220109

Lance Guma finds out what happened.

Callback 220109

Your opportunity to speak!

The Heart of the Matter 220109

Journalist and broadcaster Tanonoka Whande shares his unique thoughts and insights on issues and current events of interest to Zimbabweans as they unfold.

Newsreel 220109

News stories for Thursday 22 January


Newsreel 210109

Tens of thousands have fled Zim for South Africa in past 5 months
Zimbabwe’s worsening humanitarian, economic and political crises forced over 100,000 people to claim asylum in South Africa in 2008, according to Human Rights Watch. The group say at least 30 000 claimed asylum in the last 5 months of 2008 alone, a period that started after the violent June, one man presidential run-off. It’s now believed there is a backlog of at least 200 000 Zim asylum cases in South Africa.

MDC say no point in talks with ZANU PF before SADC summit
There are reports that negotiators from the MDC-T have declined an invitation from ZANU PF to continue with discussions in Harare, before next week’s extraordinary summit of the SADC Heads of State. After Mugabe and Tsvangirai failed to reach a deal on forming a unity government on Monday, the ZANU PF leader told reporters ‘we will continue to discuss here at home and we shall continue exchanging ideas.’

Solidarity hunger strike launched in South Africa
A rolling hunger strike in solidarity with Zimbabwe’s starving citizens has been launched in South Africa, with a number of high profile South African’s pledging their support by giving up food for at least one day a week. The action, which was launched in Johannesburg on Wednesday, is the first offensive of a new solidarity movement called ‘Save Zimbabwe Now’

Zimbabweans make sad comparisons between Obama and Mugabe
As Zimbabweans watched the momentous swearing in of Barack Obama as the America’s first African American President, comparisons were being made about the stark differences between this new President and our very own Robert Mugabe. While the youthful 47 year old Obama took the oath of office to become America’s 44th President, Mugabe, who will be 85 years old in February, is fighting to continue as President in a country he has ruled with an iron grip since independence in 1980.

Hidden Story 210109

Since independence Mugabe has enjoyed the unquestionable backing of the defence forces. But our Harare correspondent Simon Muchemwa says this is changing very fast. He believes Mugabe can no longer bank on the army to insulate himself against the consequences of his failed economic policies, a situation that has seen soldiers run amok, rampaging through the streets chanting anti-Mugabe slogans.

Democracy 101 210109

Willy and Dominic are joined by Tichaona and they discuss the failure and the lack of progress of the power-sharing deal, with Mugabe continuing to act with impunity and still failing to adhere to the terms of the agreement. Does some of the blame for the ill-thought agreement lie with the MDC for failing to consult with their rank and file members and the rest of civil society, before they put their signatures to the document?

Callback 210109

Lebone says things are tough for everyone, even those who are ardent ZANU PF supporters are also suffering; Chikomerwa says everything is at a standstill, businesses remain shut, food is unavailable, transport is unaffordable, schools stay shut and the health sector is non-existent. Finally, Sakie who is a teacher complains that their salaries don’t even cover their transport costs, so how are they supposed to do their jobs?

Newsreel 200109

Zimbabweans have high hopes for Obama presidency

On Tuesday all nations of the world were gripped with inauguration fever as they witnessed the profound moment when Barack Obama was sworn in as the first African American President.

The inauguration is unprecedented because not only is Obama America’s first black president but he is facing more intense difficulties than any other president in recent times.

Not only has he inherited a tough economic crisis in his own country, but internationally America is involved in two unresolved wars – one in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan, not to mention the crisis in the Middle East and the global credit crisis.

But there are great expectations and a BBC World Service poll on Tuesday said the ‘world has high hopes’for this son of a Kenyan goat herder turned economist.

According to the poll of more than 17,000 people in 17 countries, 67% said President Obama would strengthen US relations abroad and make the global economic crisis his top priority. However observers say it’s going to be a great challenge for Obama, given the international complexities he now faces.

One of the many unresolved world crises is Zimbabwe, now described by humanitarian agencies as a ‘scandalous factory of poverty’. The man-made Zimbabwean crisis has resulted in a total collapse of the economy, rampant state sponsored lawlessness and more than 30 civic and MDC activists incarcerated in the notorious Chikurubi prison on trumped up terrorism charges.

Political rivals are stuck in an endless power share debate that is going nowhere and Mugabe shows he has no intention of giving up any power – something the SADC leaders seem to be happy with.

But political analyst Glen Mpani feels that new President Obama is really inspiring hope in Zimbabweans: “If you come back home and see an environment that is highly oppressive, in an environment where the economic issues are quite depressing – where there is high inflation, where the hospitals have closed, where there is despondence across the country. And in a context where there has been successive meetings that have failed to breakthrough and come up with a solution in Zimbabwe. I think he inspires hope.”

“He provides an opportunity that if people are willing and if people are optimistic and if there is hope that we can be able to transform the situation in Zimbabwe, I think that in itself should inspire all progressive and democratic Zimbabweans to say our time shall come when we will be able to liberate ourselves and we can celebrate like what African Americans and everyone else in America are currently celebrating with the coming of Barack Obama,” added Mpani.

In November, speaking just after Obama won the US election, political analyst Brian Kagoro said: “I think it recreates hope that has long been lost in electoral democracy and liberal democracy. Liberal democracy of course does not always result in economic redistribution. So in a sense, I think what the Obama victory does is the symbolism that creates the impression that you don’t necessarily have to have war credentials to run a country, because America like Zimbabwe had been fixated with this war veteran issue.”

Kagoro believes there will be a renewed focus on an end to tyranny, despotism, dictatorship and human rights violations. He said; “Many are going to find themselves pretty lonely if they do not comply with these increasing global expectations. And we don’t just see it as an Obama victory, we see it in its symbolic form as history being made for the entire black race.”

The coming of the Obama administration means the end of the George Bush era. Many Americans and the world are bitter over Bush’s legacy and criticise him for mismanagement and the invasion of Iraq. However there are many in Africa who see him as a friend. In many parts of Africa the outgoing American President will be remembered for pumping billions into the fight against HIV, Aids and malaria and for leading world-wide condemnation of Sudan and Zimbabwe’s human rights records.

ZANU PF defers introduction of amendment no 19

Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF party on Tuesday deferred the introduction of constitutional amendment number 19 in Parliament, fearing the MDC would block its passage.

MDC chief whip Innocent Gonese told us it was wise for ZANU PF not to bring the constitutional amendment to parliament because the MDC would not support it.

‘Sitting resumed today (Tuesday) but take it from me, you will not hear of the amendment until possibly next week following the SADC summit,’ Gonese said. Instead, the legislators introduced debate on the collapse of the country’s health and education systems.

The MDC MP for Gutu South, Professor Elphas Mukonoweshuro, explained that currently there were no Bills under discussion in parliament, but he said parliament will sit for the rest of the week to discuss motions that have been tabled.

‘Bills to parliament are brought by the cabinet, so in the absence of a cabinet there is nothing forthcoming from the government. As long as there is a stalemate, things will not move in the country,’ Mukonoweshuro added.

The constitutional amendment, if agreed to by all parties, would create a prime minister’s post that MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai would hold in the unity government, under the agreement both sides reached last year. But Zimbabwe has been without an effective government for nearly a year. Even when the House of Assembly sat recently it had to be hurriedly suspended because of a chronic shortage of funds and water.

These developments showcase the embarrassing sign of the state of collapse and the dire situation in the country. It adds to the long list of many state institutions, such as hospitals and universities that have been forced to shut down because of lack of water and staff.
If Mugabe doesn’t agree to share power soon, there won’t be a country left to rule with his iron fist.

Mbeki urged to step down as Zimbabwe talks collapse

Twelve hours of marathon talks between Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe failed to produce a deal Monday, after the ZANU PF leader refused to make concessions to the opposition. South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, mediator Thabo Mbeki and Mozambican President Armando Guebeza did little to pressure the veteran dictator to loosen his grip on power. Tsvangirai called it, ‘probably the darkest day of our lives’ and said ‘the very same outstanding issues on the agenda are the same issues that are creating this impasse.’ However he still pledged his commitment to the deal, but only if his party got control of the Home Affairs Ministry, amongst other conditions.

Mugabe meanwhile was blaming Tsvangirai for throwing a spanner in the works and accused him of presenting new conditions. But he told journalists that talks between his party and the MDC would continue in Harare. Arthur Mutambara, who many feel is the biggest beneficiary of the deal, was clearly disappointed by the impasse and blamed both Tsvangirai and Mugabe. He said the two leaders were refusing to change their positions and that Zimbabwe deserved better leaders than either of them.

SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salamao described the talks as ‘inconclusive’ and announced that an emergency summit of the grouping will be held either in Botswana or South Africa, to try and resolve outstanding differences. So once again Zimbabweans have to wait.

The proposal that ZANU PF brought to the talks said that the MDC should join the government first, support the adoption of Constitutional Amendment 19, have Tsvangirai sworn in as Prime Minister and then sort out the allocation of ministries after the inauguration of the new cabinet. It also said that when the contracts of the incumbent governors end, or should vacancies arise, the posts will then be shared according to the formula agreed in the original deal.  ZANU PF also says the MDC should submit a draft bill for discussion, which would explain the role of the newly created National Security Council. They want this draft by the 24th January 2009. All other outstanding issues would only be dealt with once the new government had been formed.

The MDC countered these proposals by insisting on the equitable distribution of ministerial portfolios, the appointment of governors and other senior appointments, the enactment of amendment 19 and the secession and reversal of all breaches to the agreement, before any government is formed.

The latter point was in relation to the abduction and detention of opposition and civil society activists which the MDC argues violated September’s agreement. So while ZANU PF is saying ‘come and join the government, we will resolve the difference later’ the MDC is refusing to put ‘the cart before the horse.’ Spokesman Nelson Chamisa said, ‘the key conflict areas needed to be resolved. It’s crucial where there is mistrust. We do not want to go into a government as a ritual.’

Meanwhile church leaders from South Africa on Tuesday urged former President Thabo Mbeki to step down as mediator. Leaders from Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Dutch Reformed, Lutheran and Rhema churches said, ‘Mbeki is compromised and no longer suitable for the mediation process.’ They accused SADC and the South African government of failing the people of Zimbabwe and Africa through their so-called quiet diplomacy. ‘We respectfully call for the intervention of the African Union and the appointment of a new facilitator,’ the group added.

Several other church leaders from the South African Council of Churches, notably Cardinal Wilfred Napier and Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, supported the statement saying Mugabe was holding onto ‘illegitimate power.’ South Africa’s powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions also released a statement saying it is alarmed by the failure of the talks. COSATU said it was nearly 10 months since the people of Zimbabwe voted the MDC into office despite huge levels of intimidation, yet ZANU PF, the party that lost, is clearly refusing to agree to any new government that reduces their power. COSATU blamed SADC for treating Mugabe as a ‘bonafide President’ even though he lost the elections

Students campaign against dollarisation of education

While wage earners across the country have been up in arms over their continued payment in the now worthless local currency, the country’s students have launched a campaign to stop the dollarisation of their school fees.

Many schools and tertiary institutions have proposed new fees in US dollars, with Midlands State University reportedly set to charge more than US$600 per term, excluding accommodation costs. The fee increments come as the country’s economy has become almost completely dollarised, as rampant hyperinflation has destroyed the value of the local dollar.

But with the majority of Zimbabweans still earning the local dollar, the proposed fee changes are set to put the future education of thousands of students at risk. Blessing Vava, the spokesperson for the national student’s union ZINASU, explained on Tuesday that it was unrealistic to expect students to pay fees in US dollars when people are still earning the local dollar.

ZINASU last week launched a campaign against the dollarisation of education in Zimbabwe and Vava said the campaign will only stop “when our demands to pay affordable fees in local currency are met.” The campaign also saw the union writing a petition to the Ministry of Higher Education regarding the proposed fees by state institutions, and the Ministry has since dismissed the new fee structure proposed by some state universities.

“We feel that thousand of students will drop out if fees are posted in foreign currency,” Vava said. “The government will be performing academic genocide if it allows the dollarisation of the education sector to continue.”

Meanwhile it would appear that ‘academic genocide’ as long been underway, after school pupils were estimated to have received only 23 days worth of learning in 2008. The destruction of the education sector has already continued in 2009, with the postponement of the reopening of schools, a reopening that teachers unions have predicted is unlikely to take place.

Cholera deaths soar in SA and Zambia as crisis deepens in Zimbabwe

Deaths as a result of the devastating cholera epidemic have soared in South Africa and Zambia, as the flood of desperately ill Zimbabweans seeking treatment continues to pour into Zimbabwe’s neighbouring countries.

Health officials in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province this week made a shock announcement that 19 people in the province had died as a result of the disease in the past two weeks, bringing the total number of reported deaths in the country to 32. Three deaths have been reported in the central Gauteng province, out the 185 suspected cases there, while more cases have been reported in at least two other provinces, with one death confirmed in KwaZulu-Natal. The Limpopo health department meanwhile is still fighting to stop the ongoing spread of cholera through the province, where nine people are confirmed to have died, and officials there have said the number of cases has risen to 2439, with 91 new cases reported in the past few days.

National health ministry officials have recently insisted the cholera spread in South Africa is unrelated to the crisis in Zimbabwe, but in all reported cholera cases across the country, a Zimbabwe link has been found. The situation is much the same in Zambia, where the death toll has also soared to 28. Health officials in the country have said the traffic of Zimbabweans crossing the border into Zambia for treatment has ‘contributed’ to the spread of the disease, and medical teams are said to be battling to contain the estimated 2000 cases reported there.

Meanwhile the disease has continued its spread in Zimbabwe and officially more than 2200 people have died and there are almost 44 000 reported cases since August. The onset of the rainy season recently prompted fears the disease would spread further out of control, and medical experts on the ground have predicted the worst is yet to come. At the same time, as the country sinks deeper into the rubble of its collapse, there are fears of a serious cholera outbreak in Bulawayo, where residents have not had running water for more than a week. No explanation has been given by the city council, whose workers have been on strike since Wednesday last week, citing the council’s unwillingness to review their January salaries in foreign currency.

Beneficiaries processing maize seed into mealie meal

Desperate beneficiaries of SADC’s emergency relief programme have resorted to milling the maize seed donated to them by the regime, potentially risking their lives as the seed contains dangerous chemicals.

The agriculture inputs, such as maize seed and fertilizer, were part of a R300 million humanitarian donation by the South African government, which was repackaged as part of SADC’s emergency relief programme, following the failure of the formation of the power sharing deal in the country.

But the MDC MP for Mbare, Piniel Denga, said people in rural areas were very desperate and hungry and were now processing the maize seed into mealie meal. He has witnessed this practice in Murehwa, Mutoko and Chikomba in Mashonaland East.

‘The maize seed that was distributed was red or green in colour, so people are consuming mealie meal that is red or green. Some people told me they washed away the chemicals before taking the seed to the grinding mill,’ Denga said.

The MP said despite taking precautions by washing the maize seed, the practice remained risky because the seed was generally not for consumption. The chemicals are added to the seed to preserve it and make it good for planting but it’s not guaranteed safe for human consumption.

The inputs were controversially only donated to ZANU PF supporters, despite pledges from South Africa’s presidential spokesman Thabo Masebe, that they would be distributed in a manner that would reach all intended recipients, regardless of political affiliations.

The goods were handed out by SADC’s Zimbabwe Humanitarian and Development Assistance Framework (ZHDAF) but almost all the inputs were distributed to the regime’s supporters as it still has a big say on who gets the relief aid. The aid was distributed without an agreed monitoring mechanism in place, involving NGOs and regional governments, to ensure transparency.

There are also doubts as to whether the provision of agricultural inputs so late in the planting season, would have any benefit for the country’s future food security. Most of the inputs were distributed when the planting season was almost over.

Over 5 million people in the country (half the population) are in need of food aid now because of ZANU PF’s destruction of the agricultural base of the economy.

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