Sleeping Like a Hare Millions Billions Trillions    
African Tears Beyond Tears Innocent Victims Imire Can you hear the drums, by Cathy Buckle

Mugabe double-speak
April 20, 2012, 3:15 pm

Not for the first time there is a marked contradiction between what Robert Mugabe says and what his followers do. His speech at the 32nd Independence Day celebrations was classic Mugabe double-speak. Despite their leader’s call for peace and tolerance, there has hardly been a day in the past week alone when violence of one sort or another has not taken place. Even as Mugabe was speaking, an MDC man was violently attacked by a group of Zanu PF thugs in the Harare suburb of Epworth.

Independent observers agree that this ongoing violence is largely due to the activities of Zanu PF. The fact that the notorious Chipangano gang is actively campaigning for Zanu PF proves the point. Although a parliamentary committee is investigating the ongoing political violence in the country, it’s hard to see that anything positive will result when the police themselves – the guardians of law and order - openly support Zanu PF.  As for the army, ironically, it was Zanu PF itself this week who called on the military to desist from interfering in politics. It seems certain sections of the military have involved themselves in the often violent struggle for power that is going on between the contenders for the top job. It’s striking how the struggle for power is such a timeless and universal phenomenon; I was reminded of that this week when an historian pointed out that five hundred years ago England was caught in much the same dilemma. Elizabeth the First was on the throne for 44 years and had no legitimate heir. Who would succeed her was the question the whole country was desperately asking, much as Zimbabwe is now concerned with who will succeed Mugabe. The uncertainty caused by this question is causing violent upheavals within Zanu PF itself as the various factions fight for supremacy.

Violence has many forms, including threats and inflammatory language. On the eve of Independence Morgan Tsvangirai called for “A new culture, a new ethos and a new thrust to respect the dignity and freedoms of the individual. It (Independence) is not a Zanu PF day” he said and the MDC attended the celebrations instead of boycotting it as some sections of Zanu PF no doubt hoped he would.  Violence, or the threat of violence, interfered with the celebrations in Mutare where Zanu PF claimed that they had been threatened with death if they attended. We were not told where these threats came from. In the week leading up to Independence there were several new land seizures, by chiefs and political bigwigs, including a politburo member Dzikamai Mavhaire who took over a farm and kicked out all the farm workers. These farm seizures can no longer claim to be in pursuit of an ‘indigenisation’ agenda since it is now black African farm owners whose property is liable to be taken over by greedy chiefs – and chefs - as we saw this week. We no longer see pictures of beaten and bloodied white farmers but it’s hard to believe that the current spate of land seizures is without violence of one sort or another.

The cabinet recently approved a Code of Conduct to curb political violence; one solution would be strong legal sanctions to punish offenders but putting people in prison for violence – political or otherwise - is unlikely to produce any change in behaviour when the prisons themselves are in such a deplorable state. A report this week claims that Zimbabwe’s Prison Service is near collapse with hunger and disease rife in the grossly overcrowded prisons. Pellagra, typhoid, scurvy and diarrhoea are all commonplace diseases in prison and children are the most vulnerable. No provision is made for those children who have no choice but to accompany their mothers as they serve their sentences. The violence that these children witness during their mothers’ incarceration must surely scar them for life and domestic violence too, experienced by children in their own homes further blights their young lives.

Robert Mugabe’s talk of peace and tolerance is meaningless unless it is accompanied by firm action from the courts and the police to stamp out all forms of violence.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.

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Keep the salt handy!
April 14, 2012, 1:41 am

In the absence of real news, reporters the world over have been known to create their own stories. This is particularly true in the case of Zimbabwe where there’s very little hard news as the two sides settle ‘comfortably’ into the third year of the GNU. Zimbabweans in the diaspora have become accustomed to read stories from home with a very large pinch of salt but this week the pinch turned into a bucket of the stuff!

It started with the death of Malawi’s President Mutharika and the dispute over who should succeed him. Much to Malawi’s credit the issue was settled in accordance with the Malawian constitution and there was a peaceful handover of power. The Vice President, Joyce Banda succeeded to the office of President, thus becoming the first African female head of state. Perhaps it was this talk of death and succession in a country so close to Zimbabwe that set the rumour mongers’ tongues wagging afresh and there was much speculative comment about Mugabe’s failure to return from Singapore in time for a politburo meeting. One of the more ‘fanciful’ newspaper accounts claimed that President Mugabe was ‘battling for his life’ in Singapore. Apparently adding credence to that account was the postponement of a cabinet meeting from Tuesday to Thursday. Zanu PF of course denied that Mugabe was on his deathbed. Jonathan Moyo, with his usual flair for the language of the gutter described all the rumours as ‘hogwash’ but the rumours have persisted. Of course, it’s not the first time an African president has died and his compatriots have been kept in ignorance of the news; Joseph Kabila’s name springs to mind. At 86 years of age it’s natural that death is not far away but it is perfectly possible that rumours of Mugabe’s illness and near-death have been greatly exaggerated. His mother lived to 101 years after all; longevity is in his genes. Press reports speak of his family flying to his bedside in Singapore and amidst all this avalanche of rumours it is difficult to know what to believe. Personally, I’m a natural pessimist and it will be no surprise to me to see the Old Man alive and kicking when he returns all ‘rejuvenated’ from Singapore. The rumour mongers will have to eat their words when they see – and hear - him once again doing the honours at Zimbabwe’s Independence celebrations next week.   

Even the return from rumours of near-death has not silenced the speculation about Mugabe’s successor. The Telegraph reported last Sunday that Mugabe had struck a secret deal with Emmerson Mnangagwa that he would take over the reigns of power should Mugabe leave the scene. This, despite the fact that the present constitution clearly states that the Vice President, Joice Mujuru, succeeds in the event of the Presidents death or incapacity. By early Thursday Mugabe had been out of the country for over ten days and the general public was still in the dark as to the reason. A good friend of mine, a Zimbabwean and an opposition supporter, argues that even Mugabe’s brand of stability is better than the bloody struggle for power that will inevitably follow his departure and she may be right. Given the violent and militant nature of some of the presidential contenders, is it too much to hope that they will quietly accept the constitutional requirement that the VP takes over? Malawi has set an example of how power in Africa can be peacefully transferred but will Zimbabwe follow that example? If that happens and Joice Mujuru becomes president, Zimbabwe would have the second female President in Africa. A peaceful handover of power would do much to restore the world’s belief in Zimbabwe’s democratic credentials.

And then, on Thursday came the news that the rumour –mongers had once again got it all wrong! Mugabe arrived back in Zimbabwe, looking – depending on the news-source – ‘frail and needing a helping hand’ or ‘fit as a fiddle’.  He is said to have immediately called a cabinet meeting. So, it’s back to business as usual and all the would-be presidents have slunk back into their lairs to prepare for the next round of rumour-mongering. Keep the salt handy!

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH

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The air of a Shakespearian tragedy
April 5, 2012, 10:28 am

Not for the first time the war veterans have claimed that they are living in abject poverty and they demand that the Government of National Unity comes to their aid. It does seem extraordinary that thirty two years after the end of the Liberation War these veterans have still not managed to achieve any kind of financial security – or so they claim. They want money to set up projects and the government must arrange loan facilities for them, something which they say they are entitled to under the 1997 War Veterans Act. Zimbabweans well remember how the veterans, led at the time by the late Chengerai Hunzvi, cornered the President and managed to extract from him a payout of $50.000 each plus a monthly pension and allowances for wives and children. That day was known as Black Friday and the unbudgeted payout to the war veterans led to the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy. And now fifteen years later, the war veterans are still unable to make ends meet – or so they say.

Times have changed, though, and it is doubtful that the war veterans wield the same power today that they once did over the President. He has other more urgent matters to concern him these days, including all those contenders for his office yapping at his heels and waiting for him to leave office. In effect, they are waiting for him to die: Chiwenga, Mnangagwa, Joice Mujuru and any other contenders waiting in the wings. Add the war veterans to this mix of heirs apparent and the whole situation takes on the air of a Shakespearian tragedy. It is not surprising that people are worried about what happens when Mugabe leaves the stage; he is in Singapore at the moment, ‘on a private visit’ we are told, ‘arranging his daughter’s post-graduate studies.’ Though it’s hard to see why a twenty year old woman cannot arrange her own studies, it’s not exactly a complicated process! Perhaps her fees will be paid in diamonds! The country is awash with diamond wealth; apparently, up-market luxury homes are going for between 2.5 and 7.5 million dollars in the classier suburbs of Harare. If the report is accurate, these are cash sales and it’s all diamond money. Zimbabwean legislators went on a tour of the diamond fields last week and some of the MPs are demanding a probe into Chiadzwa. Not likely that will happen when so many ‘big men’ are doing so well out of Zimbabwe’s diamond wealth and that includes non-Zimbabweans such as Israelis, Chinese and Nigerians. It’s an Israeli man who is suing the police for theft after he claims they stole his diamonds! Ironically, it is lack of funding that has halted Bulawayo’s water campaign and in Chinhoyi water and sewage problems threaten a disease outbreak in the town. There is a report this week that typhoid is surging across central and southern Africa and that includes Zambia, Zimbabwe and the DRC. It is always the lowest level of society that suffers and dies from such diseases, so the diamond-rich have nothing to worry about. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s power woes continue. The outages worsen for householders and businesses while the government negotiates with Mozmbique about how to settle their debts. The Zimbabwean government says it needs to raise $40 million dollars by month end and, coincidentally, Rio Tinto announces that its diamond output has shot up. The contradictions are obvious for all to see; the diamond revenue, if properly utilised, could solve the country’s many problems at one stroke but it is just not happening. Zimbabwe’s enormous reserves of mineral wealth are not being used to improve the lives of ordinary people.

As they travel home to the rural areas for the holiday weekend in crowded country buses, people will probably drive past the mine turnoffs and see for themselves the source of much of the country’s wealth. They will know that the nickel, gold, asbestos, and platinum mines they drive past have provided jobs for hundreds of Zimbabweans. As for the huge profits from these mining enterprises, have they been used to build new schools and hospitals or have they made the rich even richer?

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.

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March 31, 2012, 1:51 am

It’s nothing new, dishonesty and petty corruption, but like a rash it definitely seems to be spreading. True, good news hardly makes for riveting reading and that may be the explanation for the current crop of bad news stories but the impression gained from a look at the daily Zim Situation reports is that honesty and straight dealing are on the decline in Zimbabwe. And that applies from the very top right down to the man in the street.

Last Saturday there was a report that VIPs were receiving agricultural inputs, seed and fertiliser, intended for ‘new’ farmers. Individuals who could well afford to buy their own inputs, such as the Commissioner of Police, the Mashonaland West Governor, the Minister of Agriculture and the Vice President, they were all named.

The revelation of the names of top people who had not paid their Zesa bills provoked an outpouring of anger from the debtors over who had leaked the details to the press; not shame over unpaid bills, just anger at who had leaked the story! Then came the news that top Zesa executives had paid themselves huge pay rises but slashed the allowances paid to non-managerial staff. Just as shocking was the news that Robert Mugabe himself and his other Zanu PF cronies are majority share-holders in Zesa. While all this is going on, the ordinary citizen is subjected to massive power cuts lasting for days; the water supply is no better and Harare City Council announces it needs $100 million to fix the city’s water problems. The news of the expansion of Hwange and Kariba power plants later this year will be precious little comfort to those affected by power cuts now. It’s rather like promising ‘Jam tomorrow but never jam today’! 

On the streets of Harare this week, school text books donated to the country by UNICEF were openly on sale. The Ministry of Education promises to probe the scandal but one wonders how these donated books got out on the streets in the first place? For parents, desperate to provide their kids with the right school equipment, the temptation to purchase these books is very understandable, even though parents must know that UNICEF books are donated and thus not intended for sale. Set that story against the revelation by the Minister of Education himself that pupils in Mat North are sitting 20 to a desk because there are too few desks and you see how innocent children are the unintended victims of this petty corruption and dishonesty.

While the whole country is suffering from hunger in varying degrees, the food crisis in prisons is much worse. When the Red Cross offered to help feed prisoners, the government in its arrogance told the Red Cross their help was not needed. They could feed their own prisoners, thank you very much! One meal a day of sadza and beans was the government’s answer – occasionally sadza with boiled cabbage we are told. There was a time when going to prison at least meant you got three square meals a day! What is it they say about the way a country treats its children and prisoners?  

Petty corruption and dishonesty make day-to-day living hard  but it is the unchecked activities of criminal gangs like chipangano that rots the body politic from the inside. This gang of young thugs has reportedly taken over council properties in Harare and is said to be collecting huge sums of money on properties and whatever else they have taken over. The police do nothing to stop this illegal activity because the gang is known to be pro-Zanu PF, perhaps even run by a Zanu PF biwig. There is worrying evidence that chipangano’s activities are spreading to other towns, such as Karoyi and Chinoyi. And if that isn’t worrying enough, the MDC reports that Zanu PF is reviving the Top Six terror gangs that wreaked such havoc in Chinoyi back in 2008. Residents of the town report that they have seen gang members around the town again

There may be a new coalition government in Zimbabwe but very little has changed. Politicians and lawmakers continue silent as petty corruption and dishonesty spreads across the country.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle, PH.

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How erratically the rule of law operates in Zimbabwe
March 23, 2012, 2:36 pm

Two events occurred this week that demonstrated how erratically the rule of law operates in Zimbabwe. One of the reasons is that politics has increasingly influenced police behaviour. With his publicly declared support for Mugabe and Zanu PF, Augustine Chihuri destroyed the public’s trust in police impartiality. A comparison of their behaviour as shown in the following incidents illustrates police ability - or lack of it - to administer the rule of law without favour.

In this week’s examples we have two very different groups of people, each group choosing to involve themselves in a form of ‘mass action’ but from very different motivation. The first incident concerned the case of Munyaradzi Gwisai and five others who were charged with ‘inciting public violence.’

The charge dates back to February 2011 where the accused were present at a lecture entitled ‘Egypt and Tunisia – What lessons can be learnt by Zimbabwe and Africa?’ 44 people were originally arrested, though 39 were later acquitted.  The police charged that the group was plotting to overthrow the government. Munyaradzi Gwisai and five others were accordingly charged with treason, a charge which carries the death sentence in Zimbabwe, but this was later downgraded to ‘inciting public violence’. The six activists spent 27 days in prison during which time they allege they were tortured. This week they were found guilty and sentenced to a two year suspended sentence, suspended for five years on condition no similar offence was committed, 420 hours of community service and a fine of $500 each.

On first hearing the verdict a student outside the court cheered, presumably because he thought the group had got off lightly, bearing in mind that the Prosecutor had called for a maximum sentence which could be as much as ten years. The student was arrested for ‘being too vocal’- though it is not clear exactly what law he had broken! That was the only humorous note in the whole wretched business; an outpouring of indignation followed, nationally and internationally. 100 civil society activists were in court to witness the trial; the prestigious International Commission of Jurists expressed grave concern. “Laws ought to be used to protect citizens” the ICJ said and Amnesty International commented that “the court’s decision is a reminder that Zimbabwe is still an unsafe place for activists.” A South African union of mine workers also condemned the ‘guilty’ verdict. Meanwhile, Judge Kudakwashe Jarabani conceded that watching a video was not a crime but, he claimed, the organisers of the lecture had intended to incite hostility to the government. The defence will appeal both sentence and conviction. We await the result of that appeal. 

The second incident is very different in character and had a very different outcome. The incident took place in Shamva, a small mining town some 60 kms from Harare. From information to hand it seems the wife of the Member in Charge, Officer Shumba, had her bag stolen in the town. In the bag was a purse containing $1 and a mobile phone. What happened next is beyond belief. In the middle of the night, on the orders and in the company of Officer Shumba a group of nine policemen went door to door violently beating up the residents who were kicked with booted feet, stamped on and assaulted. It was a desire for revenge by Officer Shumba, nothing more than that. “We want blood, someone must die here” said the rogue policemen. They certainly got what they wanted. One man was reported dead, Luxmore Chiwamba was beaten to death as he lay sleeping in his bed and many more sustained serious injuries inflicted by this gang of vengeful cops. The town erupted in fury and Luxmore Chiwamba’s widow gave voice to the town’s rage. What happened next was even more unbelievable, it was unprecedented!  After a crowd of angry residents picketed the main police station in the town, eight policemen, including Shumba, were arrested.

We wait to see if they will stand trial.    

Yours in the (continuing) struggle, PH.

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