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July 2008

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Money - your problems are solved!

Top Zimbabwe banker demonstrates his grip on reality

It's hearty congratulations today to the Governor of the Zimbabwe Central Bank, Gideon Gono. With one stroke, he has tackled our hyper-inflation problem. He has lopped ten zeros off the end of all our currency notes.

Thus, thanks to Gono's incisiveness, a ten billion Zimbabwean dollar note is now suddenly worth...one Zimbabwean dollar. It will, of course, buy you only what ten billion Zimbabwean dollars would buy you yesterday - or to be more accurate, it will buy you less.

Because, as someone here said, lopping zeros off the currency is like applying lipstick to a frog. It might change its appearance. But the frog is still a frog. Hyper-inflation is still with us, and the zeros will soon be racking up again on our new dollar notes, and buying us ever less in the stores that have nothing to sell.

Those in possession of old-style notes with countless zeros on them need not worry. These will not cease to be legal tender until December 31. Until them you can still use them to buy all those essential items our shops haven't seen for months.

Gono knows the pointlessness of fiddling with figures like this, so why did he do it? The answer is - modern technology. Apparently our major bankers and shop owners have told him their computer software could no longer cope with such elongated totals.

When the news came through, some thought it was a sign of a break-through in the talks between Zanu-PF and the MDC in Pretoria. Sadly, instead of a break-through, the talks produced a break-down, mainly due to Mugabe's ludicrous offer to Morgan Tsvangirai of the post of third vice-president.

Quite what the duties of the third vice-president involve no-one is clear. Making the coffee? Surely not. Telling the fourth vice-president to make the coffee? Possibly. What is clear is, Tsvangirai turned the offer down flat.

But, perhaps surprisingly, the talks aren't finished. South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, the mediator between the two sides, says they will reconvene on Sunday.

Will they soon produce a fair and just solution to our country's problems. I'm willing to bet five Zimbabwean dollars they won't. New dollars or old ones.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Why the talks are heading for deadlock

The gap between the MDC and Zanu-PF shows no sign of narrowing

The much-heralded talks between Mugabe's men and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) got underway in Pretoria on Thursday, but it became increasingly clear over the weekend that there remains a seemingly unbridgeable divide between Morgan Tsvangirai and the President.

According to my sources in South Africa, a range of issues exists over which the two sides are a million miles from reaching agreement. Specifically, it is the following demands of both that divide them.

Mugabe insists that in any new government he must remain as executive president, though he is prepared to agree to Tsvangirai becoming either vice-president, or Prime Minister under him.

He insists that all sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union be lifted before meaningful agreement can be reached. And he wants an undertaking that the so-called Land Reform Programme, which observers agree began Zimbabwe's economic collapse, be deemed irreversible.

Continue reading "Why the talks are heading for deadlock" »

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Tsvangirai answers his critics

In a bid to dispel criticism of his decision to shake the hand of President Mugabe and sit down for face-to-face negotiations, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has published an open letter to the people of Zimbabwe.

The letter emphasises the importance of meaningful negotiations with the Zanu-PF leadership if a peaceful settlement to the nation's crisis is to be found. In particular, Mr Tsvangirai calls for a cessation of government-inspired violence - something which previously he had insisted was a necessary pre-condition of talks.

For the full text of the letter, click here.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Survival in Zimbabwe today

How one young nurse keeps body and soul together

Westerners and Europeans all pose the same question: how is it humanly possible to survive in Zimbabwe in 2008, when there is nothing in the shops, inflation is rocketing beyond belief, and wages are pitifully low? Here is one personal story that might provide some, but not all, of the answer.

Docus Chririnda has been a nurse for 16 years. Her salary is Z$140 billion a month. Her bus fare to work is Z$100 billion a day. So she walks. But why bother to go to work at all, you may ask, when the new Zimbabwe $100 billion note, just issued, this week buys little more than two loaves of bread?

The answer is, Docus is a dealer. Her  real income comes from poultry. She breeds chicken, and sells them, and eggs, to her hospital colleagues.

She told me: "Yes, I'm a poultry dealer. If you are not a dealer you will never surive in Zimbabwe. There is not a single person in this country existing on their salary alone. We use our workplaces, and our colleagues, to conduct our deals. And we hold on to our jobs, in the belief that one day things will improve, and we will regain our dignity."

Continue reading "Survival in Zimbabwe today" »

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The handshake that shook a continent

But is it anything more than just another Mugabe plot?

As I forecast on this site at the weekend, President Mugabe and opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai came face to face yesterday, signed an agreement outlining a framework for talks on Zimbabwe's political future, and shook hands on the deal.

This bizarre meeting of two sworn enemies took place in a Harare hotel, and was chaired by an apparently triumphant South African president Thabo Mbeki, who has been much criticised for previous failures to make something like this happen.

But the ink of the signatures was barely dry before the first doubts were expressed. Observers pointed out that a handshake and some reluctant smiles, unprecedented though they were, will do nothing substantial to rid the country of Mugabe's reign of terror and oppression.

As the talks begin - the Memorandum gives them a two-week timetable - it is evident that the two leaders have radically opposing aims in view. Tsvangirai clearly sees the process leading to a period of transition of power, with the end result a truly democratic government as voted for in the elections earlier in the year.

Continue reading "The handshake that shook a continent" »

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Kenya PM says negotiations will begin this week

Odinga tells Tsvangirai the time has come to talk

Hopes that real negotiations between Zimbabwe's two political forces will begin soon were raised yesterday (Sunday) when the Prime Minister of Kenya, Raila Odinga said on British television that Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition MDC, has agreed to talks with Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF.

Odinga, one of the few African leaders prepared to state publicly that Mugabe should go, said: "I have told him (Tsvangirai) to negotiate," and he predicted that the MDC leader will come face-to-face with Mugabe in South Africa this week.

"We will shortly see big changes in Zimbabwe," Odinga told his British interviewer. He said the talks would be chaired by South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, and overseen by observers from the African Union and the United Nations.

First step in such negotiations will be the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding, setting out conditions under which talks could proceed.  Tsvangirai had previously refused to sign, saying talks were impossible until Mugabe stopped the state-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe, and freed more than 1,500 MDC activists currently in police custody.

An African Union summit in Egypt last month called for dialogue between Zanu-PF and the MDC, with the aim of establishing a government of national unity. But a United Nations Security Council resolution, designed to bring pressure on Mugabe to co-operate, was vetoed by Russia and China

Friday, 18 July 2008

A journalist runs for his life

The persecution of independent Zimbabwean journalists is hotting up by the day. The latest victim is a friend and one-time colleague of mine. I shall call him Brian. For some years Brian has supplied western and local media with revealing and accurate news about the evils of the Mugabe regime. This is his story:

Things began to go bad for me back in May. I received a call from a police superintendent, a friend of mine based in my home town of Bulawayo. He warned me not to enter any police premises. He told me an order had been issued to the Police Internal Security Intelligence (PISI) to have me arrested on trumped-up charges of theft of police property.

He said: "You will be arrested and beaten until you admit the charges. You will also be taken into custody if you are seen covering a public demonstration. They will say you were a part of it."

Some time later I received a call from another police contact, a superintendent in Harare. He told me my name was now on a top ten hit list, issued by the Joint Operations Command (JOC) to all squads.

My source told me: "They've been told not to waste time arresting you. Just abduct you and beat you to death. You must lie very low for now."

Then yet another source told me that a Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) squad of two men and a woman had been despatched from Harare to find and abduct me.

Continue reading "A journalist runs for his life" »

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Mugabe's murderous plan

The next steps in the elimination of the MDC opposition in Zimbabwe

While the laughable "talks" about a peaceful solution to the political crisis stutter on, and while the general level of violence and fear ratchets up across the country, the military junta behind Mugabe move on remorselessly.

At the end of last week the five main Junta leaders - Constantine Chiwenga, Augustine Chihuru, Perrence Shiri, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Paradzai Zimondi - held a secret meeting with their President.

Details of that meeting have been passed on to me by a sympathetic source close to the junta. They reveal a comprehensive plan to, and I quote, "target and eliminate the MDC from the political map of Zimbabwe".

The plan covers all levels of government - cell, ward, district, province and national - and is backed by a general order to the security forces and the militia to increase the every-day level of violence against opposition supporters.

Continue reading "Mugabe's murderous plan" »

Saturday, 12 July 2008

UN veto sinks the sanctions

Russia and China torpedo the G8 plan to target Mugabe's men

Britain and the United States suffered a staggering diplomatic blow at the United Nations last night, when both Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution designed to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe's leaders.

The plan, hatched at the recent G8 meeting in Japan, involved an arms embargo, and a travel ban and freezing of personal assets, designed to directly penalise President Mugabe and 13 of his closest ministers and officials.

Russia was understood to have endorsed the plan. But when the resolution was debated at the UN, it agreed with China that the situation in Zimbabwe did not threaten international stability. Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that sanctions would have taken the UN beyond its mandate.

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the veto was "incomprehensible", and the US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Russia's veto raised "questions about its reliability as a G8 partner."

Zimbabwe's UN ambassador, Boniface Chidyausiku, welcomed the result, saying he was happy to see what he described as the US and UK's "machinations" failing. South Africa, which doesn't have a Security Council veto, also voted against the resolution.

Britain and America are now believed to be conferring on what steps, if any, they can now take in their attempts to bring justice to Zimbabwe.

Friday, 11 July 2008

The suffering of the women

Why life behind Zimbabwean bars is far from ladylike

Jenni Williams, the high-profile (because she is white) head of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) has walked free from Chikurubi maximum security prison, after being detained for 37 days following a street demonstration in Harare. She has brought with her harrowing descriptions of the privations she and the other WOZA members, and their fellow female prisoners, have been suffering.

"Women are living in terrible conditions in Chikurubi," she reported. "They face serious issues of hygiene, health, even violence, that make it impossible to live a life approaching normality."

These are some of the aspects of prison treatment which have horrified, if not exactly surprised, her.

Wrongful detention:  "There are several women there who are denied basic justice. I met one who has been at Chikurubi since 2004. Women like her just sit there, they are never even taken to court."

Continue reading "The suffering of the women" »

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