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September 2008

Monday, 29 September 2008

'The Only Thing White Farmers Understand!'

Chilling accounts of a new wave of farm invasions

Hopes that the signing of the power-sharing agreement would result in an end to the forcible evictions of white farmers in Zimbabwe have been dashed with the news that the reverse is true. Taking advantage of the current stalemate between the ruling parties, a fresh wave of farm invasions has been launched.

It is currently believed that another 35 white-owned farms have been grabbed in the last two weeks, usually by combined bands of Zanu-PF militia and so-called War Veterans. In many cases the farms are taken over and stripped of everything of value, before the gangs move on to another target.

The President of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), Trevor Gifford, told me that things were getting progressively worse. "There are a lot of new invasions," he said, "the worst areas being Manicaland, Masvingo and Mashonaland East, West and Central." The invasions had been regularly reported to police, but no action was taken.

One white farmer is recounting an incident at his farm which left him staring down the barrel of a gun wielded by a self-proclaimed top official of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).

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Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The man still in the middle

What Mebki's resignation means to Zimbabwe

Thabo Mbeki may have resigned as President of South Africa, but here in Zimbabwe he's still in place as the mediator between Zanu-PF and the MDC factions, and sources say he's likely to stay there for the bitter infighting still to come.

Although his authority has obviously diminished, Mbeki is widely credited for bringing Robert Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai together at least long enough to sign the power-sharing agreement last week. And many believe his work has only just begun.

Implementation of the agreement is as far away as ever, with all sides deadlocked over the distribution of key ministries. Zanu-PF spokesman Patrick Chinamasa told me that Mbeki remains "the only person who will be able to ensure the success of the agreement."

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Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Is Gono a goner?

The new Zimbabwe may be about to claim its first victim

Tomorrow, (Thursday) Gideon Gono, who today is the governor of Zimbabwe's Reserve Bank, may be yesterday's man. His resignation from his role as the mis-manager of the country's economy is confidently expected in the morning.

Gono, a long-time comic favourite of this site, is credited with helping to ruin the finances of Zimbabwe over a period of years, and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has always said it would fire him once it was in government. That day has come.

Earlier this year, MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti, who is tipped to become Minister of Finance in the new power-sharing executive, said: "Gono, not inflation, is the number one enemy of this country.

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Monday, 15 September 2008

First the signing - then the street fighting

The agreement is signed - but violence breaks out yet again

Any hopes that this morning's formal signing of the power-sharing agreement, and the inevitable handshakes and smiles exchanged by our political leaders, would signal a new and peaceful Zimbabwe were shattered when opposing groups of supporters clashed violently.

Rival mobs, chanting songs, met in the streets outside Harare's Rainbow Hotel, in which the ceremony took place. Stones were thrown, and then fighting broke out with fists, sticks and other weapons causing several serious injuries.

I witnessed one woman, MDC activist Elizabeth Takaenda, taking a blow to the head from a brick. An ambulance took her and others to hospital. Meanwhile police vehicles were attacked and windscreens smashed.

Anti-riot police moved in after about 30 minutes, firing warning shots, although a police source told me that they had been instructed not to use too much force against the demonstrators. The gateway into the hotel was closed to keep out the crowd.

Eventually the Zanu-PF supporters dispersed. But to the delight of onlookers in this heavily MDC-orientated town, the opposition groups proceeded to march through the streets, singing songs.

The actual signing ceremony went ahead without a hitch. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said the agreement represented the best hope for Zimbabwe. Mr. Mugabe typically blamed many of the country's difficulties on Britain, and was roundly booed when he suggested that the opposition had used violence to promote its aims.

Full details of the agreement have yet to be made public, but the broad outlines, as described on this and other sites, appear to be correct.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

After the talks - more talks

Agreement reached - but now the real bargaining begins

While you might expect both Mugabe and Tsvangirai to rest on their laurels this weekend, after their historic agreement at the end of last week, the reverse is true. Sources tell me that the two leaders, plus MDC faction boss Arthur Mutambara, met face to face on Saturday, to thrash out exactly who, in our new power-sharing government, gets what.

Dividing up the ministries - 15 to Zanu-PF, 13 to the main MDC and three to the faction - may sound simple enough. But the trio now have to decide which party gets which ministry, and which minister they wish to appoint.

The overall aim of this weekend's session has been, I am told, to make sure that when it comes to the formal signing ceremony today, which will be the focus of the world's media, the principals speak with one voice. And that's important.

Continue reading "After the talks - more talks" »

Friday, 12 September 2008

Power-sharing agreed at last

And we were the first to tell you

The dramatic announcement came yesterday (Thursday) evening, just one day after my exclusive story on Wednesday. After seemingly never-ending talks, elections and appalling violence, Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai have agreed to share the government of Zimbabwe.

On Wednesday I reported that despite what seemed to be insurmountable difficulties, the leaders of Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were on the brink of signing up to a historic deal. Last night talks broker President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa confirmed my forecast to the world's media.

He told journalists that complete agreement between the two major parties had been reached. Tsvangirai stated simply: "We've got a deal." Mugabe had no comment.

But details of the apparent unity between the once-bitter rivals will not be released until Monday, when Mugabe, Tsvangirai and the leader of the small MDC faction, Arthur Mutambara, will attend a formal signing ceremony. So exactly who will run what in the country remains unclear.

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Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Historic power-sharing deal to be signed today

Sources say the two parties in Zimbabwe are ready to shake hands

The much-anticipated power-sharing deal between Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is expected to be finally agreed this morning, Wednesday.

According to well-placed sources, despite much-publicised major differences between the parties, the deal is now "as good as done," and a signing ceremony is set to take place at the Rainbow Towers in Harare this afternoon.

One source said: "As we speak people are being served with invitations to the ceremony. All the outstanding issues were sorted out yesterday, although there are one or two phrases that need to be polished this morning."

South African president Thabo Mbeki, who is brokering the extended talks, spent the day yesterday in separate meetings, first with Tsvangirai, then with Arthur Mutambara who leads the small MDC faction, and finally with President Mugabe.

Earlier Mugabe is thought to have had a series of meeting with his inner circle, informing them that some shared government with Tsvangirai was inevitable.

The major stumbling block in the talks has been the question of who will be in charge of state security, President Mugabe or Prime Minister Tsvangirai. Mugabe is said to have assured his security chiefs that they will be protected, and not "dumped in an all-inclusive government", said the source.

Yesterday, as the talks closed, Tsvangirai appeared optimistic, saying there had been "positive development." "Nothing has been concluded yet, but we are hoping that tomorrow (Wednesday) we will be able to look at the outstanding issues," he added.

Mugabe said simply:  "We are finishing tomorrow."

Monday, 08 September 2008

Mugabe mobilises for civil war

Military manoeuvres indicate that Zanu-PF is preparing for conflict

With the power-sharing talks between Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change now stalled and showing no signs of progress, Robert Mugabe has moved swiftly to prepare for an armed struggle within Zimbabwe.

A highly-ranked Army commander told me today, Monday: "Civil war is now definitely in prospect. Our officers currently undergoing training in South Africa have been immediatly recalled in mid-course, for what were described as more important military duties.

"I'm also aware that regiments from Imbizo, Mbalabala and Carbone barracks have been placed on high alert. And their training has been re-focused to include much more direct action on the ground."

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Friday, 05 September 2008

An ex-policeman's lot - harassment, fear, torture

One man's journey from official lawman to hunted fugitive

I wondered what had happened to Joe. I'd known him for years, first when he was a member of the Zimbabwean police, then early this year when, after 15 years as a police officer, he became a civilian again. Joe had left the force for the usual reasons - low pay, wanting to better himself, etc. Then suddenly he disappeared from view, and no-one knew where he was.

This week, during a quick visit to Johannesburg, and quite by chance, I met Joe again. I naturally asked him where he had been, and why he was now apparently in exile in South Africa. This is his story.

"When I left the police I thought everything was okay...then, at the beginning of April, when Mugabe had just lost the March 29 election, I realised that I was being watched. Strange men began appearing at my house at all hours of the day and night, demanding to know where I had been, who I had visited. They interrogated my friends, my neighbours, even my little six-year-old girl.

"Several times I was taken to different police stations in Bulawayo, and accused of a variety of crimes - selling police information to the MDC, being an opposition spy, having contact with the foreign press, that sort of thing. Sometimes I was there for hours. It was frightening. And then it got much worse.

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Tuesday, 02 September 2008

A friend dies in prison

Life and death in Zimbabwe's horrific jails

My good friend Howard died in Mutimurefu Prison, in Masvingo, Zimbabwe, last week. the victim of abuse, starvation and infection. Many more are suffering similar fates within our places of detention, every day of the week. I am writing this to mark the death of Howard Erika, Prison No. 1141/03.

Mutimurefu is a dreadful place. It is almost literally falling down due to consistent neglect. The sewage system is disfunctional, and human effluent flows through the corridors. It took four months for these conditions to kill Howard.

There is an ironic twist to his death while in the hands of Mugabe's so-called security system. He was no gallant fighter for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Quite the reverse. Howard, with a wife and three children to feed, joined one of the Zanu-PF terror squads.

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