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October 2008

Friday, 31 October 2008

Mediums fight for Mugabe

Zanu-PF enlists the help of the spirit world

After failing to defeat them on an earthly plane, Zanu-PF activists in Mashonaland Central have turned to spiritual warfare against supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). They are using a mixture of fear and superstition to punish those who voted for Morgan Tsvangirai in this year's elections.

MDC supporters in Mbire constituency told me that many are now living in terror, as spirit mediums harass them for joining the opposition. This is particularly prevalent in Ward 16, where in March local voters overturned three decades of Zanu-PF dominance.

In this case the mediums are a group of three women and two men, all of them believed to be at least 60 years old. They are from neighbouring Mozambique, and each year they visit Mbire, normally performing rituals to bring rains and a good harvest. But this year their mission is political.

Few are willing to talk about what is happening, but Ward 16 MDC councillor Derrick Nhawu confirmed the rumours I had heard.

"The spirit mediums accuse us of conniving with some other evil forces to cause all the misfortunes that befell Zanu-PF in March," he said. "People are threatened with mysterious death, and told they will bring misfortune on their families."

jA villager described to me how the rainmakers, as they are known, would organise a local gathering, as if about to perform a traditional dance. But this time their real target would be a known local supporter of MDC.

Once the ceremony began they would be seen to spit in the direction of the target's home, shout his name, and pretend to be possessed by spirits, forecasting death and misfortune, and speaking in "tongues".

They are sometimes said to offer to exorcise their victim of the evil spirits which have taken over his soul, in return for payment of cows and goats.

"We have reported the matter to the local police," said the villager, "but they will do nothing. They tell us they are afraid to act. We think they are just as afraid of the rainmakers as we are."

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The terrible price of freedom

Three teenage girls are robbed, beaten and raped

This weekend, In the Johannesburg offices of SAWIMA, a South African NGO dedicated to helping distressed migrants, I met three girls from Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo. They were still dressed in muddy rags, and sobbed as they told officials what had happened to them during their bid to escape from the Mugabe regime.

Two of them, aged 12 and 13, were too upset to speak to me. But the 15-year-old described graphically how their bid to find a new life in the Republic had gone terribly wrong.

She told me that the three of them had managed to collect half the money demanded by agents in Bulawayo, in return for safe passage over the border, and on to Johannesburg. Her brother, who lives in South Africa, promised to pay the balance once the girls were delivered to him.

The girls were collected by a gang of several men who specialise in this trade in humanity. Their fee, an average for the trip I understand, was 1,500 South African Rand.

"When we got over the border," said the girl, "they rang my brother on his mobile phone, and he confirmed that he would make the full payment as soon as we arrived. But then the men began to demand we have sex with them. When we tried to resist they beat us, and threatened to abandon us in the bush.

"It was in the night, we had no money, we were so frightened... They all raped us, over and over again...now I think they may have given me HIV."

A SAWIMA official told me that the girls had been taken to a Johannesburg address and kept as sex slaves for several days, before being finally abandoned on the organisation's doorstep early one morning. The girls are now underoing medical examination, and attempts are being made to find the 15-year-old's brother.

The official said that almost half of all women who escape illegally from Zimbabwe endure similar experiences, and she believes that many more are killed after being raped, their bodies left in the bush.

"These human traffickers are beasts," she told me. "People know this, but they are so desperate they will even risk their lives to come here."

Back here in Harare the talks on power sharing begin yet again. And while the politicians talk, the rapes, the beatings and the murders continue.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Cholera strikes Zimbabwe

Urban and rural decay has led to a frightening outbreak of the killer disease

A total of 120 people have died of cholera in Zimbabwe in the past three weeks, according to medical authorities. Outbreaks of the waterborne disease have occurred in Chinhoyi, a small town in Mashonaland West, in Chitungwiza, and in the capital Harare itself.

Doctors believe that many more cases of the disease, which causes acute diarrhoea and vomiting, and can lead to death from dehydration within 24 hours, have gone unreported.

The death toll is now expected to rocket, as the first rains of the season have washed dirt, sewage and other rubbish into the ponds and open wells where many people draw their water.

The Government Minister for Health and Child Welfare, David Parirenyatwa, said: "The outbreak is unusual and alarming." He advised people to avoid shaking hands at funerals - something which is traditional in African society.

Amanda Ncube, an official of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, said the outbreak is the result of a dangerous collapse in basic services.

"Water supply is irregular or completely absent in most urban areas. Burst sewage pipes continue to be left unattended, and there is a lack of refuse collection. In many suburbs raw sewage is flowing into people's yards, in playgrounds, even into medical clinics."

A corresponding breakdown in medical services is another factor in the increase in cholera, which is treatable if diagnosed sufficiently early,  On Friday Parirenyatwa Hospital, one of Harare's largest, stopped admissions with immediate effect, due to a chronic shortage of staff, drugs and food.

I visited the Parirenyatwa this weekend. The reception area was an unforgettable scene of suffering, with weeping relatives, groaning sick and injured, and general desperation as critically ill people were turned away and told to go home.

For Zimbabwe, the agony goes on.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

South Africa - no longer the Promised Land

Why there is no welcome for Zimbabwe's refugees south of the border

Anyone who thinks that escaping to the apparent sanctuary of South Africa could be an answer to the suffering we face in Zimbabwe is mistaken. I have just spent a couple of days in the Republic, and I have to warn anyone contemplating such a step. Life for us in South Africa can be hard, cruel and devoid of hope.

Just getting there is fraught with difficulty. As any Zimbabwean will tell you, anyone wishing to cross the Limpopo must have a visa, and to get that visa you must demonstrate you are worth at least R2,000 - something out of reach to most of us, even the professionals.

Even to apply for a visa you must have a passport - something with which our top politicians seem to have problems. You can of course apply for an Emergency Travel Document, a piece of paper valid for six months. To get that you must convince the Registrar-General's office that your need to leave Zimbabwe is vital.

Perhaps it is. But you try explaining to the Zanu-PF members who staff the Registrar-General's office that you need to escape torture and death at the hands of Zanu-PF terror squads, and see how far you get.

Continue reading "South Africa - no longer the Promised Land" »

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The curious case of the missing passport

Detective Moses probes the mysterious circumstances of Tsvangirai's absence

It was a farce in Swaziland. Everyone from the Southern African Development Community, from Mugabe's Zanu-PF, even the local King himself, King Mswati, was there for the talks on power sharing in Zimbabwe. But, like the elephant in the room, Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister-in-waiting of our country and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), wasn't.

This made the whole thing pointless, and everyone went home. The MDC claimed that Tsvangirai was not provided with either a valid passport or travel documents, and therefore could not leave Zimbabwe. (He apparently spent the day playing golf, but...)

Was that the real reason why he didn't make the trip? Did Mugabe really deprive him of the legal means to travel - thus earning our ageing President the criticism and contempt of observers throughout the region, and indeed the world? I believe there may be more to this story than first meets the eye.

Continue reading "The curious case of the missing passport" »

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Death of a whistle-blower

The sad fate of an election official who dared to challenge Mugabe's methods

The discovery of the semi-burned body of Ignatious Mushangwe this weekend, on waste ground in the town of Norton, is a salutary lesson for those who would dare to challenge the corrupt election-rigging tactics of President Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party.

Today members of the family of Mushangwe, formerly a senior official in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), are mourning his death. But my source within Zanu-PF told me that his fate was sealed back in June, when he challenged the abuse of postal votes by the ruling party, in the run-up to the last Presidential election.

"The boys were ordered to deal with him very fast," my source said. "Time was running out."

Continue reading "Death of a whistle-blower" »

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Now Mugabe wants Finance

And you won't believe why he wants it

When, as I exclusively predicted last week, Mugabe rang down the curtain on the inter-party power-sharing talks, and grabbed key ministries for his own, the issue of which party would control the finance ministry remained in doubt. But not any more.

Zanu-PF has told talks mediator Thabo Mbeki that it will continue to manage the country's economy - for the following incredible reason. It says that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is "too inexperienced", and therefore would not be up to the job. Whereas Zanu-PF is.

This, I would remind you, is the opinion of the government of a country where inflation is currently running at an unimaginable 231 million per cent.

Zanu-PF's chief parliamentary whip Joram Gumbo did me the honour of explaining the party's reasoning, and in my turn I will do you the honour of repeating his words as accurately as I can. Do try to stick with it.

Continue reading "Now Mugabe wants Finance" »

Friday, 10 October 2008

Say goodbye to power-sharing

The dream of a new deal could end this weekend

Sources within Zanu-PF have told me this week that Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe will decide on Sunday to bring down the curtain on the farcical power-sharing talks. He will announce, probably early next week, that the dream deal with the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), signed with such fanfares only a few weeks ago, is off.

Then he will announce his new cabinet. This will include Arthur Mutambara, leader of the tiny MDC breakaway faction, purely for window-dressing. All the other members will be hard-line Zanu-PF party men. And for Zimbabwe, nothing will have changed.

Throughout the talks Mugabe has been faced with three options. If you make the existential effort to look at things through his eyes, his final decision has been obvious and inevitable.

Continue reading "Say goodbye to power-sharing" »

Thursday, 09 October 2008

Why our MPs will miss the bus

Another reason to despair as Parliament opens next week

When - and indeed if - the new Zimbabwe parliament opens on Tuesday, many members, particularly those from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), may be missing. Not on a point of principle, and not from fear of intimidation, although both are significant factors in our current democratic process.

No, the members will not turn up for this simple and mundane reason:  they can't afford the bus fare.

This seems a ludicrous situation, even by Zimbabwe's standards, until you examine the facts. First, there is a limit to the amount of cash anyone can draw from the bank in one day. It is Z$20,000, But the bus fare from, say, Mutare, is a cool Z$150,000. From Gweru, Z$80,000. And that was when I last checked. The figures go up by the day.

Continue reading "Why our MPs will miss the bus" »

Tuesday, 07 October 2008

The universities lock their doors

A bleak outlook for Zimbabwe's students as classes fail to start

All four of Zimbabwe's universities have failed to open for the first semester of the 2008/2009 academic year. And the country's students are left wondering if their education has come to a sudden and permanent stop.

The University of Zimbabwe (UZ), the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Midlands State University (MSU) and Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT) have all failed to open their doors, some six weeks after the scheduled resumption of studies.

The basic problem at all four establishments seems to be a familiar one for our country: the staff have withdrawn their labour because their salaries are unrealistically low.

Continue reading "The universities lock their doors" »

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