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November 2008

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Mutiny in the ranks

Is Mugabe's mighty army about to fall apart?

The question of whether the latest reports of a possible power-sharing agreement between Mugabe and Tsvangirai are real or just fanciful became meaningless this week, when signs of violent mutiny amongst the armed forces were seen on the streets of the Zimbabwe capital, Harare.

For the first time since Independence, the army, for so long Mugabe's strong and oppressive right arm, is visibly breaking ranks, turning against its commanders, and demonstrating that it will no longer tolerate current conditions and pay.

This weekend bands of dissident soldiers took to the streets of Harare in an orgy of robbery, beatings and violent confrontations with the police riot squads - something that has never been known in living memory.

The first signs of trouble were witnessed last Thursday, when soldiers from Inkomo Barracks, in full uniform, who had queued all day at a branch of the ZABG bank to withdraw local currency, were told that the bank had run out of money.

The announcement only added to the frustration everyone in Zimbabwe feels over the government ruling that a maximum of $Z500,000 may be drawn at any one time - an amount that will scarcely buy more than a stick or two of chewing gum.

The angry soldiers moved into the streets and attacked several illegal dealers in foreign exchange who operate in the area. These dealers always have a ready supply of Zimbabwean dollars, provided to them by the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank in order to buy up foreign exchange, which is then used to finance government and Zanu-PF activities.

I myself saw two middle-aged men being beaten to a bloody pulp by troops, and there were other incidents when dealers handed over their money to the soldiers and ran for their lives.

The soldiers could be heard chanting slogans calling for the death of Gideon Gono, boss of the Reserve Bank. "Gono wanyanyha kuba," they sang. "Tichakuendesa kumakuva mangwana chaiwo." "Gono, your corruption has gone too far. We will send you to the grave soon."

The rioting and robbery continued during Friday, and on Saturday another group, numbering about 70, and also in full uniform, descended on Mupedzanhamo, a popular second-hand market in Mbare, and looted the vendors' goods.

When I went there the market was deserted. But a witness told me: "They went for currency dealers and ordinary stall holders. They looted clothes, shoes, belts, anything they could lay their hands on."

There are other rumours of trouble and mutiny amongst Mugabe's soldiers, including a possible strike, and some analysts are now predicting that if there is a popular rising against Zanu-PF it will be led by the military.

For the moment the solid wall of Mugabe's oppression and terror remains in place. But perhaps, for the first time, cracks are at last beginning to appear.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Why Slyvia had to die

How a Zanu-PF plot led to the death of a young girl

Slyvia Mudzingwa was a confident young woman from Zvishavane, a mining town in the Midlands province of Zimbabwe. She was an enthusiastic recruit to the police service in Harare, and - even given the stricken state of the country - she could be said to have a promising future. Now she is dead, and the story of what led to her death is both shocking and heart-breaking.

The manner of her death was brutal. Two months into her training at the Morris Police Depot in Harare, she was beaten by her instructing officer, Inspector Maone, allegedly for laziness during a physical training session. Maone did a thorough job. Slyvia died on her way to hospital.  An internal memo reveals a pathetic attempt at a cover-up, her death being put down to an "awkward fall."

But it is the real reason that lies behind this horrific incident which will tell the world of the reality of life in Zimbabwe today. Slyvia had a lover within the police service - the same man who beat her. Inspector Maone.

Maone is also a member of  the feared Department 58, a police unit devoted to abductions, killings, and the like. Through her relationship with him, Slyvia knew of a crucial Zanu-PF plot - and she talked about it.

Slyvia had to be silenced. A warning, even a beating, was not thought sufficient. But her fatal "awkward fall" was, and the plot proceeded.

The plot went into action two weeks ago, when a 4x4 Nissan truck, carrying five men and 10 boxes of AK47 weapons, was apparently intercepted on the border with Mozambique by the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), Mugabe's secret police. It was announced that the men were all agents of Morgan Tsvangirai's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and had all been trained in Britain and America in terrorism and subversion.

Pictures were taken. Statements were made. And the men were all arrested, and incarcerated in Chikurubi Maximum Security prison, there to await trial and punishment.

Co-incidentally, at this time the leaders of the Southern African States were gathering in Johannesburg to try and break the political impasse in Zimbabwe. "See!" declared Zanu-PF to those leaders - "See - these MDC people can't be trusted. They are attacking the state. Therefore they cannot be given control of the vital Ministry of Home Affairs in any government of national unity."

The truth is, of course, the whole deal was cooked up by the CIO, who supplied truck, weapons and men. The five men are indeed at Chikurubi prison. They'll stay there until the heat dies down, other events occur, and they are forgotten. Then they will be quietly released, to carry on with their duties on behalf of Zanu-PF.

We know all this for two reasons. Firstly, Slyvia talked enough, before she was killed. And second, we've been here before. Long-term observers may remember the case of 20 soldiers, said to be rogue supporters of MDC who allegedly beat up innocent Zanu-PF voters at election time. All 20 were paraded on TV in chains, and sent to Chikurubi. None were ever tried. All have now been released.

Indeed, Mugabe's men pulled the same trick back in the Eighties at the start of the infamous Operation Gukurahundi. Arms were planted on a farm owned by the Ndebele-aligned party Zapu, and used as an excuse to start the killings of the Ndebele people. At least 20,000 people died as a result.

Today, Slyvia alone has died. Her death is just as cruel, just as brutal as all the others.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The River of Death

How hundreds are dying in the waters of the Limpopo

The English writer Kipling called it the great grey-green greasy Limpopo River. It flows across Southern Africa, and forms the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa. And for many sad and desperate Zimbabwean refugees it has provided a bitter watery grave.

Last week I visited Beitbridge, the border post. I had heard that three people, trying to cross illegally into the sanctuary of the Republic, had drowned in the Limpopo. I was shocked to learn that this was not only unusual, but, as the local police saw it, almost routine.

A Police Superintendent on the South African side of the river told me that his department was recording 20 such tragedies reported to them a month - but he believed the true number to be much higher.

"The chief cause appears to be accidental drowning while trying to swim across," he told me. "Even crossing by vehicle is fraught with danger. Earlier this year we discovered 18 bodies who had been passengers on a truck that was swept away.

"We get such cases reported to us by local people who see it happen. But of course they don't see every incident. Those who lose friends or family as they all attempt to get across together don't report the deaths to us, for fear of being arrested. They just press on, desperate to get away from life in Zimbabwe.

He told me that drowning is not the only cause of death in the the Limpopo.. Crocodiles are another menace, rising out of the dark waters to grab the unwary. Then there are the human crocodiles that have to be faced - by which I mean those gangs who now specialise in "helping" refugees to cross the border.

"These criminal traffickers in humankind take large sums on the promise of seeing people safe into South Africa," said the superintendent. "But sadly they often rob, rape and beat them, and then throw them back into the river, where either the crocs get them or they drown and we find them washed up on the bank."

Horrified by these stories, I checked with an official of the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum in Johannesburg.

He said: "The current death rate at the Limpopo is, according to the figures we receive, around 30 people a month. We estimate that more than 200 people have died while attempting the crossing so far this year."

And now the rains have arrived. Both the power and the depth of the river is increasing by the day. The Limpopo will surely continue to devour its share of the poor and desperate Zimbabwean people.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Zimbabwe troops in action in the Congo

Mugabe sends in the military - and will reap rich rewards

Despite official denials I can confirm today that Zimbabwe soldiers have been sent once again into the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, and are fighting alongside President Joseph Kabila's army against the Rwanda-backed rebels of General Laurent Nkunda.

Sources told me today, Monday, that more than 3,000 of our troops are already in action in Goma, the DRC's volatile eastern province, and many more are expected to be on their way within days.

Kabila is said to have appealed for help from both Zimbabwe and Angola several weeks ago, after his own troops failed to defeat Nkunda and his forces.

Mugabe was quick to respond, for the usual reason - his involvment will be rewarded with choice pickings amongst the Congo mineral deposits, which include diamonds, gold and copper. This trick of exchanging troops for treasure has enriched him and his cohorts in the past, and will do so once again.

This is why, officially, Zimbabwe is not involved in the conflict. Spokesman Bright Matonga told me: "We have nothing to do with the DRC war. The rumours are false We have no interest in it. We have our own problems to deal with."

That last bit is true enough. But three sources within the armed forces confirmed today that the rumours are true.

"We began sending troops early last week," said one. "Previously they had been in training for a month. We expect that we will deploy up to 10,000 troops during the next three months, if the war continues."

Mugabe must hope it will do so. Of course, while it will personally enrich him,the actual cost of the commitment will only further impoverish the country. But what does that matter to our President. Inflation, health care, education, the economy...all these things may pass away. But as someone once said - and Mugabe knows well - diamonds are forever.

And now - a quick follow-up

Further to my earlier posting about the resurgence of PF-Zapu, and the resulting threat of a major split in Zanu-PF, there was a sight for sore eyes outside Magnet Building in our second city of Bulawayo at the end of last week.

The building was once the property of PF-Zapu. Then, when Mugabe enfolded the party into a so-called government of national unity in 1980, it, together with all PF-Zapu holdings, was nationalized. But then, last week, the party took it back.

In doing so they evicted the present occupants. Who were they? None other than officers of our dreaded secret police, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO)

Thus Bulawayo passers-by were treated to the unique sight of government spies being virtually kicked out on the street by PF-Zapu members.

The movement to re-establish PF-Zapu as a political party continues to gain momentum. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

How it feels to negotiate with Mugabe

An insight into the oppressive atmosphere of the power-sharing talks

The world has seen that the latest international effort to resolve the power sharing impasse in Zimbabwe - the Johannesburg meeting of the leaders from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) - has ended in confusion once again.

Now a source who sat in on this tumultuous conferenceshas described to me exactly what it's like to try and persuade Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF lieutenants to see reason. He says the sessions were uniformly noisy, quarrelsome, and even scary.

Things began well. South African President Kgalema Motlanthe didn't pull his punches. He spoke firmly to the three Zimbabwean principals: Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the MDC, and Arthur Mutambara, leader of the breakaway MDC faction.

"You have to think of your people, not yourselves, and therefore your negotiations should be for their good, not about you getting power," he told them.

All well and good. Then Tsvangirai made his opening presentation, saying that Mugabe should not be allowed to cling on to the powerful ministries in a new government, because he had lost the presidential election, and was therefore President in name only.

At this, according to my source, Mugabe went ballistic. "You did not win the election, no you didn't," he bellowed. "You are a liar!"

Some of the SADC leaders tried to intervene, but Mugabe shouted them down. "He did not win those elections. This is just a Western machination. He is a western puppet... I cannot allow him into my government."

My source says that at this point he would have expected firm words in opposition to the President and his rantings from Botswana and Zambia, who have both been critical of Mugabe's rule. But neither of the leaders of these countries was present. And the others seemed cowed, afraid that any criticism of Mugabe would be deemed to be in some way anti-African.

Meanwhile Mugabe raged on. "I am president of the country... I am the one who decides what he gets, not him. We are not equals in this. As President, I am in charge."

In the end, the humiliated and intimidated SADC leaders came up with the suggestion that Zanu-PF and the MDC should share the disputed Home Affairs ministry - an idea so ludicrously unworkable that Tsvangirai dismissed it out of hand.

So what now? Mugabe is threatening to form a government in the very near future, whether anyone else likes it or not. Arrogantly, he has demanded that Tsvangirai submit of list of the men and ministries he wants, for Presidential approval. Tsvangirai, too long in the tooth to play that game, has pointed out that in a government of national unity Mugabe must also submit a list to him, for his approval.

MDC leaders meet on Friday to consider what to do next. But it was perhaps the party's spokesman, Nelson Chamisa, who summed up the future most succinctly.

"Zanu-PF is on the warpath," he said. "Now we have rejected the carrot, the next thing will be a very very big stick."

Sunday, 09 November 2008

'We are women who are full of love'

The inspiring courage of Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu

Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu are free again. For three weeks they have been held in prison, after being arrested on the streets of Bulawayo. For most, the treatment they received at the hands of our police and jailers would be traumatising, Most would learn the lesson. Most would give up their protests, and keep a low profile from now on. Not Jenni. Not Magodonga.

These two, the co-leaders of the Zimbabwean female organisation Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), have been jailed before, and no doubt will be jailed again, as long as Mugabe holds sway in this country. They will be beaten, starved and ill-treated again. They know that.

Their example, their leadership has been inspirational. It has led to the WOZA membership swelling to more than 60,000 - and even the formation of a male wing, Men of Zimbabwe Arise (MOZA).

This week I spoke to Jenni on her release. She is a familiar figure in Zimbabwe, as she is usually the only white face amongst thousands of marchers. And of course she and Magodonga can always be seen in the front row of any demonstration.

She told me:  "Our protests are non-violent. We sing gospel songs, distribute messages of hope, and hand out roses to members of the public. We are women who are full of love, and we know that fighting dictatorship should not involve violence."

But once again their love of peace and non-violence didn't stop the pair being beaten on the streets of Bulawayo three weeks ago during a peaceful demonstration calling for a swift implementation of a national unity government in the country. They were subsequently arrested, and charged with "disturbing the peace, security or order of the public."

Attempts to get them freed on bail were thwarted by the usual spurious objections and trumped-up legal technicalities, and this time their treatment in the Grey Street and Mlondolozi prisons was harsher than ever.

"We went through horror," Jennie told me. "The prisoners are being systematically starved, and the hunger is so great that even bits of orange peel and other scraps are fought over. There is no privacy, male prison guards are allowed to wander into women's washing facilities, women are stripped naked for inspection every evening... the cells are grossly overcrowded, the place is infested with lice, we were denied medication...it was appalling"

I asked Jenni what gave her and Magodonga the strength to carry on with their movement in the face of such treatment.

"We spread the message through both the marches and the arrests," she said. "People learn more about us when we get arrested, and join our struggle for democracy."

Jenni, 45, who had a Ndebele materanal grandmother, is fluent in the Ndebele language, and she attributes her dedication to WOZA to her experiences of the 1980s massacres in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces.

"I belong to a generation that suffered a lot during the Gukurahundi era," she told me, "and no other suffering could be worse than that."

For the citizens of Zimbabwe the suffering continues. But as long as we have inspirational women like Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, there will always be hope.

Friday, 07 November 2008

Rebellion from within

Why Zanu-PF is facing a fierce challenge from its own ranks

Much like its counterpart in South Africa, Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party is facing an internal split. In Zimbabwe's Matabeleland region, one of the poorest in the country, determined efforts are being made to revive PF-Zapu, the party disbanded 20 years ago.

PF-Zapu, led by legendary freedom fighter Dr. Joshua Nkomo, was once a formidable rival to Mugabe's gang. But in December 1988 Nkomo was persuaded to allow his party to be absorbed by Zanu-PF in the interests of national unity. It was a grim mistake, as Nkomo came to realise, and he died in 1999 a disappointed man.

Many of his colleagues remain politically active within Zimbabwe, and this year's elections and the long-drawn-out negotations which have followed them, have led to these veterans feeling sidelined and frustrated.

A series of meetings, aimed at the re-formation of PF-Zapu, have been taking place in Matabeleland, and these culminated in a big gathering at the White City stadium in Bulawayo last Saturday.

Joseph Msika, once Nkomo's deputy and now a vice-president, was invited to the meeting, and it was hoped he would agree to lead the newly-formed party. But Msika failed to show - possibly because Zanu-PF, worried at these developments, has set up a commission of enquiry to find out what exactly is going on.

Someone who did turn up was Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, who heads the commission, and who is also, ironically, a former senior member of PF-Zapu. He tried to get the crowd to chant Zanu-PF slogans, and was roundly booed for his pains.

Another notable presence was that of former minister and politburo member Dumiso Dabengwa, who formally offered to lead the new party. Dabengwa resigned from Zanu-PF back in February, in order to campaign for the failed presidential bid of another former minister, Simba Makoni.

Are these manoevres a serious threat to Robert Mugabe and his party? MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai may well be reminding himself this week of the principal of divide and conquer. If Zanu-PF divides itself...who knows?

Sunday, 02 November 2008

Security forces in meltdown

Police, army and prison services hit by mass resignations

A secret internal memorandum, sent from the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and addressed to the ministers of State Security, Defence, Home Affairs and Justice, and shown to me this week, is warning that the normal trickle of resignations from the security forces has turned into a torrent.

The memo, tagged "urgent", reveals that more than 3,500 security personnel have resigned already this year, but thousands more are expected to go over the next two months, in protest over pay and conditions.

The memo also suggests that junior army officers are leaving because they are not happy with the way President Mugabe is "using them to cling on to power".  It goes on: "The junior officers are complaining that they continue to earn very little... Most have been heard complaining that they cannot afford to buy basics, yet their superiors drive expensive cars and enjoy various perks from the government."

A senior Harare police officer confirmed that similar problems were increasing in the police force. The officer, who works for the discharges section of the ZRP, said: "More than 1,000 non-commissioned officers will leave by December 31, most of them aged under 30."

He went on: "They have complaints about their accommodation, their pay, and even their uniforms, which come in such strange sizes that they make the officers a laughing stock. Basically they have lost patience with the government."

I tried to get an official comment from Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijene, but had no luck. "I do not know what you are talking about," he said - and switched off his mobile phone.

Currently Zimbabwe has about 40,000 soldiers, 30,000 police officers, 20,000 prison officers and 15,000 CIO officers. In a normal country, the continued loss of security personnel would be a cause for concern. Here, one more resignation means one less uniformed oppressor.

Keep those resignations coming, lads!

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