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January 2009

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

He could go either way, but...

Why I say Tsvangirai will still say 'No!'

Commentators worldwide are trying to guess which way Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change, will jump. Will he finally sign-up to the so-called power-sharing agreement with Robert Mugabe? Or will he remain defiant, ignore the urging of the weak-minded SADC leaders at the weekend, and hold out yet again for a genuinely democratic deal?

The international pressure on the embattled leader is tremendous. But my sources tell me that, after the party meeting due to be held tomorrow, Friday, Tsvangirai will reject the advice of some of his own senior party members, and say 'No'. 

He will be supported in this view by hardliners like Secretary-General Tendai Biti, spokesman Nelson Chamisa and Blessing Chebundo, who believe that the latest SADC deliberations solved none of the outstanding issues between the two sides.

But others, including Election Secretary Ian Makone and Vice-President Thokozani Khupe, will argue that the party should join the unity government, and then "fight from within" - a plan that brings to mind the fate of Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU, which was "merged" with Mugabe's Zanu-PF in 1987, only to lose all power and credibility.

The MDC instead visualise that, with another rejection of the deal, the issue will be discussed at the meeting of the African Union on Sunday. It is anticipated that this meeting will probably echo the SADC meeting, but hopefully the UN will then deliberate on the issue, perhaps calling for a new round of elections in Zimbabwe. And the fight will continue.

This is what my sources tell me. They may be wrong. It remains possible that Morgan Tsvangirai will sign up as Prime Minister in the shadow of Mugabe's Presidency within the next two weeks. He will leave many of his supporters surprised and disappointed if he does.

I prefer to repeat the well-chosen words of MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa, who said on Tuesday: "The mistake that Zanu-PF is making is to imagine that we are desperate to be in the government. We are not in a hurry to be chauffeur-driven. We are a people-driven party."

Well said, Nelson.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Another good kicking

How South African police follow the example of Zimbabwe's uniformed thugs

Johannesburg, Monday, January 26

It's as well that we Zimbabweans are accustomed to being beaten and shot at by the forces of law and order in our country. Because exactly the same treatment is being meted out to us here in the heart of supposedly lawful South Africa.

I came to South Africa at the weekend to cover the extraordinary summit of South African Development Community (SADC) leaders, who are meeting in Pretoria today to once again consider the vexed question of Robert Mugabe's stranglehold over Zimbabwe.

What I witnessed was police brutality on a scale I had previously only seen on the streets of Harare. Clashes between demonstrators and police ended with various highly respectable individuals being taken away in police vehicles, and ten protestors rushed to hospital with injuries caused by rubber bullets.

The trouble began when a protest march, organised by a coalition of South African and Zimbabwean civil society groupings and intended to bring pressure on the SADC leaders to end the stalemate in Zimbabwe, reached the Union Buildings, which house the office of President Kgalema Motlanthe.

The marchers numbered about 1,500, and some of the more adventurous stormed into the building, singing, waving flags and shouting slogans. The police replied with volleys of rubber bullets which sent hundreds of demonstrators running for cover.

Among those injured was a boy of about 17, who was hit in the head with a rubber bullet and lay on the ground bleeding profusely. He was able to give me his name, Trsut Nyathi, before he was taken away to hospital, where I later learned his condition was stable.

Meanwhile a delegation from the Save Zimbabwe Now! campaign, a new initiative under the auspices of CIVICUS, the civil society based here in Johannesburg, attempted to present a memorandum to the extraordinary session of SADC, asking for an end to tacit support of the Mugabe regime.

Eight of the delegation, including Kumi Naidoo, president of CIVICUS, were arrested, bundled into police vehicles, and driven away.

I have to point out that the high-handed and violent official reaction only lasted for a short while, compared to similar events in Zimbabwe. But no doubt the South African police will learn quickly from their more experienced colleagues north of the border.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The price of happiness

How the economy is wrecking the marriage market

The great institutions of Zimbabwe continue to crumble into dust. The latest is education, as the government fails to open the schools for a new term. But despite this and everything else, I am continually surprised by the way normal life struggles on. A particular struggle is one in which my friend Gumbo finds himself embroiled this week.

Gumbo is a man in love. His fiancee is Judith, 25. Judith is quite a catch - good looking and kind, with a degree in economics, a science much neglected in our impoverished state. She'd make any young man an excellent wife.

With that in view, last Friday Gumbo travelled to Plumtree, in Matabeleland south province, to visit Judith's parents. The object of the visit was to settle the matter of Lobolo - the bride price.

Lobolo, for western readers, is a traditional Zimbabwean custom. The Bride Price is exactly what it says. The intention behind it is to cement relations between the two families. In normal times it is not exorbitant.

But these are not normal times. Gumbo arrived at Judith's home. Ten minutes later he was leaving, in a state of humiliation, bewilderment and despair. Through saving and scrimping he had accumulated a sum of 2000 South African rand. About US$200. He thought it would be sufficient. He thought wrong.

Judith's parents demanded the equivalent of US$3,200.

Thoughtfully they had itemised the total for poor Gumbo. It went something like this:

Fee for entry to in-laws' house            US$100      

Introduction fee                                     US$150

Fee for status as son-in-law                US$550

Six head of cattle                                 US$1,200

Education compensation fee              US$200

Added to these amounts was a fee for "damage". Yes, as many readers will know, this term refers to the undeniable fact that Judith is four months pregnant. The fee - US$900.

And the additional US$100 still not accounted for? Judith's parents request a designer suit for the father and a designer dress for the mother.  Oh yes - and three blankets. 

Normally lobolo payment is staggered over the years. Judith's parents want the lot now. And they want money for Judith's upkeep, for her maternity bills, for...

Gumbo is a defeated man. He has no hope of finding the money. Is he a victim of the economic breakdown in Zimbabwe? Perhaps, yes. But then again, ask yourself this: would you sell your daughter for a designer suit, a designer dress, and three blankets?

                              

Monday, 19 January 2009

The Threat at the end of the Tunnel

Sinister new plans that could put Morgan Tsvangirai behind bars

Tsvangirai and Mugabe are talking again. It's a last ditch attempt to agree on a power sharing government in Zimbabwe, and everyone says it's doomed to failure. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for Morgan Tsvangirai. But there could be a very nasty surprise.

Tsvangirai and Mugabe are being watched by President Motlanthe and Ex-President Mbeki of South Africa and President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique. And my advice to Tsvangirai is just this:  when and if these Harare talks break down, hitch a lift out of Zimbabwe with one or other president. Stay - and you could be in big trouble.

My sources within Mugabe's Zanu-PF cabal tell me that plans are well advanced for the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to be arrested as soon as the talking stops. The charge will be treason. And this time Mugabe means it.

Tsvangirai will not be held in any local police station. He won't be knocked about a bit, then released, as he was last year. Instead he will be hauled off to the notorious police torture camp at Bindura in Mashonaland, where a vintage Zanu-PF reception committee is already waiting for him.

"They have his cell well prepared," my source told me. "The guys with the sticks can't wait to start beating him, they want to hear him squeal like a baby."

Tsvangirai is clearly aware that he is in danger. He has stayed out of the country for weeks until this meeting, and he has watched from Botswana as many senior MDC officials and supporters have been abducted by the authorities. To date 32 party members are known to be in custody, and another 11 are missing.

It is Tsvangirai's demands that his people be released, together with the long-term disagreement over the make-up of a power-sharing government, that has helped doom these latest talks to probably failure. He can't be seen now to give in to Mugabe's conditions.

Mugabe, too, is sticking to his guns. With no intention of any real sharing of power, he has anticipated that these talks will fail. Then he will make his move, charging Tsvangirai with treason, with plotting the removal of the President, and with attempting to raise forces in Botswsana to invade Zimbabwe.

Grab a lift and get out of there, Morgan. Before it's too late.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

The Great Chicken Robbery!

How our enterprising troops are eating, courtesy of Gideon Gono

It was early afternoon at New Donnington Farm, in Norton, Zimbabwe, last Thursday. Farm manager Philip Musvuuri was going about his duties when a large white Chinese-made truck pulled up in a cloud of dust. He was not particularly alarmed. New Donnington Farm is one of several owned by the erratic Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, Gideon Gono. So unusual events are almost routine.

As the truck came to a halt six armed Zimbabwe Army troops piled out. They told Philip they wanted his chickens. All 175 of them. And they emphasised their need for the chickens by waving loaded rifles under his nose.

The troops explained that they were hungry. And despite government promises, despite loudly-proclaimed pay rises (of which no sign yet), and despite rations of elephant meat, they were getting hungrier by the minute.

So, they argued, it was only fair that they take Governor Gono's chckens, because it was Governor Gono who's financial mismanagement had led to the military starving in their barracks.

And over and above all that, they fancied chicken for supper.

Soon Gono's entire flourishing flock were secured in the truck. The soldiers declined to pay the bill, estimated at US$787.50. Instead they climbed back on board. And the truck disappeared in another cloud of dust, this time augmented by feathers.

Subsequently Philip related the incident to the Norton police, who in turn informed Chinhoyi police, and a vigorous search has been mounted. But hopes of actually retrieving any of Gono's chickens are rapidly diminishing. Soldiers' appetites being what they are.

As Zimbabwe descends into further chaos and confusion, many commentators, including your own Moses Moyo, are confidently predicting that for our leaders, the chickens are coming home to roost. Not so in the case of Gideon Gono. His chickens are never coming home.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Your money - or your life

Why going to hospital means entering a financial mine field

The Zimbabwean government's apparently far-sighted decision to allow hospitals and clinics to charge patients in foreign currency has proved, predictably, to be another disaster. While the hospitals may still be functioning, thanks to finance from non-government organisations and others, the prognosis for the average would-be patient remains grim.

It was our old friend Health minister David Parirenyatwa who decided that patients were to be given the option of paying in foreign currency if they wished. But, given the choice, the hospitals obviously prefer payment in good solid US dollars, rather than the Zimbabwe dollar, which shrivels into meaningless paper in your hand.

The result has been that now to get treatment you need the hard stuff. The hospitals simply aren't interested in local currency. And this has faced Steve Banda, a young petrol attendant friend of mine, with severe problems.

Steve is an expectant father. His wife Promise is due at the end of February. And Steve is currently scurrying around town in a desperate bid to find enough dollars to pay for her confinement.

He first approached a private clinic in the Avenues, Harare, where Promise could expect the best and safest treatment. He was asked to produce a signing-in fee of US$500 - an impossibly large sum for someone like Steve.

He then went to the recently re-opened Parirenyatwa Hospital, which wanted US$300 in advance. Other charges would include US$70 per additional night in hospital, US$150 if a caesarian is required, and US$5 per day for the use of an incubator.

Steve is still hunting the necessary dollars. He has little more than a month to find them.

Meanwhile the doctors and nurses who still remain in Zimbabwe are now being paid in very welcome hard currency. But, once again, there's a snag. Isn't there always?

The government has indicated that it will pay the foreign currency salaries only into the recipient's Foreign Currency bank account. Our doctors and nurses have therefore gone to the banks to open such accounts. But to do so, the banks are demanding an up-front fee of US$200 - an amount which the average health worker just doesn't have.

The Health Ministry has given staff waiver letters. But these have been largely ignored by the banks, which of course need hard dollars as much as anyone else. Result- stalemate. And continued deprivation and suffering.

In international publications and on websites we here in Zimbabwe read that the rest of the world is struggling in the grip of a financial crisis. Believe me, foreign readers all, compared to us here in Zimbabwe you haven't even started.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Why Mugabe is Moscow-bound

The President's secret bid to beef up his army with Russian troops

Zimbabwe's President and his family are officially on holiday, and currently enjoying their usual privileged vacation in Singapore, where they have many friends. But on January 17 Robert Mugabe is due to board a jet for Moscow, where he will finalise plans to bring in Russian troops to defend his tottering regime.

According to a top government source, all the preliminary plans for a Russian military presence in Zimbabwe have been made during the past few weeks. In Moscow Mugabe , who hasn't visited Russia since 1987, will meet with President Medvedev and his puppet master Prime Minister Putin, to finalise the deal that will have hundreds of Russian army personnel landing at Harare airport in the near future.

The arrangement is supposed to be kept quiet. The troops will come in the guise of technicians exploring diamond mining opportunities in the country. But diamonds are just a part of the deal Mugabe is brokering with Putin. The troops are really there to bolster Zimbabwe's defences against possible invasion.

As I have reported here before, while many of my more outspoken readers think the chance of a liberation force crossing the borders from Botswana or Zambia is just wishful thinking, Mugabe and his advisors take the threat very seriously indeed. They have listened to the calls for action emanating from Desmond Tutu and leaders of certain Southern African states. And they are taking the necessary precautions.

The deal will also include what might be described as Zimbabwe's friendly neighbours, Angola and Namibia, with the three countries combining their strength under the guidance of Moscow's military experts.

Zimbabwe's own troops, who recently rioted in the streets of Harare against their appalling living conditions, have been pacified partly by the distribution of substantial rations. Elephant meat, to be precise. So, whatever the outcome of a Russian military presence in Zimbabwe may be, one thing is certain - Putin's soldiers will experience a radical change in diet.

Wednesday, 07 January 2009

Mugabe's next move

How Zimbabwe's President plans to tackle his enemies now

Those of us who believe in freedom in Zimbabwe should brace ourselves. According to police sources, we can expect a wide series of high profile arrests this month, as Robert Mugabe moves finally to eliminate all official opposition to his reign as the country's dictator.

A senior member of the Harare CID, the law and order section, based at police general headquarters in Harare, has told me of plans to detain a number of national executive members of the Morgan Tsvangirai-led Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The charges against them will vary, but they will include treason, attempted murder, terrorism, sabotage and malicious damage to property. The charges will be backed up by a well-prepared case using fabricated evidence and bribed or threatened witnesses.

The so-called evidence is being gathered by an unholy alliance of the police and the spy agency, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), and the general thrust of the charges will be to link the MDC with terrorism.

Members of the military will also be heavily involved, with troops testifying that they were hired by the MDC to bomb police stations and to attempt to assassinate senior government officials and military commanders.

Some soldiers will also testify that they were paid by the MDC to take part in the military riots that shook Harare last month.

"The idea is to build a strong case which will accuse the MDC of deliberately trying to spark public unrest, as an excuse to depose the President," the officer told me.

The MDC is aware of the plans. Its national spokesman, Nelson Chamisa, described any such charges as "trumped up".  Perhaps so. But that doesn't mean they won't stick. Justice in Zimbabwe is a tender plant, and Mugabe and his men plan to stamp all over it.

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