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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!

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" »

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