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POLITICS-ZIMBABWE: The Cycle of Violence Continues

Moyiga Nduru

JOHANNESBURG, Jul 10 2007 (IPS) - Pius Ncube, the outspoken Catholic archbishop of Bulawayo in southern Zimbabwe, has urged President Robert Mugabe to step down – this as the country faces deepening political and economic woes.

“Mugabe is a man who is a megalomaniac. He loves power, he lives for power. Even his own party is appealing to him to step down. Zimbabweans are desperate to offer him anything (for him) to relinquish power,” he told journalists in South Africa’s commercial hub, Johannesburg, Tuesday.

Ncube was launching a report titled ‘Destructive Engagement: Violence, Mediation and Politics in Zimbabwe’, published by the Solidarity Peace Trust. He chairs this church-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), which aims – in part – to further justice and peace in Zimbabwe.

In the 44-page document, the trust accuses the Mugabe regime of continuing to use violence against its political opponents in order to cling to power.

“Out of 414 individuals interviewed, 30 percent or 122 reported torture between March, April and May 2007. This is a shockingly high figure, yet it represents the tip of the iceberg in Zimbabwe. Apart from politically motivated torture, torture of those arrested on suspicion of having committed a criminal offence is routine in Zimbabwe,” notes the report.

“In 90 percent of the attacks…government agencies such as the police, Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and army” were involved, it adds. More than three-quarters of reported cases were in the capital, Harare – “one of the two major urban areas considered to be opposition territory”.

Recent years have seen Zimbabwe plunged into a crisis caused by a variety of factors, including increased repression and politically-motivated farm seizures. Mugabe accuses the West of plotting to unseat him, and of opposing land reform in Zimbabwe because it has caused minority white farmers to be dispossessed.

Tuesday’s launch came as the president, in power since 1980, had ordered price cuts, this amidst runaway inflation and widespread shortages of essential goods.

“Inflation is now 5,000 percent. But economists say it’s (actually) 10,000 percent,” Arnold Tsunga, executive director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, an NGO based in Harare, said in an interview with IPS.

More than 1,300 supermarket managers and owners have been arrested for refusing to sell their merchandise at the lower prices.

“I think Mugabe is trying to impress and woo voters for next year’s elections. Unfortunately his ploy isn’t working,” Ken Tandare, a youth activist with Zimbabwe’s main opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), told IPS on the sidelines of the launch.

“All basic items such as cooking oil, salt, sugar and mealie meal (maize meal, a staple food) have disappeared from the supermarket shelves and resurfaced in the thriving parallel market. The goods are now being sold for more than triple their original prices in the parallel market. This has made people very angry.”

Noted Brian Raftopolous, a Zimbabwean academic and veteran political analyst who is now based in South Africa: “The price cuts are not going to deal with shortages. Shortages will continue. There’s no way out for the economy. It’s going to affect the region, especially South Africa.”

The foundering economy has forced Zimbabweans to take desperate measures.

“Watchmen now live at the premises where they work. They can’t afford the 50,000 Zimbabwe dollars (about 35 U.S. cents) for a one-way fare on public transport. A watchman gets 1.5 million Zimbabwe dollars (about 11 U.S. dollars) a month,” said Jonah Gokova of the Christian Alliance of Zimbabwe, in response to a question from IPS about how low-paid workers in the country were making ends meet.

“They also need money for sugar, cooking oil, salt and bread. The price of a loaf of bread, which used to cost 40,000 Zimbabwe dollars (about 28 U.S. cents), has now been slashed to 22,000 Zimbabwe dollars (about 16 U.S. dollars) under the ongoing price cuts.”

Professionals are also feeling the pinch.

“For example, junior lawyers get about 70 U.S. dollars a month. This means they can’t afford a car and they have to use public means. A seven-seater commuter bus crams around 15 people. A lawyer has to cram himself or herself in there. Since work starts at eight AM, he or she has to wake up at around 5 AM and wait for an hour to catch public transport,” recounted Tsunga.

“Usually there’s a queue of 30 to 50 people waiting for public transport.”

Concerned over events in Zimbabwe, the 14-nation Southern African Development Community, of which Zimbabwe is a member, asked South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate in the crisis earlier this year – this after Zimbabwe experienced another spike in violence. Millions have fled the state, mainly to neighbouring South Africa.

Various media sources report that the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the two factions of the MDC are already meeting in the South African capital, Pretoria, to engineer a way out of the current impasse.

However, the confinement of reported talks to ZANU-PF and the MDC has enraged Zimbabwe’s civil society.

“We hear that they are meeting in Pretoria. But we don’t know how much the MDC will be prepared to compromise. The MDC has quietly and quickly gone to the negotiations without consulting its structures,” Nicholas Mkaronda, co-ordinator of the South African branch of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, an NGO, told IPS.

Asked whether he was optimistic about the SADC initiative, Mkaronda replied, “One must have hope.”

But hope may be beyond the reach of many in Zimbabwe.

“The political and economic situation in Zimbabwe has now reached life-threatening proportions,” observed Ncube.

“The rapid decline of the economy and the commandist response of the state indicate a government that has neither a strong sense of responsibility towards its citizens, not any substantive plan to move Zimbabwe out of its deepening crisis.”

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