SA Cabinet welcomes Zim 'breakthrough'

The South African Cabinet has welcomed the recent breakthrough by the collective leadership of Zimbabwe on draft constitutional amendments.

“South Africa wishes to congratulate the Zimbabwean political leadership for this major step forward in addressing the challenges facing that country,” government communications deputy head Baby Tyawa said on Thursday in a statement after the Cabinet’s regular fortnightly meeting.

“Proceeding from the premise that the people of Zimbabwe are the ones best placed to find solutions to the challenges they face, we will continue to assist where we can, in line with the mandate of SADC [Southern African Development Community], to ensure that these processes result in a lasting settlement,” Tyawa said.

Zimbabwe’s main political parties have reportedly agreed that President Robert Mugabe should no longer be allowed to handpick members of the lower house of assembly.

The ruling Zanu-PF and the two factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) agreed this week to amend Zimbabwe’s Constitution to create a bigger Parliament of 210 elected members, the government mouthpiece Herald newspaper reported.

Currently the lower house of assembly has 120 elected members.

Thirty other seats are taken by chiefs, generally seen as loyal to Mugabe, as well as governors and non-constituency MPs directly appointed by the president.

If the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill is passed into law, the 83-year old president will only be allowed to appoint some members of the upper house of Parliament, the Senate.

The number of seats in the Senate will be increased from 66 to 93.

Sixteen chiefs will have seats in the Senate, as will 10 provincial governors who are chosen by Mugabe. The president will also handpick five more senators.

The Bill allows for joint presidential and parliamentary polls in 2008 and had been condemned by some as a means of entrenching Mugabe’s hold on power.

Mbeki alone can’t save Zimbabwe

Meanwhile, efforts to end the crisis in Zimbabwe cannot be left to South African President Thabo Mbeki alone and Africa as a whole must do more to prevent the collapse of the southern state, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said.

Wade called Mugabe, who denies foreign accusations that he has abused human rights and wrecked Zimbabwe’s once-prosperous economy, a “bad lawyer with a good cause” to argue.

Wade, who from his small West African country has often sparred with Mbeki in the past over leadership on African issues, said more African heads of state, including himself, should be involved in mediating with Mugabe.

“It’s a big mistake to always say that Zimbabwe should be left to Mbeki,” said the Senegalese president, who like Mugabe is in his 80s.

“Mbeki is a man who has a huge amount of goodwill but this is a situation which just one person cannot resolve alone, that much is clear,” he said.

Wade’s comments appeared to diverge from a recommendation by a leading international think tank this week which called on the world, including Western powers, to close ranks behind the Mbeki mediation for Zimbabwe.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report Western sanctions had failed and attacks on Mugabe by London and Washington were counter-productive.

ICG said the Mbeki mediation “offers the only realistic chance to escape a crisis that increasingly threatens to destabilise the region”.

But Wade, who has led peace and mediation missions in the past for Madagascar, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau and Liberia and is a strong advocate of continental initiatives, favoured a broader approach involving more than one African head of state.

“I think Africa has not helped Zimbabwe. I’m convinced that we haven’t helped President Mugabe,” he said.

‘Share his cause’

Zimbabwe, once one of Africa’s most prosperous countries, suffers the world’s highest inflation, officially 6 592%, chronic food and fuel shortages, and 80%unemployment.

Mugabe denies destroying the economy with policies like seizing white-owned farms for landless black Zimbabweans, widely blamed for crippling the agriculture sector.
He says the West has sabotaged the Zimbabwe economy in retaliation for farm seizures.

Wade said Mugabe could have done more to canvass African sympathy for his opposition to Zimbabwe’s best farming land remaining in the hands of a colonial-era white minority after the country’s independence in 1980.

“He could have made us share in his cause. We would have defended him,” he said.

Partly echoing Mugabe’s criticism of Zimbabwe’s former colonial ruler, Wade said Britain had a responsibility in the crisis because it failed to honour a 1979 accord on reforms to end land ownership imbalances between black and white Zimbabweans.

Wade said the British government had stopped compensating white farmers under the land redistribution reforms.

“But if African states had intervened, we could have changed things so that Britain continued to compensate the farmers and we could have established a climate of understanding between Mugabe and his opponents. That wasn’t done,” Wade said.

But he said it was not too late for Africa to get involved.

“It’s our own blood down there, our country,” he said.

Chronology of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis

  • 1998: An economic crisis marked by high interest rates and inflation provokes riots and mass support for the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions headed by Morgan Tsvangirai. The MDC is formed and Tsvangirai is appointed leader the next year.

  • 1999: World Bank and IMF suspend aid to Zimbabwe over differences with the government on policies.

  • 2000: Mugabe’s government loses referendum on constitutional reforms, and in the face of growing opposition to his rule, his supporters invade and seize white-owned commercial farms, saying the land was illegally taken by white settlers.

  • Zanu-PF party wins parliamentary polls amid charges of fraud and vote rigging by the opposition.

  • 2001: Zimbabwe suffers food shortages that government critics blame on farm seizures, but Mugabe blames on drought.

  • Several Western governments quietly withdraw economic aid over rights abuses by the government and Mugabe’s land policy.

  • 2002: Mugabe wins new six-year term in elections. Observers condemn poll as flawed and unfair.

  • Commonwealth suspends Zimbabwe, while EU imposes travel sanctions and freezes assets of Mugabe’s associates.

  • Collapse of commercial agriculture and poor weather contribute to serious food shortages, leaving about half of Zimbabwe’s population in need of emergency food aid.

  • UN agencies, Britain and the US help fund food aid.

  • 2003: Hundreds of companies are forced to shut down due to economic hardships and rising inflation.

  • 2004: The EU renews sanctions against Mugabe and his inner circle.

  • 2005: Mugabe’s party wins parliamentary election, which the opposition say was rigged.

  • The IMF begins process to expel Zimbabwe from the fund over dues unpaid since 2001.

  • A UN report in July says Zimbabwe should halt its indiscriminate bulldozing of shanty buildings, calling the operation a disastrous venture that had cost 700 000 people their homes or jobs and affected 2,4-million others.

  • 2006: Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rises above 1 000% in April. Redenominated notes are issued in August. Inflation rises monthly.

  • 2007: Zanu-PF adopts a motion to hold elections in 2008 in March and endorse Mugabe as its presidential candidate.

  • Government institutes price freeze in June, followed two months later by wage freeze.

  • There is a run on shops as goods disappear from shelves. Zimbabwe imports 60 000 tonnes of wheat to ease bread shortages after millers run out of the grain. The government said it did not meet its annual consumption requirements of between 400 000 and 450 000 tonnes of wheat.

  • Zimbabwe announces inflation slowed to an annualised 6 592,8% in August from 7 634,8 percent in July. The government credits price freeze for the drop.

  • Labour leaders call for a two-day strike on September 26 and 27 to protest the wage freeze. - Sapa, Reuters

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