Friday, November 27, 2020

Zimbabwe Cabinet Briefings Bring Transparency

28 NOV, 2020 - 00:11 

Herald Reporter

Briefings introduced after Cabinet meetings by the Second Republic have significantly helped in keeping the nation abreast of Government decision making and has killed the speculation that existed in the past, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Senator Monica Mutsvangwa said this week.

Giving the keynote address at the recently held Davos World Communication Forum in Lusaka, Zambia, early this week, Minister Mutsvangwa said post-Cabinet briefings were giving cues to the nation on how to respond to Government decisions.

The briefings made sure that the nation as a whole could keep pace with Government decision making.

“It keeps citizens on the same pace and vibe with Cabinet, as well as with each other in various sectorial activities,” she said.

Before the Second Republic led by President Mnangagwa, Cabinet would meet, but the nation would not be apprised of the outcomes.

The rumour mill prospered and journalists reported bizarre gossip about Cabinet meetings.

“Social media had a field day often deliberately adding more confusion to a bemused if not traumatised public,” said Minister Mutsvangwa.

The three-day forum brought together communication experts, policy makers, academia, diplomats, the private sector, marketers, advertisers, journalists and brand managers from different parts of the world to deliberate on various topics that dealt with “Communication in a Changing World: Challenges and Chances.”

Minister Mutsvangwa, who joined her Zambian and Botswana counterparts, Dora Siliya and Thulagano Merafe Segokgo, said there was need to adapt to the ever-changing world.

“When Covid-19 struck and many of our countries went into total lockdown, we had to find ways of communicating awareness messages, preventative and protective measures and social issues,” she said.

“What worked yesteryear could not necessarily produce the same results today. So, the way we greeted, interacted and communicated had to change. Digital communication was our ready-made solution and in Africa we had the demographics for it.”

Minister Mutsvangwa said communicators had to be ingenious in reaching their audiences, as the threat of fake news had grown due to increased access and use of social media.

As a way of increasing the public’s access to information and policy making decisions, the Second Republic under President Mnangagwa, had introduced the post Cabinet briefings.

The Zimbabwe audience rating for the post Cabinet briefings in both print and electronic media was one of the highest, demonstrating that citizens were eager to hear and engage their Government on governance issues.

The importance of transparency and interactive communication between governments and citizens was further highlighted by the World Communication Forum vice president, Solly Moeng.

SADC Plots Mozambique Rescue Mission

28 NOV, 2020 - 00:11 

President Mnangagwa poses for a picture yesterday at the Phakalane Conference Centre in Gaborone, Botswana, with his counterparts Presidents Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana (centre), Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa (left) during an extraordinary SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation Heads of State Summit to discuss emerging peace and security situations in the region

Lincoln Towindo in GABORONE, Botswana

Zimbabwe Herald

SADC yesterday undertook to work on a robust regional response to the growing threat of terrorism and insurgency in parts of Mozambique, which it will put in action once finalised.

This came out at an extraordinary Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation summit in Botswana yesterday attended by President Mnangagwa and his counterparts — Presidents Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi was represented by his Defence Minister Jaime Augusto Neto at the summit, which also discussed the re-organisation of regional troops deployed in the DRC.

The extraordinary troika summit resolved to marshal a regional reaction to support Mozambique battle the bloody insurgency in its northern province of Cabo Delgado.

President Mnangagwa returned home last night after the day-long meeting.

A communiqué released after the meeting outlined the Organ Troika’s concern over growing instability in the region.

“The extraordinary Organ Troika summit noted with concern, the acts of terrorism in the region, particularly in Cabo Delgado province of the Republic of Mozambique, and expressed continued Sadc solidarity with Mozambique,” reads the communiqué.

“The extraordinary Organ Troika summit directed the finalisation of a comprehensive regional response and support to the Republic of Mozambique to be considered urgently by the Summit.”

Mozambique has struggled to deal with the Islamist insurgency in the mainly-Muslim province to its north, which has accounted for over 2 000 lives since 2017. Nearly 430 000 people have been displaced in the fighting.

Yesterday’s summit also addressed the re-organisation of the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), a multi-lateral military formation under the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (known as MONUSCO) authorised by the UN Security Council in 2003.

The FIB is the first UN peacekeeping operation specifically tasked to carry out targeted offensive operations to neutralise and disarm groups considered a threat to state authority and civilian security. Its operations have targeted the M23 rebel group which operates primarily in the province of North Kivu in eastern DRC.

Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania contribute troops to the stabilisation mission.

The UN wants to cut the number of troops deployed under the FIB, ostensibly because of funding constraints.

“The extraordinary organ troika summit accepted the proposal by the United Nations to realign the current Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) troops strength to create the headroom for the Quick Reaction Forces (QRFs), and generate two QRFs from the SADC troops contributing countries,” reads the communiqué.

“The extraordinary organ troika summit expressed appreciation to the United Nations for the continued partnership and support.

“The extraordinary organ troika summit pledged regional support to the development and implementation of the joint strategy on the progressive and Phased Drawdown of MONUSCO in the DRC.”

Addressing plenary earlier on, host and organ chair President Masisi underscored the need for a coordinated approach to confront the growing menace of terrorism and insurgency in the region.

“Your Excellencies, even though the region’s performance in the areas of democracy and peace remains the envy of many, there are some emerging issues that are threatening the preservation of our peace and security,” said President Masisi. “These include terrorism, insurgencies, cybercrime and transnational organised crimes.”

President Masisi said member states could not deal with these threats individually.

“As such, there is need for an integrated and coordinated regional approach to effectively deal with these eminent threats,” he said. “You will recall that at our last organ troika summit that was held on August 14, 2020, we endorsed the report on the assessment of security threats to the Sadc region.

“Even though the report identified a number of security threats, it singled out terrorism as the most serious threat that needs urgent attention from all the member States.

“As we all know, terrorism is very cancerous in nature. Once it finds fertile ground, it spreads out like bushfire. There is, therefore, an absolute need to urgently nip it from the bud before it engulfs the entire region.”

Recent reports suggest that 50 people were beheaded by the militant Islamists, with links to the Islamic State (IS) group.

Responding to the news earlier this month, President Mnangagwa condemned the acts of terrorism in Mozambique, warning that Zimbabwe was ready to assist in stamping out the insurgency.

Writing on Twitter, the President said: “I am deeply shocked by reports of terrorist activity in Mozambique.

“These acts of barbarity must be stamped out wherever they are found. Zimbabwe is ready to assist in any way we can.

“The security of our region is paramount in the protection of our people.”

In May, President Mnangagwa held a meeting with President Nyusi in Chimoio, Mozambique, where the two leaders discussed the security situation in Cabo Delgado and parts of Mozambique’s Manica and Sofala provinces, which are also affected by insurgents.

The two leaders condemned the acts of banditry in Mozambique, concluding that such acts undermined peace and development.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Dr Sibusiso Moyo, Defence and War Veterans Affairs Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri and State Security Minister Owen Ncube attended yesterday’s meeting.

Tanzania: Life Has to Go on After Vote

26 NOV, 2020 - 00:11 

Dar es Salaam. — AS the dust is settling after a general election that handed President John Magufuli a second term, life is going on in Tanzania with the ecstasy to the winners and disappointment to the losers giving way to the wisdom from an old adage that there is life after elections.

The election was not a magic wand to dispel social and economic complexities brought about notably by the outbreak of Covid-19.

In a UN report released this year, Liu Zhenmin, UN Under- Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that with the future of the world being shaped by Covid-19 pandemic and humanity’s response to it, critical insights are more important than ever.

The report, “Recovering Better: Economic and Social Challenges and Opportunities” is a UN overview of the compilation of the High-level Advisory Board on Economic and Social Affairs. The report highlights on the human tragedy of the pandemic which has not only claimed many lives worldwide but has also imposed many additional socio-economic challenges.

“At the aggregate level, economies are in recession, leading to falling public revenue and shrinking fiscal space. Additional stresses are arising in economies dependent on tourism or commodity exports, and with disruptions in food supply chains,” the report notes.

To address some of these existential and perceived challenges and morph them into opportunities, Sahara Sparks will host a series of events in Dar es Salaam this week, according to Vanessa Kisowile, Lead, Sahara Sparks Events. The event organised by Sahara Ventures in collaboration with South African based MyGrowth Fund will mainly focus on the Future of Africa Beyond 2020. 

— AllAfrica.

COSATU Central Executive Committee Statement

November 26, 2020

1.    Introduction

This CEC reflected and noted that this Central Executive Committee meeting took place on the eve of our 35th Anniversary on the 1st of December 2020. From its very founding, the federation committed itself to unite all workers, fight oppression and economic exploitation, and connect trade union struggles with community struggles.

As we mark this milestone, we shall continue to be a leading agent of militant and progressive trade unionism in South Africa, and also embrace working class internationalism going forward. It is not surprising that our founding President Elijah Bharayi was conferred with an honourary doctorate by UNISA.

2.    Organisationally

State of the Federation-The Central Executive Committee, in its assessment of the work done since the beginning of the year 2020 has acknowledged that despite difficult challenges facing workers across the board, the federation remains stable under the circumstances.

Members First: The meeting noted that progress has been registered so far, in particular, in strengthening organisational machinery, to place our members at the centre of everything we do, as mandated by the 13th COSATU National Congress. However, we recognise and note that alongside the solid advances that we are making are some shortcomings and challenges that still remain to be overcome in the coming year and beyond. Therefore, in addition to the identified new tasks, these shall constitute part and parcel of our new programme.

2021 Year of the Local: The CEC resolved to declare Year 2021, as the “Year of the Local” that will focus on building the organisation at a workplace level. We shall use our ongoing recruitment campaign to anchor this enormous task of building the organisation on the ground. This means that the federation and its unions will focus on waging real struggles at the workplace level. We shall be focused on rebuilding our locals to reflect the structural economic changes that is also associated with the changing workplace organisation and mode of work.

Solidarity and mass mobilisation: The Federation shall be introducing a systematic programme on ideological and organisational education and training. We will also develop a mass mobilisation programme geared at responding to the unfolding socioeconomic crisis involving progressive mass-based organisations in particular and progressive civil society structures in general. Both the global capitalist crisis and COVID 19 exposed the crisis of capitalism. Therefore, our task is to unite the working class as a whole The CEC encouraged all COSATU unions to commit themselves to pledge solidarity with the struggles of other unions, in particular other COSATU affiliated unions.

CWU and NEHAWU Strikes- The CEC offered its full support to the workers at SABC who are pushing back against retrenchments under the leadership of our affiliated union CWU and other unions in the institutions. SABC is too important an institution to allow the reactionary board members and managers to gut like we have seen other state institutions. If we are to have a developmental state and have real participatory democracy, SABC needs to be strengthened and not weakened.

We also offer total support to the Community Health Workers who are currently on strike under the leadership of our affiliate NEHAWU. The unity and resilience of these workers is commendable and exemplary. We call on employers to accede to the fair and legitimate demands of these workers.

October 07 Strike-The CEC recognised that our programme of action was ground-breaking from a political point of view, as it brought together for the first time, workers across trade union federations, marking an important step for the unity of workers. Workers heeded the call, and we shall build on this going forward.

May Day: The May Day celebrations will continue to be decentralised all across the country with the National Celebrations taking place in North West Province.

Bargaining Conference, Retrenchments and Tool Kit-The watershed Collective Bargaining, Organising and Campaigns Conferenceheld on the 11th – 13th November 2020 produced a Strategic directive for our Bargaining, Organising and Campaigns strategy moving forward.

The conference noted the challenges faced by collective bargaining both in the public and the private sector and resolved that bargaining councils must be further be strengthened to grapple with the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. With many jobs on the line, the conference resolved to develop a Retrenchment tool kit that will ensure that retrenchments are indeed the last resort for companies. 

Public Service: The meeting once again praised the sterling work done by public sector workers to not just fight COVID-19 but to continue to deliver the much-needed services, even as they suffer from unwarranted attacks by the current administration. The failure to pay workers their increases and the proposed wage freeze is an insult to these workers. Collective bargaining is a constitutional right, yet this government has gone out of its way to undermine it by abandoning a legally binding agreement and trying to unilaterally impose a wage freeze until 2024. This indifferent attitude will have huge political costs during next year’s local government elections. Underpaying public servants will simply spur a brain drain of highly sought-after doctors, nurses and teachers and further weaken the state’s capacity to deliver quality public services.

Proposed Action Plan on the 4th of December 2020

In defence of Collective Bargaining in Public Service and the private sector, the CEC has resolved to immediately undertake the following steps:

·         The CEC will lead a protest action/sit-in at the Union Buildings on the 4th December 2020, to demand a response from the Presidency on the memorandum submitted on the 7th October 2020. This include the call for government lead by example by complying with ILO conventions and respect collective bargaining.

·         We shall write to the ILO urging it to immediately register a protest with the South African government’s breach of Convention 154, the Right to organize and Collective Bargaining Convention and Convention 87 on the Freedom of Association. The ILO must demand some level of accountability from the South African government

·         All our provincial structures will continue holding Demonstrations and Lunch-time Pickets at the departments, institutions, and workplaces where memorandums were submitted.

The CEC further condemned BUSA for its anti-worker stance in demanding that the government freeze Public sector wages.

3.    Socio-economic

Impact of Austerity Budget Cuts- In dealing with this current crisis, the South African government has resorted to increasing austerity measures and as a result inequality has widened. The increase in inequality means working families’ purchasing power is significantly diminished. The recent mid-term budget policy statement has continued on this trajectory. This posture of government threatens to lead South Africa into a deeper depression which will make attempts to resuscitate the economy virtually impossible. These austerity measures taken by Treasury also threaten to weaken key labour, as well as other state institutions such Hawks as well as the Office of the Public Protector. Specifically worrying for COSATU are the budget cuts to the CCMA. These cuts have been so severe that the CCMA is struggling to deliver on its legislated mandate. Already the CCMA is starting to feel the impact with its capacity reduced, including closing offices for walk-in cases and conciliation cases.

This is taking place as workers are already experiencing a wave of retrenchments salary cuts and other labour abuses. They will now be faced with a massively reduced CCMA that will be so starved of resources that it will be unable to help thousands of frustrated workers. The Federation has raised this at Parliament and will be requesting an urgent meeting with National Treasury to demand that these cuts be reversed. We demand a budget that will be responsive to the needs of the workers and the poor.

State-Owned-Enterprises-The CEC expressed concern about the continued deterioration of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). Many of our SOEs are in varying stages of collapse.  We are disappointed that the Presidential State-Owned Enterprises Council (PSEC) is yet to present any convincing plan to reposition or stabilise state-owned enterprises.

The fact that very little has been done to fix the issues raised by the Auditor General and that some of these institutions like SABC are pushing for retrenchments is offensive and scandalous.

Government needs to work with labour and business to develop clear road maps to take these SOEs out of the ICU, reposition them to adjust to the changes taking place in their sectors and enable them to get back on a sustainable trajectory.  Retrenching workers cannot be accepted.  A caring government would not throw thousands of workers onto the unemployment line.  Alternatives must be found for workers whose jobs are at risk.

Eskom Social Compact-The meeting welcomed the adoption of the Eskom Social Compact. As a key part of the comprehensive package of economic recovery interventions, we call on social partners to sign it and start the implementation process in order to save jobs.

Economic Recovery Plan-The CEC has resolved to further unpack the economic recovery plan at the Federation’s February CEC. COSATU in the interim will engage in the implementation of the plan at the economic recovery leadership team at NEDLAC.

Corruption and Wasteful Expenditure-The CEC called for more arrests and conviction of criminals who continue to steal inside and outside of government. The message to be sent should be that no one is above the law.

We reiterate our call for centralisation of public procurement of large items, the introduction of an online open public procurement platform, the establishment of rapid response anti-corruption courts, and most critically the banning of Politically Exposed Persons and their spouses and children from doing business with the state.  The outright hostility by government to the latter is indicative of a leadership that has lost its moral compass.

COVID-19: The meeting expressed concern over the notable rise in COVID-19 infections and called on all South Africans to continue to take this deadly virus seriously. This is no time to be complacent because any reckless behaviour puts both the lives and the economy at risk. We welcome the extension of the R350 long term unemployment grant, and we hope that this will lay a foundation for the adoption of the basic income grant.

4.    Politics

ANC and NDR in Crisis: The Central Executive Committee has concluded that our National Democratic Revolution has entered a difficult period. The epicentre of this major challenge is within the ANC that is mired in corruption scandals, public bickering and is gradually experiencing declining support amongst the people. The meeting lamented the poor state of organisational and personal discipline in the ranks of the ANC, and the lack of decisive action by the elected officials. The on-going challenges of unity and cohesion especially amongst leadership at all levels of the organisation and between the organisational leadership and those deployed in government is a problem. The lack of political will and decisive strategic leadership in implementing the more challenging socio-economic resolutions from the Nasrec conference is deeply worrying. This combined with the austerity measures that are being implemented by its administration has put the NDR in a precarious position.

ANC NGC: We have noted the release of the ANC National General Council (NGC) documents and we shall convene a Political Commission to help us develop a posture on the documents and respond comprehensively. The Political Commission will also help us to develop a Minimum Programme going forward. This mid-term evaluation is important, and it should focus and respond to the pressing organisational challenges, especially on socioeconomic policies. We remain hopeful that the NGC will signal a turning point with regard to internal discipline, the decisiveness of the leadership on organisational and socioeconomic policy matters, the fight against corruption, relations with other components of the Alliance and in taking forward the mandate of Nasrec.

Alliance Summit: The CEC is looking forward to the upcoming Alliance Summit that was decided by the Alliance Political Council meeting and we hope it will take place before Local Government elections, next year. This summit is necessary to discuss the content and character of the National Democratic Revolution. The current implementation of austerity measures reflects a troubling development and what amounts to strategic deviation. Therefore, the nature of the contradiction is increasingly becoming more than just tactical and political issues, to some extent they have become strategic and class contradictions that also relate to the ideological contestation of the content and objectives of the NDR.

We view these attacks on collective bargaining and suppression of the trade union activity as a way of using a crisis to break the spine of the trade unions and reverse Nasrec policy outcomes. These attacks are evident both in the public and private sector. However, the fact that it is a democratic government led by a liberation movement that is part of our own alliance perpetrating these attacks, makes the case even more shameful. In this regard, the CEC warned that, the ANC government is abandoning/dishonouring the Freedom Charter and is involved in the erosion of the hard-won democratic gains since 1994.

The Freedom Charter says; “There Shall Be Work and Security. All who work shall be free to form trade unions, to elect their officers and to make wage agreements with their employers”.

In the RDP document, the ANC said; “Our history has been a bitter one dominated by colonialism, racism, apartheid, sexism and repressive labour policies……Central to building the economy is the question of workers rights. Past policies of labour exploitation and repression must be redressed and the imbalances of power between employers and workers corrected. The basic rights to organise and to strike must be entrenched. And negotiations and participative structures at national, industry and workplace level must be created to ensure that labour plays an effective role in the reconstruction and development of our country….we need an economy which will eliminate poverty, low wages and extreme inequalities in wages and wealth generated by apartheid system, meet the basic needs and thus ensure every South African has a decent living standard and economic activity.”

Despite the occasional rhetoric around radical economic transformation, the country is now being handed over to neoliberal Western institutions like the IMF, World Bank, etc. What we are seeing now is the ANC and its government spitting on the workers and going rogue.

This is a development that will not only undermine our national self-determination as a country but will put into question the ANC’s historical commitment to a progressive and transformative vision. Workers demand and deserve answers about this the direction of the ANC government that is starting to wage an offensive against workers through retrenchments and wage freezes.

This cannot be tolerated because the aspirations of the workers and the working class have to be reflected in an ANC government. If it rejects or dishonours these aspirations, it is threatening the very foundations of the Alliance and making it redundant and unnecessary.

Given the political significance of 2021, COSATU shall be Convening its Central Committee (CC) and Provincial Congresses as per our Constitutional obligations to assess, clarify and deepen our perspectives as we finalise a clear way forward regarding the many challenges facing workers.

Towards that end, COSATU shall be reviewing its Medium-Term Programme, formerly known as the 2015 Plan and its Economic Policy Document, the Growth Path to Full Employment as key cornerstones guiding our approach to the many complex issues we face.

The CEC was briefed about the developments in LIMPOPO and supports the positions taken by our provincial structure there and will be engaging with Alliance partners on the way forward.

5.    Delayed Legislation

 PIC Amendment Bill and Political Party Funding Act-The CEC has expressed concern over an increasing tendency by the President and his Executive towards undermining Parliament.  Parliament has passed several important Bills only for the Presidency to simply ignore them or for departments to delay indefinitely their implementation. This will lead us to a constitutional crisis.  If the President does not want to sign a Bill, he must refer it back to Parliament.  But he can only do so if the Bill is unconstitutional or the public participation processes were undermined. 

Parliament passed the Public Investment Corporation Amendment Bill in March 2019 and the Political Party Funding Bill in 2018.  To date the Presidency has not signed the PIC Amendment Bill.  Yet this is a critical intervention towards dealing with the massive allegations of corruption at the PIC during the era of state capture.

The President signed the Political Party Funding Bill but failed to announce a commencement date.  We are now approaching local elections. The government cannot be allowed to continue to undermine Parliament.  The Presidency must move with speed to the signing, enacting and implementation of legislation.  Lethargy is not a virtue

Issued by COSATU

Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson) Tel: 011 339 4911

Fax: 011 339 5080

Cell: 060 975 6794 

Statement by the South African Alliance Secretariat

17 November 2020

Today, Tuesday the 17th of November 2020, the Alliance Secretariat comprising representatives from the Secretariat of the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu met to reflect on matters of national importance.

SOUTH AFRICAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION

Among others, the meeting discussed the SABC situation which involves an intransigent agenda to retrench hundreds of workers and transfer a part of the public broadcaster elsewhere under the pretext of section 197 of the Labour Relations Act. 

The SABC is a public entity. The intended transfer of a part of the public broadcaster, communicated by the SABC to the unions and workers in a letter dated 11 November 2020, amounts to both outsourcing and privatisation, to the extent that those who control the SABC intend to convey a part of the public broadcaster or its operations to a private profit company.

The Alliance Secretariat expressed solidarity with the workers and vehement opposition to any weakening of the SABC and its public broadcasting mandate and its subordination to commercial interests. The meeting reaffirmed the Alliance’s shared stance to protect public broadcasting against exploitation by commercial interests. The wrong things that those who were in charge at the SABC did in the past remain wrong, regardless of new approaches to sanitize the endgame using pieces of legislation.

State capture by private corporations globally does not take one form only, the widely and correctly condemned brazen smash and grab agenda. Privatisation, as well as outsourcing, has historically been used as an entry point to convey public assets and resources, and the functions of public administration and entities to private corporations to enrich the beneficiaries. 

The capture of the policy space or regulatory capture by such private interests is very much part and parcel of state capture activities. That does extend into the sphere of policy implementation and manifests itself in the use of legislation to achieve the same ends. It is therefore important to be vigilant at all times and foster public scrutiny to strengthen and deepen democracy regardless of who is in charge, including at public institutions such as the SABC.

The Alliance Secretariat denounced the intransigence displayed by those driving retrenchments and neoliberal restructuring at the SABC. 

It is our understating that the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams and Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications, do not support the retrenchments. Globally, technological change is deepening and widening with implications that require innovative governance, management, and diversification, including through the expansion of public broadcasting into new spheres of digital media, communication, and broadly the cyber space.

The Alliance Secretariat called upon members of all Alliance formations to actively support the Communications Workers Union as well as trade union unity at the SABC and Cosatu in the fight against retrenchments and in defence public broadcasting.

The meeting agreed on a set of immediate steps to be taken to further engagements on the SABC and other retrenchments in the public sector and the economy at large.

PROCUREMENT OF MEDICINE AND HEALTHCARE EQUIPMENT BY THE MILITARY

The Alliance Secretariat noted the rise of attacks co-ordinated against civil and military use in South Africa of medicine from innovation, research and development advances made in Cuba. 

The sectarian attacks were launched against the Cuban medical brigade that came to South Africa at the request of our government to fight against the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19). Rather than being about procurement processes, the attacks are underpinned by, and reflect, a common ideological and commercial bias in favour of Western imperialist “solutions”. This agenda became apparent recently when similar attacks were launched against Russia for announcing that it had developed a vaccine for COVID-19.

The Alliance Secretariat reaffirmed the Alliance’s shared stance against imperialism and expressed support for the legal independence of our military, including in terms of procurement, which should be anchored in processes that comply with the applicable regulatory universe.

The Alliance Secretariat called upon the international community as represented by recognised multilateral institutions such as the World Health Organisation to ensure that COVID-19 vaccine innovation, research and development produce solutions that cover all countries. This is in the interest of humanity.

Vaccine development to end the COVID-19 pandemic, other medicine and healthcare equipment innovation, research and development should not be subordinated to private wealth accumulation agendas globally and within boarders.

The Global South in particular has been exploited under colonialism and continues to be exploited under imperialist domination and machinations. This scenario must come to an end. Intensifying the struggle against imperialism and its neoliberal articulation is the way forward that the working class and progressive forces globally and within nation states should unite and rally behind, towards redress, an end to uneven development, and world peace.

PUBLIC SECTOR WAGE BILL

The Alliance Secretariat discussed the dispute affecting agreed upon wage adjustments for public service workers and its implications for the orderly collective bargaining that the Labour Relations Act was among others adopted to promote, based on the Constitution. 

Concerned about the need and urgency for an amicable resolution of the dispute, the Alliance Secretariat resolved to elevate the matter to the next session of the Alliance Political Council for further evaluation and reflection on the way forward.

Issued by the Alliance Secretariat:

ANC Secretary General, ES Magashule

SACP First Deputy General Secretary, Solly Mapaila

Cosatu General Secretary, Bheki Ntshalintshali

Enquiries 

Pule Mabe, ANC National Spokesperson

071 623 4975 

Alex Mashilo, SACP Central Committee Member, Media & Communications

076 316 9816

Sizwe Pamla, Cosatu National Spokesperson

060975-6794

ISSUED BY THE SOUTH AFRICAN COMMUNIST PARTY | SACP

EST. 1921 AS THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF SOUTH AFRICA | CPSA

Dr Alex Mohubetswane Mashilo

Central Committee Member for Media & Communications

FOR INTERVIEW ARRANGEMENTS, MEDIA LIAISON & CIRCULATION SERVICES

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Mobile: +27 79 384 6550

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Iran Lambasts Israel’s Continued Aggressions Against Syria’s Sovereignty

November 27, 2020 - 17:49

Tehran Times

TEHRAN —Iran on Thursday strongly condemned Israel’s continued aggressions against Syria’s sovereignty, saying the occupation of the Syrian Golan by Israel is unlawful.

“The occupation of the Syrian Golan by Israel is unlawful and the recognition of its annexation to Israel by the U.S. is null and void,” said Iranian Ambassador to the UN Majid Takht-Ravanchi.

Addressing a meeting of the UN Security Council on Syria, Takht-Ravanchi said, “The recent provocative visit to the Syrian Golan of the U.S. secretary of state was designed to legitimize the annexation. Golan is and will remain a part and parcel of the Syrian territory.”

Takht-Ravanchi said the Syrian people continue to suffer from aggression, foreign occupation and terrorism after almost ten years of conflict.

“Through unlawful occupation, inhumane sanctions, politicizing the return of refugees and IDPs (internally displaced people) and preventing international support for Syria’s reconstruction, certain countries are responsible for the prolongation of the conflict as they attempt to impose their own will on the Syrian people,” he stated.

Such attempts, the ambassador continued, are unlawful and immoral and doomed to fail.

He argued that the Syrian crisis can only be settled through political means and the right to determine the future of Syria belongs exclusively to Syrians and the international community should assist them to realize this right.

“It means sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria must be fully respected by all,” Takht-Ravanchi stated.

He added that any separatist agendas, as well as illegitimate self-rule initiatives, must be rejected and all foreign forces whose presence is not permitted by the Syrian government must leave Syria.

“In this context, the full, immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Syria is essential,” he remarked. “Instead of combatting terrorism, they continue supporting UN-designated terrorist groups such as Al-Nusrah Front (Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham) as well as looting the oil and wealth of the Syrian people.”

The Iranian envoy also said fighting terrorists in Syria must continue until the full removal of their threats.

“Obviously, this must be done with the utmost care for the lives of civilians,” he emphasized, adding, “Terrorists must not be allowed to continue taking a large number of civilians as hostages and to turn places like Idlib into their safe haven.”

He said Iran will spare no efforts to uphold the importance of a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned and UN-facilitated political process, noting, “We continue to support the efforts of the United Nations and the SRSG Pedersen for political settlement of the Syrian crisis.”

Geir O. Pedersen is the special representative of the UN secretary general for Syria. 

“Supporting the Constitutional Committee, which must operate without any external interference or pressure or setting any artificial deadline to conclude its work, we are hopeful that the true interests of the Syrian people will prevail over all interests,” he added.

According to Takht-Ravanchi, parallel to political process, international efforts must continue to facilitate Syria’s reconstruction and the safe and voluntary return of refugees and IDPs to their original places.

“As an important effort in this regard, we welcome the international conference on the return of Syrian refugees, held on 11-12 November in Damascus, which has unfortunately been boycotted by some countries who politicize almost every issue related to ending the conflict, return of refugees and Syria’s reconstruction,” he said. “The interest of millions of Syrian refugees must not be held hostage for political gains by certain powers.”

The ambassador pointed to the challenges faced by the Syrian people, including the conflict and the coronavirus outbreak and said avoiding to assist the return of refugees will only increase and prolong their sufferings, which has already been deteriorated due to the imposition of inhumane unilateral sanctions by the United States.

“The international community should not leave the Syrian people alone in their struggle to overcome the threats of terrorism and foreign occupation as well as economic terrorism resulting from these unlawful sanctions,” he concluded.

Iranian Judiciary Tracking Down Culprits Involved in Soleimani Killing

November 27, 2020 - 22:19

Tehran Times

TEHRAN — Iran’s Judiciary says it has formed a committee to track down those who were behind the U.S. assassination of Iran’s top anti-terror commander, Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani.

“With the Judiciary chief’s order, a committee was tasked with gathering evidence, and a judicial board, led by the prosecutor and I, as the deputy prosecutor and investigator in charge of the case, began the investigation and its procedure,” Deputy Prosecutor General Seyyed Ashrafi said, IRNA reported on Friday.

Seyyed Ashrafi said Iran has provided the Interpol with the names of 45 American nationals involved in this killing, but unfortunately, the Interpol has refused to issue an international arrest warrant for them because of the current political situation.

He said some of those accused of being involved in the January assassination regularly visit neighboring countries, adding that Iran has also provided judicial representation to six of the countries where American bases are located.

“We were recently informed that the Iraqi government has prepared a response to this representation, and is submitting it through diplomatic channels,” Seyyed Ashrafi stated.

He also said Iran is also preparing a judicial representation addressed to the U.S. judicial system so as to test them and see whether they would prosecute the culprits for the charges leveled against them.

On January 3, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered drone strikes that martyred General Soleimani, chief of the IRGC Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).

In the early hours of January 8, the IRGC attacked Ain al-Assad airbase in western Iraq, where U.S. forces were stationed, as part of its promised “tough revenge” for the U.S. terror attack.

In September, IRGC Chief Major General Hossein Salami said the Americans should know that Iran will target whoever had a role in the cowardly assassination of General Soleimani. “This is a serious message,” Salami warned.

“These threats are serious and we’re not engaging in a war of words,” Salami said, adding, “Rather, we’ll leave everything to the field of action.”

In June, Tehran said 36 individuals were identified in connection with the Soleimani assassination.

“36 individuals who cooperated, collaborated, and participated in the assassination of Hajj Qassem, including political and military authorities of the U.S. and other countries, have been identified,” Tehran Prosecutor General Ali Alqasi-Mehr said.

Alqasi-Mehr named Trump as the key individual at the top of the list, saying his pursuit will continue even after his tenure as U.S. president.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh has also said Iran will spare no efforts in bringing the culprits to justice.

“Iran, while fully adhering to the applicable provisions of international law, will spare no legal and legitimate effort in order to bring the perpetrators and accomplices of Martyr General Soleimani to justice, so that they suffer legal punishment for their action,” Khatibzadeh said on November 10.

He said based on Iran’s stance, Trump cannot enjoy presidential impunity after his term and he must be brought to justice for his crime.

“I repeat that we do not believe the perpetrators of this crime, especially Trump as the main perpetrator, can be exempted from legal prosecution, in a way that is in line with international law, by taking refuge behind the wall of immunity,” he added.

 US Officials Say Israel Was Behind the Assassination: New York Times

Friday, 27 November 2020 9:41 PM 

Press TV

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands by a screen with a purported image of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh during a news conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 30, 2018. Picture taken April 30, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

Three US officials have said that Israel was behind the assassination of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in a terrorist attack near the capital Tehran, according to a report.

“One American official — along with two other intelligence officials — said that Israel was behind the attack on the scientist,” The New York Times reported on Friday.  

“It was unclear how much the United States may have known about the operation in advance, but the two nations are the closest of allies and have long shared intelligence regarding Iran,” it added.

Fakhrizadeh,59, had been targeted on Friday in a multi-pronged attack involving at least one explosion and small fire by a number of assailants in Absard city of Damavand County, Tehran Province.

The attack targeted the vehicle carrying Fakhrizadeh, who headed the Iranian Defense Ministry’s Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND), the Fars news agency said.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Mohammad Javad Zarif roundly condemned the terror attack, saying there were “serious indications” of the Israeli regime’s role in the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, a professor of physics at Imam Hussein University of Tehran.

“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice—with serious indications of Israeli role—shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” he said in a tweet.

The top Iranian diplomat called on the international community, especially the European Union, to “end their shameful double standards & condemn this act of state terror.”

Fakhrizadeh’s name was mentioned multiple times in a presentation in 2018 by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during which he repeated baseless claims about the Iranian nuclear program.

Netanyahu described the scientist as the director of Iran’s nuclear program and threatened, “Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh.”

The Tel Aviv regime has made several attempts over the past years to throw a wrench in Tehran’s peaceful nuclear work.

The regime has been behind the assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists. It has also conduced cyberattacks on Iranian nuclear sites.

The New York Times summarized the “chilling message” that “American officials” wanted to send to Iranian top scientists with the assassination of Fakhrizadeh: “If we can get him, we can get you, too.” Indistinguishable from Mafia talk.

Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, Dmitry Polyanskiy, tweeted, “That’s a telling analysis from @nytimes reflecting readiness of US establishment to give green light to political extra territorial assassinations. Not a thing to boast for a democratic country! #Iran #Fakhrizadeh.”

Research Center Run by Fakhrizadeh Produced First COVID-19 Test Kits for Iranians: Defense Minister

Friday, 27 November 2020 11:05 PM  

Press TV

Iran's Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami says the country’s first COVID-19 test kits were produced in a research center headed by assassinated Iranian physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, hailing the martyr as one of the pioneers of the country’s scientific movement against the novel coronavirus.

Hatami made the remarks on Friday, hours after Fakhrizadeh, the head of the Defense Ministry's Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND), was assassinated by terrorists in his vehicle in a small city east of the capital Tehran in an attack that also involved a car bombing.

“The organization under the management of Martyr Fakhrizadeh was among the first centers to produce the COVID-19 test kits,” the defense minister said.

When asked why the Iranian scientist was assassinated by terrorists, Hatami said that Fakhrizadeh was the deputy minister of defense, a prominent scientist, and the head of the SPND who had a long history in defense innovations and who trained many researchers for the scientific advancement of Iran.   

Prominent Iranian physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is assassinated in a terrorist attack near Tehran, the Defense Ministry says.

Hatami also hailed Fakhrizadeh's service for Iran’s defense industry as “great and fruitful.”

“The enemy targets wherever a huge and effective step is taken to the benefit of the nation, and the Defense Ministry has always been such a target," the minister added.

“The Ministry of Defense is at the forefront of establishing security for our dear nation and thus, has always been loathed by enemies,” Hatami said, adding that those playing major roles in the field of defense are naturally more hated by enemies.

Elsewhere in his remarks, the defense minister said Martyr Fakhrizadeh had developed special innovations in the field of defense that, due to their nature, are less talked about.

“For instance, the application of laser in air defense or the detection of invading aircraft by other means than radar, which fall into the category of defense innovations, are among his great achievements that we will definitely talk about them if necessary,” he said.

Touching on Fakhrizadeh’s scientific endeavor against the coronavirus, Hatami said that the martyr had taken “great strides in the field of developing COVID-19 vaccine, the news of which, God willing, will be presented to our people.”

He added that the center led by Fakhrizadeh went through the first phase of clinical human trials in the field of developing corona vaccine and “did great things for our dear people.”

The assassination of a high-profile scientist with the Iranian Defense Ministry draws reactions from other countries and senior political figures.

Shortly after the assassination, Hatami had tweeted, “The enemy does not tolerate Iran’s scientists, and the assassination of scientists further reveals the depth of the enemy’s hatred.”

Serving as an atomic expert, Fakhrizadeh also made great efforts to promote Iran’s nuclear energy program, but he had been under the supervision of the secret agents of the Israeli regime who finally succeeded in assassinating him with several bullets, he added.

Separately on Friday, Iran’s Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeisi said the “big crime” was carried out by “traitorous elements linked to foreigners and international Zionism with the sinister goal of hindering the country’s scientific progress.”

Raeisi further praised the scientist’s role in speeding up Iran’s advancements in various scientific fields, including the nuclear industry, saying Fakhrizadeh’s martyrdom will not block the country’s path forward.

He called on the country’s security and intelligence institutions in addition to relevant judicial bodies to do their utmost to arrest and serve justice to the criminals and mercenaries involved in the crime as soon as possible.

Additionally, Fereydoun Abbasi, the former head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), told Press TV that Fakhrizadeh, who was also serving as an atomic expert, made great efforts to promote Iran’s nuclear energy program but he had been under the supervision of the secret agents of the Israeli regime who finally succeeded in assassinating.

Prominent Iranian Physicist Assassinated Near Tehran

Friday, 27 November 2020 9:10 PM 

A file photo of martyred Iranian physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh

Prominent Iranian physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh has been assassinated in a terrorist attack near the capital Tehran.

The Fars news agency reported that he had been targeted on Friday in a multi-pronged attack involving at least one explosion and small fire by a number of assailants in Absard city of Damavand County, Tehran Province.

The attack targeted the vehicle carrying Fakhrizadeh — who headed the Iranian Defense Ministry’s Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND), the agency said.

The Defense Ministry’s media office said Fakhrizadeh “was severely wounded in the course of clashes between his security team and terrorists, and was transferred to hospital,” where he succumbed to his injuries.

Fars said 3-4 people were killed in the shooting, all of whom were said to be terrorists.

Photos and footage shared online of the attack showed bullet holes on the windshield of Fakhrizadeh’s car and a pool of blood on the road.

The photo shows a car that was tageted in a deadly shooting attack by terrorists in Absard city, near the Iranian capital of Tehran, November 27, 2020. (By Fars news agency)

‘Serious indications of Israeli role’

In a statement, Iranian Foreign Ministry Mohammad Javad Zarif roundly condemned the terror attack, saying there were “serious indications” of the Israeli regime’s role in the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, a professor of physics at Imam Hussein University of Tehran.

“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice—with serious indications of Israeli role—shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” he said in a tweet.

The top Iranian diplomat called on the international community, especially the European Union, to “end their shameful double standards & condemn this act of state terror.”

‘Harsh revenge awaits criminals’

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Baqeri blamed the “savage” attack on “terrorists tied to global arrogance and the evil Zionist regime.”

The assassination, he said, did deal a blow to Iran’s defense industry, but the enemies should know that “the path opened by the likes of Martyr Fakhrizadeh will never end.”

The photo shows the site of a terror attack, which targeted an Iranian scientist, in Absard city, north of the Iranian capital, Tehran, November 27, 2020. (By Fars news agency)

Baqeri said “harsh revenge” awaits the terror groups as well as all those who had a hand in the terror attack.

The commander assured the Iranian nation that the perpetrators of the terror attack will be pursued and brought to justice.

In a similar message, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander Major General Hossein Salami vowed a “harsh revenge and punishment” for those behind the act of terror.

The assassination of the Iranian scientist “was planned and run by the fake, terrorist and infanticide Zionist regime,” the chief IRGC commander added.

Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi also said in a statement that an operation had been launched to identify the terrorist elements complicit in the “brutal crime,” pledging that the Islamic Republic will avenge the martyr’s blood.

In turn, Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan, military advisor to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, also reacted to Fakhrizadeh’s martyrdom in a tweet, vowing a crushing response to the perpetrator.

“We will come down hard on those who killed Martry Mohsen Fakhrizadeh like thunder and make them regret their deed,” he said.

“In the final days of their allied gambler’s political life, the Zionists are after intensifying pressure on Iran in order to trigger an all-out war,” said Dehqan in a reference to outgoing US President Donald Trump’s final days in office.

Fakhrizadeh’s name was mentioned multiple times in a presentation in 2018 by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during which he repeated baseless claims about the Iranian nuclear program.

Netanyahu described the scientist as the director of Iran’s nuclear program and threatened, “Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh.”

The Tel Aviv regime has made several attempts over the past years to throw a wrench in Tehran’s peaceful nuclear work.

The regime has been behind the assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists. It has also conduced cyberattacks on Iranian nuclear sites.

‘The crime won’t block Iran path to scientific progress’

Iran’s Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeisi said the “big crime” was carried out by “traitorous elements linked to foreigners and international Zionism with the sinister goal of hindering the country’s scientific progress.”

Raeisi further praised the scientist’s role in speeding up Iran’s advancements in various scientific fields, including the nuclear industry, saying Fakhrizadeh’s martyrdom will not block the country’s path forward.

He called on the country’s security and intelligence institutions in addition to relevant judicial bodies to do their utmost to arrest and serve justice.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Ethiopian Authorities Say TPLF Planning Maikadra Style Massacre in Mekelle

Ethiopian authorities accuse TPLF of planning a Maikadra style massacre in Mekelle city – presumably the last stronghold of Tigray People’s Liberation Front loyalists and leaders 

Maj. Gen. Mohammed Tessema (photo : FDRE Defense Force page)

borkena

November 24, 2020

TPLF leaders and their forces have lost control of much of the Tigray region in less than two weeks after they launched a “preemptive attack,” on Ethiopian Defense Force military bases in the region, killing hundreds of unsuspecting soldiers who were either sleeping or unarmed at the time, they are now believed to be in Mekelle.

The revenge for the losses was horrifying. In Maikadra, TPLF forces and a youth killing squad called “Samri” massacred more than 600 ethnic Amhara residents. Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, has released a preliminary report about the massacre, saying the number of victims could rise.

As the 72 hours ultimatum to surrender given to TPLF forces that is under siege in Mekelle ends, Ethiopian authorities express concern that the TPLF has plans to carry out Maikadra style massacre in the city.

Major General Mohammad Tessema, Director-General of the FDRE Defense Force Indoctrination, said on Wednesday that TPLF has prepared Ethiopian and Eritrean Defense Force uniforms to be used during the planned massacre of residents of Mekelle city.

On Tuesday TPLF spokesperson, Getachew Reda, appeared on Tigray TV to state that people in Mekelle will resist what he called “invading army” with all that they have got including knives and whatnot.

However, the TPLF is yet to respond to the allegations. The Ethiopian Defense Forces surrounding the city are reportedly on standby waiting for an order for action from the Defense Chief of Staff, General Berhanu Jula.

Ethiopia State of Emergency Fact Check task force has shared, on its social media page, a statement about concerns of a massacre in Mekelle. It reads as follows:

“TPLF junta preparing to repeat the Mai-Kadra massacre in Mekelle”

Major General Mohammad Tessema,  Director-General of the FDRE Defense Force Indoctrination 

(24 November 2020)

• the TPLF junta has been undertaking various preparations to repeat the massacre it committed in Mai-Kadra in the State’s capital, Mekele city.

• the group is carrying out a special operation by some of its fighters disguised as members of the Eritrean military. This was made possible with millions of Eritrean military uniforms produced at the Almeda Textile factory in the city.

• The TPLF group rather shamelessly announced a few days ago that they have annihilated the 21st Division of the Raya Front and that their troops seized Adwa by mowing down the Ethiopian army, which marched there. However, I have visited all those places with other military officials where residents of these areas have expressed their displeasure at the junta.

• The TPLF’s plot to misinform the international community and the people of Tigray was foiled. Desperate, the TPLF is left with the only tactic it knew so well-that of massacre. The junta was preparing to repeat the massacre of innocent people it committed in Mai-kadra and that they had set up special assassins to carry out the attack.

• Deliberate distortion is another tactic being employed to make it look like the group has captured a certain areas, with some agents doing TV stand-ups in those areas.

• the group’s leaders are trying to make the law enforcement campaign look like a civil war against the people of Tigray. However, the people of Tigray testify that the campaign only targets the extremist group. They have demonstrated their support for the army in areas under its control and are expressing their displeasure at the junta.

• The extremist group was relying on massacre to gain the support of the international community by pretending that the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces had massacred innocent people. This group has no compassion for the people outside of power.

Ethiopia's PM Declares Assault on Tigray Regional Capital Mekelle

Thursday, November 26, 2020

A member of the Amhara militia walks past the 5th Battalion of the Northern Command of the Ethiopian army in Dansha on November 25, 2020.  Eduardo Soteras | AFP

By Aggrey Mutambo Senior Diplomatic Writer

Nation Media Group

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has warned civilians in Mekelle to stay indoors as he launched the ''final stage'' of attack on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, after defying calls for dialogue.

In a message on Thursday morning, Dr Abiy said “thousands” of TPLF fighters had honoured the 72-hour amnesty granted to them, and which ended on Wednesday. He said that opportunity for surrender is now closed and the areas would be attacked.

“The last peaceful gate which had remained open for TPLF clique to walk through has now been firmly closed as a result of TPLF’s contempt for peace of Ethiopia,” he said.

“We call on the people of Mekelle and its environs to disarm, stay at home and stay away from military targets, and take all necessary precautions. We also call on the people of Mekelle to do their part in reducing damages to be sustained because of a handful of criminal TPLF elements, by exposing and handing over the criminal clique to law enforcement agents.”

The warning came even as the TPLF insisted they will not surrender to what they called an illegitimate leader of Ethiopia. Human rights activists, however, warned that a directive to civilians to stay away from harm’s way may be insufficient, given fighters tend to hide among residents or there could be no demarcation to determine where the battles will occur.

“Warnings alone do not absolve the government of the duty to take constant care to protect civilians when carrying out military operations in urban areas that are homes to thousands of people who may not be able to reach more secure areas,” said Laetitia Bader, the Horn of Africa Director for Human Rights Watch.

“We are also concerned that the TPLF has deployed its forces in heavily populated residential areas. They need to ensure the safety of civilians under their control.”

The conflict in the northern Tigray region began three weeks ago after Dr Abiy ordered a military offensive on the TPLF he accuses of impunity and committing injustices in the past.

Already, there have been reported massacres. Amnesty International reported last week that hundreds of civilians, probably labourers, had been killed by machetes just a week after fighting began. This week, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission put the figure at 600 with the Ethiopian government accusing TPLF fighters of the killings.

On Wednesday, Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, called on the parties to avoid targeting civilian installations such as hospitals, schools or markets.

Dr Abiy’s final stage will go on despite calls to slow down on the offensive and allow talks.

On Wednesday, he termed the pressure to talk with the TPLF outside interference, saying foreign entities must wait for Ethiopia to formally request for help.

“While we consider the concerns of our friends, we reject any interference in our internal affairs,” Abiy said.

“We, therefore, respectfully urge the international community to refrain from any unwelcome and unlawful acts of interference and respect the fundamental principle of non-intervention.”

The fighting has forced as many as 40,000 refugees into Sudan and nearly  1,000 deaths.

Inside a Tigray Farming Town Scarred by Ethiopian Conflict

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

A view of a street near the market in Humera, Ethiopia on November 22, 2020.

Eduardo Soteras | AFP

The town lies near Ethiopia's borders with Sudan and Eritrea.

Humera promised prosperity before the start of the conflict.

Ethiopia's government denies TPLF claims that Eritrea is involved in the fighting.

Humera

A pair of burnt-out tanks now signals the entrance to the Tigray town of Humera, where the streets are lined with rubble and residents remain in shock after an Ethiopian army assault earlier this month.

The conflict between Ethiopia's federal government and the leaders of the northern Tigray region arrived quickly in the farming town, with artillery barrages bombarding commercial buildings and homes as residents fled or cowered in terror.

A communications blackout and restrictions have made reporting on the conflict difficult, but AFP journalists reached Tigray -- the first independent journalists to report from inside the conflict zone since fighting started -- and found the scars of conflict everywhere.

"We didn't expect shelling," said Humera resident Getachew Berhane, a short, bald 42-year-old in a crisp yellow t-shirt.

"Suddenly, we started to hear war weapons, explosions, and then people panicked."

"I couldn't leave my house. I was terrified," he said, as an Ethiopian government official accompanying the AFP team listened in.

The Ethiopian army, battling forces loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), declared Humera "liberated" on November 12 after heavy clashes in the first days of the conflict.

Bombs 'from the north

The power lines remain cut in Humera, a low-slung town of pastel-painted concrete buildings that was —until recently — home to around 30,000 people.

A gaping hole has been punched through the brick facade of the prominent Hotel Africa, while other structures have been peppered with bullet holes and gouged by shrapnel.

In the city centre, soldiers lolled on plastic chairs beneath the shade of trees.

Elsewhere, the city's remaining residents huddled around televisions run on diesel generators as military vehicles and tractors drove the cobbled and paved roads.

The town lies near Ethiopia's borders with Sudan and Eritrea. Many of Humera's residents were among the first of the more than 30,000 Ethiopians who have fled into eastern Sudan for safety, leaving the city feeling abandoned.

Multiple people told AFP that during the battle they witnessed mortar bombs whistling in "from the north", meaning Eritrea.

Ethiopia's government denies TPLF claims that Eritrea is involved in the fighting, but acknowledges making use of Eritrean territory.

Hand-to-mouth living

At one tin-roofed residential compound, AFP was told that two women and an elderly man were killed by shelling and gunfire.

Two injured women still lay recovering from their wounds weeks later, strapped to makeshift stretchers.

One Humera resident said he knew of at least 10 people killed in his neighbourhood alone, however AFP was not permitted to visit the hospital to establish an accurate death toll.

A crossroads town in Ethiopia's far northwest, a hot, dry, agricultural lowland, Humera promised prosperity before the start of the conflict.

"This town was on the verge of development," said Tewodros Gebreselassie, a grim-faced, grey-bearded sesame trader.

"But now it's been brought back to hand-to-mouth living because of an unnecessary war."

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed — last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner — announced military operations in Tigray on November 4, saying they were in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.

Hundreds are believed to have died since, while tens of thousands have fled their homes.

The intense fighting has rolled eastwards, into the mountainous highlands and towards the regional capital Mekele, a city of half a million.

On Sunday, Abiy gave TPLF leaders 72 hours to surrender ahead of a threatened all-out assault on Mekele.

Outsiders move in

With fighting having subsided in the west of Tigray, government officials are seeking to reimpose order in Humera.

The strategy appears to be to erase TPLF control partly by bringing administrators in from the neighbouring Amhara region, a move that risks inflaming ethnic tensions.

Throughout much of the west, federal soldiers are scarcely seen, instead security is maintained by Amhara's uniformed "special forces".

Civil servants have also arrived from Amhara to take over the administration of some Tigrayan towns and cities.

Daniel Wubet, an Amhara tourism official in a tracksuit and vest said he was in Humera to oversee "peacekeeping", procure basic necessities for the population and "educate" them on the TPLF's bad deeds.

Daniel, who had a Kalashnikov slung from his shoulder, has co-opted some local Tigrayans into the rebuilding exercise, among them Tewodros.

"They said I haven't done anything wrong and that I'm a pure Ethiopian," Tewodros explained of his appointment.

The presence of Amhara officials and soldiers will fuel fears of an occupation among Tigrayans, who are mired in a decades-old dispute over land that has, in the past, sparked violent clashes and continues to be a dangerous flashpoint.

Abrehu Fentahum, an elderly Amhara farmer living in western Tigray, said he looked forward to the land being returned to Amhara control, even though Daniel and others stress that this is not their goal.

"As long as I can remember, this land belonged to Amhara," until 1991 when "it was taken by the TPLF," he said.

Already, visible traces of the TPLF are being expunged, its banners replaced by the green, yellow and red imperial-era flag of Amhara nationalism that now flies high at checkpoints and town squares.

These symbols will not allay Tigrayan fears of occupation, nor will the word "Amhara" scrawled on shuttered storefronts like a hastily graffitied claim of ownership.

Speaking to AFP by text message, TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael warned the presence of Amhara administrators and fighters would only prolong the conflict.

"This is one of their evil plans to weaken Tigray," he said.

"We'll continue to fight until they are cleared from all places."

Kalonzo ‘Mediates’ in DR Congo’s Coalition Feud

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi (centre), Kenya's former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka (second right) and other officials in Kinshasa on November 24, 2020.

By Patrick Ilunga

Nation Media Group

Kenya’s former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka is attempting to mediate between two wrangling sides in the ruling coalition in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Kalonzo, also a former Foreign Minister in Kenya, arrived in the DRC on Tuesday evening and went into separate meetings with former President Joseph Kabila, and later with his successor Felix Tshisekedi.

Sources in the Kinshasa State House told The EastAfrican that Kalonzo had arrived in the DRC as a "special envoy of Kenya" to try and help steady the ruling coalition.

He met with Kabila at his Kingakati farm on the outskirts of Kinshasa and later President Tshisekedi at the State House in Kinshasa. He was accompanied by Dr George Masafu, Kenya’s Ambassador to the DRC.

His Twitter feed later confirmed the meetings, but only said he had held “discussions” with the two leaders, without going into details about what was discussed.

President Tshisekedi has been at odds with his predecessor Kabila, despite their parties belonging to the same coalition. They formed the coalition after Kabila’s Party Common Front for Congo (FCC) and Tshisekedi’s Cap for Change (CACH) agreed to share power last year.

While the arrangement helped Tshisekedi establish his first government, the two sides have differed in public over key issues. The FCC accuses CACH of violating the constitution while CACH claims FCC is sabotaging the government.

Talks to end the wrangles have often failed.

Last month, President Tshisekedi launched a consultative programme to help iron out their differences. The final session was due on Wednesday this week, but the FCC has refused to take part in the sessions ever since they were launched.

Sudan in Three-day Mourning After Death of Former PM Mahdi

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Sudan's former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi who died from Covid-19 on November 26, 2020.

AFP

By Mawahib Abdallatif Sudan Correspondent

Nation Media Group

Sudan has declared three days of national mourning after former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi died from Covid-19 complications.

The Transitional Council of Ministers said on Thursday flags will be lowered at all state facilities, institutions and Sudanese embassies as a sign of respect for al-Mahdi, the leader of the Umma Party. Al-Mahdi, 84, was the last democratically elected prime minister in Sudan before he was toppled in 1989 by a military coup led by Omar al-Bashir.

Al-Mahdi was born in Abbasiya, Omdurman, and after the death of his father, Siddiq al-Mahdi in 1961, he assumed the leadership of the Ansar Movement and the leadership of the United National Front, a coalition led by the Umma Party.

Al-Mahdi comes from an ancient political family. His great-grandfather, Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi, founded the Mahdist Movement.

2017 coalition

He obtained a master’s degree in economics from Oxford University in 1957. He headed the opposition “Sudan Call” coalition in 2017, which included the civil society and armed movements.

After being toppled by al-Bashir, al-Mahdi remained a vocal opposition leader throughout the three decades. Bashir was toppled last year and is facing trial for his role in the 1989 coup.

The head of the Transitional Sovereign Council in Sudan, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, said the country had lost an icon with the death of Al-Mahdi, a national symbol.

Al-Burhan tweeted that Imam Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi had remained loyal to his homeland throughout his life.

Ambassador Robert van den Dool, Head of Delegation of the European Union to Sudan, tweeted: “Today is a sad day for Sudan. The European Union and its member states’ embassies express their sincere condolences to the people and government of Sudan, to the members and the supporters of the Umma National Party on the death of HE Al-Imam Al-Sadig Al-Mahdi, the former Prime Minister of Sudan.”

Paris Police Suspended Over Beating of Black Man

By SYLVIE CORBET

Music producer identified only by his first name, Michel, is pictured on his way to the Inspectorate General of the National Police, known by its French acronym IGPN, in Paris, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin ordered several Paris police officers suspended after the publication of videos showing them beating up a Black man and using tear gas against him with no apparent reason. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

PARIS (AP) — A Black man beaten up by several French police officers said he is seeking justice after the publication of videos showing officers repeatedly punching him, using a truncheon and tear gas against him for no apparent reason.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin ordered the officers involved in the case suspended.

The incident came as President Emmanuel Macron’s government is pushing a new bill that restricts the ability to film police, which has prompted protests from civil liberties groups and journalists concerned that it would allow police brutality to go undiscovered and unpunished.

Videos first published on Thursday by French news website Loopsider show the violent arrest of a music producer, Michel Zecler, in the 17th arrondissement or district of the French capital on Saturday.

The video images obtained by the Associated Press, both from a security camera inside the studio and filmed by neighbors outside, show three officers following Zecler inside his music studio, where they can be seen repeatedly punching him and beating him with a truncheon.

Zecler told the Associated Press he feels “good” now that “the truth is out.”

“I want to understand why I have been assaulted by people who were wearing a police uniform. I want justice actually, because I believe in the justice of my country,” he said.

Zecler said that the officers hurled repeated insults at him, including a very strong racist epithet.

He added that he still does not understand why officers decided to arrest him. He suffered injuries to his head, forearms and legs.

His lawyer, Hafida El Ali, said: “He asked them what they wanted, if they wanted to check his identity. ... They didn’t stop beating him, the video of the violence (inside the studio) lasts for 12 minutes.”

At some point the officers called in reinforcements and went outside. They then threw a tear gas grenade into the studio to get those inside to come out, according El Ali.

El Ali said that nine others who were recording music in the studio basement were also beaten.

“Outside they are still beaten up and thrown to the ground and that’s the moment when a police officer sees they are being filmed,” she said. Then the violence stops.

Zecler was taken into custody.

“I’m obviously scandalized by these images,” Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said in a television interview. “There are racist police, lawyers or bakers, but to say the police are racist, it’s not true.”

Zecler’s lawyer stressed the value of the videos in her client’s case.

“These videos are essential because initially my client was being detained... for violence against people with public authority,” El Ali said. “This is very serious. The reality is that if we didn’t have these videos maybe my client would be in prison.”

Darmanin tweeted that the body that investigates allegations of police misconduct, the Inspectorate General of the National Police, known by its French acronym IGPN, is looking into the case, saying, “I want disciplinary proceedings as soon as possible.”

The Paris police prefecture said in a statement that IGPN will seek to establish the exact circumstances surrounding the man’s arrest.

The Paris prosecutor’s office is also investigating the police actions. The prosecutor’s office said Thursday it has dropped the proceedings against Zecler opened the day of his arrest, and instead opened an investigation for “acts of violence by a person in position of public authority” and “false declaration.”

According to Le Parisien newspaper, based on the written record of the officers’ declarations the day after the arrest, Zecler drew their attention because he was not wearing a mask — which is mandatory in Paris outdoors amid the coronavirus pandemic. He seemed “nervous” and a “strong drug smell” was emanating from him. They said he was getting “dangerous” toward them.

Zecler’s lawyer said: “My client never committed any violence against the police... He did not even defend himself.”

It’s the second such police brutality investigation in Paris this week prompted by video footage. The government ordered an internal police investigation on Tuesday after police officers were filmed tossing migrants out of tents and intentionally tripping one while evacuating a protest camp.

That same day, France’s lower house of parliament approved a draft law meant to strengthen local police and provide greater protection to all officers. It notably makes it a crime to publish images of officers with intent to cause them harm. The bill, which enjoys public support after recent terrorist attacks, will now go to the Senate.

AstraZeneca Manufacturing Error Clouds Vaccine Study Results

By DANICA KIRKA

FILE - In this undated file photo issued by the University of Oxford on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, a researcher in a laboratory at the Jenner Institute in Oxford, England, works on the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. With major COVID-19 vaccines showing high levels of protection, British officials are cautiously — and they stress cautiously — optimistic that life may start returning to normal by early April. Even before regulators have approved a single vaccine, the U.K. and countries across Europe are moving quickly to organize the distribution and delivery systems needed to inoculate millions of citizens. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP, File)

LONDON (AP) — AstraZeneca and Oxford University on Wednesday acknowledged a manufacturing error that is raising questions about preliminary results of their experimental COVID-19 vaccine.

A statement describing the error came days after the company and the university described the shots as “highly effective” and made no mention of why some study participants didn’t receive as much vaccine in the first of two shots as expected.

In a surprise, the group of volunteers that got a lower dose seemed to be much better protected than the volunteers who got two full doses. In the low-dose group, AstraZeneca said, the vaccine appeared to be 90% effective. In the group that got two full doses, the vaccine appeared to be 62% effective. Combined, the drugmakers said the vaccine appeared to be 70% effective. But the way in which the results were arrived at and reported by the companies has led to pointed questions from experts.

The partial results announced Monday are from large ongoing studies in the U.K. and Brazil designed to determine the optimal dose of vaccine, as well as examine safety and effectiveness. Multiple combinations and doses were tried in the volunteers. They were compared to others who were given a meningitis vaccine or a saline shot.

DID RESEARCHERS MEAN TO GIVE A HALF DOSE?

Before they begin their research, scientists spell out all the steps they are taking, and how they will analyze the results. Any deviation from that protocol can put the results in question.

In a statement Wednesday, Oxford University said some of the vials used in the trial didn’t have the right concentration of vaccine so some volunteers got a half dose. The university said that it discussed the problem with regulators, and agreed to complete the late stage trial with two groups. The manufacturing problem has been corrected, according to the statement.

WHAT ABOUT THE RESULTS THEMSELVES?

Experts say the relatively small number of people in the low dose group makes it difficult to know if the effectiveness seen in the group is real or a statistical quirk. Some 2,741 people received a half dose of the vaccine followed by a full dose, AstraZeneca said. A total of 8,895 people received two full doses.

Another factor: none of the people in the low-dose group were over 55 years old. Younger people tend to mount a stronger immune response than older people, so it could be that the youth of the participants in the low-dose group is why it looked more effective, not the size of the dose.

Another point of confusion comes from a decision to pool results from two groups of participants who received different dosing levels to reach an average 70% effectiveness, said David Salisbury, and associate fellow of the global health program at the Chatham House think tank.

“You’ve taken two studies for which different doses were used and come up with a composite that doesn’t represent either of the doses,″ he said of the figure. “I think many people are having trouble with that.″

WHY WOULD A SMALLER FIRST DOSE BE MORE EFFECTIVE?

Oxford researchers say they aren’t certain and they are working to uncover the reason.

Sarah Gilbert, one of the Oxford scientists leading the research, said the answer is probably related to providing exactly the right amount of vaccine to trigger the best immune response.

“It’s the Goldilocks amount that you want, I think, not too little and not too much. Too much could give you a poor quality response as well,” she said. “So you want just the right amount and it’s a bit hit and miss when you’re trying to go quickly to get that perfect first time.”

WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS?

Details of the trial results will be published in medical journals and provided to U.K. regulators so they can decide whether to authorize distribution of the vaccine. Those reports will include a detailed breakdown that includes demographic and other information about who got sick in each group, and give a more complete picture of how effective the vaccine is.

Moncef Slaoui, who leads the U.S. coronavirus vaccine program Operation Warp Speed, said Tuesday in a call with reporters that U.S. officials are trying to determine what immune response the vaccine produced, and may decide to modify the AstraZeneca study in the U.S. to include a half dose.

“But we want it to be based on data and science,” he said.

Libyan Convicted in Fatal Benghazi Attack Seeks New Trial

By ERIC TUCKER

November 24, 2020

FILE - This June 28, 2014, artist's rendering shows United States Magistrate, Judge John Facciola, swearing in the defendant, Libyan militant Ahmed Abu Khatallah, wearing a headphone, as his attorney Michelle Peterson watches during a hearing at the federal U.S. District Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawyers for a Libyan militant convicted in the Benghazi attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans have asked for a new trial, citing what they say is “recently disclosed exculpatory evidence.”

Ahmed Abu Khattala is serving a 22-year prison sentence after being convicted of multiple terrorism-related charges in connection with the 2012 attack on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi.

The motion in Washington’s federal court does not detail the newly disclosed evidence but says it concerns a key government witness who testified under the pseudonym Ali Majrisi at Khattala’s 2017 trial. The motion also says there is additional information that emerged during the trial of an alleged co-conspirator that has not yet been provided to the defense.

A federal defender for Khattala declined to comment Tuesday beyond the motion. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington also declined to comment.

Khattala was captured in 2014 and put on trial for an attack that became a divisive political flashpoint during the tenure of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

A jury convicted Khattala of multiple terrorism-related charges but found him not guilty of murder. Prosecutors accused Khattala of heading an extremist militia and directing the attack but acknowledged that they lacked evidence of him firing any weapons.

The motion for a new trial comes just before the three-year anniversary of the guilty verdict, the deadline under federal rules of criminal procedure for such a request.

In the motion, defense lawyer Michelle Peterson says that “newly disclosed evidence relates to classified evidence that Counsel does not presently have access to due to the Covid pandemic.”

She asked the judge in the case to allow “counsel to engage with government counsel to ensure that all relevant information has been disclosed prior to fully briefing the motion.”