President Robert Mugabe and first lady Grace of Zimbabwe. Mugabe just celebrated his 83rd birthday earlier in the week.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
From Innocent Gore in LUSAKA, Zambia
SADC heads of state and government yesterday received and welcomed progress reports on the political and economic situations in Zimbabwe prepared by South African President Thabo Mbeki and Sadc executive secretary Dr Tomaz Salomao respectively.
The reports were presented during a closed-door meeting of the Sadc leaders at their summit at Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka by the outgoing chairman of the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.
President Mbeki, who was tasked by Sadc leaders at their extraordinary summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in March to convene dialogue between the Government and the MDC, presented his report to Mr Kikwete, who, in turn, reported to the summit.
Sources who attended the closed-door meeting said Mr Mbeki’s report talks about progress in the dialogue and that the two parties were closer to reaching agreement.
The talks were expected to resume soon.
The leaders welcomed the report and further mandated Mr Mbeki to continue with his mediation efforts.
They mandated Sadc finance ministers to thoroughly study the report produced by Dr Salomao and see what form of assistance can come from within and outside the region to help Zimbabwe overcome the economic challenges that it is facing.
Briefing reporters on his return from the summit at Harare International Airport, President Mugabe said the summit had gone on well and that he was happy with the outcome.
"We had a very good meeting, we are happy and . . . (in the meantime) we will proceed in accordance with our own programmes to turn around the economy," he said.
The President said the summit had also dwelt on regional integration and the development of infrastructure such as roads, railway lines, communication systems and air links.
Without improvement of the infrastructure, he said, development would be stagnant and this was not in the region’s best interest.
Other issues discussed included law and order, the political and security situation in the region and the proposed free trade area targeted for next year, eventually transforming into a common market in 2010.
The President was received on arrival at the Harare International Airport by Vice President Msika, Transport and Communications Minister Cde Christopher Mushohwe, service chiefs, and other senior Government officials.
‘Sanctions to blame for economic challenges’
By Innocent Gore
ECONOMIC challenges facing Zimbabwe have nothing to do with the country’s politics, but are a result of sanctions, Sadc executive secretary Dr Tomaz Salomao has said, while a Cabinet minister said no other leader could have withstood the demonisation that President Mugabe has been subjected to by the West.
Dr Salomao told a Sadc Council of Ministers meeting in Lusaka on Wednesday that Zimbabwe’s economy was resilient and could speedily turn around once sanctions — imposed after the Government embarked on land reforms to correct colonial imbalances in the ownership of the resource — were lifted.
Dr Salomao was tasked by the Sadc leaders at their extraordinary summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in March to undertake a study of the economic situation in Zimbabwe and come up with measures on how the country’s economy could be cushioned from the effects of the illegal embargo.
Sources who attended the meeting said Dr Salomao, who has been to Zimbabwe twice to consult on how Sadc could assist the country economically, did not mince his words when he addressed the Council of Ministers meeting.
"He said you cannot separate politics from the economy. He said the illegal sanctions have affected the country but that despite six years of sanctions, Zimbabwe still remains the second biggest economy in the region, after South Africa," said a diplomatic source who attended the meeting.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Cde Patrick Chinamasa described President Mugabe as "the best foot forward", saying no other African leader could have withstood the demonisation and manipulation the President has been subjected to by the West.
Cde Chinamasa told guests at a breakfast meeting organised by the Press Freedom Committee of The Post, a Zambian daily newspaper, on Thursday at Mulungushi Village Complex in Lusaka that Cde Mugabe had been in the trenches against imperialism for too long and understood its manipulations and machinations better.
The breakfast meeting had been organised for the President but due to his busy schedule at the summit, he could not attend.
"We have been able to survive from 2000 because he has been giving us that kind of strong leadership.
"When you think about the demonisation that they have been throwing at him, which African leader would have survived? They would have thrown in the towel. He has been able to withstand that pressure and we love him for that," Cde Chinamasa is quoted as saying by The Post.
He said the land reform programme was irreversible and that what remained was providing farmers with inputs and equipment to enhance their productivity on the land.
Under the mechanisation programme, Government has so far spent billions of dollars importing tractors and other agricultural implements which have been distributed to farmers, including members of the opposition.
The minister accused the British government of double standards on the land issue, comparing Zimbabwe’s situation to that of Kenya.
The British government provided more than 550 million pounds to the Kenyan government for onward transmission to farmers as compensation, compared with 40 million pounds only released to Zimbabwe between 1980 and 2000 by the British government.
The Government, Cde Chinamasa said, had only wanted two million hectares of land from white commercial farmers and the programme was to be implemented over 30 years.
"But in the beginning, we had resistance and so it happened that what we intended to achieve in 30 or 40 years, we achieved in five years," he said.
The minister said despite Britain calling itself a democratic society which advocated freedom of speech, it did not allow the Zimbabwean Government to speak.
"I am aware that their own people have been lied to in the same way (former Prime Minister Tony) Blair lied to them about the Iraq situation. He has been lying about the Zimbabwe situation and because he has been lying, he will not allow Zimbabwean people to be in London and prove to the British people our side of the story. That is the common threat on the issue of land."
He said issue raised in the international media about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe was a mere smokescreen to hide British and United States opposition to the land reform programme.
The US Congress enacted the so-called Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act in 2001 which barred credit to Zimbabwe by multilateral financial institutions, including the African Development Bank, which was also under US influence.
This had seen Zimbabwe running as a cash economy for the past 10 years.
"So you have a situation where for the past 10 years, Zimbabwe has been managing without any external balance-of-payment support. We have basically been running our Government on a cash basis. They were not even satisfied with that, they have even imposed travel bans on all Government leaders and businesspeople associated with Government."
Cde Chinamasa said the person who would win at the end of day was the one who fights for the land.
"If you are to be correct in Zimbabwean politics, all you have to be very close to is the issue of land and its redistribution to the people and when you do that, that is what history is going to be," he said.
He also said Western detractors did not want to have strong, stable and independent region with a mind of its own.
"Our interests can never be the same as those in Europe. We have different levels of development. When we meet at WTO (World Trade Organisation) and at different forums, our interests are different," the minister said, urging non-governmental organisations to look after the interests of their home countries.