Thursday, June 28, 2007

Zimbabwe Update: Blair Leaves At Last; China Wins Contract; Prices Slashed Again

Blair leaves power today, at long last

By Dumisani Sibanda, Political Editor

MR Tony Blair, the man whose illegal sanctions have inflicted immense suffering on ordinary Zimbabweans, steps down today from the post of British Prime Minister.

He leaves Number 10 Downing Street after a 10year reign marred by scandals and a disastrous foreign policy which saw relations between London and Harare hit rock bottom.

Mr Blair, who became British Prime Minister in 1997, was forced to cut his final term by two years.

According to the Biritsh political system, no general election will be held to replace him. A successor is chosen within the ruling party in the event of the incumbent leaving before the expiry of his or her term.

Mr Blair is being replaced as both Premier and leader of the Labour Party by Mr Gordon Brown, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer, the equivalent of the Minister of Finance in Zimbabwe.

Seven weeks ago, the prime minister finally announced his departure, following mounting pressure within his party for him to step down and save the Labour Party from his disastrous rule.

There had been calls for him to vacate office immediately after he announced his resignation but he soldiered own until today, prompting the leader of the Conservatives, Mr David Cameron, at one time to ridicule him as leading a “government of the living dead’’.

Mr Blair’s waning popularity was confirmed by the huge electoral losses the Labour Party suffered in local government polls.

His party lost control in Scotland for the first time in 50 years and had the worst electoral results in Wales since 1918.

Analysts believe Mr Blair’s greatest undoing was allowing himself to be carried away with US president, Mr George Bush’s military misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, something which earned him the tag of “Bush’s poodle’’.

The recalcitrant politician had the audacity to tell the growing British antiwar population to “go to hell’’ when he said he had no apologies to make for sending more than 7 000 British soldiers to Iraq on the false pretext that the late Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, was harbouring “weapons of mass destruction”.

No such weapons were found following the illegal AngloAmerican invasion of Iraq and at one point Mr Blair conceded that the decision to send British soldiers to Iraq had been on the basis of information from a “sexed up document’’.

“I do not either regret the strength of our alliance with the US or standing by the US president and the American people in the aftermath of 11 September and I am never going to do that,’’ Mr Blair was quoted as saying early this year as he defended the 2003 USled invasion of Iraq and it became apparent that he was about to leave 10 Downing Street.

The British Socialist party described him as an “unindicted war criminal’’.

His tenure was also marred by the “cash for honours’’ scandal in which he was fingered.

He made history by being the first sitting British prime minister to be interviewed as part of a police investigation.

The scandal saw key donors to the Labour Party allegedly rewarded with seats in the Upper Chamber of the British parliament, the House of Lords for their donations.

Although Mr Blair has prided himself with increasing aid to Africa and assisting militarily in solving Sierra Leone’s internal strife, analysts say his mishandling of the Zimbabwean situation overshadows his achievements on the continent.

This has prompted the ZanuPF Secretary for Administration and Minister of National Security, Land Reform and Resettlement, Cde Didymus Mutasa, to dismiss Blair’s legacy on the continent as “a total failure’’.

“He did nothing for Africa and when you look at it the Labour Party has never done anything for Africa from the days of Harold Wilson to Blair,’’ Cde Mutasa was quoted as saying last month during Mr Blair’s final visit to Africa as premier.

“Blair has been a total failure. He has failed in everything he delved in with his foreign policy. I read somewhere he was described as George Bush’s poodle and I think that is a fair description of a man who was led by the nose by another leader.’’

Mr Blair’s ‘‘unforgivable sin’’ with respect to Zimbabwe is reneging on the pledge by the predecessor Conservative governments to fund Zimbabwe’s acquisition of land from white commercial farmers for resettlement.

This forced President Mugabe’s Government to proceed and compulsorily acquire the land from white farmers while paying only for improvements on the farms.

The land reform question has been at the centre of the bilateral dispute which Britain has gingerly internationalised.

In 1997, after Mr Blair had assumed office as British prime minister, his secretary for international development, Ms Clare Short, wrote to the Government of Zimbabwe, seeking to distance her government from the earlier commitment.

“I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and you know we were colonised not colonisers,’’ read the letter.

On 14 June, 2004, Mr Blair also told the House of Commons that his government was working closely with the opposition MDC to effect regime change in Zimbabwe.

He was also instrumental — as the chair of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy — in setting up the MDC so that it could wrest power from the President Mugabe led Government.

Mr Blair was also on the forefront of campaigning for illegal sanctions against Zimbabwe and isolating the Southern African country in international circles.

The onslaught saw Zimbabwe pull out of the racist Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is a club of Britain and mostly its former colonies.

Commenting on Mr Blair’s legacy on Zimbabwe recently, the Minister of Information and Publicity, Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, castigated the outgoing British prime minister for his “staggering ineptitude’’ in handling the Zimbabwean issue.

He described Mr Blair as the chief architect of the frosty relations that exist between London and Harare.

“Tony Blair single handedly destroyed the excellent relations built by his predecessors striving to repair and overcome sins of British colonialism here, indeed striving to reconcile and bring the two peoples closer to each other,’’ Dr Ndlovu was quoted as having said.

The sanctions that Britain has been lobbying for in the European Union, US and International Monetary Fund have seen the country being blocked from receiving balance of payments support and international development credit. The illegal sanctions have also created the negative impression that Zimbabwe is a risky investment destination.

However, in response to the racist sanctions, Zimbabwe has crafted a “Look East Policy’’ and come up with homegrown economic solutions that have so far stood the test of time, much to the chagrin of Mr Blair and his AngloSaxon compatriots.

Last week, Chronicle revealed that the antiZimbabwe group was working on a cocktail of covert measures to further sabotage the Zimbabwean economy to the extent of gloating that yearonyear inflation would shoot to 1,5 million percent by the end of the year if their plans succeed.

Government has, however, vowed to leave no stone unturned in ensuring that this does not happen.

On Monday, the Minister of Industry and International Trade, Cde Obert Mpofu, ordered retailers to reduce prices of controlled and monitored goods in line with Government provisions.

Commodity prices to be slashed again

Chronicle Reporters

THE Government will further reduce prices of all commodities as it continues to protect consumers against unscrupulous manufacturers and retailers, the Minister of Industry and International Trade, Cde Obert Mpofu, said last night.

A comprehensive schedule showing all the products and prices was being compiled and would be released soon.

The detailed schedule is a followup to the statement issued on Monday directing manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers to revert to the prices that were obtaining on 18 June.

In a statement last night, Cde Mpofu said the Price Stabilisation Committee was working on new prices and they will be announced soon.

“All producers, manufacturers and retailers are to revert to the prices that were obtaining on Monday 18 June 2007 as per approval of the Price Stabilisation Committee,” he said.

“The list that was published today (yesterday) does not clearly reflect on the true picture of the true prices as determined by the Price Stabilisation Committee. So the committee is now working on exact prices of all commodities which will be published very soon.”

Cde Mpofu said the list that was published yesterday was only a sample.

“Like I have indicated, the list published is a bit erroneous. A list that will be showing all prices across the board will soon be out and it is on that basis that the prices will have to be guided,” he said.

Cde Mpofu said he had a good team dealing with the price issue which he believed was wary of the tricks employed by unscrupulous businesspeople.

“We are quite aware of the tricks that they are employing but those will not work. I am informed that in Bulawayo by the end of the day (yesterday) the shelves were empty. But let them also know that hoarding is another serious crime. We are leaving no stone unturned,” he said.

“Yes, we know that they are going to use all tricks but let me say to them, they are just wasting their time. We are coming in full force and will not tolerate any nonsense”.

On mealiemeal, he said: “I do not see any reason why local millers should be increasing prices when they are actually getting the grain from the Grain Marketing Board at a reasonable price.”

In Bulawayo and Gweru yesterday some supermarkets reduced prices — but only on selected products.

Some shopowners remained defiant and businesspeople in the highdensity suburbs actually increased prices with a 10kg bag of mealiemeal costing $250 000, up from $150 000, at some supermarkets.

Supermarkets such as OK, TM and Haddon and Sly took heed of the Government’s directive, but only on certain products.

There was a rush for Mazoe Orange Crush whose price was reduced from $600 000 to $150 000 and within a few minutes people had cleaned up the shelves at the supermarkets that had the product.

The price of bread was also reduced from $45 000 to $22 000.

Some leading supermarkets also reduced the price of a bar of washing soap from $225 000 to $95 000.

However, fuel dealers remained defiant with a litre of both diesel and petrol selling at between $145 000 and $170 000.

The gazetted price of diesel is $55 000 with petrol at $60 000.

The dealers argued that they imported the fuel from Botswana and South Africa.

They said reducing the price of the commodity would mean huge losses on their part.

The commuter omnibus operators, instead of reducing fares, actually increased their fares from $30 000 to $50 000 despite a Government directive that they should charge $15 000 per trip.

The beef price also was unchanged with butcheries and supermarkets selling at more than $240 000 per kg.

In Gweru, supermarkets in the city centre reduced prices only on some commodities.

Mazoe Orange Crush was also popular with the shoppers as TM and OK supermarkets had reduced it to $120 000 from $400 000.

The residents also rushed to grab the 750ml bottles of cooking oil that were on the shelves at Town and Country supermarket. With a lot of people hoping to buy the product at a cheaper price of $90 000, they were taken aback to learn that it was still $16 000 when they got to the tills.

The people waited for more than an hour inside the shop with the hope that the price would be reduced but to no avail. The shop manager then ordered the closure of the supermarket, as he feared a revolt.

Realising that the manager would not change the price, the crowd began protesting and threatened to report the matter to the police.

“We will not leave this shop until you sell the cooking oil at the gazetted price. You have to reduce the price, there are no two ways,” shouted one stout woman who was part of the crowd that thronged the supermarket.

However, the supermarket had reduced prices of some of the products with a tablet of Geisha bath soap going for $65 000, down from $190 00.

Negative reports on Zim false: SA judge

Harare Bureau

A SOUTH AFRICAN judge says some sections of the media were on a crusade to misinform the world about the situation in Zimbabwe to demonise the country for no apparent reason.

In an interview yesterday, Justice Moses Mavundla said they had read numerous stories in the South African Press and some international newspapers peddling falsehoods about the situation in Zimbabwe.

Justice Mavundla made the remarks after a meeting with Supreme Court judges.

“Zimbabwe is a beautiful country. We are surprised about the stories in the South African newspapers and other papers saying bad things about this country.

“They have not been telling the truth. What we have seen here is not the correct position portrayed,” said Justice Mavundla.

Justice Mavundla was part of the sixmember team of judges from Pretoria High Court who were in Zimbabwe for the past three days to share experiences with their local counterparts.

Team leader and Deputy Judge President of the Pretoria High Court, Justice Jerry Shongwe, said his team had a fruitful time with their counterparts over the past three days.

“We have learnt a lot from our counterparts. Indeed, we have been empowered and I hope to return to Zimbabwe. We also hope that our colleagues will visit us in South Africa to share our valuable experiences too,” Justice Shongwe said.

Judge President Rita Makarau commended the visit by the judges from Zimbabwe’s southern neighbour, saying the interaction was an enriching experience on how best to deliver justice for the benefit of both the two countries.

“It is our hope to keep on strengthening our relationship and forge new relations with all judges in the Sadc bloc. We also want to push for a common jurisprudence for the bloc, initially and hopefully the whole of Africa,” she said.

She said it was imperative for the judges on the continent to network like parliamentarians from all the African states were doing.

Justice Makarau, however, noted with concern that there were few women judges on the South African bench which was dominated by men.

“There is need to consider appointment of more women judges to the bench and Zimbabwe should act as an inspiration for gender balance,” she said.

The Judge President said during their discussions she learnt that despite vilification from some sections of the media, their counterparts found nothing wrong with the Zimbabwean judiciary which faces problems similar to those in South Africa.

On Monday, the SA judges had an opportunity to sit in courts and chambers with their Zimbabwean counterparts at the High Court.

All the six judges were paired with local judges who were presiding over criminal and civil cases.

They were taken around the High Court premises.

Justice Makarau, who led the tour, took the visitors to the main courtroom “A” before she took them to the court cells.

From the cells the visitors were shown Court C which is used as both an appeals and motion court.

They also went into the judges’ library where they were shown various law reports before they were taken to the family court.

During the tour, Justice Shongwe stressed that the team’s visit was purely private business.

He said the main purpose of the visit was for them to share experiences with Zimbabwean judges since the two countries’ legal systems were similar.

Justice Shongwe said the transformation of the judiciary in South Africa was proceeding at a slow pace.

Zimbabwe, he said, got its independence earlier than South Africa and as such the visitors had a lot to learn from the local judges.

On Sunday, Justice Makarau described the visit by the South African judges as reflection of its neighbour’s confidence in the country's judiciary.

The visit, she said, would strengthen the bilateral relationship between South Africa and Zimbabwe.

This is the first time since independence in 1980 that a team of judges from South Africa has visited Zimbabwe. Zimbabwean judges are also expected to travel to South Africa on a reciprocal visit.

The SA judges met the country’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, Professor Mlungisi Makhalima, before returning home.

Chinese firm wins pipeline contract

By Reason Mpofu

A CHINESE company has won the contract to lay the longawaited pipeline linking the Mtshabezi and Umzingwane dams, a move that comes as a relief to Bulawayo residents who are facing a water crisis.

Mr Tommy Rosen, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) Umzingwane catchment area manager, confirmed the latest development in an interview yesterday

“A tender has been awarded to a Chinese company. This is public knowledge and you can actually get all that information at the Tender Board offices in Harare. As we speak, the company is on site,” he said.

“The company was awarded the tender on 6 June and on 9 June I took them to site. They are now in the process of mobilising the necessary equipment.”

Mr Rosen said the project was likely to cost more than Z$400 billion.

“I do not have the exact figures with me. But the project should cost around $400 billion,” he said.

The water crisis has forced Bulawayo City Council to introduce eighthour water cuts in a bid to conserve the water remaining in the supply dams. The municipality has already decommissioned Umzingwane and Upper Ncema dams because of the low water levels.

The Government has allocated $30 billion through the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) fund towards the laying of the pipeline.

“Under the PSIP, $30 billion has been allocated for the Mtshabezi pipeline. The scope of work, as you would know, is the construction of a pipeline linking Mtshabezi Dam to Umzingwane,” said Mr Rosen.

He said a resident engineer had already been appointed for the project.

“I am not quite sure of his first name, but he is a Mr Mukwa.

This is the man who will be our resident engineer for this project. For any comment you would want in future, this is the man you will be talking to. I think all this shows you that ZINWA is indeed doing something, contrary to reports that we are a dying horse with nothing to offer,” said Mr Rosen.

“Like we have always said, our job is not to speak but our actions speak on our behalf.”

Mr Rosen would not disclose how long the laying of the pipeline would take. Sources privy to the goingson said the proposed pipeline was now being handled as an urgent project.

“All I can say to you is the original contract specified the timeframe the construction should take. But when the contractor came on site this is said to have been reviewed, considering the situation the city is facing insofar as water supplies are concerned,” said the source.

“We are made to understand that more funds are being mobilised to ensure that the project is completed within the shortest possible time.”

ZINWA will soon apprise the Resident Minister of Bulawayo Metropolitan Province, Cde Cain Mathema, and the political leadership on the latest developments.

The ZanuPF city councillor for Ward Three, Cde Emmanuel Kanjoma, described the development as a welcome move.

“If that is the situation pertaining on the ground, I am indeed thrilled on behalf of my ward and the people of Bulawayo as a whole. Our people are going through trying times,” he said.

Cde Kanjoma said the water quality had in some areas drastically deteriorated.

“The residents of Killarney are facing a problem with the quality of their water which now contains brown particles. As you know, if water stops running for some time the metal pipes gather rust which is then washed along when the water starts running,” said Cde Kanjoma.

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