Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Zimbabwe News Update: Tsvangirai Begs For VP Post; MDC Petition Declared Urgent By High Court; More ZEC Commissioners Arrested

‘Tsvangirai begs for VP post’

Herald Reporters

MDC faction leader Morgan Tsvangirai asked Zanu-PF to accommodate him as one of the Vice Presidents in a government of national unity after being told by his advisors that a possible run-off with President Mugabe for the top job was not in his best interests, The Herald can reveal.

This comes in the wake of indications that former United Nations secretary-general Mr Kofi Annan has been trying to contact Zimbabwean authorities over a power-sharing deal after being prompted to do so by "external forces keen to see Tsvangirai rule the country".

Sources said yesterday that the opposition leader last week sent Mr Ian Makone, Mr Elton Mangoma and Mr Joe Mtizwa to negotiate with Zanu-PF officials — Cdes Nicholas Goche and Patrick Chinamasa — over the possibility of averting a run-off and make Tsvangirai one of the country’s two Vice Presidents.

According to the sources, Mr Mtizwa — the chief executive of Delta Beverages which is partly owned by SABMiller which was implicated in Simba Makoni’s international fund-raising campaign — initially approached Cde Goche by himself but the Zanu-PF Politburo member refused to entertain him.

"He (Cde Goche) told Mtizwa, ‘I don’t know you as an MDC person, I know you as an ordinary businessperson. So unless you have an official post in the MDC, I cannot talk to you about this. If the MDC wants anything from us they should approach us officially.’

"Mtizwa then went and came back with Makone and Mangoma and they met Cdes Goche and Chinamasa mid-last week. Their proposal was that Tsvangirai be installed as one of the two Vice Presidents and they also wanted a number of ministerial posts reserved for them and Zanu-PF’s Politburo meeting on Friday was held against this background.

"The three emissaries were told that this was a non-starter and Zanu-PF would not stomach the idea of Tsvangirai in the Presidium.

"They were told that Zanu-PF was ready for a run-off and this is what has got Tsvangirai worried," a source said.

They added that the pro-opposition Zimbabwe Election Support Network has since advised Tsvangirai that he had failed to avoid a run-off and this had prompted his advisors to come up with a strategy to "subvert democratic, legal and electoral processes as a matter of urgency".

The sources said Tsvangirai’s strategy to avert a run-off was based on three pillars — enticing President Mugabe into retirement through the efforts of people like Mr Annan; engineering a government of national unity; and the threat of extended sanctions and even a military invasion led by the United States.

"Tsvangirai made an appeal over the weekend for the UN to apply pressure on President Mugabe when it became clear that Zanu-PF was not amenable to making him a Vice President. The UN secretariat has refused to be drawn into Zimbabwe’s politics on Tsvangirai’s terms, but Annan has already taken a position supportive of the MDC’s demands.

"Since then, he has been trying to contact President Mugabe to engineer a coalition government like he did in Kenya. But it seems people have overlooked the fact that Zimbabwe is nothing like Kenya. As we speak, it is highly unlikely that President Mugabe has entertained Annan’s approaches," a source explained.

President Mugabe’s spokesman, Cde George Charamba, yesterday refused to be drawn into making a comment.

"I am not given to discussing with the media confidential contacts involving the President," he said.

The MDC-Tsvangirai strategy suggests that the opposition is aware that it has not won the presidential polls and would like to find a way of avoiding a run-off.

Over the weekend, Tsvangirai released a statement in which he tacitly called on the US to invade Zimbabwe in the same way it led military assaults on Afghanistan and Iraq, knowing that such an occurrence would result in him becoming head of state without going through a democratic process.

He said: "How can global leaders espouse the values of democracy yet when they are being challenged fail to open their mouths? Why is it that a supposed ‘war on terror’ ignores the very real terror of broken minds and mangled bodies that lie along the trail left by (President) Mugabe?"

Tsvangirai also revealed that he supported sanctions against Zimbabwe and sought an extension of the current economic embargo on the country as a means of installing him in State House.

"This is a time for strong action. We urge the International Monetary Fund at its meeting this week, to withhold the £1 billion of aid to Zimbabwe unless the defeated ex-President accepts the election results in full and hands over the reins of power," he said.

The opposition leader also tried to entice President Mugabe to hand over power to him outside of a run-off by saying an MDC government would grant him security.

Meanwhile, Tsvangirai was in South Africa at the weekend where he met African National Congress president Mr Jacob Zuma and government officials in that country.

Tsvangirai, who returned home yesterday after a two-day visit, held private talks with Mr Zuma and Minister of Local Government Mr Sydney Mufamadi on the situation in the country.

Mr Mufamadi was one of the South African officials in President Thabo Mbeki’s team that facilitated the Sadc-initiated talks between Zanu-PF and the MDC.

Addressing journalists at Harvest House in Harare yesterday, MDC Tsvangirai secretary-general Tendai Biti confirmed the meetings but declined to give details on the nature of the discussions Tsvangirai had with ANC officials.

"Yes, our president was in South Africa. He met Mr Zuma and also held meetings with government officials like Mr Mufamadi. These are the only two officials that I am authorised to comment on. He has also been in constant touch with President Thabo Mbeki," said Biti.

He expressed his party’s concern at the delay by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission in announcing the presidential election results.

Biti claimed that ZEC had disbanded the National Command Centre, saying chief election agents had since been withdrawn from the centre.

But ZEC deputy chief elections officer Mr Utoile Silaigwana dismissed the claims.

"I am hearing that for the first time. Our National Command Centre is still in operation," said Mr Silaigwana last night.

MDC petition against ZEC urgent, High Court rules

Court Reporter

THE High Court yesterday ruled that the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC faction’s application seeking an order compelling the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to release results of the presidential poll is urgent.

Justice Tendayi Uchena dismissed the contention by the electoral commission that the matter was not urgent and proceeded to hear arguments on the merits of the case.

"I find that the application is urgent and the counsel should proceed with the merits," said Justice Uchena in a brief ruling in his chambers.

Soon after the ruling, MDC lawyer Mr Alec Muchadehama of Mbidzo, Muchadehama and Makoni Legal Practitioners argued his case.

Mr Muchadehama told the judge that the presidential poll was a very important issue in a democratic country such that the delay in releasing the results caused serious prejudice to the electorate and the nation at large.

He said the presidential poll results could not be treated differently from other polls held simultaneously on March 29.

"The presidential polls can’t be isolated from other polls in respect of which the process is supposed to be announced as a matter of urgency," said Mr Muchadehama.

"The presidential poll is most important of all because this determines who should be the president of this country."

Mr Muchadehama said ZEC should be forced through an order of the court to announce the results as the commission had failed to act within a reasonable time.

Even if there were specific provisions in the Electoral Act providing a period within which the results ought to have been announced, Mr Muchadehama said, the totality of the circumstance point to the fact that ZEC had deliberately failed to act reasonably.

"Because it (ZEC) has failed to act, it must be ordered to act. The applicants have the legitimate expectation to have results announced expeditiously," he said.

In his submission, Mr Muchadehama also attacked the contention that the presidential polls were likely to be challenged in court, saying it was improbable for anybody to challenge results that are not known.

"Where did these people get the results to enable them to make these challenges?" he said.

The MDC, he said, had a clear right to the results of the election.

"Given the urgency of the matter and the time it has taken to announce the results, this court can intervene and make an appropriate order," he said, imploring the court to grant the relief sought.

But in his counter-arguments, Mr George Chikumbirike of Chikumbirike and Associates, appearing for ZEC, urged the court to dismiss the MDC application for want of merit.

Mr Chikumbirike said the relief sought by the opposition party and its leader was untenable in terms of the law on which the party premised its application.

"Presidential poll results are not announced at constituency level. They may be posted but not reflective of the results of the presidential polls as to merit announcement in the form of the order sought," said Mr Chikumbirike.

"The poll results relating to the president can only become poll results to merit announcement only and consequentially in compliance with the provision of the Second Schedule."

Mr Chikumbirike implored the judge to reject the relief sought by the MDC to have results, as displayed at collation centres, declared as true and correct.

". . . that should be struck off because it does not make sense. Facts antecedent to the respondent’s contention have been accepted not only by the failure to file (the) answering affidavit but admitted by counsel."

He also urged the court to dismiss the opposition party order seeking to compel ZEC to announce the presidential poll results within four hours of the order.

"It does not make any sense as a legal order sought by a serious applicant. All this is a political statement. I say this because you cannot expect a court to order that the presidential poll results be announced within four hours of the order being made," he said.

He said collation, verification and counting for all the 210 constituencies could not be done within four hours of the order.

Mr Chikumbirike acknowledged there was delay but argued that it had concomitant steps, which should be followed to lead to the announcement of the presidential poll results.

The judge also heard that Tsvangirai and his party improperly cited ZEC chairman Justice George Chiweshe as a respondent, saying he does not announce the results.

"He does not announce results. That is elementary. It is the chief elections officer who is tasked with the issue of their concern," he said.

Justice Uchena adjourned the hearing to today.

2 more poll officials nabbed

Crime Reporter

TWO more Zimbabwe Electoral Commission officials have been arrested in Matabeleland North Province, bringing to seven the number of people nabbed so far on allegations of manipulating results in favour of MDC in the March 29 harmonised elections.

Police chief spokesman Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena confirmed the arrests yesterday, saying the officials were expected to appear in court soon.

It is alleged that the two, alongside five others — one in Manicaland, two in Masvingo and another two in Mashonaland Central — who were arrested on Monday, fiddled with poll results, prejudicing Zanu-PF presidential candidate Cde Mugabe of 4 993 votes.

The officials were likely to be charged with fraud or alternatively criminal abuse of duty as public officers.

Asst Comm Bvudzijena alleged that the officers altered figures on V11 and V13 forms, reducing Cde Mugabe’s totals.

The inconsistencies were detected when the forms were scrutinised.

A V11 form is an original document carrying results at polling stations and is signed by all agents of contesting parties.

After the signing of the V11 form, information is then recorded on the V13 forms that collate polling station results within a ward.

These forms also show the results of the council elections.

As a result, it is alleged that President Mugabe was prejudiced of some votes in several constituencies.

The arrests come barely a week after the announcement by Zanu-PF that it would challenge the results in 16 House of Assembly constituencies on the grounds that some ZEC officials were bribed to doctor results during the counting process to prejudice the ruling party.

Don’t withhold goods, Govt warns business

Herald Reporters

GOVERNMENT expects the business sector to fulfil its social responsibility by ensuring continued supply of basic commodities as opposed to dabbling in politics as part of the regime change agenda, a senior official has said.

Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Dr Misheck Sibanda yesterday said the Government was concerned with the empty shelves in most retail shops and would be forced to take corrective measures if the situation does not improve.

Dr Sibanda spoke as the Grain Marketing Board expressed surprise at the scarcity of maize-meal in retail shops when it had increased maize imports to 20 000 tonnes a week.

The Chief Secretary made the remarks at a meeting with selected leaders of the business sector involved in the supply of basic commodities.

He said the Government had hoped that the supply of basic commodities could have improved by now following a meeting held with the business leaders two weeks ago.

"Sadly, as we meet today, this is not the situation. If anything, there is every indication that things are taking a turn for the worse, with the grim prospect of empty shelves in the coming days.

"Government has accurate information from various sources clearly indicating that this negative prospect we face and whose beginnings are already apparent, is linked to the broader political question confronting our nation," he said.

Dr Sibanda said while players in the business community had the right to belong to political parties of their choice, they should not punish the generality of the population.

"We expect our businesspeople to have definite societal responsibilities which are timeless and well above the vicissitudes of our political choices and outlooks as biological persons."

Dr Sibanda urged the business sector to put the interests of the nation first, saying the supply boycott was being mooted by reckless political players with a view of predetermining
certain political outcomes.

To this end, Government expected the sector to continue supplying goods and services and avoid being influenced by the political question, which shall be resolved by the political players in due course.

"In the absence of a positive response in the shortest time possible, Government may have to adopt other ways to defend the welfare of citizens and consumers. Indeed, this is its constitutional obligation," Dr Sibanda said.

A number of retail outlets in Harare have not been restocking goods for the last two weeks.

In a related matter, the GMB in its bid to ensure food security in the country has increased maize imports to 20 000 tonnes a week.

In a statement yesterday, GMB general manager Mr Albert Mandizha said the average weekly maize imports stood at 18 000 tonnes, a massive improvement from the 900 tonnes imported weekly in November last year.

He, however, said efforts by the GMB to improve the food situation in the country were being scuttled by some millers who were creating artificial shortages of maize-meal on the formal market.

The commodity, which is scarce in most retail shops, is being sold at exorbitant prices on the informal market, with a 20kg bag selling for $240 million instead of the official retail price of $30 million.

Mr Mandizha cited Bulawayo as one of the worst affected areas.

"We have been supplying Bulawayo with maize every week and it’s shocking to note that shops are empty. That means something is wrong somewhere.

"As GMB, we are satisfied with maize supplies, but we are disappointed because millers are misbehaving," he said.

Mr Mandizha said most of the imported maize was coming from Malawi, which was contracted to supply 400 000 tonnes.

"From this contracted tonnage, only 95 577 tonnes is yet to be dispatched. A total of 18 424 tonnes of maize has been received from the contracts in Zambia, Malawi and South Africa whilst a total of 16 195 tonnes are on transit," Mr Mandizha said.

He said imported maize from Zambia continues to come into the country on a daily basis with 14 695 tonnes received during the last week of March.

The country also received 11 719 tonnes from Zambia during the week ending April 6.

"Of the 124 000 tonnes contracted tonnage from Zambia, 78 757 tonnes had been dispatched by the end of the week (ending April 6), leaving a balance of 34 313 tonnes. Of the 28 985 tonnes of contracted maize from South Africa, only 6 680 tonnes had been received by last week," he said.

Heavy rains that hit the country since the start of the rainy season last year affected land preparations, planting and weeding during the season seriously affected agricultural activities in Zimbabwe.

The continuous rains also caused massive leaching while a prolonged mid-summer dry spell affected crops, leading to reduced yields.

Zimbabwe needs more than 1,8 million tonnes of maize to cover the shortfalls.

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