Sunday, September 24, 2006

Letter from Cathy Buckle

Dear Family and Friends,

Every day things in Zimbabwe get just a little bit harder and while
ordinary families stagger from one crisis to the next, the country's
leadership seem to be completely bereft of ideas. The latest phrase from
government officials and ministers is "Very Soon". It's never completely
clear if 'very soon' is a threat or a promise but the litany is faithfully
regurgitated at every occasion. 'Very Soon' we will have petrol they say;
'Very Soon' we will grow enough food; 'Very Soon' we will drive out every
white farmer; 'Very Soon' we will turn around the economy and 'Very Soon'
we will change the currency again, this time with just one day of warning.
This week the threatened promise is that 'Very Soon' corrupt cabinet
ministers and members of parliament will be arrested. Somewhere along the
line, however, instead of arresting corrupt leaders, police this week
arrested top company directors. All accused of increasing prices without
government approval, the CEO's of Dairibord (milk), Lobels (bread),
Saltrama (plastic), Windmill (chemicals), ZFC (fertilizer) and Circle
(cement) were arrested. It is not clear how any business can maintain
prices when inflation is officially reported to be 1204% but is crystal
clear that when the ideas run out it is easier just to arrest and detain.

The arrests of people trying to express their dissatisfaction at events in
Zimbabwe also continued this week. At least 140 NCA members were arrested
as they marched in protest over the recent abuse and torture of union
leaders demonstrating in Harare. The NCA members were arrested in Masvingo,
Gweru, Harare and Mutare in a clear sign that unrest is spreading in the

And in between the arrests there has been a whole rash of absurdity that
leaves you just shaking your head in wonder. This week email and internet
service was all but impossible in the country. Zimbabwe's Internet Service
Providers said that there had been a 90% drop in internet traffic and that
it was a situation of "virtual standstill." The state owned telephone
company Tel One apparently owes a massive seven hundred thousand US dollars
to a satellite company and were appealing to the central bank to bail them
out of the debt. At one point in the week a major ISP put out an email to
all its subscribers asking if anyone had a connection in high up places
that may be able to intervene in the crisis. Towards the end of the week
Tel One posted an advert in the state owned press saying that with
immediate effect the cost of internet services had increased by two
thousand seven hundred percent. Nothing is done in measured steps in
Zimbabwe. The Big Stick comes out, threat/promises of Very Soon are uttered
and prices are backdated by years not months.

The irony of arresting the baker for increasing the price of bread by 50%
but ignoring the government owned phone company for increasing internet
prices by 2700% is absolutely bone shaking. Until next week, thanks for
reading, love cathy.
Copyright Cathy Buckle, 23 September 2006.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Violence in Zimbabwe

This is what happens when you defy the Zimbabwe Government

September 18, 2006

THE beating stopped as the sun began to go down. After two-and-a-half hours, the fourteen men and one woman held at Matapi police station in Mbare township, Harare, had suffered five fractured arms, seven hand fractures, two sets of ruptured eardrums, fifteen cases of severe buttock injuries, deep soft-tissue bruising all over, and open lacerations.

Toendepi Shonhe, an MDC organiser, in hospital in Harare
with a broken hand and bruising still livid five days after the assault

The 15 included Wellington Chibebe, the leader of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), and senior officials of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

“As a case of police brutality on a group, it is the worst I’ve ever seen,” a doctor who helped to attend to them said.

President Mugabe’s security agencies are notorious for violent assault, but this was the first time that the top strata of the Opposition had been subjected to severe physical attack.

Some of the victims spoke for the first time yesterday about the assaults that took place after police broke up an attempted protest by the trade unions against the Government’s ruinous handling of the economy.

The savagery of the attacks is seen as indicating the jitteriness in the Government over its hold on power amid the desperate poverty into which President Mugabe has sunk Zimbabweans. “It was carried out as a deliberate, premeditated warning, from the highest level, to anyone else who tries mass protest, that this is what will happen to them,” a Western diplomatic source said.

Last Friday 31 protesters appeared in court charged with public order offences. Six were wearing slings. They were remanded on bail for trial on October 3. Some had been taken straight to court from hospital. Mr Chibebe was unable to appear because of his injuries.

The Harare demonstration had been intended as part of a day of nationwide protests. A huge police clampdown meant that none could get under way. The Government had given warning that the demonstrations would be “at the ZCTU’s peril” and denounced them as attempts “to create public disorder to achieve regime change”.

Last month Mr Mugabe added his own threat to opposition groups — “Be warned: we have armed men and women who can pull the trigger.”

The Government has not responded to the world outrage over last week’s violence. Up to last night, the state media had not mentioned the assaults.

When would-be protesters were taken to the cells last Wednesday, they found two teams of five young men in standard police uniform and equipped with heavy metre-long wooden sticks. The assailants also used their boots and hands. Prisoners were called out two at a time and beaten continuously for between 15 and 20 minutes. When one team tired, the second took over. At least two sticks were broken on the bodies of the prisoners.

It was 36 hours before they were taken to hospital.

“It was maximum force,” Toendepi Shonhe, a local MDC organiser, said in hospital yesterday. A bunch of steel and brass keys that he had in his trousers had been buckled from the blows.

Mr Chibebe and another trades unionist were the first to be pushed into a small cell. “We heard the screaming and the sound of beating, but we thought it was from another part of the police station,” said Mr Shonhe. “Then Chibebe came out and his face was covered with blood.”

Ian Makoni, 56, a member of the MDC national executive, went in with Lucia Matibenga, a MDC vice-president. As Mr Makoni walked into the cell, he received a hard slap in the face: “The man said, ‘So you think you can rule this country. We won’t let that happen’.”

Then the beating began. It continued when Mr Makoni fell to the floor, one policeman lashing him while his boot was on Mr Makoni’s neck. Another briefly stopped to blow on his hands for relief from the exertion. Mrs Matibenga was crying: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” as they whipped her. Mrs Matibenga had had her right arm broken by police in another incident about a year ago. On Wednesday they hit her repeatedly on the same spot. Mr Makoni fell unconscious three times after his assault.

James Gumbi, a member of the ZCTU council, the last to be beaten, received the force of all five assailants at once.

The 15 spent the night in a cell meant for five. “All you could hear was groaning all night,” Mr Makoni said. “It was cold on the floor. We had three blankets. You couldn’t move because the cell was so packed. You had to lie on your painful side. It was torture.”

Mr Chibebe did not move. “We thought he was going to die,” Mr Shonhe said. “And we thought they were coming back. One of the policemen said, ‘Wait till you see what we are going to do when it is dark.’ ”

Mr Shonhe said: “I will demonstrate again. This is only the beginning. The only way out is for us to come together and face the dictator head-on.”


· Robert Mugabe’s Government has often employed ruthless and repressive tactics to intimidate and harass the Zimbabwean people

· During the 2002 elections several opposition supporters were beaten, raped and killed

· Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was accused of plotting to kill Mr Mugabe. He was tried and acquitted

· During the 2005 elections about 200 women were arrested in a park in Harare, the capital, for holding a prayer vigil. Many were said to have been treated in hospital for severe bruising from beatings inflicted by police

· About 18 white farmers have been murdered since 2000, when Mr Mugabe began his campaign of violent farm invasions to drive whites from their land. Last year one of the last remaining white farmers was beaten and strangled by intruders and his body burnt in what campaigners called a “political hit”

· In March 2005 Mr Mugabe carried out Operation Murambatsvina (Sweep out the Rubbish), a brutal slum clearance in which thousands of police swooped on townships, destroying everything they declared to be an “illegal structure”. The United Nations estimated that more than 700,000 people lost their homes or jobs. Riot police then targeted churches that were sheltering people who had been made homeless.