Ben Freeth’s Column

Executive Director

Before the Covid-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe that began on Monday 30 March 2020, I had a worrying discussion with Pastor Patrick, a brave cleric and friend who has spoken out consistently against the human rights abuses under both former President Robert Mugabe and President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Pastor Patrick has been put in jail many times but refuses to be silenced. I asked him: “What is the main issue in your community right now?”

THE SADC TRIBUNAL CAMPBELL CASE

Mike Campbell (Pvt) Ltd et al. v. Republic of Zimbabwe is a landmark test case decided by the SADC Tribunal. It held that the government violated the SADC treaty by denying court access and engaging in racial discrimination in the confiscation of land.

SADC

TRIBUNAL

TIMELINE 

The SADC Tribunal was set up as a regional court to hear disputes between SADC member states and between individuals and states. The Tribunal was a court of last resort for those who had been denied access to justice in their own countries.

COURT CASE: 

COMPENSATION CLAIM 

The Mike Campbell Foundation has initiated a court case which involves a group of dispossessed Zimbabwean farmers taking former South African President Zuma and the SA government to court for participating in the closure of the SADC Tribunal regional court.

COURT CASES JUSTICE & LEGAL ACCOUNTABILITY

The MCF took the courageous decision to use the law to focus on justice and legal accountability and to establish a workable legal foundation for property rights in Zimbabwe in the future. This has included a number of ground-breaking court cases

CONSERVATION  AGRICULTURE TRAINING

We provide practical conservation agriculture training to an average of 144 destitute farm workers and others in their communities each year, teaching them how to feed their families on just 1/16th of a hectare using our free open-pollinated seed.

CONSERVATION AGRICULTURE FIELD DAY

The objective of our latest, well-attended conservation agriculture field day was to showcase our conservation agriculture activities and achievements – despite the ongoing drought conditions - in Harare and the Chegutu district of Zimbabwe. 

OPEN-POLLINATED SEED PROJECT

Our open-pollinated seed project provides free high quality seed that can be replanted each year to destitute farm workers and other needy people in Zimbabwe. In 2017, we distributed more than 4,500 seed packs followed by 8,000 in 2018.

SCHOOL FEES PROJECT

In 2018, we paid school fees for 262 children of destitute farm workers and pastors, as well as tertiary fees for two students. For the first two terms of 2019, we paid school fees for 256 children and two tertiary students.

FOOD CRISIS SOLUTION

Faced with yet another food crisis and economic collapse due to the demise of agriculture, the solution is simple – and this is what the MCF is working towards: Title deeds must be allocated for all agricultural land and title to the commercial farmland must be restored.

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Zim’s economic prospects and challenges

“Zimbabwe’s economy was already in difficulties before the economy of the entire globe was suddenly brought to its knees by the threatened casualty rate of Covid-19,” writes veteran economist John Robertson. “At the core of this problem is the dependence on imports of food and many of the consumer goods that the country used to produce. The amount … spent on importing hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of food every year for the past 23 years would have been more than enough to settle all outstanding debts and would have positioned the country well for assistance during this pandemic crisis…”

Zim torturers must be prosecuted

Torture in Zimbabwe continues to be used to instill fear by the security forces. Following the brutal torture during May of a young MP and two activists, all women, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre  (SALC) has again raised the issue of SA’s groundbreaking 2014 Constitutional Court decision in National Police Commissioner of the South African Police Service v the SALC (The Torture Docket case) where the court held that the South African authorities — the South African Police Service (SAPS) and National Prosecution Authority (NPA) — have a duty to investigate and prosecute international crimes allegedly committed in Zimbabwe.

State seeks to recover US$32m from former police boss Chihuri

President Mnangagwa’s government has instituted processes to recover over US$32 million and several properties from former Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri. The former top cop, who is now believed to be in self-exile in Malawi, is reported to have created a “criminal syndicated mafia” that siphoned funds for his personal, family and cronies’ benefit. Chihuri was in charge of the police force for 25 years before he was removed from the post soon after the November 2017 military-backed coup. Chihuri was accused as being a member of the Mujuru faction when the battle to succeed Mugabe intensified.

Beatrice Mtetwa’s letter to ED re torture of women

Zimbabwe’s award-winning human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, has written to President Mnangagwa about the shocking abduction, torture and sexual abuse of three young women opposition party members. Mtetwa writes: “I … address you, your Excellency, not only as someone who lives in Zimbabwe, but as a woman, a mother to Zimbabwean children who include a daughter who could easily have been any one of the three young women so despicably abused by agents of your appointees…. The nation awaits your signal on how we should respond to one of the most despicable acts of the new dispensation….”

Lessons for Zim: SA security forces lose brutal beatings case

In a major victory for human rights in South Africa, the family of the late Collins Khosa has won a court application for orders against the South African security forces and their bosses for the brutal beating of  Mr Khosa that resulted in his death during the Covid-19 lockdown. The assaults on Mr Khosa and his family followed the discovery, by the security forces, of a half-drunk beer next to a chair in Mr Khosa’s yard and a single beer in his fridge. In Zimbabwe, there has also been extensive brutality by the security forces during the lockdown. The report notes that the Khosa family will no doubt be awarded significant damages.

Zim-Russia platinum mining joint venture

The Great Dyke Investment (GDI) platinum project is poised to become the second biggest platinum venture in Zimbabwe. The State-owned Sunday Mail newspaper reports that close to US$100 million has been injected so far into the Zimbabwe-Russia joint venture. The US$300 million funding for the GDI was unlocked by President Mnangagwa after meeting Russian President, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow in 2019. Zimbabwe has the world’s second largest platinum reserves after South Africa, with Russia coming in a close third. 

Brutal attack on young female MDC MP

The abduction, torture and sexual assault of Zimbabwe’s youngest MP and two opposition party workers has raised fears of a new wave of terror by security thugs loyal to the ruling party. The ordeal inflicted on Joanah Mamombe, 27, and two female youth leaders is being cited by critics of President Mnangagwa as further evidence that his administration is more brazen and savage than Robert Mugabe’s. The women said that they were initially taken to Harare central police station from where they were driven for an hour, with bags on their heads, to a forest where they were thrown into a pit, terrorized and tortured.

Abduction and horrendous abuse

Zimbabwe’s youngest opposition MP and two party workers were found dumped, battered and “with horrendous tales of torture and abuse” in Zimbabwe two days after being arrested for protesting over food shortages. The ordeal of the trio – apparently at the hands of the state’s thuggish security agents - drew international condemnation but little local surprise. Joana Mamombe, 27, and two youth leaders were found “traumatised” and partially clothed after being sexually assaulted, Luke Lamborinyoka, a spokesman for their Movement for Democratic Change Allicance, said.

War vet claims Kasukuwere’s stolen farm

In an ironic farm twist, Mazowe district war veterans chairman Ephanos Mudzimunyi has defied a High Court order barring him from interfering with operations at Cornucopia farm which former Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere grabbed from Interfresh in March 2006. Despite the court order, Mudzimunyi has continued harvesting oranges at Lot 2, the best portion of the farm adjacent to the Mazowe River, which he claims he was allocated by Agriculture and Lands minister Perrance Shiri late last year. Kasukuwere said the defiance of a court order showed lack of respect for the rule of law.

Zim ranked 10th on Fragile States Index

Zimbabwe has been ranked 10th on the Fragile States Index (FSI) 2020 Rankings. The other top 10 countries include Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, DRC, the Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan and Afghanistan.  The report notes that: “Zimbabwe is facing its worst humanitarian emergency in more than a decade. Food shortages are affecting 7.7 million people – more than half the population – as a result of successive poor harvests and hyperinflation. Cereal production last year was less than half the national requirement, and the 2020 harvest is expected to be even worse.

Abduction and assault of MDC officials

Cathy Buckle writes from Zimbabwe that the promised financial assistance of Z$200 – subsequently theoretically increased to Z$300 for vulnerable families affected by the Coronavirus lockdown, pledged by government on March 30 2020, has still not materialised. Consequently, a small protest was held in Harare by three MDC opposition party officials, all women. Afterwards, they were allegedly abducted and were only found on 15 May. Their heads had been covered with hoods, then they had been driven in a car into the bush, dumped in a pit and brutally assaulted. They are currently receiving medical attention.

Mnangagwa, Russia and fighter jets

Russia’s murky business relationships with Mnangagwa et al are in the news again. In January 2020, Zimbabwe replaced its single-engine J-7 fighter jets procured from China with Russian-made $500 million MiG-29 and MiG-35 aircraft. In return, Zimbabwe mortgaged part of its vast mineral wealth to Moscow, including the Darwendale platinum reserve. The arms deal between the countries is part of their already existing $3 billion joint platinum project in collaboration with Rostec from 2014. The deal is one of many agreements signed during a trip to Zimbabwe by Russian Foreign Affairs Minister, Sergey Lavrov, on March 8, 2018.

EU unveils US$75m package for Covid-19

THE European Union (EU) has unveiled a US$75 million package to fight Covid-19 in Zimbabwe. Of this, US$40 million was released through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)’s Health Development Fund, while US$35 million was pledged by EU Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen. Ambassador Olkkonen said the EU is supporting 25 000 local farmers in all the country’s 10 provinces in partnership with the Zimbabwe Agricultural Growth Programme (ZAGP) to boost productivity.

US announces additional US230m HIV package

THE United States government has approved financial aid of $230 million to support Zimbabwe’s fight against HIV, US Ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian A. Nichols has announced. He said the fund would achieve HIV epidemic control through a comprehensive package of prevention, treatment, and support services. Currently 1.1 million Zimbabweans are on anti-retroviral therapy. The new financial package represents a significant increase from the 2019 budget of US$163 million. Since 1980, the US has provided more than US$1 billion in health assistance to strengthen Zimbabwe’s health system.

Supreme court strips Nelson Chamisa of MDC leadership

The ISS writes that Zimbabwe’s recent Supreme Court ruling that effectively stripped opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of his claim over the main faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is bringing the party closer to the brink of implosion. The decision has grave implications for the opposition and for potential political dialogue. In a country where national institutions – including the judiciary – are perceived to be conflated with ruling party interests, many in the opposition’s rank and file see Zanu-PF as being behind this ruling, which pulls the rug out from beneath Chamisa’s feet and supports Thokozani Khupe. 

The crocodile does not give free lifts

Once again there is turmoil in Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).  In March 2018, the party split and the MDC, then under Nelson Chamisa, merged with a grouping of opposition factions to form the MDC-Alliance while Tokozani Khupe led a smaller MDC faction and managed to retain the MDC-T label. There are allegations that Khupe is being sponsored by Mnangagwa’s ruling ZANU PF party to destabilise the opposition. Alex Magaisa, a former advisor to the late Morgan Tsvangirai, warns that any party which makes ZANU PF comfortable is unlikely to be good for ordinary Zimbabweans.

Zim needs US&84.9m for Covid-19 response

The UN and partners launched an updated Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) in New York on 7 May 2020 requesting US$6.7 billion to protect millions of lives and stem the spread of coronavirus in fragile countries. The revised GHRP includes nine additional vulnerable countries: Benin, Djibouti, Liberia, Mozambique, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Togo and Zimbabwe, and programmes to respond to the growth in food insecurity. In the GHRP, the United Nations and humanitarian partners in Zimbabwe have appealed for US$84.9m to respond to both the immediate public health crisis and Covid-19.

Chinese help in Covid-19 fight raises suspicions

China is publicly handing out money and equipment to help fight the spread of coronavirus in Zimbabwe. But Beijing's generosity has made some very wary. China’s aid and investment strategy is usually tied to infrastructure development. The partnership announced this week between the China Gezhouba Group and a Zimbabwean company to build a new coal-fired power station worth three billion US dollars fits much better into the business mould. Critics call the new trend, replicated in several African countries, of shipping medical supplies and offering financial support for primary health care China's “coronavirus diplomacy”.

China must compensation Africa re Covid-19

THE COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a severe blow to Africa’s development prospects and worsened the conditions of its poor and vulnerable. The continent must be accorded damages and liability compensation from China, which failed to transparently and effectively manage this global catastrophe. China should immediately announce a complete write-off of the more than $140 billion that its government, banks and contractors extended to countries in Africa between 2000 and 2017. This would provide partial compensation to African countries for the impact of the coronavirus that could result in 20 million job losses.

Japanese govt Cyclone Idai and drought relief donation

The Japanese government has released a US$450 000 nutrition, HIV and Aids and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) package for Zimbabwe, which is aimed at assisting food-insecure communities in Binga, Buhera, Chiredzi and Masvingo and US$96 054 to support communities in Manicaland province, who are bearing the brunt of Cyclone Idai and the drought. The devastating cyclone hit the country in March 2019, destroying infrastructure and livelihoods mainly in Chimanimani and Chipinge districts. About 270 000 people were affected by floods and landslides that left 340 people dead and several others missing.

Govt fails to disburse relief

Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Paul Mavima has revealed that government is yet to disburse the promised ZW$200 relief funds to vulnerable groups meant for the COVID-19 induced lockdown. 


While government has been receiving medical equipment in its fight against the respiratory ailment, critics say authorities have failed to provide safety nets to the less fortunate groups. Government has committed to provide assistance of ZW$600 million to small businesses, vendors and the elderly and according to Parliamentary watchdog, Veritas, this figure only translates to a meagre ZW$200.

Desperate Zimbabweans in South Africa queue for food

Drone footage has emerged showing thousands of people waiting for food parcels in a 4km queue in Centurion, South Africa. The footage was taken on Wednesday 29 April 2020, as thousands of residents of the Mooiplaas and Spruit informal settlements in Centurion, on the outskirts of the capital Pretoria, waited to collect some 8,000 food hampers, leading to calls for further Government assistance. Activist Mr Yusuf Abramjee said that approximately 90% of the inhabitants of the informal settlements are not South African nationals, and many are undocumented migrants from neighbouring nations like Zimbabwe.

Economy close to collapse, writes finance minister

Africa Confidential reports that Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube has written to the international financial institutions (IFIs) in Washington saying it takes 'responsibility for the recent policy missteps during late 2019' which have led to inflation currently running at an annual rate of over 500%. Ncube writes that the government and economy are near to collapse, with the coronavirus pandemic dealing the final blow…. He paints a grim picture: 'Zimbabwe's economy could contract by 15-20% during 2020 – with very serious social consequences. Already 8.5 million Zimbabweans (half the population) are food insecure…’

China expands influence in Africa

As China continues to implement its trillion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure initiative (BRI)*, a principal focus will be engagement in Africa. China knows that Africa's youthful population is exploding, that the continent is rich in natural resources and that it is massive in geographical scale. It represents a huge potential market for Chinese goods and a zone of significant political influence in countering the U.S. globally. But while China is alive to all these possibilities, and indeed is actively exploring them, the U.S. has only just started to play catch-up and faces losing out to its superpower rival. 

China to help Zim build US$3bn coal plant

Zimbabwe’s Rio Energy Ltd, a unit of RioZim Ltd, will build a 2,100 megawatt thermal power plant with China Gezhouba Group Corp (CGGC) in northern Zimbabwe at a projected cost of $3 billion, Rio Energy said Monday [27 April 2020]. CGGC will develop the project and assist with the fund raising. The power plant at Sengwa will be constructed in four phases of about 700 megawatts each, bringing total capacity to 2,800 megawatts. A 250 kilometer (155-mile) pipeline will carry water from Lake Kariba to Sengwa. The first phase of the project will cost about $1.2 billion. Zimbabwe’s current demand is 2,200 megawatt.

Tribute to former Zim lawyer Jeremy Callow

It is with great sadness that Zimbabweans have learnt of the passing of a highly respected, courageous and principled lawyer, Jeremy Callow, on 8 April 2020 in the UK as a result of the Corona virus. The Commercial Farmers’ Union notes that Jeremy rendered significant legal assistance and support to many farmers as they went through the challenges of dispossession during the early years of fast track land reform, which began in 2000 and has had catastrophic consequences for the entire country. Jeremy and his family moved to the UK in 2005. This is Adrian de Bourbon SC’s tribute to his friend and colleague.

Govt eases some Covid-19 restrictions...

Zimbabwe has eased some restrictions on movement and trade after the government imposed a nationwide lockdown two weeks ago. The country is already facing its worst economic crisis in nearly 10 years and the coronavirus lockdown measures are threatening the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people, including informal traders, many of whom depend on selling their produce at markets or along the roadside. Money agencies can now re-open, but only three days a week. This will enable funds from millions of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora to be accessed by desperate family members with no money or food.

Mike Auret obituary

Mike Auret, a highly respected human rights campaigner and former farmer whose Catholic faith drove him to oppose injustices in Ian Smith’s Rhodesia and later Robert Mugabe’s government, has died in Ireland aged 84. He wrote a book about Robert Mugabe, ‘From Liberator to Dictator’, in which he said he was captivated by Mugabe and his reconciliation speech... but that he had made a grave error of judgment. Auret’s Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) combined with the Legal Resources Foundation to produce “Breaking the Silence”, a detailed report on Gukurahundi, the genocide ordered by Mugabe.

Year-on-year inflation rises to 676.39

According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat), the year-on-year inflation rate (annual percentage change) for the month of March 2020 as measured by all items CPI [Consumer Price Index] stood at 676.39 per cent. Zimbabwe’s month-on-month inflation rate in March was 26.59% gaining 13.07 percentage points on the February rate of 13.52%, the latest data shows. The rise shows a continued increase in the prices of goods and services on the market. Furthermore, the unstable local currency has also in the past been blamed for triggering price increases.

The economic impact of Covid-19

As a country and as individuals, we need to carefully consider how the loss of markets, jobs and incomes resulting from Covid-19 could soon place the things we need to purchase [the majority of which are now imported] beyond our reach. We should start now to shorten the list of the things we need to buy. We could decide that food self-sufficiency is the most obvious and most essential target and we could all demand that every policy choice that has caused the country to be dependent on food imports for the past 23 years should be stamped out. Nothing should stand in the way of good harvests in 2021.

Covid-19 & corruption dual scourges

“When I heard the words ‘lockdown’ and ‘deployment of security forces’ in the same sentence, I wondered if the action was being taken to curb the spread of the virus or curb the spread of dissent,” writes Zimbabwean activist Thandekile Moyo in South Africa’s Daily Maverick online. “When it became clear that Covid-19 would not spare Zimbabwe, attention turned to the country’s readiness to combat the deadly virus. Many feared that after years of neglect and decay, the health system was simply unprepared to deal with a pandemic of this magnitude.” There are many reasons for mistrust and fear of the ruling party.