World Anger Mounts Over Clean-Up
 Financial Gazette  (Harare)
 July 7, 2005

Njabulo Ncube

EVER since the Zimbabwe government chose to take the country on the inexorable path to oblivion - first with the violent seizure of white-owned farms and then with a series of bloody elections - international pressure has often risen to a crescendo when a major international summit gets underway, only to die down along with the last word of a communiqué that scarcely mentions the tiny southern African nation.

However, the current outcry over the government's demolition of shanty towns at the height of winter has seen institutions such as the African Union (AU) -- which normally defers to President Robert Mugabe -- falling out of step with Harare.

If reports over the past week are anything to go by, the AU, which angered Harare by dispatching its own envoy to assess the effects of the government's campaign "outside of procedure" and South Africa's Thabo Mbeki- who met opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai over the weekend, could finally be waking up to smell the coffee that has long been brewing in crisis-ridden Harare.

More international indignation over the Zimbabwe government's controversial crackdown on shanty towns and informal traders was expressed by the usual suspects -- apart from the United States and Britain -- Australia and New Zealand.

The two countries' foreign affairs ministers issued a joint statement urging the G8 meeting in Scotland to extend Harare's isolation in almost all spheres of international relations, including sports.

Canberra and Wellington announced this week that their respective Foreign Affairs Ministries had cobbled up a joint action plan on Zimbabwe which outlines stringent measures which they hope could tighten the noose around Harare's bruised neck.

Both countries already have the ZANU PF government on a set of targeted sanctions which, among other things, prevent several of its officials from entering their ports.

The latest action comprises a new range of measures aimed at increasing pressure on President Mugabe's government to cease what the two states described as Harare's "abhorrent and egregious" destruction of homes, livelihoods and basic human rights.

With President Mugabe showing little signs of halting the "clean-up" campaign, Australia and New Zealand said they had drawn up seven tough measures their governments want implemented to pressurise Harare to respect democracy and the human rights of an estimated half a million people rendered homeless and jobless by the operation.

In a statement issued this week, Alexander Downer, the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister and his New Zealand counterpart, Phil Goff, said tough action was needed against Zimbabwe, which they described as a "rogue' state".

"The continued failure of the Zimbabwe government to respect democracy and human rights needs to be addressed firmly by the international community," said the two foreign affairs ministers.

The two nations said as part of decisive action against Harare, they would make joint presentations to the International Cricket Council (ICC) urging the world cricket governing body to alter the rules to allow teams to boycott tours to countries such as Zimbabwe where serious human rights abuses are said to be occurring.

The New Zealand cricket team's tour to Harare and Bulawayo next month is already shrouded in controversy, with Goff in the forefront of calls for his country's cricketing board to cancel the trip, alleging gross human rights abuses. However, the New Zealand cricket board faces stiff sanctions from the International Cricket Council if the team fails to fulfil the fixtures in Zimbabwe.

Goff has also indicated Wellington will not allow Zimbabwe to fulfil a reserve fixture in December, saying the Harare cricketers would certainly be denied visas.

New Zealand and Australia said they were pushing for a sporting ban on all Zimbabwe representative teams "with like-minded countries". The two countries have implored the G8 meeting, which started yesterday and runs until tomorrow, to "address the Zimbabwe issue".

They have also warned they will make urgent representations to the UN Commissioner for Human Rights and members of the Security Council to urge the UN to investigate past and present human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

The MDC accuses ZANU PF of using unorthodox means to win the past three elections, among them intimidation and alleged brutal assaults of perceived opposition supporters and stuffing of ballot boxes, charges the ruling party has vehemently denied.

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC whose party estimates that about 1.5 million people have been rendered homeless by the demolitions, met President Mbeki on Sunday to ask him to exert pressure on the veteran ZANU PF leader to halt the alleged human rights abuses against urbanites, the majority of whom have voted for the MDC since its formation in 1999.

"Zimbabwe is an albatross to all African leaders and therefore we want to see a strong message at the G8 meeting that the regime has gone beyond acceptable behaviour of any government that it be called to order," Tsvangirai told a Press conference in Johannesburg on Monday, a day after meeting Mbeki.

"African leaders should be at the forefront of criticising what is taking place in Zimbabwe for their credibility to be enhanced at the G8 meeting and at all other forum," said the opposition leader who was also due to meet with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The AU is understood to be exerting immense pressure on Harare, with diplomats based in Harare indicating that the continental body was at pains to read the actions of President Mugabe in the wake of the destruction of structures of the urban dwellers presently reeling from abject poverty due to a deteriorating economic environment.

Some AU leaders, who are meeting in Sirte, Libya, are understood to be annoyed by the Zimbabwean leader's actions and would attempt to sway him from his "vindictive path."

However, there is no mention of Zimbabwe on the agenda of this week's 53-member AU summit, in what some critics said was in keeping with the AU's habitual deference to President Mugabe.

Analysts who spoke to this newspaper pointed at attempts by the AU to hurriedly dispatch to Zimbabwe one of its senior representatives to assess the impact of the demolitions without following laid down protocol as a sign that patience could be finally wearing thin within the continental body.

"We know the AU is usually docile on matters involving its African brothers especially Zimbabwe. In fact Zimbabwe is not on the agenda of the AU summit taking place in Libya but the latest action to sneak in a senior person to spy on Operation Restore Order speaks louder than words. AU leaders are not happy. Mugabe's actions are unacceptable even by the crude African standards," said an African diplomat based in Harare.

"There is pressure from the West and within Africa itself. The action against urban dwellers is unacceptable, coming after the rejection of ZANU PF in urban areas. This smacks of revenge," the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, added.

Australia and New Zealand also said they would also support continued moves to expel Zimbabwe from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Other actions would entail joint Australia/New Zealand demands to Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) members, including South Africa, to exert diplomatic pressure on Zimbabwe to conform to international human rights standards.

Both have proposed to the UN Security Council that the actions of the Zimbabwe government be referred to the International Criminal Court.

The heightening of international pressure comes as Anna Kajumalo Tibaijuka, UN secretary general Koffi Annan's special envoy; inexplicable extended her fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe at the weekend, ostensibly to cover parts of the Midlands and Matabeleland.

There are unconfirmed reports that the UN had instructed the emissary to look beyond the surface and "not be led by the nose by government spin-doctors".

President Mugabe, whose government ordered the demolitions under the guise of rooting out black market trade in scarce foreign currency and basic commodities, has also been condemned for his government's actions by the Commonwealth, the European Union, the United States of America and Britain, all of which have placed the combative Zimbabwean leader under limited sanctions.
The ZANU PF government, undeterred by international criticism, has instead pledged an unbudgeted $3 trillion for a massive reconstruction programme to accommodate the homeless citizens.
However, critics say the gesture is meant to undercut the universal outrage that has greeted the crackdown.