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Zimbabwe: Small steps forward?
September-October 2009

The following article was circulated through Together with Africa, the MOGC’s special email project in preparation for the Vatican’s extraordinary synod on Africa in October.

A recent article in the Guardian begins, “Schools and hospitals returning to life. Food in the supermarkets and queues at the tills. Investors flying in and refugees coming home. Independent newspapers due for launch and international media broadcasting openly. ... A president and prime minister laughing together as they call for national healing. This is Zimbabwe in August 2009. Politically motivated beatings turning families against themselves. Villagers bartering chickens in the absence of a new currency. MPs, lawyers, journalists and students under arrest. Corruption rampant and another cholera outbreak predicted. A president rebuilding his tools of oppression and a prime minister said to be in danger of assassination. This, too, is Zimbabwe in August 2009.”

David Smith, the author, goes on to list the ways in which Zimbabwe is still a “confusing place,” six months after Robert Mugabe (ZANU-PF) and Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC) reached a power-sharing arrangement whereby the MDC controls ministries such as health and education and ZANU-PF runs the army, the policy and the judiciary.

“Supermarket shelves that were once bare are stocked high again, though 94 percent unemployment means many people cannot afford to shop,” Smith writes. “About 2.8 million pupils are back at school as teachers finally receive a monthly wage, albeit just $100 to $165 to work in crumbling classrooms. Zimbabwe University came back to life last week after six months in darkness. Hospitals and clinics are functioning again ... But the revival comes with caveats. About 70 percent of the population does not have access to clean water and the cholera outbreak that killed more than 4,000 people is widely predicted to return with the rainy season towards the end of the year. The decay of agriculture appears to be slowing but farm invasions continue.”

On August 4, Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported that Tsvangirai accused Mugabe of frustrating efforts to implement the reforms required by the Global Political Agreement (GPA).

Nevertheless, there has been some progress. It was announced on July 30 that television stations such as the BBC and CNN had in fact never been banned from conducting business in Zimbabwe, and reports of a ban were “false.” The BBC immediately sent its correspondent to Harare.

According to IRIN’s Aug. 4 article, “The Daily News, a pro-MDC newspaper that was shut down by the ZANU-PF government in September 2003, has also been re-licensed to operate, but its computers and archives were seized in the run-up to the elections in 2008, so the publication is not expected to appear on the streets anytime soon.

“After years of cracking down in response to public demonstrations, the government has also described as ‘false’ reports that Zimbabweans were not allowed to stage demonstrations, claiming all that was needed was to notify the police. …

“Parliament also recently announced that it would start interviewing members of the proposed Zimbabwe Media Commission, which will replace the Media and Information Commission, the ZANU-PF government media regulatory body that presided over the closure of independent newspapers, television and radio stations.

“Interviews to appoint commissioners to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission are in the pipeline.

“On 30 July the National Security Council met for the first time since the formation of the unity government in February to discuss the prickly issues of the armed forces and security services. The ministers and commanders of the security forces finally sat down with Tsvangirai, whom they had vowed never to work with or salute.”

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