Dec 12, 2006 (061212)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"Zimbabwe was once the publishing capital of southern Africa.
It used to host the best book fair in Africa. But years of neglect,
as with Zimbabwe itself, [have revived the saying]: 'We cannot eat
books.' With few visitors and even fewer sales, neither can the
This comment from a visitor to the Zimbabwe International Book Fair
in August parallels other symptoms of the crisis in Zimbabwe.
Despite the creativity of ordinary Zimbabweans in finding ways to
survive, and a wealth of civil society energy both inside the
country and in the growing diaspora, multiple signs of decline are
This AfricaFocus Bulletin, in addition to the report on the book
fair, includes short reports on Zimbabwean refugees in South
Africa, on a government review of economic problems, and on a new
study by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum on Operation
Murambatsvina, last year's campaign to demolish slum housing.
This year's Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) may well have
been its last. Like the once beautiful Harare Gardens in which it
was held, it was in sad disarray. When I arrived in Zimbabwe in
July one community publisher thought it had already happened, other
small publishers and Non-Governmental Organisations with publishing
units had no idea the Fair was still on. Over the last six to eight
years dilapidated dusty Harare has lost the support of the
international community. Corruption, mal-administration,
over-dependency on donor funding and the assumption they would pick
up the tab, has forced donors from Norway, Sweden, Holland and
Britain to leave contracts un-renewed. Independent publishers from
South Africa have reluctantly stopped exhibiting and Frankfurt has
withdrawn its official link and considers it "not worth a penny".
However one bookseller from South Africa (UNISA), Ethiopia and
Pakistan respectively still came to join what was a valiant effort
by Zimbabwe's publishers to keep active against the odds.
The annual Indaba, which once hosted Nobel prize-winning authors
such as Wole Soyinka and Nadine Gordimer, was reduced to a one-day
conference entitled 'Africa - the cradle of conversation'. Not only
was security and ticket-selling diligently performed by school
children, but the overwhelming irony of the title was lost on
nobody in a nation where conversing too freely about Mugabe and the
heavy-handed ZANU PF ruling party is forbidden under tight media
laws. The devaluation of Zimbabwean currency on 1st August 2006,
dubbed the Zero to Hero project in the national press, for which
according to finance minister Gono "failure is not an option",
meant the dominant topic of conversation was the ridiculous state
of the national economy, which had already begun cracking the heads
of locals and visitors on the first day of the Fair.
There are not many countries in the world where you are not
encouraged to trade in your own currency. On the first day of the
Fair twelve million Zimbabweans were given just 21 days to switch
to an entirely new currency. With over 1000 per cent inflation,
members of the Zimbabwe Women Writers (ZWW) group scrutinised the
new sample bearer cheques printed in the government-run Herald
newspaper and wondered whether, if carefully cut out, these too
would soon be valid currency. Or indeed whether their electricity
bills despite daily eight-hour power-cuts would be cheaper if paid
in the new currency. If Zimbabwe is a state of mind, at present it
is a state of constant confusion and stress-related paralysis. A
bemused shaking of heads was quickly followed by nervous laughter.
There was little evidence at the Fair of the deep paranoia induced
by the CIO (Central Intelligence Organisation) whose undercover
agents are present in all walks of life from local buses to pubs
and universities. But the fear of violence soon became evident when
GALZ (Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe) were chased away from their
stall on day three in what is becoming an appalling annual
tradition at the Book Fair. In an unrelated incident soldiers
wearing the infamous red berets of Mugabe's militia were seen
beating people in the streets of Harare later that evening. The
large security presence around the perimeter seemed more concerned
with keeping people who couldn't afford the $2m (œ2-4) entrance fee
out, than ensuring the safety of those within. With books at a
similar price I soon became a mobile library service for cab
drivers, security guards, hotel maids and nurses. Real libraries
make a substantial contribution to Zimbabwe's intellectual
development, but due to fuel shortages Rural Libraries and
Resources Development Programme (RLRDP) is raising funds for more
donkeys to pull their mobile cart to villages they have yet to
reach. Indicative of the devastating problems facing one in five
Zimbabweans, HIV/AIDS information, was freely available on almost
every other stall.
The laudable attempt on the ZIBF website to pitch the continent as
"The cradle of civilisation and culture; education and philosophy;
medicine, science and technology; world religions; the alphabet,
ancient scriptures and modern literature; philosophies of the
environment and the discourses of ecology" is sadly undermined by
the situation Zimbabwe finds itself in today. Without trying to
talk down a nation and its people, whose patience and tenacity in
the face of absurdity, poverty and hunger defies belief, the idea
that these topics could lead to fruitful discussion of an
international calibre is laughable. Last year's Indaba descended
into a racist, anti-colonial, nationalistic exercise in
speech-making and grandstanding that past participants are now
unwilling to repeat.
As a consequence the Indaba was an inward looking, navel-gazing
exercise, which adopted the less ambitious subtitle Promoting
Authorship. Similarly un-ambitious were the orators heralded by the
programme as experts in their field, who made trite and predictable
comments about the submission of manuscripts, which belonged in
writers' workshops rather than podium based lecturing. One speaker
who claimed to be a copyright lawyer declared that "copyright was
invented in 18th Century Britain, before printing" and that "a
king" passed a law to prevent illegal copying. His 40-minute ramble
was hard to stomach (lunch was not provided) and left unchallenged
despite some chuckles and a dwindling audience. However ZWW's
Virginia Phiri did usefully remind us that writers' associations do
have a stake in ZIMCOPY (the Reproduction Rights Organisation of
Zimbabwe) and must make use of this to receive royalties and
Introducing the Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association (ZBPA)
literary awards evening the deputy dean of linguistics, University
of Zimbabwe, misquoted Macbeth, painfully failing to rhyme 'in
thunder, lightening or in rain'. He went on to announce ominously
"we've gathered this evening like the witches in Macbeth but don't
worry, we are not planning to kill people."
Awards night laughs continued with statements such as: "The author,
like every other service provider, has been de-motivated by
inflation." No doubt Beckett and Joyce would agree. The head of the
EU Commission, Xavier Marchal, donated money at the last minute to
enable the literary awards to go ahead. Despite only 42 entries in
12 categories, top prizes were given to 'Ama Books, Lleemon
Publishers, Mambo Press, Weaver Press, and Zimbabwe Women Writers.
College Press, Longman and Zimbabwe Publishing House (ZPH) shared
textbook awards, which had by far the highest entrants. Citations
of startling blue cover designs, and excellent tables of contents
revealed perhaps more than the judges intended about the selection
The ZBPA also failed to speak out against the curbing of
intellectual freedom and publishing that has occurred recently -
with journalists, artists and writers prohibited from freedom of
speech and expression - in the case of Chenjerai Hove this has
resulted in a retreat into exile in France and Norway. Hove is one
of the few writers published by almost all the publishers in
Zimbabwe: Baobab Books, College Press, Mambo, Weaver Press and ZPH.
Perhaps if the Association or the Trust had taken a stand, using
his case as a precedent, there would be some basis for continuing
to support a non-governmental venture that provides a platform for
publishing and defends fundamental freedoms in a much-depleted
environment. Without this reassurance, the ZBPA/ZIBF appears
complicit or at least obedient to a defunct regime that rules by
manipulation and fear.
Zimbabwe was once the publishing capital of southern Africa and the
glossy brochure still boasts that Harare is "now recognised as
Africa's book capital". It used to host the best book fair in
Africa, complementing the more commercial book fair in Cape Town
with a lively forum for debate, discussion and performance which
the predominantly white Cape Town fair always lacked. Cape Town
hosted its first official international book fair in June, but
sub-Saharan Africa must now fit its enormous creativity into a
handful of fairs: the Ghana book fair is every other year; Nigeria
has an annual fair; Kenya and Uganda both have successful annual
book weeks run by the East African Book Development Association.
But years of neglect, as with Zimbabwe itself, have rendered it
obsolete. As many a wise African has said: "We cannot eat books."
With few visitors and even fewer sales, neither can the publishers.
The Gnarls Berkeley song playing as I wrote this in Harare speaks
volumes "I can tell you know how hard this life can be, but you
keep on smiling for me". Behind those smiles is a profound tension
and sadness. Publishing was once the key to liberating the people
of Europe from the tyranny of Bibles they could not read for
themselves and publishers in Zimbabwe still have that goal in mind.
But, having educated a generation, Mugabe has switched to an Ian
Smith-style racism: "If you want to keep truth from a black person,
put it in a book." The 2006 ZIBF was a masquerade etched in dust on
ironed recycled tracing paper, blowing in the wind.
Zimbabwe: Women refugees in South Africa claim rape and torture at
7 December 2006
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) http://www.irinnews.org
[Excerpts only. This material may not necessarily reflect the views
of the United Nations or its agencies.]
Johannesburg, 7 Dec 2006 (IRIN) - The South African government has
been condemned for its "complete silence" over the high level of
rape reported by Zimbabwean women applying for asylum, at the hands
of the security forces in their country.
At least 15 percent of the Zimbabwean women refugees who visited a
counselling centre run by the Zimbabwe Torture Victims/Survivors
Project (ZTVP) in Johannesburg over the past 20 months alleged they
had been raped.
"The most frequent perpetrators reported were supporters of the
ruling party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front
(ZANU-PF) ... state agents - police, army and Central Intelligence
Organisation [CIO] - were reported too, with the police being the
most frequent state agency reported," said the study by the ZTVP.
The ZTVP is a partner project of the Centre for the Study of
Violence and Reconciliation, an NGO that helps communities deal
with violence. The project offers medical assistance, counselling
and limited social assistance to Zimbabwean survivors of torture
now living in South Africa.
Ahmed Motala, executive director of the centre and a human rights
lawyer, lashed out at the South African government for its alleged
tacit approval of attempts to block moves to censure Zimbabwe at
the United Nations, the African Union and in the Southern African
Development Community. "We urge the South African government, now
that it is also a member of the UN Security Council, to become more
vocal against Zimbabwe."
The ZTVP report, 'Women on the Run: Female Survivors of Torture
Amongst Zimbabwean Asylum Seekers and Refugees in South Africa',
was released on Thursday to coincide with the global campaign, '16
Days of Activism Against Gender Violence', which ends on
International Human Rights Day on 10 December. The report based its
findings on interviews conducted with 102 women assisted at the
centre between February 2005 and September 2006.
Zimbabwe, once a middle-income country, has become the world's
fastest shrinking economy outside a war zone. An inflation rate of
around 1,200 percent has pushed the price of even a basic shopping
basket beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans, who have sought refuge
in neighbouring South Africa. An estimated three million
Zimbabweans are now live abroad: one-quarter of Zimbabwe's domestic
About 32 percent of all alleged torture survivors who were sought
out by the ZTVP during the 20-month period were women. At least 67
percent of the women at the centre said they had been politically
active in some way when they lived in Zimbabwe, and 43 percent
described themselves as members of the opposition party, the
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Last month, a Human Rights Watch report alleged that the systematic
abuse of rights activists, including excessive use of force by
police during protests, arbitrary arrests and detention, had
intensified in Zimbabwe in the past year.
The ZTVP report contained harrowing accounts of sexual violence.
The most recent case was a woman, identified as 'X' to protect her
identity, who claimed she had been raped by the police after she
attended an MDC meeting in April this year, in the Zimbabwean
capital, Harare. She was allegedly held in a police station for
three days without food and on her release was forced into a van
and taken to a isolated area and raped by a policeman. ,,,
In a snap survey by ZTVP in 2005, 30 percent of the women
complained that they had suffered political violence, and 44
percent reported having been denied access to food because they
were opposition supporters.
Only 36 percent of the women interviewed for the report had been
given asylum seeker status, and a mere two percent had been given
refugee seeker status (an asylum seeker is a person who has applied
for refugee status). The report commented that these figures should
cause the "South African authorities serious embarrassment".
Jacob van Garderen, national coordinator of the Refugee and Migrant
Rights Project at Lawyers for Human Rights, a South African NGO,
said South Africa was struggling to clear a backlog of 7,000
applications by Zimbabwean asylum seekers. "This is besides the
11,000 fresh application filed since the beginning of this year
 until June."
He described the process of granting asylum or refugee status as
"difficult" and long. "It can take a year to get an appointment
with the department of home affairs to fill in the form to apply
for asylum or refugee status." During that period, many asylum
seekers end up being deported back to the country where they feared
prosecution, which was against the South African constitution, van
Vincent Hlongwane, a South African government spokesman defended
Pretoria's failure to tackle Zimbabwe over its rights record. He
said South Africa did not "believe in talking down" to Zimbabwe,
which was a "sovereign state". "It is for the people of Zimbabwe to
resolve their problems themselves," he said. "We can only assist
them. Besides, the former Tanzanian president [Benjamin] Mkapa has
been mandated by the AU to help Zimbabwe, and we have full
confidence in his abilities."
IRIN was unable to get comment from the Zimbabwean government,
which has consistently denied claims of torture and abuse in the
Zimbabwe: Government reports 150% drop in living standards
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) http://www.irinnews.org
[This material may not necessarily reflect the views of the United
Nations or its agencies.]
Harare, 6 Dec 2006 (IRIN) - Zimbabwe's living standards have
declined by 150 percent within the last decade, says a poverty
assessment survey complied and published by the public service and
social welfare ministry.
"The period 1996 to 2005 was marked by accelerated deterioration in
the socio-economic situation," the survey said. "In contrast to the
development achievements of the first ten years of independence
(granted from Britain in 1980), the decade of the 1990s witnessed
a turnaround of economic fortunes as economic decline set in and
structural problems of high poverty and inequality persisted."
The social welfare ministry survey revealed that between 1995 and
2003, more than 63 percent of rural people could not obtain enough
money to meet both basic food and non-food requirements, while the
figure in urban areas was 53 percent. The survey covered 58 rural
districts and 27 urban areas across the country's ten provinces.
Minimum monthly incomes of urban dwellers declined sharply during
the same period because of the "deteriorating macro-economic
environment, characterised by hyperinflation, negative GDP [gross
domestic product] and shrinking formal job opportunities".
Gender was also recognised as having an impact on poverty levels.
"Female-headed households, who are already mostly very poor, are
moving towards the bottom limit," the ministry said. Since the last
survey in 1995, malnutrition in children under five increased by 35
percent, people without access to clean water increased by 25
percent, and the number of people without access to healthcare went
up by 48 percent.
The ZANU-PF government has experimented with six different economic
policies since 1996, with dire consequences: hyperinflation has
been hovering around 1,000 percent - the highest in the world;
unemployment levels are above 70 percent; the industrial base has
contracted by a third since 2000; foreign currency is scarce;
shortages of basic commodities, such as food and energy, have
The poverty assessment cited the country's economic problems after
the withdrawal of international donor support "following the
implementation of a controversial land reform programme" as a
contributing factor to the economic meltdown.
In 2000 President Robert Mugabe's government embarked on a
fast-track land redistribution exercise that sought to give land to
thousands of blacks from impoverished communal areas by removing
more than 4,000 commercial white farmers from their farms. The
European Union and the United States subsequently imposed limited
sanctions on top government officials for human rights violations
and Mugabe's disputed re-election in 2002.
According to independent analysts, the farming sector, once one of
the main foreign exchange earners, has shrunk by about 65 percent
as a result of the land reform programme.
The survey said poverty, already growing, had been worsened by
recurrent droughts and floods, as well as an 18.1 percent HIV/ AIDS
prevalence - one of the world's highest - which compounded
non-productivity in the farming sector, as a recent ministry of
agriculture study had concluded.
Farming communities were among the majority of areas that did not
have access to health centres, with people having to travel more
than 10km to the nearest clinic or hospital.
Rising medical costs forced about 30 percent of pregnant women to
deliver at home, and skilled personnel attended to only 72 percent
of those who went to health centres to have their babies, mostly
due to an exodus of health workers in search of better salaries and
Falling standards of living have made basics seem like luxuries. "I
bought a wardrobe, bed and radio with my first salary but these
things are now a pipedream for most people - even those with the
so-called executive jobs," Sibangani Nkomo, 45, a teacher now
employed as a human resources officer at a leading wholesaler in
the capital, Harare, told IRIN.
Nkomo takes home Z$200,000 (US$800) a month, most of which is
absorbed by rent, leaving him with no option but to borrow from
friends and loan sharks. His wife went to Britain three years ago,
where she works as a child minder and sends home the occasional
He has not been able to visit his elderly mother in rural Masvingo,
about 250km south of Harare, for the past three years because he
cannot afford the cost of transport. "When I can, I send her [my
mother] a packet of sugar and a bottle of cooking oil through the
driver of the bus that gets to my rural home, and I know she thinks
I no longer care about her."
Before the country's economic meltdown, Nkomo said, weekends were
spent with friends, when they would drink beer or attend local
soccer matches. Nowadays, economic restraints keep him housebound.
According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), in October the
basic monthly cost of living for a family of six was Z$141,706
(US$566); in November it cost at least Z$208,000 (US$832) - a 47.3
"CCZ is greatly concerned about the general price increases,
especially in the month of November, which recorded significant
increases compared to other months in the year," the consumer
watchdog said in a statement.
Some 18 months after launching a brutal campaign of urban
demolitions and forced evictions, the government of Zimbabwe has
ignored all the recommendations contained in a highly critical
United Nations report, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said in
a report entitled "Political Repression disguised as Civic
Mindedness: Operation Murambatsvina One Year Later" which it
published on 30 November 2006 (http://www.kubatana.net/html/archive/hr/061130hrf.asp).
The Forum, in a 45-page audit of events since the so-called
Operation Murambatsvina or Operation Clean Up Filth
urged international action over the Mugabe government's long record
of disregarding international conventions. Zimbabwe must be
discussed at the UN Security Council, it added. ...
UN Special Envoy Anna Tibaijuka, in a report released in July 2005,
said the demolition of thousands of dwellings and makeshift stalls
was a "catastrophe" which had robbed 700,000 people of their homes
and livelihoods. She made 12 recommendations, including
prosecutions of those responsible, a proper reconstruction
programme, compensation for victims, and that the Zimbabwe
authorities facilitate humanitarian operations.
The Forum said that none of this has happened: the authorities have
obstructed humanitarian aid; the official reconstruction programme
is a "complete fiasco" riddled with corruption and nepotism;
hundreds of thousands continue to live in deplorable conditions in
camps; and evictions have continued.
The Zimbabwe government's argument that the operation was for the
benefit of the people is shown to be false, said the report. The
informal sector remains as it is, corruption has increased at all
levels, there is no meaningful rehousing, and the economy has
But, said the Forum, if the real motive was to suppress opposition,
then it had succeeded by making it more difficult to organise
"For the ordinary Zimbabwean, it matters little whether the
Zimbabwe government is malevolent or incompetent, or both; all that
they can look forward to is a life of extreme hardship, and the
certainty that any complaint about their lot will be met with
brutal repression and denial from a government that few believe has
a legitimate right to be in power," the report said
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