Southern Africa: IRIN News Briefs, 29 November

Report
from IRIN
Published on 29 Nov 2000
ZAMBIA: Relocation of Angolan refugees
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said in a press release that Zambia has asked for its help in moving 2,000 former Angolan UNITA combatants and their families who recently entered the North Western Province of Zambia. The refugees will be transferred to a camp in Ukwimi, in the Eastern Province, about 300 km east of the capital Lusaka. The camp has better facilities and is a safe distance from the Angolan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) border areas.

The first IOM hired buses are expected to leave shortly for the two-day 1,200 km journey. The buses will be traveling in convoys and are expected to complete their 2,400 km round-trip in four days. Upon arrival in Ukwimi, IOM, UNHCR and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) are to provide plastic sheeting, set up a basic health clinic and drill several additional boreholes for water.

Several thousand Angolan refugees have recently entered Zambia, including disarmed UNITA rebel fighters, following intense fighting between UNITA and Angolan government forces in the Moxico Province of eastern Angola. In mid-October, several hundred refugees arrived in western Zambia after fleeing renewed fighting in the southeastern Cuando Cubango Province. In March 2000, IOM and UNHCR relocated some 9,000 Angolan refugees from the border area of Sinjembela to Nangweshi, some 120 km inside Zambian territory.

ZAMBIA: Government rejects corruption report

The ruling party in Zambia has rejected a report by a parliamentary committee which was highly critical of the privatisation of the country's major copper mines, the BBC reported on Wednesday. The industry has traditionally been the bedrock of Zambia's economy, but ministers were accused of being negligent during the mines sell-off earlier this year. One opposition member of parliament noted that some assets had dissappeared into thin air.

But the Zambian government said the report was misleading, inaccurate, malicious and full of contradictions. A BBC correspondent in Lusaka said that with the ruling party's massive majority in parliament, there was no doubt the government would carry the day. The correspondent alleged that the government's refusal to adopt the report was a strong signal that any proper investigation into the affair is firmly off-limits.

ZAMBIA: Petroleum refinery to re-start production

Repairs have been completed on the Indeni Petroleum Refinery in Ndola, Copperbelt province, and the plant is expected to start full production next Monday, the 'Times of Zambia' reported on Wednesday. About US $12 million has been spent on repairing the plant. The plant was gutted last year in May, the cause has never been determined although the Zambian government did not rule out the possibility of sabotage. The plant has been undergoing repair works since February this year. Indeni Petroleum Refinery has had five major and costly disasters in its history.

ZAMBIA: Donors to relieve pressure on falling currency

The World Bank and bilateral donors are to give Zambia an estimated US $40 million by mid-December following a request by the government to help offset its large oil bill, DPA quoted a spokesman for the bank on Tuesday. World Bank representative Laurence Clarke said the money would be given to Zambia as balance of payments support.

"The government is presently spending US $60 million more on the cost of oil imports and has asked us to help offset the large oil bill. We're still discussing it, but the bank will be the largest contributor to the loan," Clarke said. The Zambian currency has fallen to a new record low of 3,900 kwachas to the US dollar.

The deputy governor of the Central Bank, Abraham Mwenda, on Monday ruled out the possibility of achieving by December the 19 percent inflation rate set by Finance Minister Katele Kalumba in his state budget. "It's impossible. You will need a miracle to achieve 19 percent inflation by next month, or prices will have to decelerate sharply. But we can't expect prices to drop," he told DPA. Kalumba, in his budget presentation in January, had targeted 15 percent as the year-end inflation rate but later adjusted it to 19 per cent. In October, inflation soared to 28.6 percent and is still shooting upwards.

ZIMBABWE: Foreign currency shortage forces closure of car plant

Zimbabwe's biggest car assembly company announced an indefinite closure at the weekend because of a shortage of foreign currency to import components, PANA reported on Tuesday. Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries (WMMI) said it had also been forced to close down because of plummeting demand for new cars. Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis in 20 years of independence, with unemployment, inflation and bank interest rates all above 60 percent.

Low exports have also led to a critical shortage of foreign currency, forcing many companies to scale down production. An official of WMMI said the company will not re-open in January when it closes for the annual holiday shut-down next month, "until the trading situation improves."

Demand for new cars has fallen by more than 80 percent because of cheaper second-hand vehicle imports mainly from Japan. Industry analysts say many companies in Zimbabwe will follow suit and remain closed in January after the holidays due to lack of demand for their products and an inability to buy in spares and raw materials.

ZIMBABWE: Doctors threaten massive boycott

At least 250 junior doctors throughout the country have given the government an ultimatum =ADto increase on-call allowances by Friday or risk a daily boycott at major hospitals after 4pm, the 'Daily News' reported on Wednesday. The planned boycott comes during the festive season, a period with a high rate of road accidents and injuries. Dr Tatenda Mawire, president of the Hospital Doctors' Association (HDA), said the doctors want their on-call payments calculated against their normal salaries.

In October, the government agreed on new allowances for overtime but the doctors said these payments amounted to very little after tax. The allowances were increased after a six-week strike by 400 junior doctors, which paralysed the health delivery system and forced Members of Parliament to intervene. The government promised then it would consider paying the doctors on-call allowances at overtime rates in January.

"The government has up to now failed to implement what it promised," said Mawire. "We have decided to take action, that is, to work normal hours like everybody else, until the government pays us proper overtime rates." The action would mean that doctors, mostly in Harare and Bulawayo, would work only from 8am to 4pm, not being on call beyond those hours. Mawire said district hospitals, usually staffed with one doctor each, were unlikely to be affected by the boycott.

ZIMBABWE: High Court sets dates for MDC electoral petitions

Zimbabwe's High Court has set dates for 14 electoral petitions filed by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) challenging the June parliamentary election results in 38 constituencies, the 'Daily News' reported on Wednesday. The trials, to be heard in three sessions spread over five months, are scheduled to begin on 9 January next year and to end on 11 May.

The MDC launched petitions in the High Court alleging there were irregularities in the 38 constituencies whose results it is challenging. The MDC, contesting an election for the first time since it was launched last year, won 57 seats against ZANU-PF's 62. Among top ZANU-PF officials whose results are being challenged are Vice-President Simon Muzenda; Eddison Zvobgo, a former cabinet minister; Samuel Mumbengegwi, the minister of education; Herbert Murerwa, the minister of higher education and technology, and Francis Nhema, the minister of environment and tourism.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa has accused some of the nation's judges of racism and said the government will defy court rulings it considers unjust, the official 'Herald' newspaper reported on Wednesday. In a scathing attack made to a meeting of lawyers in the eastern mountain resort of Nyanga, Chinamasa said war veterans and the landless had no alternative but to continue seizing land, with likely loss of lives, if judges frustrated the government's reform programme. Only six of Zimbabwe's 30 judges are white.

ZIMBABWE: More people flee political violence

The number of political refugees who have fled their homes in Mashonaland East province following threats by militants pardoned by President Robert Mugabe has risen from 16 to 24, the 'Daily News' reported on Wednesday. The latest refugees were allegedly targeted after their relatives who fled earlier had their identities revealed in newspaper articles. Munyaradzi Bidi, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) national director, said some "thugs" were demanding money from the victims for the time they spent in prison before the Presidential Amnesty. "We are challenging situations where people cannot be protected by the law," said Bidi. "We have approached local authorities and the police to guarantee them safety."

He said they had written to the police and the Mudzi district administrator requesting them to safeguard the lives of the refugees since it was their duty to ensure that they were free from intimidation. Calling on those in the same predicament to report to ZimRights, Bidi said they were doing this to ensure the victims felt secure when they returned to their homes.

The victims were being kept at a secret location and ZimRights started receiving them last month. Bidi said the assailants also demanded party T-shirts and membership cards from their victims, whom they accused of supporting opposition political parties. The Presidential Amnesty resulted in the release from 17 October of 97 prisoners who arrested for political crimes between January and June. The amnesty benefited people convicted of committing acts of political violence during the February referendum on the draft constitution and the June parliamentary election. The majority of prisoners were from the ruling ZANU-PF party.

BOTSWANA: South African company to build diamond mine in Botswana

South African Diamond producer De Beers Consolidated Mines is to press ahead with a US $45 million diamond mine in Botswana, 'allAfrica.com' reported on Wednesday. The new mine would consists of four small pipes about 20 kilometers east of the existing Orapa mine in central Botswana. Debswana - which is a 50:50 partnership between the Botswana government and De Beers - will start preparations for the mining of the pipes next year in January. The new mining initiative will create about 180 new jobs. It will confirm Botswana as one of the world's largest producer of diamonds with a combined annual output of more than 25 million carats.

MOZAMBIQUE: President awaits further info on prison deaths

Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano is awaiting the results of further investigations into the prison deaths of scores of opposition demonstrators before taking an official position, Lusa reported on Wednesday. "Everything indicates there are some responsibilities to be determined," Chissano said. As many as 83 people jailed in the wake of opposition protests in the northern town of Montepuez, died in the town's prison on the night of 22 November.

The country needed a more rigorous police and judicial system, he added. Questioned by journalists, Chissano said he only had an autopsy report indicating 75 prisoners had died from "mixed asphyxia", or suffocation. He said he might take a public position after getting the results of additional investigations. A Mozambican-South African forensic team issued their report last week after performing 35 autopsies in Montepuez.

Opposition chief Afonso Dhlakama has said that the deaths in Montepuez were acts of "revenge" by local police, who suffered six killed and six injured in clashes with demonstrators on 9 November. At least 18 opposition supporters died in the Montepuez confrontation. More than 40 people died in clashes on that day nationwide as police opened fire to disperse opposition crowds protesting against allegedly fraudulent elections last year. Hundreds were wounded or injured, and hundreds arrested.

[ENDS]

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