Southern Africa: IRIN News Briefs, 6 August

from The New Humanitarian
Published on 06 Aug 2001
SOUTHERN AFRICA: Refugee population on the rise
The global refugee population in Southern Africa is on the rise according to an UNHCR statement released on Friday. The number of new asylum seekers in the region has increased by 7.8 percent over the first six months of 2001, from 320,563 to 345,720. The increase is even higher at 9.6 percent if one includes the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Tanzania, which are also part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and together host 72 percent of the area's refugees.

The report noted that the upward trend is mainly due to protracted crises in the region showing little signs of respite, such as the Angolan civil conflict and the slow progress in the DRC and Burundi peace processes. In Zambia alone, new arrivals over the past six months total 17,900 DRC refugees and 9,100 Angolan refugees. Existing camps and settlements have been extended, sometimes stretching beyond their capacity. Despite the ongoing peace process in the DRC, arrivals of Congolese into Northern Zambia have increased again recently to about 200 per week, after regressing for several months. This may be explained by the fact that people fear further violence in the wake of the retreat of foreign armies.

There is also still a steady trickle into Zambia of Angolans from Moxico and Cuando Cubango provinces. The global increase in Southern Africa is particularly sharp in countries with traditionally small refugee populations like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi. In Zimbabwe, the refugee population more than doubled from 4,127 to 8,416 between January and June this year, and Mozambique, saw an increase of 85 percent, from 2,278 to 4,216, while new arrivals in Malawi rose by 23 percent, from 3,900 to 4,810. The three countries continue receiving a small but regular inflow of asylum seekers from the Great Lakes (DRC, Rwanda and Burundi), including Rwandans who may have been on the move since the 1994 genocide, circulating through other countries before reaching Southern Africa.

The number of Burundi refugees in Southern Africa however remains small (5,630, of which 2,008 are in Zambia) compared to staggering numbers in Tanzania (388,502) and the DRC (19,775). In Namibia the global refugee population has so far increased by 9 percent in 2001. However, new arrivals, mainly from Angola, have dropped to 300 per month on average, down from 500 last year. This drop could be attributed to heavy rains, flooded rivers and the possible blocking of safe refugee routes into Namibia by various armed forces. Namibia's refugee population grew by 60 percent in 2000 and has now reached 30,635 at the end of June 2001.

SOUTH AFRICA-ZIMBABWE: Mbeki says he failed on Zimbabwe

South African President Thabo Mbeki said in an interview broadcast on Monday that his efforts to avoid political, social and economic collapse in Zimbabwe had failed. Mbeki told BBC's 'Hard Talk' that the total collapse of Zimbabwe was the greatest threat to South Africa and the rest of the region.

Mbeki added that he hoped a new Commonwealth initiative would help Zimbabwe. "We sit across the border from Zimbabwe, and critical for South Africa must surely be that we don't have a situation that the IMF warned about at the beginning of this year: a meltdown in Zimbabwe." Mbeki said he did not know why his efforts to persuade Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to moderate his actions had not been effective. "What I know is that we can't afford the complete collapse of Zimbabwe on our borders, so we have got to try and do whatever we can," Mbeki said.

The president added that sanctions against Mugabe, who is facing presidential elections next year, could hasten the collapse of the country. "Sure, time is running out. Which means we have got to act quickly and continue to say it is important to respond positively to these issues," he said. "There is a land problem in Zimbabwe, there is need for land redistribution, but it must be handled differently, without violence, without conflict, within the context of the law, bearing in mind the interests of all Zimbabweans, both black and white."

Meanwhile the state-owned 'Herald' newspaper said on Monday that a group of Commonwealth foreign ministers is scheduled to meet in Abuja next week to seek ways to heal strained relations between Zimbabwe and Britain. The newspaper said that Nigeria had invited the foreign ministers of South Africa, Kenya, Australia, Jamaica, Britain and Zimbabwe to the meeting.

ZIMBABWE: By-election not free or fair - MDC

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has claimed that last weekends' by-election, won by the ruling ZANU-PF party, in the rural constituency of Bindura, 35 km north of Harare, was neither free or fair, the 'Mail and Guardian' said on Monday.

The MDC's secretary general told the newspaper that voters in Bindura were "enclosed in concentration camp like conditions". "The commercial farming of Bindura was a no-go area for us," Ncube said. He said that MDC supporters were beaten up and that the party was prevented from campaigning in the area.

Last week Ncube along with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai met with representatives from South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and urged them to send election monitors to Zimbabwe at least three months prior to next year's presidential elections.

The Zimbabwean deputy high commissioner in South Africa, Danson Mudekunye, denied the reports of intimidation and the allegation that elections were not free and fair. He pointed out that European Union (EU) monitors were present during the elections: "If the MDC had won, then the election would have been free and fair," he was quoted as saying. ZANU-PF's Elliot Manyika defeated MDC candidate Elliot Pfebve by polling 15,864 votes, 6,408 more than his rival.

ZIMBABWE: Civic groups lambaste Mugabe

Zimbabwe's leading civic groups on Saturday called for an end to political violence, economic decay and land reforms and stressed the need for free and fair presidential polls next year, news reports said. At the end of a one-day conference called "Crisis in Zimbabwe" an estimated 500 delegates from development agencies, professional associations, church and human rights groups, labour and student unions urged Mugabe to set a programme that would guarantee a free and fair poll. They agreed that the crises facing Zimbabwe needed to be resolved immediately before the country slid into an abyss.

"The conference believe that the crises in Zimbabwe must be resolved immediately before the country descends into chaos," a resolution by the group was quoted as saying. "We reserve the democratic right to engage in civic action, including civil disobedience, if government refuses to accede to the demands of this conference or to engage in meaningful discussion on these demands."

Reports said delegates also called upon regional and international bodies to "use their influence to bring about a restoration of peace, functioning democracy and the rule of law within Zimbabwe". "We fully accept the present inequities and that there is urgent need for a major land reform in Zimbabwe," but "the reform must be properly planned and executed... and carried out within the legal framework and without violence. There must be an immediate cessation of the current fast track land reforms and evacuation of all occupied farms," the group said.

Meanwhile conference spokesman Brian Raftopoulos was quoted as saying that the "chances of an internationally acceptable presidential election taking place in Zimbabwe (were) looking bleak". "Therefore the need for intensified pressure at national, regional and international levels for the creation of conditions for a legitimate election process to take place in Zimbabwe in 2002, is of paramount importance," he said.

NAMIBIA: Defence ministry admits to deaths against UNITA

The Namibian ministry of defence has admitted that two Namibian soldiers died fighting suspected UNITA rebels in southern Angola last month, 'The Namibian' said on Monday. The newspaper said that the ministry made the revelation in a press statement responding to a claim by the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) that eight Namibian Defence Force (NDF) soldiers had been killed in combat with UNITA on 21 July.

"The true fact is that, only two NDF soldiers died and three [were] wounded contrary to NSHR report," NDF spokesman Vincent Mwange was quoted as saying. "There is absolutely no truth" in the NSHR report that "injured soldiers and the dead were carried for seven days to a place where they could be picked up by a helicopter. The NDF has a well-trained and equipped force with all the military components in place," Mwange added. "Our dead and wounded soldiers were evacuated on time and not after seven days as alleged by the NSHR press release."

Last week the NSHR said in a statement that eight NDF soldiers were killed at Licua in southeastern Angola about 150 km northeast of the Namibian border town of Rundu. "The surviving soldiers in the unit had no choice but to carry the dead and injured soldiers for seven days, to a place where they could be picked up by helicopter," the NSHR said.

"Choppers could apparently not pick them up earlier as they came under heavy fire. The eight bodies were allegedly brought into Namibia some time around July 28. The burial of one of the dead, Johannes Heinrich took, place recently in Owambo. The other bodies were taken to Grootfontein Military Base," alleged the NSHR.

SWAZILAND: Swazi workers vow to boycott summons

The Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions on Sunday urged thousands of Swazi workers to boycott King Mswati III's summons to attend a meeting later this week on the future of the constitution, news reports said.

Mswati has called upon the Swazi nation to converge on Friday at the Ludzidzini Royal Cattle Byre outside the capital Mbabane, where he would present the findings of a Constitutional Review Commission (CRC). The union said that the commission's findings would only represent the views of the "royalists" and not the views of all Swazis.

The commission took four years to gather the views of Swazis, with its terms of reference stating that no organisations only individuals would be allowed to make submissions. Two weeks ago, the federation had to call off a mass meeting, intended to discuss a draconian new decree strengthening Mswati's powers over his one million citizens.

MALAWI: Corruption could endanger HIPC support

World Bank Resident Representative in Lilongwe Robert Liebenthal has said that there is a need for government to adhere to established poverty reduction programmes, local media reported on Monday. Liebenthal emphasised that any serious departure on International Monitory Fund (IMF) and World Bank supported poverty initiatives will put Malawi's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) qualification in jeopardy. He was speaking at a HIPC Initiative Conference in Lilongwe on Friday which was convened by the Economic Association of Malawi (ECAMA) in conjunction with UNICEF to discuss the effects of HIPC relief that Malawi is supposed to enjoy.

Malawi qualified for the HIPC initiative in December last year and is due to receive US $1 billion in debt relief over a period of 20 years. The IMF and the World Bank will contribute US $147.7 million to the HIPC relief. At the meeting it was alleged that government is failing to provide the nation with a detailed explanation as to how it used over US $14.7 million interim money Malawi received from December last year to June this year after it qualified for the HIPC initiative.

Civil society organisations at the meeting on Friday took government to task for it's failure to properly account for the money and also the lack of detailed information on how it is going to use another US $58.7 million Malawi is to receive this fiscal year alone as HIPC debt relief. Although Deputy Finance Minister Jaan Sonke said HIPC money had been used in purchasing drugs, training nurses and for primary health care, civil organisations said the information was not comprehensive enough.

MALAWI: Nation to import SA maize

The Malawi government is to import up to 180,000 mt of maize from South Africa, the country's President Bakili Muluzi said last week at a political rally. A number of districts had poor maize harvest due to floods in some parts and prolonged dry spells in others. "I have sent a delegation to South Africa to facilitate importation of maize," said Muluzi.

In recent years business truck owners have been smuggling maize to neighbouring countries for higher prices even though there was food shortages. The police have been instructed to mount checks at border posts for any smugglers of the staple food, he said.

Meanwhile, South Africa's Agriculture Department has confirmed that if necessary, it would assist Zimbabwe with supplies of maize and wheat. SABC radio news reported that in a written reply to a question in the National Assembly, Agriculture and Land Affairs Minister Thoko Didiza said her department had been informed of expected food shortages in Zimbabwe. Didiza said South Africa would have 9,000 mt of maize ready to be exported to Zimbabwe and the country may be able to export 54,000 tons of wheat besides its normal export commitments.

COMOROS: Economy in trouble says IMF

As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the first time in years has been able to assess economic trends in Comoros, the figures show a sharp decline due to recent political turmoil, a recent IMF report has concluded. Trends on the separatist island of Anjouan seem even worse. Large fiscal imbalances reportedly led to serious disruptions in government services in 1997-98, which were further exacerbated by political instability, the report said. "Against this background, real GDP, which grew by less than the population during much of the 1990s, declined by 1.1 percent in 2000."

The IMF attributes the negative GDP to "a slowdown in donor support, mounting disruptions in electricity supply, and the lack of investment in the main agricultural export products." These products include vanilla, cloves and the natural essence ylang-ylang. The economic downward trends are attributed to "the political turmoil" on the Indian Ocean archipelago, including the conflict with the separatist government on the island of Anjouan since 1997 and the military coup in the capital Moroni in 1999.

There are, however, signs of recovery in Comoros. The IMF especially counts on the reconciliation process between the Moroni government and Anjouan. It also recognises that the Moroni government is making positive steps towards recovery. The IMF wants the authorities further should "reduce employment in the public sector as part of a civil service reform programme" and "complete expenditure reviews in the education and other sectors".

ANGOLA: Wreck of missing plane found near Soyo

Angolan authorities have found the presumed wreck of a twin- engine Cessna aircraft that disappeared two weeks ago with its two crewmen, the director of the national civil aviation authority told Lusa on Friday. Helder Preza said wreckage of the plane had been spotted from the air on Thursday in the Soyo region of northwestern Angola. A search team should be sent to the area, which is "difficult to access", within the next few days, he added. The Cessna 337 aircraft owned by the American company Airscan and working for the Angolan oil sector, disappeared on July 16 after taking off from Soyo.


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