Zimbabwe: Yearender - chronology of an unremitting crisis

JOHANNESBURG, 30 December (IRIN) - If last year Zimbabweans thought life could not get any tougher, 2003 disabused them of that faint hope.
Ordinary people struggled to cope through interlinked humanitarian, economic and political crises that provided no let up, deepening their poverty and vulnerability.

Record levels of inflation daily eroded people's ability to provide for their families, while under funded public services -including the once impressive health and education systems - fell into even faster decline.

Humanitarian agencies warn that more than six million Zimbabweans - over half the population - will again be in need of food aid by early 2004, allegedly as a result of the impact of fast-track land reform, HIV/AIDS, the government's economic policies and the lack of crucial farm inputs.

The following is a chronology of events of 2003.

15 January - Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai says that he was approached with a deal from the ruling party that includes a safe exit for President Robert Mugabe and a national unity government to lead Zimbabwe out of its political and economic crisis.

23 January - UN Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, James Morris, visits Zimbabwe to review responses to the humanitarian disaster. He reiterates the impact of HIV/AIDS and says government policies over land redistribution and the monopoly of the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) have also contributed to the crisis.

31 January - NGOs and humanitarian agencies highlight the need to include displaced farm workers in emergency relief programmes. They also point out the need to include urban areas in nutrition assessments.

3 February - Tsvangirai's treason trial commences. He is accused, along with two other MDC leaders, of plotting to assassinate Mugabe.

12 February - The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation says it will provide 340,000 vaccines for foot-and-mouth disease as part of efforts to control the spread of the epidemic which has dealt a severe blow to the country's livestock industry.

18 February - The government launches its National Economic Revival Programme, which seeks to promote economic growth through home-grown solutions.

19 February - Dato' Param Cumaraswamy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, expresses his "grave concern" over the arrest of sitting judge Benjamin Paradza.

25 February - The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) says food aid to Zimbabwe needs to be extended for another year with urgent steps taken to protect people from the consequences of yet another poor harvest.

20 March - The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) organises a two-day stayaway in protest against the government's alleged disregard for labour rights. Demonstrations are illegal in Zimbabwe without police clearance.

6 March - Tropical cyclone Japhet hits Zimbabwe severely destroying crops and homes.

10 March - Zimbabwe's first urban feeding programme opens in the country's second city, Bulawayo.

20 March - MDC gives government until 31 March to meet a list of demands or "face popular mass action to regain the people's liberties, freedoms and dignity". The protest action is delayed until 2 June.

24 March - US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher urges that government to end what he describes as a campaign of "violent repression" against domestic opponents.

26 March - Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon's announces that Zimbabwe's suspension from the 54-member body remains in force, to be reviewed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Nigeria in December.

30 March - MDC wins by-elections in the Harare seats of Highfield and Kuwadzana.

4 April - A ministerial meeting in Harare of the Southern African Development Community defence and security organ sets up a task force to investigate allegations of human rights abuse.

10 April - The UN's Relief and Recovery Unit (RRU) warns that the food security situation in the southern province of Matabeleland South is "critical".

18 April - Mugabe hints at the possibility of retiring before his term ends in 2008. "We are getting to a stage where we shall say fine, we settled this matter [land redistribution] and people can retire," he is quoted as saying.

23 April - Police arrest eight trade union leaders on the first day of a three-day strike called to protest fuel price increases and hyper-inflation. The stayaway is orchestrated by the ZCTU with the support of MDC.

25 April - Human Rights Watch criticises the lack of action by the UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding alleged abuses in Zimbabwe.

29 April - The Zimbabwe government denies reports that Mugabe is preparing an exit plan for himself, saying the reports are "at best wishful".

2 May - Australia closes the offices of its overseas aid programme Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) following Canberra's decision in 2002 to impose smart sanctions on Zimbabwe. AusAID moves its operations to Pretoria, South Africa.

3 May - Amnesty International (AI) launches a report entitled "Zimbabwe: Rights Under Siege" to mark World Press Freedom Day. AI says the government had introduced and selectively used legislation as a vehicle for committing "widespread human rights violations" with impunity.

5 May - South African President Thabo Mbeki, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Malawi President Bakili Muluzi hold closed-door talks with Mugabe, followed by a meeting with Tsvangirai, in a bid to "contribute to the resolution of the problems" facing the country.

12 May - Forty-six women are arrested and detained during a Mother's Day march. The march is organised by Women of Zimbabwe Arise to protest violence and torture and to demand fairer food prices.

15 May - Mugabe establishes a Presidential Land Review Committee to examine the implementation of land redistribution. Former secretary to the cabinet, Charles Utete, heads the committee.

29 May - The Zimbabwe Defence Force warns MDC that it will not be "an idle observer" during protests planned for June.

29 May - Mugabe calls for open debate over his succession within the ruling ZANU-PF.

2 June - The first day of a planned week of anti-government protests dubbed the "final push" starts with a swoop on the MDC leadership by the police. Tsvangirai is arrested on contempt of court charges for allegedly defying a court order to call off the stayaway. The mass action is partly successful.

6 June - Tsvangirai is again arrested and charged with treason, this time for remarks made in 2002 in which he allegedly called for Mugabe's removal by force. The security forces clampdown on the last day of the MDC's week-long protest.

9 June - The International Monetary Fund (IMF) suspends Zimbabwe's voting and related rights over the government's economic policies.

11 June - Parliament passes two controversial media bills - the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act (AIPPA) and the Broadcasting Services Amendment Act.

20 June - Tsvangirai is awarded bail and freed after two weeks in custody.

26 June - Mugabe jets off to Libya to pursue discussions about fuel supplies in the wake of countrywide shortages.

9 July - MDC denies there had been a resumption of talks between itself and the government. Talks between the two parties were aborted in April 2002 when the MDC refused to withdraw its court action over the presidential election results.

29 July - UN launches a Consolidated Appeal for Zimbabwe, requesting US $114 million to help feed 5.5 million people.

30 July - Mugabe orders ruling party officials with multiple farms to relinquish all but one within two weeks.

22 August - Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa announces a supplementary budget of Zim $700 billion (about US $850 million) to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

25 August - The government gives an assurance that the World Food Programme (WFP) will remain in control of humanitarian food distribution, despite a controversial new policy directive that stipulates local government officials and traditional leaders will be responsible for both beneficiary registration and distribution.

27 August - Energy and Power Development Minister Amos Midzi deregulates the procurement of petroleum products.

1 September - MDC consolidates its grip in urban areas after winning the majority of executive mayoral posts and local council elections. In two key parliamentary by-elections, the MDC wins Harare Central in the capital, while ZANU-PF takes the rural constituency of Makonde.

2 September - The government requests that the UN's RRU closes its provincial field offices, which coordinate and monitor the use of donor-funded humanitarian aid.

11 September - The anti-government privately-owned Daily News and its sister newspaper the Daily News on Sunday, are shut down by the police for operating without a license after the Supreme Court rejects an appeal by the papers' publishers challenging AIPPA.

18 September - The Daily News wins a court victory allowing it to resume publishing, after police twice raid its offices and confiscate equipment. The court rules that sections of AIPPA under which the paper is banned are unconstitutional.

20 September - Vice-President Simon Muzenda dies. The veteran nationalist was aged 80

25 September - Government and WFP sign a Memorandum of Understanding reaffirming that WFP food aid will be distributed on the basis of need alone, and that WFP can operate as before with food aid distributed by NGO partners.

9 October - Police swoop on ZCTU activists gathered in the capital to protest high taxes and soaring inflation.

16 October - The Commonwealth's Don McKinnon reiterates the call for Zimbabwe's ruling party to negotiate with its political rivals. He says "dialogue and national reconciliation" are necessary before the country can be readmitted.

22 October - Members of the pro-democracy National Constitutional Assembly gather in Harare's city centre to lobby for a new constitution. They are arrested and detained overnight.

23 October - State hospital doctors go on strike. Doctors who earn between Zim $263,305 and Zim $807,735 per month (about US $330 and US $1,000 at the official rate, US $48 and US $147 at parallel market rates) want their salaries hiked by 8,000 percent. Nurses also say they will not return to work until the government responds to their pay proposals from last year.

24 October - Human Rights Watch releases a 51-page report "Not eligible: The Politicisation of Food in Zimbabwe" alleging that MDC supporters are sidelined by ZANU-PF officials and village headmen during the distribution of GMB food.

24 October - The Administrative Court gives the government-appointed Media and Information Commission until 30 November to register the Daily News, or the court would deem it to have been registered.

25 October - The Daily News returns to the streets with an eight-page edition headlined "We're back!". Police shut down the paper and issue warrants of arrest for the directors.

27 October - The chief executive and three directors of the Daily News turn themselves into the police and are charged for publishing without a license.

31 October - The government forms a special taskforce of nine cabinet ministers to clamp down on the foreign exchange black market.

4 November - The High Court reserves judgment on the petition by the MDC to have the results of the March 2002 presidential elections annulled.

6 November - The presidential land review committee says the "fast-track" agrarian reform programme has redistributed far less land than has been claimed in a process dogged by administrative shortcomings and interference by officials.

17 November - The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reports a total of 173 cholera cases in Kariba (Mashonaland West) and Binga (Matabeleland North) with 26 deaths.

A Save the Children-UK (SCUK) survey of households in the northwestern Zvimba district indicate that newly resettled communal farmers and former commercial farm workers are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

18 November - More than 50 labour and pro-democracy activists are arrested as they assemble to protest alleged rights abuses and price hikes.

19 November - The UN launches an update of its Zimbabwe appeal, urging donors to provide the outstanding amount of US $109 out of the original appeal of US $114 million.

25 November - Nigerian President Obasanjo tells journalists that Mugabe will not attend the December CHOGM in Abuja.

25 November - Nurses join doctors in another strike for higher wages, deepening the crisis of the public health system. Public hospitals in Harare and Bulawayo are forced to close wards.

1 December - ZANU-PF's Ishmael Mutema wins Kadoma central by-election. The constituency fell vacant following the death of Austin Mpandawana of the MDC.

3 December - Cholera outbreaks claim the lives of about 40 people. SCUK warns that if the disease spreads to urban and former commercial farm areas it could be disastrous.

4 December - The IMF initiates procedures to expel Zimbabwe over the country's failure to meet its debt obligations.

5 December - ZANU-PF holds its annual conference in the southern city of Masvingo, but rules out any debate on the issue of a successor to Mugabe.

7 December - Zimbabwe pulls out of the Commonwealth after the organisation indefinitely extends the country's suspension. It was originally suspended over its governance record and the controversial presidential elections.

11 December - FEWS NET reports that the number of Zimbabweans needing food aid next year is expected to rise to over 6 million, beyond the original estimate of 5.5 million.

12 December - UNICEF warns that Zimbabwe's humanitarian and economic crises could dramatically reverse its impressive post-independence education gains.

18 December - Mbeki arrives in Zimbabwe for talks with Mugabe on the country's political and economic crisis. He also meets briefly with Tsvangirai.

19 December - The Daily News wins a court decision allowing it to publish pending a Supreme Court hearing.

21 December - MDC's national conference calls for talks with ZANU-PF to agree a transitional constitution that would establish conditions for free and fair elections. Tsvangirai warns that mass action could be used to force the party to the negotiating table.

22 December - Lack of donor funding forces WFP to halve its December cereal ration to more than 2.6 million hungry Zimbabweans.

30 December - The government announces that 200,000 hectares of land (about 400 farms) have been recovered from multiple farm owners by the Presidential Land Implementation Committee, which was set up to implement the recommendations of the Presidential Land Review Committee.


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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2003