12.11.2012

Report accuses Zimbabwe of stealing diamond money

About $2-billion worth of diamonds have been stolen from Zimbabwe's eastern diamond fields and have enriched President Robert Mugabe's ruling circle. The report condemns the Mugabe government's control of the Marange diamond fields which have made Zimbabwe a major player in the international diamond trade.

Zimbabwe's Marange fields have seen "the biggest plunder of diamonds since Cecil Rhodes," the colonial magnate who exploited South Africa's Kimberley diamonds a century ago, charged Partnership Africa Canada, a member of the Kimberley Process, the world regulatory body on the diamond trade. Zimbabwe's eastern Marange field – one of the world's biggest diamond deposits – has been mined since 2006 and its vast earnings could have turned around Zimbabwe's economy, battered by years of meltdown and political turmoil, the group said. But funds from the diamond sales have not showed up in the state treasury. Instead there is evidence that millions have gone to Mugabe's cronies. The report, released Monday to coincide with the Zimbabwe government's conference on the diamond trade here in Victoria Falls, casts a shadow over the Mugabe regime's effort to win international respectability for its gem trade. The report condemns the Mugabe government's control of the Marange diamond fields which have made Zimbabwe a major player in the international diamond trade. "Marange's potential has been overshadowed by violence, smuggling, corruption and most of all, lost opportunity," the PAC report said. "The scale of illegality is mind-blowing" and has spread to "compromise most of the diamond markets of the world," said the report. The report describes the $2-billion lost to the Zimbabwe treasury as a "conservative estimate".
Finance Minister Tendai Biti said in his 2012 budget he had been promised $600-million in diamond revenue for the national treasury to help re-finance crumbling health, education and other public services. Biti said that only one-fourth of that pledge has been received. Mines minister Obert Mpofu, a Mugabe loyalist, insists Western economic sanctions have prevented the government from getting good prices for the diamonds on the international market. But Mpofu has repeatedly refused to give exact figures on diamond revenues, said the PAC report. Mpofu, the mines minister since 2009, amassed an unexplained personal fortune and is linked to a "small and tight group of political and military elites who have been in charge of Marange from the very beginning" and who are personally benefiting from the diamond sales, the report alleged. In 2010 leading industry insiders, including Filip van Loere, a Belgian diamond expert working for the Mugabe government, forecast the country could produce as much as 30-million to 40-million carats a year, worth about $2-billion annually, the PAC report said. The diamonds are being mined and sold but the funds are not reaching the Zimbabwean treasury, according to the report. Most of the diamond revenue is lost through a lack of transparency in accounting for how many diamonds are mined, how much is earned from their sales, the underpricing of gems on world markets, smuggling and a "high level of collusion" by government officials.
Records show that 10-million carats of Marange diamonds were exported to Dubai in late 2012 for $60-million, which the report said is an artificially low price because the same stones were sold for double their original price when they left Dubai for Surat, India – the world's biggest diamond cutting center. It says the gems should have been valued at $1.2-billion. The low valuation lost the Zimbabwe nation considerable money and "underscores a price manipulation scheme perpetrated by Indian buyers and their Zimbabwe allies, with whom they are believed to share the spoils," the report said. In addition, the report's researchers were unable to locate a 2.5-million carat stockpile, valued at around $200-million, which mysteriously disappeared in November 2011. It also charges that $300-million in diamond sales never made it to the Zimbabwe treasury in 2011. All this has been allowed to happen under the watch of the Kimberley Process, which is supposed to prevent misuse of diamond funds. "Calls for greater transparency have been dismissed within the Kimberley Process," it said. "The lack of transparency surrounding Zimbabwe's diamond revenue is matter of critical public interest and amplifies concerns for some time that these revenues are funding a parallel government" of police and military officers and government officials loyal to Mugabe, many known to be building private mansions and buying luxury cars costing far in excess of their income from tax-funded salaries, said the report. (Sapa-AP)

SWAZILAND 14.11.2012 Illegal abortions endangering lives

Illegal abortions in Swaziland are responsible for nearly one fifth of all maternal deaths annually

Abortions are illegal in Swaziland and have resulted in criminal convictions, but in October 2012 more than 1,000 women were treated for abortion-related complications at a single clinic in the country’s second city Manzini, says the Family Life Association of Swaziland (FLAS), a family planning organization. FLAS is calling for the legalization of abortion on the grounds of women’s health. “In neighbouring South Africa, the legalization of abortion in concert with strong family planning efforts resulted in substantially fewer maternal deaths in a matter of a few years. Deaths from abortion complications decreased by 91 percent in South Africa from 1994 to 2001,” FLAS spokesperson Mancoba Mabuza said. Despite South Africa’s proximity to Swaziland, travelling to the neighbouring state for terminations present extreme difficulties for Swazi women, as 70 percent of the population live in poverty. Travel and accommodation costs can prove insurmountable, although government clinics provide the procedure at no cost.

Marie Stopes South Africa, the country’s largest non-profit sexual and reproductive healthcare service provider, charges R1,000 (US$120) for a termination of three months or less. Jeff Mathe, director of the country’s largest public hospital in the capital Mbabane, told the recent annual Swaziland National Health Conference that 16 percent of all female deaths so far this year at the hospital were a consequence of botched terminations. Many of the deaths were the result of haemorrhaging, while others resulted from the patient’s delay in seeking medical treatment for other complications stemming from illegal terminations. “These are cases that are reported to us. There are probably many cases that are not reported,” Mathe told the conference, but declined to give his opinion on whether terminations should be legalized. FLAS cited health ministry estimates that 19 percent of maternal mortality annually was due to unsafe and illegal abortions.

Swaziland’s Office of the Attorney General told IRIN that performing, receiving or participating in an abortion was a criminal offence carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The law is not concerned whether the mother is a rape survivor, or if the pregnancy is a consequence of incest.
In 2011 three Swazi nurses were arrested and given 15 years for assisting in terminations. “They were helping the poorest of the poor, women who are truly desperate and who cannot do what most Swazi women do who need an abortion. Most women just travel across the border to South Africa,” Alicia Simelane, a Manzini healthcare worker and midwife, told IRIN. “Also, there are the scared little girls, the rape survivors and the survivors of incest who dare not talk about their experiences to anyone. Counselling hardly exists for such girls in Swaziland. Then there are the women who have seven children and a husband who refuses to wear a condom, and they cannot bear to have more children. These are desperate women, and they will go to anyone who they think will help them,” she said. In the absence of legal abortions, mothers are suspected of practising infanticide. Local media reports of newborns found dead in isolated areas are commonplace.

The legalizing of abortion was debated for the first time recently in parliament, which deemed it a useful tool for population control. The country’s population is about 1,1 million. Minister of Sports, Culture and Youth Affairs Hlobisile Ndlovu told the recent health conference terminations could serve as a way of curbing the high birth rate. “The children born from very young people eventually end up being a burden on government.” MP Johannes Ndlangamandla told parliament unwanted babies had difficult lives and “abortion should be legalized to curb the population of unwanted babies who end up becoming a burden to government.” He said to object to terminations on religious grounds was hypocritical, as “it is unchristian to breed unwanted babies and expose them to a life of difficulty they do not deserve.” Other MPs, however, said abortions were “equivalent to murder”. The Times of Swaziland dismissed abortion as a population control tool: “This is completely the wrong reason to legalise abortion, as the same effect could be reached by universal condom use.” Since the early 1990s, Swaziland’s GDP has not kept pace with population growth, “leading to an overall reduction in the standard of living for the average Swazi,” according to the Central Bank of Swaziland. (IRIN)


BOTSWANA 15.11.2012 Maputo Plan of Action: Botswana gets the thumbs up

Botswana is fairing well in the Maputo Plan of Action (MPOA) in as far as availability of policies in several aspects of the continental response to Sexual Reproductive and Human Rights (SRHR), a workshop that monitors the regional plan revealed yesterday.

Among others, Botswana has achieved 92 percent completion rate of the first element on integration of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections, malaria and sexual reproductive health services into primary health care. The September 2012 MPOA scorecard also indicates that the country, together with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania are leaders in youth-friendly SRHR services positioned as key strategy for youth empowerment and well-being. However, an officer in the Ministry of Health (MoH) Lesego Makganya told the participants ranging from government, civil society and the media that there were disparities between policy and implementation. Makganya attributed these to cultural beliefs and lack of resources. Despite the shortfalls, she said much has been done to implement the plan of action as evidenced by the launch of the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality.  In addition, the ministry has established youth-friendly health services in public health services. "We have also advocated for inclusive or retention of family life skills in formal curriculum from primary to tertiary education," she said. Lame Olebile, from the Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) argued that though policies have been drawn, it is crucial that they are inclusive. She said the nation continues to sweep the existence of sexual practices between women and other women, and men and men under the carpet, which proliferates the HIV/AIDS and STIs prevalence. Calling for inclusiveness in policy, she said until government and laws wake up to this reality, the nation would be then said to be in the right direction as presently, the policies are as good as non-existent.  The Maputo Plan of Action, alias the Plan of Action on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, is the plan of action for the operationalisation of the continental policy framework for sexual and reproductive health and rights adopted in Gaborone and endorsed in Maputo by the African Union (AU) heads of state. This is a document promoting Universal Access to Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health Services in Africa.The workshop, which ends today (with a media training), is conducted by the Accountability International (AAI), in partnership with the African Union Commission (AUC), the Ford Foundation and Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ) focusing on accountability in its series of national SRHR accountability workshops in Southern Africa. The workshops aim to increase the capacity of the media in Africa on SRHR and to report on relevant SRHR issues to a greater degree and with better engagement, build the capacity of government and civil society to work together with the media to improve SRHR and thus increase accountability and finally promote increased action on MPOA through greater networking by government, civil society and media institutions to achieve SRHR goals. (Kayawe, Mmegionline)


SOUTH AFRICA 15.11.2012 Mine strikes end, tensions remain

The last of a wave of illegal strikes that have swept South Africa's mining sector ended on Thursday after workers accepted an offer from Anglo American Platinum Ltd, the world's top producer of the precious metal.

South Africa's platinum and gold sectors have been rocked for months by often violent wildcat action, spawned by income disparities and a union turf war for members, and more conflict could be sparked by looming job cuts and wage talks next year. The labour unrest has rattled investors in the continent's largest economy and has claimed the lives of over 50 people, including 34 shot dead by police in one incident in mid-August near a mine operated by platinum producer Lonmin Plc. "All the workers are returning to work," said Evans Ramokga, a strike leader at Amplats, a unit of troubled global mining group Anglo American Plc, which has struggled for two months to get more than 30,000 employees back to work at several of its South African mines. The company has offered either an additional monthly allowance of 600 rand ($67.42) or a monthly salary increase of 400 rand, as well as a one-off 4,500 rand. Amplats has said the strikes would cut annual profit by more than a fifth and tensions in the sector remain, with 37 workers scheduled to appear in court on Thursday after being arrested for violence during protests near a chrome mine run by Xstrata Plc.
South Africa's boardrooms and politicians may breathe a sigh of relief as the worst labour unrest since the end of apartheid in 1994 winds down, but uncertainties still cloud the picture. The dominant National Union of Mineworkers, which has delivered above-inflation wage hikes but contained militancy, has lost control over much of its rank and file, a source of concern to the ruling African National Congress and corporate bosses alike. Anglo American, which this week raised cost estimates for its Minas-Rio project in Brazil and warned of lower profit from its South African iron ore unit Kumba, is scrutinising Amplats in a review widely expected to lead to shaft closures and job cuts that could further stoke social tensions. Much of the platinum sector is battling with low demand, though the price for the metal used for emissions-capping catalytic converters in cars has risen 13 percent this year mostly because of supply concerns stemming from the strikes in South Africa, home to 80 percent of known reserves. Refiner Johnson Matthey Plc said on Tuesday global platinum supply will hit an 11-year low in 2012, largely because of the strikes' impact on production, and said demand would outstrip available stocks.
A Reuters journalist said workers at Amplats' Thembelani shaft had reported for work on Thursday morning. "We are reporting to work as a sign of goodwill while the striking committee meet management (to finalise the deal)," said Thebe Maswabi, a miner at the shaft. Amplats spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said management and labour leaders were scheduled to meet on Thursday morning. Among other pledges, Amplats has said it would start wage talks ahead of the expiry of current deals next year. Bringing the wage talks forward is seen as a way to head off possible strike action, but is a risky course as the negotiations could also provoke another round of wildcat action by militant labour leaders. Around 80,000 South African miners or 15 percent of the workforce had been off the job at one point, but all of the major strikes are now over. AngloGold Ashanti Ltd, the world's third-largest bullion producer, said on Wednesday its Mponeng mine had resumed work, ending an eight-day stoppage. All of the company's South African operations are now back up and running. (Reuters)

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