April 18, 2002

Police charge more journalists – War veterans demand top cabinet and police jobs

Police in Harare summoned on April 17 Zimbabwe Independent editor Iden Wetherell and Daily News chief reporter Pedzisai Ruhanya for questioning over allegations that they have violated the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The summons follow the laying of charges two days earlier against Daily News editor-in-chief Geoff Nyarota and Independent chief reporter Dumisani Muleya under the same Act for allegedly publishing "false" stories.

Nyarota was arrested on Monday, April 15, over an article questioning the difference between the final election results given on national television and subsequent published figures which allegedly contained 700,000 more voters. He was charged with abuse of journalistic privilege and falsifying information in terms of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act passed in March. Muleya was arrested over a story relating to a labour dispute in which the brother of the first lady, Grace Mugabe, was reportedly asked to intervene. He was charged with criminal defamation after his arrest on Monday. Both men have been released. Wetherell said that he has been charged with the same offence that Dumisani Muleya was charged with. Ruhanya confirmed that he had also been called by police, although he did not give details on the matter.

The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act was enacted on 15 March and says that newspapers deemed to have abused journalistic privilege by falsifying or fabricating stories are liable to two years in jail.

The Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) joined international bodies in condemning the action taken against journalists under the new media law, saying this would seriously affect the free flow of information. "MISA-Zimbabwe and other media organisations maintain that the Access to Information Act is meant to target certain journalists," the organisation said. "Without doubt, the recent events are bringing out the real intentions behind the media law."

Meanwhile it is told that President Robert Mugabe is facing new pressure from his militant war veterans as the former fighters, whose campaign of violence helped win Mugabe’s disputed re-election in March, demand that he appoints them as Cabinet ministers, provincial governors and as Zimbabwe’s ambassadors abroad. Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association (ZNLWVA) secretary for projects Andrew Ndlovu said on April 17 that the grouping of former guerrillas of Zimbabwe’s 1970s liberation war had proposed to Mugabe that he also appoints their members as district administrators and gives them top jobs in the police force. "We are saying that war veterans should be included at all levels of government. The war veterans should be appointed as ministers or deputy ministers, governors, high commissioners, district administrators and senior police officers," Ndlovu told the Financial Gazette.

ZNLWVA secretary-general Andy Mhlanga told this newspaper separately that a document detailing the proposals was sent to Mugabe in March. But Mhlanga said there had been no response yet from the 78-year-old leader, who in recent years has increasingly relied on the 50.000-strong former fighters to suppress rising opposition to his 22-year rule. Presidential spokesman George Charamba could not be reached for comment on the matter.

The war veterans are also demanding an immediate 150 percent increase in their monthly pension from $7 890 to $20 000, a hike in the school fees allowance from $20 000 per child a term to $35 000 and that the government launches a special state-subsidised medical aid scheme which covers them and their dependants.

Sources close to the ZNLWVA said the ex-combatants were disgruntled that while Mugabe had appeared content to use them to ensure he remained in power, the veterans felt that they had been unable to share in the spoils of that power. Most of the ex-fighters except those who were absorbed into the army and civil service soon after Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980 remain out of the government.

The veterans now want Mugabe to ditch some of his Cabinet ministers they allege deserted the 1970s armed struggle and who they say are anti-war veteran. The sources said the veterans want Mugabe to also dismiss several senior civil servants inherited from the white colonial Rhodesian regime and the vacancies created in the Cabinet and civil service to be filled by the veterans.

The militant former fighters, who have spearheaded the government’s controversial plan to seize land from white farmers, in 1997 forced Mugabe to pay them more than $4 billion in unbudgeted expenditure after staging a series of protests against the government.

Ndlovu said: "The government has been infiltrated through the civil service. We, the war veterans, have the most to lose if the ZANU PF government was to be removed from power and therefore we are saying we should get the key posts to ensure that the government is strengthened. (FINANCIAL GAZETTE, IRIN)

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