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Biti sues Herald for US$500 000

Movement for Democratic Change secretary general Tendai Biti filed a US$500 000 defamation suit against The Herald for claiming that he was plotting to oust Morgan Tsvangirai as party president.

One of the reporters, Mabasa Sasa, said The Herald had refused to retract the story on the basis that Biti wanted both the retraction and the US$500 000.

“We still stand by our stories and we will meet him in court,” said Sasa.

 

Full cable:

 

Viewing cable 09HARARE99, ZIM NOTES 02-09-2009

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Reference ID

Created

Released

Classification

Origin

09HARARE99

2009-02-09 09:01

2011-08-30 01:44

UNCLASSIFIED

Embassy Harare

VZCZCXYZ0001

RR RUEHWEB

 

DE RUEHSB #0099/01 0400901

ZNR UUUUU ZZH

R 090901Z FEB 09

FM AMEMBASSY HARARE

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4012

RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE

RUEHUJA/AMEMBASSY ABUJA 2191

RUEHAR/AMEMBASSY ACCRA 2611

RUEHDS/AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA 2733

RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN 1213

RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 2002

RUEHDK/AMEMBASSY DAKAR 2358

RUEHKM/AMEMBASSY KAMPALA 2782

RUEHNR/AMEMBASSY NAIROBI 5210

RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC

RHMFISS/EUCOM POLAD VAIHINGEN GE

RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 1903

RUZEJAA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK

RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

UNCLAS HARARE 000099

 

AF/S FOR B. WALCH

ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU

ADDIS ABABA FOR ACSS

NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR B.PITTMAN

TREASURY FOR D. PETERS

STATE PASS TO USAID FOR L.DOBBINS AND E.LOKEN

COMMERCE FOR ROBERT TELCHIN

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PGOV PREL ASEC PHUM ECON ZI

 

SUBJECT: ZIM NOTES 02-09-2009

 

———–

1. SUMMARY

———–

 

Topics of the week:

 

– MDC Prepares to Enter Government…

– MDC-T’s Biti Appears to Face Charges…

– … And Sues The Herald for Defamation…

– USAID Driver Denied Bail…

– No Progress in Other Court Cases…

– Cholera Still Ravaging Zimbabwe…

– Anglican Church Calls for Mugabe to Step Down…

– Students Protest…

– Judge Sues First Lady to Retain Stolen Farm…

– Journalist Wins Award, Speaks at Syracuse University…

– Latest Monetary Policy Embraces Market Liberalization, Mostly…

– High Telecom Charges to Be Reviewed Downward…

– Fall In US Dollar Prices Set to Reverse…

– Missed Opportunity in Maize Production…

– Tobacco Production Decline Also Continues…

———————————

2. Price Movements-Exchange Rate

and Selected products

———————————

 

The interbank exchange rate depreciated from Z$20:US$1(NOTE:

revalued Z$ following the removal of 12 zeros on February 9, 2009

END NOTE)to Z$28.54:US$ in four days this week.

 

The parallel rate for cash ranged from Z$3-5:US$1 for small notes,

to Z$40-50:US$ for large notes

 

—————————–

On the Political/Social Front

——————————

 

3. MDC Prepares to Enter Government… MDC president Morgan

Tsvangirai made clear this week that he will be inaugurated as prime

minister on February 11. Amendment 19 was passed unanimously in

both the House of Assembly and Senate on Thursday. The parties are

close to agreement on the allocation of governors. The Joint

Monitoring and Implementation Committee, composed of representatives

of all three parties, has agreed that all abductees should be

released on bail. Tsvangirai is confident this will happen before

February 11. See Harare 79, 85, and 91.

 

4. MDC-T’s Biti Appears to Face Charges… Tendai Biti, MDC- T

Secretary General appeared in a lower court on February 5 regarding

charges of treason and making statements likely to cause public

disorder in connection with a document he allegedly authored in

March 2008. On February 6, the magistrate removed the case from

remand – essentially removing it from the list of cases to be tried.

The State retains the option to bring the case to a trial through a

court summons, which is unlikely.

 

 

5. … And Sues The Herald for Defamation… Biti has filed a

US$500,000 defamation suit against the government-controlled Herald

newspaper based on a series of articles claiming Biti is plotting to

oust Morgan Tsvangirai as party president. One of the accused

reporters, Mabasa Sasa, told PAS that The Herald refused to retract

the story on the basis that Biti wanted both the retraction and the

US$500,000. “We still stand by our stories and we will meet him in

court,” said Sasa. On January 24 The Herald published a story

stating that Biti had denied the allegations and dismissed two

stories published in the Herald as false. No date has been set for

the hearing.

 

6. USAID Driver Denied Bail… The bail hearing for Frank

Muchirahondo, the USAID driver wrongfully arrested on January 22 on

charges of attempted murder of Air Marshal Shiri, took place on

February 5 after two postponements. The prosecution argued Frank

should be denied bail because he was a flight risk due to

overwhelming evidence, severity of the charge, and because he was

caught trying to “sneak out” of the country. On February 6, the

judge denied Frank bail. The embassy continues to work for his

exoneration through a number of political channels. A USAID USDH

employee visits Frank daily to bring him food and water and to

provide him with moral support while demonstrating to authorities

that his case and safety is being watched very closely.

 

7. No Progress in Other Court Cases… Jestina Mukoko and other

abductees again appeared in the High Court this week, seeking bail

while their constitutional case is pending in the Supreme Court.

Justice Alphus Chitanyunke ruled that since Mukoko had not yet been

charged in court, she could not be granted bail. Mukoko and others

abductees are due to appear in a lower court on February 9. The MDC

has called for their release, but has not made it a condition for

entering government.

 

8. Cholera Still Ravaging Zimbabwe… With nearly 68,000 cases and

3,371 deaths as of February 5, cholera continues to wrack

communities across Zimbabwe. Although cholera cases continued to

increase, the number of cholera deaths remained stable, decreasing

the overall fatality rate from 5.0 to 3.9 percent. Cumulative cases

now exceed WHO’s earlier worst-case projection of 60,000 cases,

prompting a new projection, now ranging from 81,000 to 115,000

cases. Upcoming seasonal floods have the potential to exacerbate

the outbreak, which could continue for several months. See Harare

86.

 

9. Anglican Church Calls for Mugabe to Step Down… Anglican

leaders meeting in Egypt issued a statement expressing “horror” at

the continued crisis in Zimbabwe. They further called on Mugabe to

step down and on church leaders across Africa to meet with African

politicians to draw attention to the plight of the Zimbabwean

people.

 

10. Students Protest… Following an announcement that students at

the University of Zimbabwe had just one week to come up with US$400

for exam fees, students launched a protest on February 3 that

quickly spread to a nearby residential area. 80 riot police arrived

on the scene, arresting and beating students. 60 were arrested and

10 were injured, including one with a broken finger.

 

11. Judge Sues First Lady to Retain Stolen Farm… The First Lady

has reportedly grabbed a farm occupied by High Court Judge Ben

Hlatshwayo for her son from her first marriage. Hlatshwayo himself

first seized the farm in 2002 from a white family, despite a court

order preventing him from doing so. According to press reports,

Qorder preventing him from doing so. According to press reports,

Hlatshwayo is now trying to fight the seizure in court.

 

12. Journalist Wins Award, Speaks at Syracuse University…

Zimbabwean journalist Frank Chikowore, who was arrested in 2008 for

“practicing journalism” without proper accreditation, was honored

with the 2009 Tully Center Free Speech Award at Syracuse University.

The other award went to the New York Times’ Barry Bearak, who was

also arrested in Zimbabwe in 2008 for “presenting himself as a

journalist.” Bearak also lacked government-required accreditation.

Chikowore stunned students with his stories of the dangers of

practicing independent journalism in Zimbabwe.

 

———————————-

On the Economic and Business Front

———————————-

 

13. Latest Monetary Policy Embraces Market Liberalization,

Mostly… Reserve Bank Governor Gono announced the liberalization of

the foreign exchange market and the dropping of another 12 zeros off

the local currency in his Monetary Policy Statement on February 3.

Worryingly, and contrary to utterances about respect for property

rights, he revoked with immediate effect the contractual agreements

with platinum and diamond companies that allow them to maintain

their earnings offshore, and he appeared to leave the door ajar to

resume off-budget spending. The decision to leave the Zimbabwe

dollar in circulation is futile in light of the public’s loss of

confidence in the currency. Sovereign debt figures indicate that

without substantial balance of payments support, Zimbabwe’s reforms

will not succeed. See Harare 77.

 

14. High Telecom Charges to Be Reviewed Downward… Following the

permission to charge clients in foreign currency, most mobile phone

service providers imposed exorbitant charges as high as US35 cents

per minute. A Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of

Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) official indicated this week that the rates will

be reviewed downward in view of the public outcry and the budget

proposal to reduce value added tax on airtime from 22.5% to 15%.

 

15. Fall In US Dollar Prices Set to Reverse… The recent falling

trend in the price of most commodities appears to have reversed

itself since the budget presentation on January 29, 2009. Retailers

have begun to ratchet up prices in line with the increase in

restocking costs that they anticipate as the government seeks to

augment revenues by raising taxes on imported commodities including

some basics.

 

16. Missed Opportunity in Maize Production… Commercial Farmer’s

Union (CFU) grains expert George Hutchison told us this year’s maize

production could have been higher than his estimate of 800,000 MT,

had the targeted area of 1.2 million ha been planted and supplied

with the right inputs in a timely manner. The FAO’s Agriculture

Coordination Working Group reported on January 29 that about 890,000

ha of maize were planted. Rainfall has been normal to above normal

across the country since mid December, and evenly distributed.

Hutchison estimates maize demand of 1.6 million tons this year,

including for stock feed, and believes the country will have to

import some 800,000 MT.

 

17. Tobacco Production Decline Also Continues… Figures from the

Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board indicate that tobacco

production will dip a further 10% this year due to the shrinkage in

total area planted. The Reserve Bank reported that tobacco exports

earned the country US$204 million last year.

 

—————————

Economic Tidbit of the Week

—————————

 

18. While the hard-currency price of bread is steady at US$1, in

local currency terms it moved from around Z$10 to Z$200 (new values)

following the recent economic policy announcements, implying a

Qfollowing the recent economic policy announcements, implying a

massive 95% depreciation of the local unit in a week.

 

—————–

Quote of the Week

—————–

 

19. “We are asking for the international community to support this

agreement, support this Government without equivocation and help us

try to salvage our country. It is not for Britain or America to

judge our agreement. Your job as America or Britain is to support

what we try to do. All the skeptics must now shut up and support

what Zimbabweans want. Listen to us as Zimbabweans.” — Arthur

Mutambara, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos,

Switzerland on January 31.

 

 

MCGEE

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