Tag Archives: Zimbabwe

Shifting rhino poaching patterns in South Africa hit KZN hard

The Conversation

Wave of rhino killings points to shifting poaching patterns in South Africa May 23, 2017 4.40pm SAST

KwaZulu-Natal is home to smaller wildlife sanctuaries and private game reserves like Hluhluwe-iMfolozi where poaching has increased. Keith Somerville

Rhino poaching in South Africa continues to be a problem. In recent months poaching incidents have spiked in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in the northeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal. In one of the worst attacks nine rhinos were found dead, bringing to 23 the number killed so far in just one month.

Earlier this year South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, announced triumphantly that in 2016 fewer rhinos had been poached than in 2015. Her statistics showed that nationally 121 fewer animals were poached in 2016 (1,054) compared with 2015 (1,175).

But my research into the evolution of poaching operations in South Africa – which I shared round about the same time – showed that while fewer had been killed, poaching efforts had simply shifted locations. In particular, illegal killings in areas outside South Africa’s largest game reserve, the Kruger National Park, have been on the rise.

There are at most 5,458 black rhino, 21,085 white rhino, 3,500 Asian one-horned rhino, 100 Sumatran rhino and between 61 and 63 Javan rhino left in the wild. South Africa is home to 75% of Africa’s rhino with between 19,000 and 20,000 white rhino and about 2,000 black rhino.

Successes in Kruger increase jeopardy elsewhere

Protection in the Kruger National Park has increased through the establishment of an “intensive protection zone” in the centre and south of the 19,485 km² park. This has reduced the number of killings.

But, to some extent, the poaching epidemic has simply changed focus and location. KwaZulu-Natal is home to smaller wildlife sanctuaries and reserves as well as private game reserves. All have substantial numbers of rhino which is why they have become the focus for poachers and criminal syndicates that run the illegal trade.

Zimbabwe and Namibia have been hit too. There are even fears that Botswana could be next on the hit list.

Rhinos under threat in South Africa have been relocated to the country’s well-protected national parks and private reserves. Botswana lost most of its rhinos to poachers in the 1970s and 1980s. But the success of the wildlife department and the Botswana Defence Force in combating poaching meant that it became a safe haven. In December 2014, Botswana had 154 rhinos and 25 more were translocated in 2015 and 2016.

In March this year, another 12 were sent from South Africa to the Okavango Delta, with 88 more due to follow this year and possibly another 100 sometime in the future.

But now their security is threatened. Budget cuts have forced Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks to cut funding for rhino protection. This has affected the elite Rhino Squad, set up to protect the relocated rhinos. It has even run out of money to buy fuel for its vehicles.

Botswana’s Environment Minister Tshekedi Khama II has bemoaned the lack of resources and the poor response from donors:

If you have given us money to establish the Rhino Squad, it will come with operational costs. We are always at war with poachers and we try to do as much as we can, with little.

The lack of funding could seriously imperil the relocation programme, which is reliant on security and well-resourced anti-poaching.

There has already been a surge in elephant poaching in northern Botswana.. Elephant poachers would see rhino horn – worth over $60,000 per kg compared with $1,000-$1,200 for ivory – as even more lucrative contraband than tusks.

Rhino horn – from a dehorned rhino in South Africa. Keith Somerville

KwaZulu-Natal bears the brunt

If Botswana could be a target, Namibia and Zimbabwe have already felt the effects of the shifting poaching operations. The numbers killed in Namibia have risen in recent years, reaching 80 in 2015 having been down at 25 the year before. Zimbabwe lost 50 rhinos in 2015, double the previous year’s level. Figures for 2016 have not been released.

But it is South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province that is now bearing the brunt of renewed rhino poaching. Ezemvelo’s official 2017 statistics show that 89 rhino have been poached in KZN province so far this year, compared with 55 rhino this time last year. This is a rise of 48%, attributed to Mpumalanga poaching syndicates who were operating in the Kruger National Park targeting Zululand reserves because of increased security and anti-poaching in their own province.

My visit to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Reserve in September last year confirmed that 95 rhinos had been poached in the first nine months of the year. The latest statistics for 2016 showed 140 killed across the province (133 in protected parks) between January and November 2016. But with 89 poached across KZN in the first four months and killings up by 48%, the province could be looking at well over 200 dead in 2017 if the trend continues.

Cedric Coetzee, head of rhino protection in the park, believes that while it might take poachers days to track a rhino in Kruger National Park, the high density of animals in the KwaZulu-Natal reserve meant they might only spend two to three hours there before killing a rhino and escaping with its horns.

One thing that remains to be seen and analysed in detail is the effect that the unbanning of domestic trade in rhino horn in South Africa will have. In April this year South Africa’s Constitutional Court refused an attempt by the government to overturn an earlier court suspension of the government moratorium of the legal trade in horn imposed in 2009.

The Environment Minister has put out draft regulations for a legal trade. This would control domestic commerce and allow the export for personal use (not commercial exports which are banned by CITES) of a maximum of two horns. The draft is vague. But it was welcomed by the Private Rhino Owners Association in South Africa, who want a legal trade. Conservation organisations which oppose any trade in wildlife products were highly critical of the court decision and the South African government’s draft legislation for a legal trade.

The outlook for southern Africa’s rhinos remains threatening. The trade issue is confused and the South African government under President Jacob Zuma hardly has a reputation for administrative competence, integrity and far-sightedness.

The police and wildlife authorities struggle to deal with poaching and smuggling. The ability of criminal syndicates to evolve their operations to take account of improvements in security in some areas suggests a shifting and complex war between anti-poaching units and the poachers, weighted in favour of the killers and smugglers.

Southern Africa – the curse of struggle politics and the liberation movement divine right to power

The Conversation

How liberators turn into oppressors: a study of southern African states

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace. Mugabe has been in power since 1980. Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

This article is a foundation essay. These are longer than usual and take a wider look at a key issue affecting society.

Since coming to political power, the anticolonial movements of Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa have remained in control of the former settler colonies’ societies.

At best their track record of running the countries they helped liberate is mixed. From the “oiligarchy” in Angola under José Eduardo dos Santos and his family clan and the autocratic “Zanufication” under Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to the presidential successions in Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa, all movements embarked on what could be termed “state capture”.

This is true of all five: the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU PF), Namibia’s South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) and the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa.

During the years of organised resistance, activists in the liberation movements often internalised a “we-they” divide that categorised people as comrades or enemies. This was true in exile politics and armed struggle, as well as militant internal underground mobilisation.

The repressive regimes the liberation movements opposed were based on human rights violations as an integral component of minority rule. To have a chance of success against them, the struggle mainly operated along the lines of command and obedience. Operating in exile or for a banned organisation at home left no room for complacency. Suspicion was required for survival. It is normal for resistance movements to adopt rough survival strategies and techniques while fighting an oppressive regime.

Unfortunately that culture takes root and is permanently nurtured. Such confrontational mentality has become entrenched in an authoritarian political culture that is based on the claim that liberators have an entitlement to rule within a new elite project. This has happened much to the frustration of those who believed that the struggle against settler colonialism was also a struggle against a range of other things. These include economic exploitation, redistribution of wealth, plural democracy and respect for human dignity, rights and civil liberties.

This happened in societies in transition almost everywhere. Those who sacrificed during the resistance felt in many cases entitled to new privileges as a kind of compensation and reward. As a new elite, they also often mimicked the lifestyles of those they replaced. Mugabe’s cultivation of Oxford English is as much a case in point as the new Indian elite culture analysed by Ashis Nandy in “The Intimate Enemy”.

There is also nothing new about militant movements that are supposedly justified in ethical and moral terms losing their legitimacy quickly when obtaining power. Since the French Revolution, liberators have often turned into oppressors, victims into perpetrators. New regimes often resemble features of the old one.

Wounds old and new

Armed resistance was in different degrees part of the liberation struggles in the southern African settler colonies. While liberation did not come from the barrel of a gun, the military component accelerated the process towards self-determination. In the cases of Zimbabwe, Namibia and, to a lesser extent, South Africa, it was a contributing factor for a negotiated transition towards majority rule.

The compromises required from all sides were part of a wider appeasement strategy tantamount to elite pacts. Negotiated transfer of political power did not abandon the settler colonial structures of society.

It bears repetition that the unscrupulously violent character of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) regime had already revealed itself in the early to mid-1980s. Already during the exile years internal power struggles led to assassinations and showed the brute force inherent in liberation struggles, even within their own ranks. This willingness to resort to violence was seen on a massive scale after independence as it was turned against political opponents and their support base.

A special unit killed an estimated 20,000 people through Operation Gukurahundi, where the opposition Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) had most support. Atrocities bordering on genocide did not stop until ZAPU agreed to sign a pact. ZANU basically took ZAPU over.

When the Movement for Democratic Change as a new opposition party turned into a serious competitor, the Chimurenga, or revolutionary struggle, became a permanent institution. Violence was the customary response to political protest. And as political power shifted away from Mugabe after the lost referendum in 2000, his regime became more violent.

Swapo’s human rights violations have also been downplayed. In the 1980s the organisation imprisoned thousands of its members in dungeons in southern Angola, accusing them of spying on behalf of South Africa. These people lost their liberty and often their lives in spite of never having been proven guilty. Indeed, they were not even brought to trial. Most did not survive the torture. Those released are scorned even today.

While political leaders of these movements might not have practised such acts of violence themselves, they were accomplices and knew of them.

South Africa’s trajectory is sobering too. Given the country’s vibrant political culture pre-democracy, the prospects for democracy were more encouraging.

But the horrific degree of violence displayed by those executing “law and order” on behalf of the South African state in Marikana was a reminder that Sharpeville was not past.

The 2012 Marikana massacre brought bitter memories of the apartheid-era killings of protesters in Sharpeville. Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

As early as 1990, veteran underground activist and later constitutional judge Albie Sachs expressed doubts that ANC activists were ready for freedom. He worried about the habits they had cultivated. While the culture and discipline of resistance may have served as a survival strategy in the underground, these skills were not those of free citizens.

Raymond Suttner’s work, based on his view from the inside, points out that ANC ideology and rhetoric do not distinguish between the liberation movement and the people. The liberation movement is a prototype of a state within the state – one that sees itself as the only legitimate source of power.

He also explains how during the struggle there was a general suppression of “the personal” in favour of “the collective”. Individual judgment, and thereby autonomy, was substituted by a collective decision from the leadership. Such a “warrior culture” included heroic acts, but also the abuse of power.

As in many instances, women – as mothers, wives and daughters, but also as objects for satisfying sexual desires – paid the highest price and made the greatest sacrifices.

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, institutionalised by the government, also talked about human rights violations committed by the ANC. Although the final official report containing these findings was never published in its original form, President Nelson Mandela did not shy away from earlier offering a public apology to the victims of the ANC’s failures to respect basic human rights.

Beyond the ‘end of history’

As we now know, postcolonial life looks for far too many people very much like that of the colonial era in respect to day-to-day living. One reason for this is that socialisation and attitudes from the struggle have shaped the new political leaders’ understanding of politics – and their idea of how to wield power.

In office, liberation movements tend to mark “the end of history”. Their party machineries – as sociologist Roger Southall describes it – promote the equation that the party is the government and the government is the state. Any political alternative that does not emerge from within will not be acceptable.

This attitude explains the strong sense of camaraderie between the Mugabe regime and the governments of Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. Typically, any political alternative will be discredited as being part of an imperialist conspiracy that is designed to sabotage national independence and is seeking “regime change”.

The relevant categories of thought are winners and losers. But democracy is about something completely different: compromise, and even a search for consensus, in pursuit of the public good. To achieve that, one does not need mindsets in combat mode, but rather a broad political debate.

Looking at the history of the liberation struggles in southern Africa can, therefore, also open our eyes and sharpen our sensibility, awareness and understanding of forms of rule that show clear limitations for genuine emancipation and liberation.

We should also critically reflect on those – within the countries and globally – who rendered those movements support. How have they positioned themselves vis-à-vis the new power structures? How are they practising the notion of solidarity in the context of inequalities and injustices?

We should return to the mindsets, values, norms and expectations of those who supported these struggles. The notion of solidarity might then live on with a similar uncompromising meaning and practice.

A luta continua [The struggle continues]” as a popular slogan during the struggle days would then not translate into “the looting continues” but return to its true meaning. If implemented accordingly, it underlines that there is no end of history when it comes to social struggles for true emancipation, equality, liberty and justice.

Zimbabwe – Mujuru and Tsvangirai form alliance to fight Mugabe


Tsvangirai, Mujuru finally seal poll pact

By Fungi Kwaramba

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and former Vice President Joice Mujuru yesterday fired warning shots at President Robert Mugabe and his warring ruling Zanu PF — signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Harare ahead of the finalisation of the planned grand coalition as the make-or-break 2018 elections approach.

Tsvangirai and Mujuru form alliance to challenge Mugabe
Tsvangirai and Mujuru form alliance to challenge Mugabe

This comes as the mindless bloodletting that is devouring Zanu PF has escalated in the past few weeks, resulting even in the party’s national political commissar, Saviour Kasukuwere, coming under serious pressure to resign from his post over a slew of charges — including bizarre claims of plotting to oust Mugabe from power.

Describing yesterday’s developments as historic, a buoyant Tsvangirai said the two opposition leading lights had decided to join hands after realising that Mugabe and Zanu PF had “no clue” about how to end the myriad challenges afflicting Zimbabwe.

“We have chosen to give hope to the people of Zimbabwe … that indeed there is a bright light at the end of this very dark tunnel.

“We have taken the first step to bring all Zimbabweans under one roof so that we can work together to remove the unmitigated repression and misgovernance that pervades our lives.

“I am pleased to inform the nation that today we have signed a memorandum with Mai Mujuru of the National People’s Party (NPP) … to establish a pre-election alliance en route to the establishment of a coalition government which shall drive a comprehensive democratisation and transformation agenda.

“This is just the beginning of the building blocks towards establishing a broad alliance to confront Zanu PF between now and 2018,” Tsvangirai said.

The indefatigable former labour union leader emphasised that the door had not been slammed on other smaller parties being part of the pact, with “similar arrangements” to be decided with them soon.

“While political parties have their role in nation-building, it must be understood that they are not the only key stakeholders.

“We are in this together with other key stakeholders such as traditional leaders, the Church, labour, vendors, war veterans, civic society, business and the generality of Zimbabweans.

“This is our collective struggle and I call upon the people of Zimbabwe to join hands with us and play their part as well so that we can reclaim our country, our freedom and our dignity,” Tsvangirai added.

“Even at the ripe old age of 93, president Mugabe knows that the country’s crisis is unsustainable. Every Zimbabwean from every station of life knows it too.

“So, we should all stand together in unison and say enough is enough. As president Mugabe enters the sunset of his life, it is incumbent upon all of us to pick the pieces and rebuild our country together.

“I hope the understanding we reached today, and which we will reach with many others, will culminate in a solid political co-operation agreement that should usher in a new governance culture in our country,” he said further.

On her part, Mujuru promised “greater things” for long-suffering Zimbabweans.

“We were being asked by people wherever we would go about when we would form the coalition. It took about six months to discuss the coalition.

“We know your expectations are very high … what we want to see is a greater Zimbabwe again … We are going to deliver a new Zimbabwe,” she said.

According to the two opposition leaders, the MoU would act as a roadmap towards forming the planned grand coalition which is expected to be in place before next year’s eagerly-anticipated national elections.

Optimism has been high ever since Tsvangirai and Mujuru publicly flaunted their readiness to join forces against the ruling party, when they appeared together in Gweru last August.

In a move that political analysts described as “very significant”, Mujuru held hands and also joined Tsvangirai then during a massive demonstration in Gweru that was organised by the former prime minister in the government of national unity’s MDC.

Analysts have also repeatedly said Mujuru, whose liberation struggle nom de guerre was Teurai Ropa (Spill Blood), and whose husband Solomon was the first black post-independence army commander, could provide the much-needed bridge that opposition parties have been missing to ensure the smooth transfer of power if they win elections again.

However, they have also warned that without a broad coalition involving all the major opposition players, Zanu PF would use “its usual thuggish and foul methods” to retain power in 2018.

In 2008, her late husband Rex was accused by Mugabe and other Zanu PF bigwigs of having engineered the 93-year-old’s stunning electoral defeat to Tsvangirai in that year’s hotly disputed polls.

Last week, a bullish Tsvangirai vowed to finish off Mugabe and his deeply-divided Zanu PF — adding that he stood ready to lead the planned grand coalition.

Speaking in an interview with the Daily News then, Tsvangirai said he had “no doubt whatsoever” that the MDC — working together with other opposition parties — would, like it did in 2008, once again defeat Zanu PF in 2018 and bring to an end Mugabe’s long but tumultuous rule.

“I stand ready to heed the calls by Zimbabweans that I lead … Indeed, when I moved across the country, the people said I should lead.

“So, if that is what people want, then I am ready to lead the coalition. But this should not be about individuals but about Zimbabwe.

“Indeed, the fight for democracy in Zimbabwe is not between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, but between long-suffering Zimbabweans and a heartless, looting Zanu PF,” Tsvangirai said.

“The commitment towards forming a grand coalition is there … But we must exercise due diligence in regard to our partners.

“Imagine at the end, just before elections you have people who will say ‘I was not part of the talks’ … so due diligence is very important,” added the dogged former labour union leader, as he explained why it was taking long to conclude the mooted coalition talks.

Soon after, Mujuru signalled her readiness to join Tsvangirai in the planned electoral pact when she said the mooted grand opposition coalition was the only way of extricating the country from its economic problems.

“As NPP, we believe that what ought to be 37 years of independence has been turned into 37 years of slavery and misery to Zimbabweans.

“We believe we have capacity as Zimbabweans to extricate ourselves out of the social, economic and political mess we find ourselves in as a result of Zanu PF’s failed government.

“It is time that all progressive forces within the rank and file of opposition parties put their differences aside and face the failed Zanu PF government as a united front by every constitutional means necessary come 2018.

“Our people never went to war so that the destiny of our country can be turned into political dynasties.

“Zimbabweans deserve to be free and that freedom has to be exercised now. To that end, as NPP we urge all the progressive forces within the rank and file of the opposition parties of this country to go back to the basics of the revolutionary ideals of oneness.

“It is our belief as NPP that what divides us as opposition political parties is smaller than what binds us as a country. Our motto should therefore be united we stand, divided we fall,” she said.


Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe addresses a rally to mark the country"s 37th independence anniversary in Harare, Zimbabwe, April 18, 2017.Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Robert Mugabe has said he is not losing sleep over the coalition

Two of Zimbabwe’s best known opposition figures have agreed to form an alliance against President Robert Mugabe.

Long-time Mugabe critic Morgan Tsvangirai and former Vice-President Joice Mujuru say they will work together in next year’s election.

However, it is not yet clear which of them will be the presidential candidate.

Mr Mugabe, 93, has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980 and has said he will seek re-election.

“This is just the beginning of the building blocks towards establishing a broad alliance to confront Zanu-PF between now and the next election,” Mr Tsvangirai told journalists.

Real test lies ahead: Shingai Nyoka, BBC News, Harare

Zimbabwe's main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai (L) and fomer Vice President Joice Mujuru(R) sign a Memorandum of Understanding to negotiate coalition ahead of 2018 general election in Harare April 19th 2017Image copyright AFP

The alliance is an important first step towards uniting a deeply divided opposition.

And if this alliance succeeds it will be the first time President Mugabe has faced a united opposition on this scale since coming into power in 1980.

At least a dozen parties are expected to be part of the coalition.

Former Vice-President Joice Mujuru who was fired from the ruling Zanu-PF party in 2014 was the first to sign a pact with Morgan Tsvangirai. She says it follows six months of consultations.

A Movement for Democratic Change splinter group has now also come on board.

Divisions among the opposition have been blamed for previous electoral losses.

For the first time, Mr Tsvangirai apologised for this and accepted responsibility for the mistakes made in the past. His party has split four ways since it was formed in 1999.

Ms Mujuru’s National People’s Party recently splintered after less than a year.

But the real test for the opposition lies ahead. The parties still need to hammer out the terms of this alliance. In particular who will lead the coalition.

President Mugabe is a formidable opponent. He has been accused of stealing elections and using violence to stay in power.

Mr Mugabe has previously said he would not be losing any sleep over the proposed coalition.

Mr Tsvangirai has run against Mr Mugabe several times since he helped found the Movement for Democratic Change.

Each time he has said he was denied victory because of violence and rigging – charges denied by Mr Mugabe and his allies.

He became prime minister in a tension-filled coalition government with Mr Mugabe from 2009 until 2013.

Ms Mujuru was vice-president to Mr Mugabe for 10 years until she was fired in 2014.

Zimbabwe – Mugabe chartered plane from Bahrain to Singapore for medical treatment


2017-03-13 08:33

Harare – “Naturally it was bound to be expensive.”That’s the explanation President Robert Mugabe‘s transport minister has given for the chartering of a plane from Bahrain to take the 93-year-old to Singapore, according to a report from the Zimbabwe Independent weekly.

The paper says Mugabe’s AirZim One plane was out of order so an alternative had to be found to transport the longtime Zimbabwe leader to see his doctors on what officials insist was just a routine medical check-up on March 1. The charter may have cost up to $1 million, the report says.

That figure has not been independently confirmed. But it will undoubtedly stoke anger in a country mired in a worsening cash shortage.

Transport Minister Joram Gumbo told the newspaper: “We were forced to hire from Bahrain because the one which is normally used by the president is still being serviced. As we are speaking the parts have just arrived and it will be up and running, but the president had to travel.”

“Gumbo said the cost of hiring the Bahraini plane was not markedly different except that the aircraft came from a bit far, so naturally it was bound to be expensive,” added the Zimbabwe Independent.

President Robert Mugabe‘s son-in-law was in October made COO of debt-stricken national carrier Air Zimbabwe. Simba Chikore, who married Mugabe’s only daughter Bona in 2014, is a pilot by profession.

News of his appointment raised accusations of nepotism since he had no managerial experience at Air Zimbabwe.

The Daily News claimed that the same plane from Bahrain was used to take Mugabe to Ghana to attend that country’s 60th independence anniversary celebrations last week

“We do it every time. I don’t know why it’s news,” Gumbo told the paper, while acknowledging that the authorities also often hired a plane from South Africa for the president “whenever there is a need.”

Zimbabwe – Mugabe flies to Singapore for “medical review”


Harare – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who celebrated his 93rd birthday last week, flew to Singapore on Wednesday for a “scheduled medical review”, his spokesperson said.

Mugabe appeared frail at his birthday party on Saturday, when he stood for more than an hour to deliver his speech, but he paused for lengthy periods and mumbled at times.

“The president left this morning for Singapore for a scheduled medical review,” his press secretary George Charamba told the state-run Herald newspaper.

“We expect him back in the country early next week.”

Mugabe, the world’s oldest national leader, has held power since 1980 during a reign marked by repression of dissent, vote-rigging and a sharp economic decline for the country.

He recently spent several weeks in Asia on his annual vacation, returning in late January, though it has not been officially confirmed that he had medical treatment during the trip.

He has made regular trips to Singapore for medical check-ups, and his health is a frequent subject of speculation.

In 2011, WikiLeaks released a US diplomatic cable from 2008 saying that Mugabe was reported to have prostate cancer and had less than five years to live.

In 2016, the government had to deny that he had died abroad during his annual vacation.

The ruling ZANU-PF party has been riven by factionalism for years as Mugabe has declined to name a successor.

Senior Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa is seen as a leading contender to be the next president, as is Mugabe’s 51-year-old wife, Grace.

Mugabe’s spokesperson was not available to comment to AFP.

Zimbabwe – ctivist pastor denied bail, faces two weeks in jail


A Zimbabwean pastor at the heart of a protest movement against President Robert Mugabe was denied bail on Friday, leaving him facing at least two weeks in jail before his next hearing on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.

Evan Mawarire – whose #ThisFlag movement led the biggest anti-government rallies in a decade in 2016 – is also charged with inciting violence and insulting the national flag.

The preacher arrived at the magistrates court in handcuffs in an open police truck and sat calmly during the proceedings.

Magistrate Elisha Singano said facts presented by the state showed there was reasonable suspicion that Mawarire committed a crime and advised him to seek bail at the High Court.

“Thank you guys. Don’t worry,” Mawarire told a group of supporters and reporters as he headed towards a prison vehicle after the hearing. He has denied all the charges.

The #ThisFlag movement used social media messages to rally demonstrations against social and economic decay.

In one online video, Mawarire said the colours of Zimbabwe’s flag – green, gold, red and black – symbolised how Mugabe’s government had ruined the country – the basis of the charge of insulting the national standard.

The most serious offence against him, of “subverting a constitutional government”, carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.

The preacher was arrested on Wednesday on his return from self-imposed exile in the United States

His lawyer Harrison Nkomo said he would apply for bail at the High Court on Monday.

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, turns 93 years later this month. He was endorsed by his ruling ZANU-PF party last December to run in next year’s presidential election, his last allowed under a constitution passed in 2013.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Former Zimbabwe VP’s party suffers defeat in first election


A new party founded by Zimbabwe’s former vice president Joice Mujuru suffered a crushing defeat in its first ever election contest again President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF, showing the task she faces in her bid to challenge her ally-turned-adversary.

ZANU-PF retained the rural Bikita West parliamentary constituency in Saturday’s by-election after its candidate polled 13,156 votes against 2,453 votes for Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said on Sunday.

Mujuru, Mugabe’s deputy for 10 years, was seen as the most likely successor to the 92-year-old leader until she was purged from the ruling party in 2014 after charges she was plotting against Africa’s oldest leader. Mujuru denies the charges.

Mugabe has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980. He turns 93 on Feb. 21 and has been confirmed as the ZANU-PF presidential candidate for the vote which is due in 2018.

Last year Mujuru formed her own political party to challenge Mugabe, raising hopes that a politician who had liberation war credentials and enjoyed the support of some military generals could successfully challenge Mugabe.

The poor showing in Bikita West, which was marked by high voter turnout, comes at a time Mujuru is negotiation with the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on a coalition pact to take on Mugabe in next year’s election.

The MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai did not contest Saturday’s vote in keeping with its decision to boycott all elections because it argues the election environment favours the ruling party.

ZANU-PF is the dominant party in parliament where it has 221 out of 270 seats in the lower house.

Mujuru could not be reached for comment on Sunday. Her spokesman Jealousy Mawarire said he could not immediately comment.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Keith Weir)