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Southern Africa to hold protest marches
South Africa’s labour movement and other civic groups are planning to stage weekly marches and protests against Robert Mugabe’s government they accuse of illegally clinging to power in Zimbabwe.

from our correspondent in Harare

Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU) secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi said Zimbabwe’s deepening political stalemate and rising political violence allegedly committed by Mugabe’s supporters were matters South African civil society could not afford to ignore.

Zimbabwe was plunged deeper into political crisis after electoral authorities refused to announce results of a March 29 presidential election that Mugabe’s believed to have lost to opposition Movement for Democratic Change party leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Vavi said: “COSATU is proposing that in the next three to four weeks, particularly on Saturdays, we organise huge marches with civil society, church organisations and all those that disagree with the prevailing political situation in Zimbabwe.”

The COSATU leader said Zimbabwe’s election crisis – that political analysts have warned could lead to violence and bloodshed – could not be left unresolved for too long because it had the potential to destabilise the rest of southern Africa.

COSATU-led anti-Mugabe protests are likely to increase domestic pressure on South African President Thabo Mbeki to take a more robust stance against the Zimbabwean leader.

Mbeki is the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s mediator in Zimbabwe but has been accused of failing to apply pressure on Mugabe to allow the release of election results and remove all impediments to the democratic process.

Mbeki has insisted on a policy of engagement rather than confrontation with Mugabe but several key political players and social leaders in South Africa have criticised that policy which they say has failed to yield results. For example, Jacob Zuma, the leader of the ruling ANC party and frontrunner to succeed Mbeki as South Africa’s president in 2009, has in recent days openly broken ranks with Mbeki by publicly questioning the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s failure to release results of the presidential vote.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Thursday urged African leaders to abandon their policy of quiet diplomacy favoured by Mbeki and instead ask Mugabe to quit power. "I want to call on African leaders to show that they really care by speaking quietly to Mr Mugabe and say, ’Step down, you’ve been there for 20 years, man,’"

Tutu, a long-standing critic of Mugabe, also said the United Nations should impose an arms embargo on Zimbabwe because of rising political violence in the country blamed on Mugabe’s supporters. "It is obvious that supplying large quantities of arms at this stage would risk escalating the violence, perhaps resulting in the large-scale loss of life," he said.

ZANU PF lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in 28 years in last month’s election when it garnered 97 seats compared to 110 won by the MDC and other minor opposition candidates.

But electoral officials are yet to issue the much awaited results of a parallel presidential vote, which ZANU PF acknowledges Mugabe lost to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, although they say a second round of voting is required to settle the contest.

The MDC says 10 of its supporters have been killed in political violence since the elections. In neighboring Botswana, the Batswana are hoping that the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe will improve shortly so that food prices would stabilise.

They blame the escalating prices on Zimbabweans who come across the border to buy basic commodities daily. Although food prices are rising everywhere due to worldwide shortages, they believe their situation is exacerbated by worse shortages in Zimbabwe.

For instance, a sample of price escalations between January 2008 and today gives an idea of the situation: 12.5kg mealie-meal that cost about P31 now costs P56.00; 10 kg bread flour was P35 and now costs P55; bread has risen to around P5.00 from P3.50; 10kg sugar now costs P55 from around P40; a bottle of salt has also gone up, going for P10.00 now.

Francistown-based Consumer Protection Officer, Mothibedi Gaborutwe, said although his office has not received any complaints about high prices, they are aware of the situation.

Gaborutwe said his department is currently looking at the competition policy being developed by Government. "But in a free market system like ours, a trader can raise prices looking at the competition, but not unreasonably," he said


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