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Mugabe Likes Warrantless Surveillance Too

Fanuel Jongwe / IOL | August 31 2006

Harare - Zimbabwe's rights record was in the spotlight on Wednesday with critics blasting a proposed surveillance bill and the failure to resettle hundreds of thousands whose homes were razed last year.

In a further blow, the economically-ravaged country's once vibrant tobacco sector hit a new low on the last day of the auction season with sales expected to plummet 31 percent during the previous year.

The Zimbabwean parliament heard that the proposed Interception of Communications Bill allowing the state to monitor phone calls, faxes and emails, flouted basic human rights.

"The bill represents a step backwards and is inconsistent with international standards on human rights and other legal requirements," Wilbert Mandinde, of the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, told a parliamentary committee.

Lawyer Jessie Majome said the bill, unveiled by President Robert Mugabe's government in May, gave "too much power to the minister of transport and communications who plays the dual role of judge and jury".

The bill empowers the minister to issue a warrant to intercept communication between individuals or organisations and also to hear appeals from those objecting to the interception of their correspondence.

Under the proposed law, telecommunication service providers will be compelled to install monitoring devices.

Jim Holland, of the Zimbabwe Internet Service Providers' Association, said many operators could close shop if they failed to raise foreign currency to import equipment they would be forced to install on computers.

The government says the move is aimed at combatting international terrorism and espionage.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring South Africa, a non-government organisation unveiled a trenchant report on the fate of some 700,000 people rendered homeless - according to UN estimates - by a controversial urban clean-up in Zimbabwe last May.

Almost nothing has been done to rehouse those who lost their homes during Operation Murambatsvina (Clean up Filth) which had also "destroyed the livelihoods of an estimated 90 000 vendors", the Solidarity Peace Trust said.

"Fifteen months later, almost nothing has been done to house those who lost homes and livelihoods, or to salvage the informal trading sector," Pius Ncube, one of Mugabe's fiercest critics, told reporters in Johannesburg.

Ncube, archbishop of the second city Bulawayo, said the "UN and the diplomatic corps should bring pressure to bear on the authorities" to set up new market stalls.

Zimbabwean government spokesman George Charamba immediately rubbished Ncube's claims.

"We have resettled about 2 454 families, we have given 728

families serviced stands, we have 3 474 units under construction to give a total of 7 478 all told," he told AFP in Harare.

"If we use an average of five persons per household... we expect at least 35 000 persons to benefit from this programme of housing. As far as we are concerned, that covers the persons we estimate were affected."

The clean-up drive - launched in winter - targeted shacks, "illegal" buildings and roadside kiosks and was criticised by a UN fact-finding team.

The victims' woes have been exacerbated by an economic meltdown, coupled with 70 unemployment, a near 1 000-percent inflation rate and acute shortages of food, fuel and basic commodities.

The plight of the tobacco industry, once the mainstay of the economy, has been symptomatic of the economic malaise with production levels having fallen dramatically since Mugabe began a series of land seizures in 2000.

On the final day of the tobacco auction season, Andrew Ferreira, vice president of the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association, said sales should cross the 50 million kilogram mark, but the figure would still be the worst since independence in 1980.

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