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Embattled Zimbabwe hungry and broke, says central bank head

Embattled Zimbabwe hungry and broke, says central bank head

Dozens of people were arrested as pro-democracy activists defied a police ban on demonstrations and took to the streets to protest growing economic hardship and repression in Zimbabwe.
The National Constitutional Assembly said many of those arrested were assaulted. It vowed to continue with the demonstrations.
"We believe that demonstrating for a new constitution is a genuine cause that cannot be blocked by a corrupt police force whose mandate is merely that of protecting a failed regime," the movement said in a statement.
The demonstration Wednesday coincided with a bleak new warning by the head of the Zimbabwe state central bank that the nation is broke and using foreign currency needed for fuel and spare parts on food.
Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono told a panel of lawmakers that many black farmers, including politicians, who resettled on former white-owned farms, were failing to produce food. Zimbabwe was once the region's breadbasket.
"There are some people who have become professional land occupiers, vandalizing equipment and moving from one farm to another," Gono told a parliamentary committee on Home Affairs, according to the daily Herald, a government mouthpiece.
He said his priority was to allocate hard currency for imports of corn, the staple, to avert a looming food crisis. Currency was diverted from almost every government department to buy food, he conceded.
Under President Robert Mugabe's land reform program, at least 5,000 white-owned farms have been seized with virtually no compensation since 2000. Many are derelict.
Mugabe was on state visit to longtime ally Namibia, where hundreds of people took to the streets with signs that read "Go Mugabe Go" and "Go Home Dictator."
"President Mugabe is a dictator who is guilty of several human rights abuses and to a certain extent war crimes," said Phil Ya Nangoloh, the executive director of the National Society for Human Rights. "He is an international pariah. He is not welcome in Namibia."
Mugabe also faces growing unrest and strikes at home. Last week police slapped a three-month ban on demonstrations following skirmishes with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
The National Constitutional Assembly said it had defied the ban and marched in Harare and the cities of Bulawayo, Mutare, Masvingo and Gweru. So far police had arrested 50 demonstrators in Harare and 25 in Mutare, it said. Many were assaulted.
"Police brutality against demonstrators is a clear sign that we are living in a military state where freedom of expression and association is not respected."
As the growing chaos at home drove Zimbabweans to emigrate, they face discrimination across the border, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Wednesday. The rights watchdog said South African officials involved in the arrest and deportation of undocumented migrant workers often assault and extort money from them, and that Zimbabweans and Mozambicans were most at risk of deportation _ and abuse.
As many as 3 million Zimbabweans are in South Africa seeking work and asylum. A reported 80,000 Zimbabweans were deported in the last seven months of 2006.
Human Rights Watch also said commercial farmers ignored basic employment laws, paying illegal migrants lower wages than their South African counterparts. South African authorities have said they were trying to clamp down on corrupt officials who extort bribes and the agriculture minister has launched a campaign against abuse of farm workers by their employers.
Tobacco exports, tourism and mining were the nation's main hard currency earners before the land seizures. Tobacco production this year is forecast at one-fifth of the 1999 level and food output is at one-third.
Official inflation is nearly 1,600 percent, the highest in the world. Zimbabwe is facing acute shortages of food, gasoline, medicine and other essential imports. Power and water outages occur most days.
In the past month alone, prices of many household supplies have doubled and the International Monetary Fund has forecast official inflation at 4,000 percent this year.
Earlier this month, Mugabe fired Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa who had spoken out against flooding the crumbling economy with freshly printed money that pushed up inflation.
Zimbabwean central bank official Gono told lawmakers hard currency earnings were a tiny fraction of the US$2.5 billion (euro1.9 billion) to US$3.5 billion (euro2.6 billion) needed "for the economy to function well."
"If we were talking about local currency, I would say: Don't worry, in the next 30 minutes we will print money," the official media quoted Gono as telling the lawmakers.


Updated : 2021-10-18 06:08 GMT+08:00