Current Situation in Zimbabwe: Discussion with Trócaire.

The next matter on our agenda is a discussion with representatives from Trócaire regarding the current situation in Zimbababwe. I welcome Ms Eithne Brennan, humanitarian programme officer for Trócaire in Zimbabwe. As she will probably be aware, a number of members are attending the funeral of the late Senator Tony Kett. Ms Brennan is accompanied by her colleague, Ms Mala Roche, and Mr. Harrison Nkomo, an acclaimed human rights lawyer from Zimbabwe.

Mr. Nkomo is at present representing Jestina Mukoko, a human rights activist and director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, which is one of Trócaire's partners in Zimbabwe and receives funding from Irish Aid. Ms Mukoko's sudden arrest and disappearance last December received widespread coverage here and the joint committee issued a unanimous resolution calling for her release. I am glad she has subsequently been released on bail but I am aware that charges against her remain outstanding.

In addition to our concerns regarding human rights in Zimbabwe, this committee remains concerned about the grave humanitarian problems in that country. We are keen to learn about the impact of the Government of Zimbabwe's new short-term emergency recovery programme and whether evidence exists to indicate Zimbabwe is now on a path to economic, political and societal recovery following its long history of colonisation and exploitation and the recent years of upheaval and mismanagement.

We invited the South African ambassador, Her Excellency, Ms Priscilla Jana, to speak about the positive role South Africa can play in assisting the people of Zimbabwe at a time when they are experiencing severe hardship but, regrettably, she was unable to attend due to other commitments. Members will be aware that elections are being held today in South Africa. We hope the ambassador will meet us at some stage in the near future, however.

Before we commence, I advise the witnesses that whereas Members of the Houses enjoy absolute privilege in respect of utterances made in committee, witnesses do not enjoy absolute privilege. Accordingly, caution should be exercised, particularly with regard to references of a personal nature. I invite Ms Brennan and Mr. Nkomo to make their contributions before we take questions from members of the committee. I remind members that it was agreed at a previous meeting that they should restrict their contributions and questions to no longer than five minutes each.

Before we start I must offer my apologies because I am flying abroad on a political trip and will have to leave shortly. I was anxious to attend this meeting as I was one of the members who proposed a discussion on issues pertaining to Zimbabwe. I look forward to reading the transcript but will have to leave in the middle of the presentations.

Senator Norris has asked me to explain that he has had to leave for an unavoidable engagement.

He attended the start of the meeting. He will keep abreast of any developments.

Ms Eithne Brennan

I thank the Chairman for inviting us and giving us the opportunity to address the joint committee. Although our names have been mentioned, I will give some background information on where we come from. I am Trócaire's humanitarian programme officer in Zimbabwe. I am officially based in Maputo but travel in and out of Zimbabwe. Last year I spent approximately 50% of my time in the country and so far this year have spent up to 70% of my time there. I am home on leave and go back on Sunday. I will ask Mr. Nkomo to introduce himself.

Mr. Harrison Nkomo

I am a partner in the private law firm Mtetwa and Nyambiraifor. I am sure most of those present know Beatrice Mtetwa. She is the person who tutored me to do the work I am now doing. Apart from being a partner in Mtetwa and Nyambiraifor, I am also a member of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, a partner organisation with Trócaire. My brief in the practice is to deal with human rights cases with a specific bias towards journalists and others in the media.

Ms Eithne Brennan

Ms Mala Roche also joins us as Trócaire's liaison officer for the region. She is based in Maynooth.

I have a brief summary which members of the joint committee have in front of them and will elaborate on some of the points made in it. Mr. Nkomo will elaborate on the particular case of Jestina Mukoko. Members can take the opportunity afterwards to ask questions on any part of our presentation or anything beyond it.

As regards the contextual overview, it is an ever changing environment in Zimbabwe. I have been out of the country for three weeks. When I started to prepare for this meeting, the situation had changed radically, even in that short period, especially because the government of national unity has started to perform more in the last few weeks. It was established on 26 January, after a long waiting period — since September 2008. There was stalemate and nervousness in the country about what was going to happen. Certainly, there was a feeling on whether Mr. Tsvangirai really had much choice. There was an opinion that perhaps he should not have gone into government, but the humanitarian and economic situation had reached such a level that the country was absolutely crippled; therefore, it was a way forward.

We have highlighted some of the things that have happened since the establishment of the government of national unity and even since this summary was written, other events may have happened. What has been done since 29 January? The Chairman has referred to the short-term economic recovery plan which has been developed and, while welcome, it presents many issues. The limitations within Zimbabwe to deal with its own problems to date are obvious. Trade in the Zimbabwean dollar has been suspended. The most recent Zimbabwean currency note I saw was a Z$10 trillion note. In January a Z$100 trillion note was issued and at the end of January it was worth US$2. It has been devalued in the meantime. The currency should be stabilised in time but we are not yet in that position.

There has been more dialogue with the IMF. Price liberalisation has also been introduced, which is making a huge difference to goods coming into the country. When people talked about Zimbabwe in the past year, there were times when there was nothing in the country. When one went into a shop or supermarket, there was absolutely nothing available, or many goods that nobody wanted but nothing else. Goods are now available in the market but some prices are inflated. We must also remember that to buy these goods one is using foreign currency, to which a limited number of the population have access. That in itself is an issue but the fact is that some food is coming into the country. I am talking about retail supermarkets, not humanitarian food aid, which is a different issue.

The grain marketing board's monopoly has been brought to an end, which is positive in terms of humanitarian aid. The monopoly affected the volume of grain in the country and that could be distributed at the crucial time before the hungry period which started last September, which was very early. We do not just do food programmes, we always have a seed element to humanitarian programmes but we were unable to get the seed. We would now be harvesting if we had been able to get it.

The allowance paid to civil servants is $100 a month. However, the cost of the basic needs basket — what people require to survive for one month — is recognised as being $350 in Harare. Obviously, it is positive for people who have had nothing for a long time to receive $100 per month but we would like to see matters develop.

There has been some control of hate speech in the media. As I said, I have been out of Zimbabwe for a few weeks; therefore, Mr. Nkomo may wish to talk about that matter, on which there can be different opinions.

A parliamentary committee on constitutional reform has been established. Civil society is disappointed about the level of its involvement and is pushing for greater participation in decision making on constitutional reform, the key issue in Zimbabwe, with agreement in the unity government on developing the constitution and holding elections within 24 months of the date of the agreement. Therefore, we are talking about September 2010 as a possible date for the next elections.

The first phase has also begun of decentralisation and the minimisation of state controls. Steps have been taken and things are happening, the message that should come from this meeting. It is not the case that no steps have been taken.

Looking at the political parties, Zanu-PF and Tsvangirai's MDC are the key players. According to some reports, Zanu-PF sees this as a transition period, as opposed to the next stage in government. This has been reflected in the way in which it is dealing with some issues, including the making of unilateral decisions. I will come to what the parties have failed to do. A push still needs to be made to recognise that the government of national unity is the way forward.

What have the parties failed to do? We have seen an invasion of the few hundred farms run by the white farmers still in the country. There have recently been attacks on them and it has not been possible to bring them to an end. There have been some appointments that the MDC sees as irregular. Two, in particular, give rise to concern — the appointment of the attorney general and the head of the reserve bank. They are seen as irregular, but the government has failed to deal with them. In addition, Mr. Mugabe is still making unilateral decisions. Prime Minister Tsvangirai can declare them null and void, but in many cases nothing is happening beyond this. We are at the start of a longer period of change.

I mention a particular case in the bullet points. Nelson Chamisa, an MDC minister, was partly stripped of his powers as Minister for Information Technology and Communications, a key ministry. If power over communications is removed in an undemocratic manner, we need to be aware of this.

On the need to stop security service arrests of MDC supporters, the number of such arrests has decreased significantly. More important, however, is that those who have been arrested — I refer specifically to the case of Jestina Mukoko — have been released on bail. However, the bail conditions are stringent and passports are removed. The latest information available to me is that in the case of Jestina Mukoko the deeds of her house were also taken.

During my meeting with Ms Mukoko a few weeks ago she spoke strongly about her commitment to working for human rights and a positive and bright future for Zimbabwe. She also said fear was the one issue that was holding her back. The fear among those who have been targeted in this manner is palpable. They remain in custody in that they are under house arrest and unable to continue their work.

The committee established with members from the three parties to monitor developments does not seem to be acknowledged when it makes statements about some of the decisions that have been made and which may not have been agreed by the three parties.

I have referred to the failure to hold trials for those who have been abducted. New radio stations and newspapers have still not been registered. Communication, freedom of speech and press freedom are key to the future of Zimbabwe both in the short term and the long term. Roy Bennett has still not been sworn in as Minister for Agriculture.

An illustration of the current failures is that passports which are a symbol of freedom are not available to the majority of the population on cost grounds. The price of an emergency passport has been set at $675. One cannot get a regular passport because those who apply for them are left waiting for months or years.

With regard to the political situation, new parties are starting up. Members may recall that Simba Makoni unsuccessfully ran for election in the first round of the recent elections. He appears to be mounting a comeback and a new party which will appeal to a middle class, urban population will be launched on 13 May. ZAPU has also been reformed. These developments are still a work in progress, as the impact the new parties will have remains to be seen. One fear is that they may divide and weaken the MDC and Morgan Tsvangirai's support. This is a key issue because such a development could allow ZANU to increase its power in the government.

I will now address the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. The incidence of cholera continues to increase, albeit at a much slower rate than previously. There should never have been an outbreak of cholera which was due to a breakdown in basic services, particularly water and sanitary services. While the number of cases is reducing, cases are recurring in some areas where the disease had been eliminated. This is due to services not improving.

HIV-AIDS is a major problem and while the incidence has reduced according to some figures, the reasons for this reduction need to be examined. They include the high death rate and other factors. HIV-AIDS remains a major problem which makes people more vulnerable.

The health and education systems have virtually collapsed and unemployment exceeds94%. The harvest is also below average this year. As members may have read, food is available but given that this is the harvest period, the question which arises is how long the food which has been harvested will last. Last year we had to start feeding in September. Will we have to start feeding earlier this year or will food stocks last until September? Either way, we know people will have to be fed next year. In January and February this year 7.5 million had to be fed and we will continue to have to feed people for at least the next year, if not the year thereafter.

I will not elaborate on our work in Zimbabwe. We were asked to allude to our work in the country which is very relevant because we receive substantial support from the Government for our work in the country through the MAPS and the EHAF. More recently, one of our projects to tackle the level of cholera was funded under the ERF.

The human rights and governance programme involves work with the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and other human rights organisations. The programme has a budget of approximately €600,000. All the budgets to which I refer are approximate because they relate to 2009, whereas our financial year extends from 1 March to the end of February. We have six partners and the teams work on the issues of transitional justice, political and constitutional reforms — this is key this year — socio-economic policy and advocacy.

The budget for the humanitarian programme is significant, largely as a result of the support we are receiving from Irish Aid this year. Irish Aid has established a structure to allow us to access this support and our budget for this year is approximately €1.2 million. We have five partners in this area, with food aid the key element and main item of expenditure. We also offer livelihood support with a view to reducing dependence on food aid. HIV-AIDS and gender are key elements of the programme, as they are in all programmes. We work in the area of disaster risk reduction to the greatest extent possible and hope to be able to engage in a livelihoods programme, although the transition to the programme will not be made this year.

While our HIV-AIDS programme is surviving, it may be affected by budget cuts. This year our budget for the programme is €200,000 and we have three partners. We are gradually moving to deal with the policy and advocacy aspects of access, as well as prevention and treatment.

The third element of the presentation relates to the challenges and risks to implementation of programmes. While this is not solely an issue for Trócaire, we will obviously take an organisational perspective on the issue. There is a risk that the political environment will change for a variety of reasons resulting in further economic decline. There is also a risk that the space available for NGO and civil society activity may be restricted. For a number of months last year such activity was banned and there remains considerable fear in Zimbabwe that one must play ball to be able to continue to do one's work. We clearly need to challenge the Government of Zimbabwe on the manner in which the humanitarian crisis is being addressed.

A further risk is that the economy will fail to recover as quickly as hoped, even if the political environment is positive. Zimbabwe is on a cusp and its economy could move in either direction. There is also a risk that advocacy work and participation by civil society could have an adverse impact, as we have noted. Some of our partners, for example, have been challenged and the risk is that this will continue. We are not yet seeing the opening up of the space of civil society.

There is a risk that the humanitarian problem will remain overwhelmingly acute. However, this may change if steps are taken in the right direction. Zimbabwe has structures in place which many other countries in Africa do not possess. For this reason, change could take place quicker than would be the case elsewhere if the correct decisions were taken and the right policies adopted. This is a key advantage in Zimbabwe and one of the reasons there may be a greater focus on quicker change. While quick change is possible, we must be careful about how this is done and how we support it.

HIV-AIDS, to which I have referred, is a risk because the number of people with HIV is growing. This impacts on the fabric of society and the vulnerability of individuals.

The economic, monetary and banking environment has obviously changed a great deal in recent months, which could mean there is scope for financial mismanagement. There has been much financial mismanagement from a programme perspective. We monitor that very carefully. We have financial consultants in place, something we do not have in every country, because it is such a complex environment.

One can imagine a programme officer in Zimbabwe having to work simultaneously with the Zimbabwean dollar, the US dollar and the euro, and given the rate the Zimbabwean dollar was changing at, it became a very complex way of working. It became difficult to purchase food or whatever else. The consultants reported to us and were transparent about everything they did. They are the challenges and risks.

Regarding Jestina, she remains on bail and her case will be heard again on April 26. I will hand over to Mr. Nkomo who will elaborate more on that issue before we stop and open to the floor.

Members may be aware that Mr. Harrison Nkomo represents Ms Jestina Mukoko.

Mr. Harrison Nkomo

Thank you. I advise the committee that as a legal practitioner handling this matter I monitored closely the resolutions coming from it and was greatly humbled and encouraged while in the trenches dealing with this matter. It was not an easy exercise. It is still an exercise in progress and we acknowledge and appreciate the kind of commitment and help we received from this committee. This is a very difficult issue for me to discuss given that Jestina is not new to this committee. I do not know where to start and end. I suggest the Chairman advise me if I am eating too much into the time of the committee.

We appreciate that Mr. Nkomo has come here and are delighted to have him. Sometimes we have many members present and we try to ensure everybody has a chance to speak. He has flown in today to appear before the committee and we look forward to hearing from him.

Mr. Harrison Nkomo

I have told this committee my background is in dealing with cases with a special bias towards human rights issues. Who is Jestina Mukoko? She is a journalist by training who worked for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation as a news anchor. It is the sole broadcasting institution in Zimbabwe and is wholly owned by the Government. She worked there for 14 years and then left this Government institution to work in civil society as a project officer for an organisation, the Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust, or ZIMCET, which is tasked with peace building. It sets up peace committees which make sure there is peace among the citizens of Zimbabwe. She left there and assumed the responsibility of a directorship at the Zimbabwe Peace Project where she is currently working.

After appearing before this committee and handing what she thought was relevant to its deliberations, she became unfortunate on 3 December 2008. She lives in a small town approximately 40 km outside Harare called Norton, which is where she was approached by members of the Central Intelligence Organisation or secret service in the middle of the night and was abducted in her nightdress without underwear, glasses or medication for a chronic disease from which she suffers. She was held incommunicado from 3 December 2008, only to be handed over to the Zimbabwe Republic Police, which is the armed force tasked with investigation, arrest and prosecution of all criminals in the country.

What is lawfully provided for in respect of a person who has committed a crime in Zimbabwe was not done in the case of Jestina. The secret service, which has absolutely nothing to do with crime investigation and arrest of perpetrators of crimes, is the arm which, unfortunately, has now been politicised for the advancement of the interests of ZANU-PF, the party which was in government prior to the formation of a Government of national unity.

After her abduction, we, as lawyers were approached by the family and made an urgent chamber application to the high court. The matter was argued and the high court issued an order directing the police to investigate the abduction, because at that time she was not seen. At that time, this committee issued a statement which said the Government should make sure that, wherever she was, she was safe and must be produced. We argued more or less the same in the high court and it granted us an order ordering the police to investigate and immediately arrest the people who had perpetrated this heinous crime, which was a crime not only in Zimbabwe but a crime under international law.

The order was granted but nothing was done by the police. On 22 December, with the existence of the court order directing the police that whomever had Jestina Mukoko in their custody had committed an offence, members of the Central Intelligence Organisation handed her over in the middle of the night to the Zimbabwe Republic Police. If there was no politicisation of the matter the members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police should have immediately arrested the member of the Central Intelligence Organisation concerned, firstly in respect of the reported crime of abduction and, secondly, in respect of a high court order which directed that whomever had Jestina in their custody had committed a crime and deserved to be brought to book, but nothing of the sort happened.

We went to court directing that the people who handed Jestina over to the police, who, apparently in this case were supposed to be complaining of a crime that had been perpetrated against her be brought to book. However, to our surprise the Minister of State Security issued a ministerial certificate, which is not absolute. It is subject to judicial review. We asked the judiciary to review the ministerial certificate which bars the court from ordering the naming of the people who handed over Jestina to the police to be arrested and be brought to book. The court would not do anything but agree with the Minister, which baffles the mind. However, this is what we have in Zimbabwe.

We made quite a number of court applications because apparently Jestina was very unwell and was denied her medication for five solid days, which affected her health badly. We got four court orders, two from the high court, one from the supreme court, which is the highest court in Zimbabwe, and one from the magistrate court, directing that Jestina be immediately taken to hospital but the police and prison officials who had Jestina in their custody did not comply with that order .

Due to pressure after the formation of the inclusive government, and because of pressure coming from the joint monitoring and implementation committee and the international community, in February the state made a U-turn and considered admitting Jestina Mukoko and others who faced the same charges to bail. The bail conditions of Jestina weresui generis because we had, for the first time in Zimbabwe, an accused person being asked to pay a bail deposit in US dollars. At that time the Zim dollar had not been banned in Zimbabwe. The conditions required her to deposit US $600 to the clerk of the court, report once every week to Norton police station, which was the nearest one to where she was staying, to surrender her passport, not to interfere with any witnesses and not to leave her Norton residence until the matter was finalised. These are the condition under which Jestina was admitted to bail.

We have pushed the state because we know this is a fabrication. There is not an iota of evidence linking Jestina to the committing of a crime. We know the prosecution is criminal and that the Zimbabwean Government at that time was headed by ZANU-PF and knew Jestina was sitting on a vital piece of information that would be of use to various committees, such as this one, at international level. She was documenting and keeping all evidence of human rights violations and information on those who were perpetrating them. This is the only reason she had to be arrested. We have been pushing for a trial and nothing has happened. The state has just made an undertaking that it will try her on 20 July, although on what evidence we do not know. Possibly this is an attempt to manipulate the law, because the state knows that if it does not provide a trial date the court will be left with no option but to throw out the case. That is what I can say in respect of Ms Mukoko. That is the state of her case at the moment.

Members would like to ask questions now.

Ms Eithne Brennan

Before they start I must point out that one key recommendation is that engagement with Zimbabwe must continue at all levels. When something comes off the agenda a little, as has happened with Zimbabwe since the establishment of the unity government, there is always a risk it will be seen to be less important. At the moment, that cannot happen.

There is one thing on which I would like Ms Brennan to comment. We know that 4,500 white farmers had 11 million hectares before the change took place and that 1 million of the applicants now have, between them, 16 million hectares, which equates to around 16 hectares each. This area is roughly equivalent to 35 acres. I remember a time here when we started off with farms of 35 acres and the Land Commission expanded this to 45 acres and then to greater areas as time went on. There has been difficulty in getting production going. What is happening with the advisory service? All our development depended very much on the advisers who were appointed and on bringing together the people who knew exactly what to do and those who might not have been so well informed. This led, gradually, to major improvements in production and output. It is one of the crucial elements, because production has gone down so much and obviously has the potential to rise again if we can get it right.

I thank Ms Brennan and Mr. Nkomo for their presentations. I am delighted to see Ms Brennan, whom I had not seen for years. She is from the same county as me.

We are hearing a message of hope from a desperate situation. On the issue of constitutional reform, the witnesses mentioned that a parliamentary committee had been set up. What are the prospects of real reform within this parliamentary system? Ms Brennan obviously feels it should have been expanded to include people other than parliamentarians. Is the distribution of food and humanitarian aid to the people who need it most proceeding unhindered? I was surprised to hear the witnesses say the required structures are well established in Zimbabwe to allow for rapid progress if the right policies are implemented. That is encouraging. With regard to Ms Mukoko, is there anything further we can do as a committee to assist the situation?

I thank Ms Brennan and Mr. Nkomo for their interesting updates. This time last year we discussed the situation in Zimbabwe and obviously there was much concern at that stage, specifically about the levels of violence, the abuse of human rights, and the poverty and health issues. While there does seem to have been some progress, it does not appear to have been great. I ask the witnesses to say a word on this, especially on the issue of poverty and how it might be addressed.

With regard to the committee on constitutional reform, what are the prospects of success? The witnesses referred to Mr. Gono and the banking system. Is there any hope of a change in the governorship of the Reserve Bank or more stability in the currency?

We always saw the role of South Africa as being important. What are the prospects that after the elections in South Africa the new administration will take a greater interest? It would probably have more influence than anyone else in the world in bringing about change at a greater pace. What else can Ireland and the European Union do to improve the situation?

This is a matter that can be clarified in private session, but I must point out that I did not agree on behalf of my party to any five-minute limitation on speeches. The good news is that I would not dream of taking up that amount of time today. For the record I will clarify that neither as the representative of the Labour Party nor as Opposition convenor did I agree to any such thing.

After some lengthy contributions from about 17 members and numerous hours spent here, we asked members to try to keep speeches below five minutes. However, we are not under an obligation.

No, but on a matter of principle I am pointing out that I did not agree to any such thing.

I appreciate that.

I do not agree with time limitations in the Dáil either, although that is a matter for another day. I have spent more than 20 years in the Dáil and nine years in the Seanad and since we started this nonsense of dividing up time and keeping things short we have reduced the efficacy of Parliament. As the Chairman knows, I have studied the efficacy of committees, and that kind of thing will not help the committee. However, we will discuss this again.

I am glad to be able to be here, and this enables us to do some housekeeping as well. Mr. Nkomo's presentation has brought us up to date on the case of Jestina Mukoko, and there are things we should perhaps think of doing. There is an international organisation of journalists which has been interested in the case, and we should contact it. We should also contact our own National Union of Journalists, the International Commission of Jurists and many other bodies. The information we have received suggests also that we should request that the Department of Foreign Affairs seek representation at any trial that takes place.

I admire Trócaire which, along with the other main organisations, will have received a communication saying that 70% of its grant is to be retained. That is what the general allocation will be. With regard to the other 30%, so far we do not know where the cuts will be. It is worth reminding the committee that, as mentioned in Ms Brennan's presentation, any cut that would affect a programme that deals with 4,500 HIV-AIDS related deaths per week, the humanitarian situation or any other programme on the ground would be quite disastrous. There is something practical we can do in this regard. We can ask that none of the programmes as described to us is affected by the cuts that have been announced, which have been horrific — €100 million on top of a 17% cut announced earlier. We do not want to slide over that, and the witnesses can address it in principle in much less than five minutes.

A point raised by the Chairman with which I agree is that in discussing Zimbabwe, people frequently slip away from the issue of the unfinished agenda of the Lancaster House talks. The former colonial power, the British Government, gave undertakings in regard to land redistribution and reform with which it did not comply. That remains an outstanding issue. I am not an admirer of Robert Mugabe or his party — far from it. However, I simply point out the historical fact that the former colonial power has undischarged obligations and duties to the people of Zimbabwe.

Trócaire and its partner organisations, together with all of us interested in human rights, are faced with a difficult dilemma in dealing with the situation in Zimbabwe. It is easy to conclude that, in view of the absence of transparency in regard, for example, to the judicial and civil law process in that country, one should walk away and refuse to co-operate in any aid programmes until, for example, the Zimbabwean Central Bank has restored its integrity. However, this is almost to fall into the trap of using the people of Zimbabwe as pawns in a larger game. We need intelligent strategies to get past the obstacles. The objective must be to continue our relationship with Zimbabwe rather than imposing stronger conditionalities.

There has been coverage in the international media of the outrageous issue of the exportation of diamonds from Zimbabwe. Apart altogether from the global funds which managed to secure a return of some of the hard currency lodged in the Zimbabwean Central Bank, consideration must be given to the question of whether a decision to walk away until these issues are put right represents a conditionality that may have an immense humanitarian downside. There are no neat answers to these issues. The European Union has been unclear in its attitude to the exportation of Zimbabwean diamonds. It has been unambiguous in regard to any measures it might have considered or ever taken in respect to what have been referred to as "blood diamonds" from Africa. For example, some of the major diamond wholesalers are located within the European Union, as are many of the firms engaged in finishing, polishing and retailing. Some are located in London, the capital of the former colonial power. The committee should consider requesting some statement from the various member states on where they stand on this issue.

Mr. Nkomo has shown outstanding bravery as the resident of a country which denies people their human rights on a daily basis. We all know evil prospers when good men remain silent. Evil is prospering in Zimbabwe, despite the efforts of good men such as Mr. Nkomo who refuse to be silent. He need not answer any question of mine if he considers it inappropriate to do so.

Much weight is apparently being placed on the question of constitutional reform in Zimbabwe. As we in this country know only too well, constitutional reform can be a slow process. In some cases, constitutional amendments may take five or six years to conclude. It seems the prospect of constitutional reform is being used as a smoke screen behind which the regime is hiding. Perhaps it might be more appropriate for Ms Brennan to respond to this point.

Is there a clear notion of who might take over in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe in order to prevent the country descending into an abyss? Will it simply be the case that those currently supporting Mr. Mugabe will come to the fore and perpetuate the existing problems? It is appropriate that we are discussing the situation in Zimbabwe on the day South Africans go to the polls. We are all disappointed that that country is now a poorer and less hopeful place than it was when Nelson Mandela was President. South Africa is the power player in the region but there was little reference to it in the delegates' presentations. It is South Africa that will make the decisions, manipulate the situation to a greater or lesser degree and decide the fate of Zimbabwe one way or the other.

It seems likely — God help us all — that Mr. Jacob Zuma will be the next President of South Africa. I fear he will do little to alleviate the problems in Zimbabwe. On a broader note, there is a concern that South Africa is heading down the same route as Zimbabwe after it attained independence in 1979. In ten or 15 years' time will representatives of Trócaire be back to discuss land repossessions in South Africa? In 20 years' time will we be discussing cases in which people have been imprisoned without due process in that country? As is often the case, I agree with my learned colleague, Deputy Higgins, that the Department of Foreign Affairs should seek representation at any future trial of Jestina Mukoko. I also agree that the European Union should be brought to task in regard to the importation of Zimbabwean diamonds by former colonial powers.

It is interesting to note in the briefing documents that Mr. Mugabe used the failure to implement the land reforms underwritten by the British in 1979 to stir up anti-British sentiment and retain his position. There is a lesson to be learned for the South African Government. If Mr. Nkomo considers it appropriate to answer my questions regarding a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe and South Africa's key role in this matter, I will be very interested to hear his views.

I have nothing to add other than to welcome the delegation. Zimbabwe was the first country I visited as a new Deputy many years ago. I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss these matters with the delegates.

Reference was made to Mr. Roy Bennett who has not yet been appointed Deputy Minister for Agriculture. He visited us at one stage and we supported him during his imprisonment. Have the delegates any indication of whether and when he will be appointed? Given the difficulties experienced by the agriculture sector in Zimbabwe, he could well have an important contribution to make.

We will certainly request representation for the Department of Foreign Affairs at the trial of Jestina Mukoko, if such a trial takes place. According to media reports, a date has been set — 28 July. We could work on the basis of that suggested date. The trial was originally to commence on 28 April but that seems to have changed.

We will ask the Minister to ensure Trócaire's funding for Zimbabwe is not cut. The situation in the country is extraordinary but there is potential to make progress.

We will contact our European Union partners to discuss how they stand on the issue of blood diamonds. Mr. Emmet Bergin of Progressio Ireland is in the Visitors' Gallery and has provided a document for circulation to members. We will look into that matter later.

Mr. Harrison Nkomo

Many questions were asked, some of which are not directly relevant to me. I will start with a run down of what I think are the answers to the questions as they have been put to me. If I have left something out my colleagues may cover it or the question can be revived. I do not know how you wish to direct the meeting, Chairman.

I will start with the question on Mr. Roy Bennett. After his arrest, Mr. Bennett was represented by our firm, so I am also a legal practitioner of record for him. The circumstances surrounding his swearing in as deputy minister are very unclear. So many contrasting statements have been issued from within his party and from outside. Some say the delay is caused by a busy schedule. Other ministers say Mr. Mugabe is reluctant to swear in Mr. Bennett because he has a huge influence among the white farmers and his being appointed to the portfolio of Deputy Minister for Agriculture would recall what are called in Zimbabwe the "roadies". Most of the roadies are in South Africa. One must remember that Mr. Bennett spent a long time in South Africa after he went into self-imposed exile. Those who oppose the appointment of Mr. Bennett say he cannot be appointed because once he is appointed Deputy Minister for Agriculture he will be a key factor in the Government of Zimbabwe and white farmers who have left Zimbabwe and have had their farms taken away by the Government might be called back, which might reopen a chapter of land redistribution which, in Mr. Mugabe's opinion, is now closed. We do not know when the swearing in will happen. My own answer would be based on speculation.

Then we come to the question of constitutional reform which I will link to the question of whether anyone is ready to take over in the post-Mugabe era. I am very clear that one cannot rule forever. Mr. Mugabe is more than 85 years old. There is no way one can continue to rule after 85 years of age and no one is ordained to rule forever. Someone must take over. I do not know whether there will be a takeover within his party or of the country in its entirety. Assuming the question concerned the leadership of the country, the global political agreement provided specifically that it will be monitored and parties are going to go back to the negotiation table. The initial agreement was that 18 months after the inception of this agreement, parties would monitor progress and see whether an environment conducive to democratic, free and fair elections had been created in Zimbabwe. If after 18 months the parties see that it is now time to have an election, we will have a successor to Mr. Mugabe, either from within his party or from the Opposition. If we have a democratic election after 24 months, as is indicated now, who knows what will happen? With no violence and no threat of any nature, all odds favour Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai to take over at present, unless a miracle happens.

With regard to the issue of the constitution, the current Government of national unity already has a document in place. It was drafted by experts who were appointed during the process of negotiation of the agreement. It is this draft that the current Government of national unity intends to ask the people, by way of a referendum, to either endorse or reject. This is where my colleague indicated civil society's reluctance to participate in this process. They want a people-driven constitution. They say the people on the ground never had an opportunity to factor their input into the draft. That is the problem with civil society.

Coming back to the question of the time limit within which a constitution can be adopted, let me advise the committee that a draft constitution is already there. The only issue is some panel beating, factoring in what is contained in the global political agreement and taking it back to the people by way of referendum. If it is to be rejected the people will have to decide. This is what is on the ground. It might be good and it might be bad.

Then there is the question of industrial diamonds. I call them that because the diamonds that have been discovered in Zimbabwe, on the eastern border with Mozambique, are not the best diamonds. They are only industrial diamonds. If I understood the comment properly, there have been allegations that the European Union had some role to play, that the issue should be revisited and that what was looted from Zimbabwe should be returned. There was no official engagement in so far as the mining of diamonds in Marange was concerned. Marange is on the eastern border with Mozambique. It was a spontaneous move where Tom, Dick and Harry would go underground to gather diamonds, smuggle them out of Zimbabwe and sell them. I do not know at what level one could speak of engagement with these people. Only if there is an official document saying it was systematic and was endorsed by a particular government, can the issue of engagement be pursued. In the absence of an official document indicating that a committee sat and decided to go and loot diamonds in Zimbabwe, I do not know how one can do it. It is going to be a very difficult exercise because the process was not official. It was spontaneous, it was theft, it was uncontrolled. An account is difficult to bring to the table.

South Africa goes to the polls today. I can only express a personal opinion on South Africa and I have to be clear on it. So many people in the world believe that South Africa has influence in Zimbabwe. I beg to differ because South Africa has made it clear from the beginning. I will trace the issue back, and I think I am going to be very lengthy, in my response to this question. Under the leadership of Mr. Thabo Mbeki, South Africa adopted what he called quiet diplomacy. He moved from quiet diplomacy when he was appointed facilitator of the Zimbabwean crisis by the Southern African Development Community, SADC. He indicated to the nation that the only people with a role to play in resolving the Zimbabwean crisis were the Zimbabweans themselves with the aid of their African brothers and that the West, including this committee, should stay away from Zimbabwe. The Movement for Democratic Change opposed him, both as chairperson of SADC and as facilitator of the Zimbabwean crisis, to the extent that it wanted him removed as facilitator because of his weakness and his stance. People doubted his sincerity in resolving the Zimbabwean crisis. SADC would not hear anything of this and wanted him to continue as President.

Then came the unfortunate time in Mr. Mbeki's political career — I would call it the most humiliating exit from office of a leader — when he was recalled by his party and replaced by Kgalema Motlanthe. Mr. Motlanthe did not only assume the Presidency of South Africa, he was the vice president of the ANC, the largest political party in South Africa. He remains as Head of State until a new President is inaugurated or sworn into office. Kgalema Motlanthe also assumed the chair of SADC, so he had three portfolios. What was his response to the Zimbabwean crisis? In government, as head of South Africa he adopted the same stance as Mr. Mbeki. There was some divergence from his party, the ANC, because the president of the ANC, Mr. Jacob Zuma, was very vocal and said it was wrong for South Africa to fold its arms and assume that the world understood there was no crisis in Zimbabwe. He did not maintain that consistency. When he was nominated for the Presidency and when South Africa facilitated these talks, he shifted his stance and said he supported the current Government of Zimbabwe and indicated that it is only Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans themselves who will resolve the Zimbabwean crisis. South Africa, apart from being a leader in the region, is a country where a single political party has very considerable control over Government policy. Failure to comply with part or all policy in government, in terms of the ANC constitution, might result in one being recalled by the party. The ANC has been inconsistent, with the President saying one thing one day and shifting the goalposts the next day. Most vocal people within the party are respected. Zwelinzima Vavi, the secretary general of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, whose background is similar to that of Morgan Tsvangirai, played a vital role in ensuring that Mr. Zuma beat Mr. Mbeki to be president of the ANC. Mr. Vavi has been consistent in the ANC. He wants a democratic election in Zimbabwe or, alternatively, a Government whose leadership is based on the results of 29 March. Based on the results of 29 March, the front-runner is Morgan Tsvangirai. Mr. Vavi has been very consistent in that regard. Julius Malema, the president of the Youth League, has also been vocal and clear on this issue. However, there is also the deputy prime minister. She would say something different and is on the side of Mr. Mbeki.

With all this background I have given, I disagree with the assumption that the South African elections and the election of a new President will bring positive change in Zimbabwe. I agree it has the capacity to do so but there is no political will to ensure the Zimbabwean crisis is resolved. Let me reiterate, this is my personal opinion and my analysis of the effect on the ground. I might be right or I might be wrong. This is only my personal opinion which I wish to share with the committee.

I come now to the question of violence and abuse mentioned by a member of the committee. Zimbabweans went to the polls on 29 March which resulted in Morgan Tsvangirai being the front-runner. However, in terms of the results that were displayed, he failed to gain a majority to run the country as provided for in the constitution. Between 29 March and 27 June there was an escalation in violence in Zimbabwe. Not alone was there violence but there was also murder and forced disappearances of quite a number of MDC youths and supporters. The trend continued until the global political agreement was reached although people were a bit sceptical about it. The level of violence decreased to a certain level but it was better than what had taken place from 29 March to 27 June.

Then came the swearing in of the Prime Minister. While violence escalated again it was not systematic; it was spontaneous on the part of over-zealous, concerned youths who wanted revenge having had their houses burned down on 29 March and whose party then had a Prime Minister in government. There was also violence on the part of ZANU-PF youths who were anti-unity Government and who wanted to ensure it did not work. At this time there was a renewed wave of farm invasions, which we are experiencing to date.

I emphasise that for the past 29 years Mr. Mugabe has been in office and he has had very significant executive powers. Members will note that the removal of such powers from a person who has held them for 29 years it is not an event, it is a process. It takes time. The wave of violence, farm invasions and other spontaneous fires that are erupting are because the forces of resistance will always be there and these people are saying, "To hell with this". I apologise for the use of the word "hell" but I believe it drives home the point. That is the position in regard to the levels and trends of violence in Zimbabwe.

Finally, I come to the questions in regard to my lovely client, Jestina. The question was asked as to what this committee can do. I have a number of suggestions which I would like to put to the committee. First, it can continue lobbying. A question then arises as to what the committee would be lobbying for. I believe it could lobby the Zimbabwean Government to ensure a fair trial. The committee could pass a resolution, together with other international fora that this committee has influence over, stating that it wants a written undertaking from the Government of Zimbabwe that Jestina Mukoko, if she is to be tried, will receive a fair trial. We need to understand that the Government of Zimbabwe is a Government that has laws in place. It might be misplaced on behalf of this committee were it to push to have her let off the hook because the response would be "No, we are not the ones who are going to let her off the hook because we are a Government, we have three arms of Government, the Executive, the Judiciary and Parliament and we do not want interference in this matter, which is one for the courts." The committee could suggest that if she is to be tried under the laws of the country, the Government should ensure she receives a fair trial. That is the first thing this committee can do.

Second, apart from the Zimbabwean courts, there are three regional institutions where such issues can be litigated upon. The first is what is called the SADC Tribunal which is currently headquartered in Namibia. The decisions of this tribunal are binding on the Zimbabwean Government. Failure to abide by decisions of the SADC would result in the Government being suspended by the region. This body, in my view, is an experienced body. It is an independent body that is not tainted by any political affiliation. It is comprised of judges from different countries in the SADC region. If we are to litigate in the SADC Tribunal, what is required? Obviously, the issue of money comes into play. The SADC Tribunal is based in Namibia. It will be expensive to litigate in Namibia because experienced lawyers, who have previously appeared before the tribunal and command respect, will have to be flown there to argue the case.

Another body is the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. It can make decisions but it does not have any teeth. It has no enforcement mechanisms. Were a number of institutions in the world, apart from this committee or the SADC Tribunal, or other regional bodies that sympathise with the Zimbabwean cause, coupled with the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, to pass a resolution on Zimbabwe, and take a stand against the Zimbabwean Government, this would put pressure on the Government which would possibly reconsider its position. It has been done before and it has worked in a number of cases, including in the 2002 Presidential elections. The Government of national unity did not come from one event, it was a lobbying process from the Presidential elections of 2002. The Government is coming into place in 2009. It is part of the work of the commission to which I referred that at the end of the day, we have a Government of national unity.

The final body is the African court. The type of assistance the committee would be providing in this regard is double-barrelled. The African court is just coming into being. It is a young baby, requires nurturing and needs to grow. This committee can push here, in the European Union and in any other international bodies in which it commands respect and influence, that such institutions are funded to advance the interests of Africans and not only Zimbabweans. I am sorry for the lengthy response but it is a heart touching issue which is in my blood because I am working on the ground.

Ms Mala Roche

I thank the committee for the opportunity to make this presentation.

Ms Eithne Brennan

I will not focus on what Mr. Nkomo dealt with. Several questions came up in regard to the humanitarian situation, poverty, food aid, aid from here and how cuts might have an impact.

I refer to the distribution of food which was part of the first set of questions. Is it unhindered? It is unhindered in the sense that there is not a ban on distribution but there is always that sense of fear. That space is open, but for how long will it be open? The way the government supports us suggests it is not on board with humanitarian organisations as much as we believe it could be. There is definitely room for more engagement at that level and at UN level in that regard because the UN body in Zimbabwe can play a key role. There is no question but that there is definitely room for that to improve. The space is not as hindered as it has been in the past.

To reply to Deputy O'Hanlon, things have changed since last year but the poverty levels have not and change is happening very gradually. Mr. Nkomo spoke about trying to bring changes to break away from poverty. It is also about reducing 7.5 million needing food to acceptable levels, but what are acceptable levels? It is not acceptable that anyone should go hungry but we must reduce hunger to a level which is manageable in that country. That will take a long time. We are dealing not only with food security but with basic services. Until the basic services are addressed — the health and education systems and the sanitary facilities, including water — and polices are made and money goes in that direction, we will not see long-term change but only short-term change.

A number of members asked what Ireland and the EU can do in this regard. Obviously, giving aid is a way of helping. We are here on behalf of, and we work for, Trócaire. The Government supports other Irish organisations as well. We support the continuation of that. We face difficult times and the budget has been reduced across the board.

I am very grateful for the support we get because this year, more than 90% of my humanitarian programme is funded by Irish aid. I am already thinking about how I will secure that for next year because I know I will need it to support the projects we are starting. We do not aim to create dependency but the work will be slow in the first year, so support cannot be given and then stopped. We must ask how we can continue that.

Intelligent strategies were mentioned. What types of intelligent strategies can be implemented? We must have them in Trócaire but we need them at another level to allow us to do our work. That needs to be thought through because the aid budget has gone down quite dramatically, as members all know. That will have a direct impact on projects in every country but, obviously, we are focusing on Zimbabwe today.

I refer to the EU and the provision of aid. A question we did not really discuss was donor re-engagement and that type of thing. Is this a way forward? An interesting report by the International Crisis Group came out on Monday. Members will have been provided with a report from Progressio. These reports indicate that we should start to re-engage and recognise that there are opportunities here but that we should progress very slowly. We should look for change to happen before we are giving at a level where aid could be misused and mismanaged. We need to monitor this sensitively. There has already been reference to the fact that Zimbabwe needs to solve Zimbabwe's problem. That is where Trócaire has an advantage in that it works with local partners on the ground. Our local partners make the decisions, spend our money and advise us on what we share with the committee.

The key is to re-engage but to do so slowly. We would appreciate Ireland bringing the message to the EU that some re-engagement should take place but that it should be done slowly. If there is to be a huge influx of aid at different levels, but through the government, there is still a grave danger because, as Mr. Nkomo and I said, the desire to control decisions is still very strong. We need to move in a way that is clever and intelligent. That is our message.

We support aid being given through the NGOs, in particular the Irish NGOs, but whatever way it is given, it should be monitored properly and we must ensure it goes to the people on the ground. We take that responsibility when it comes through Trócaire but when it goes any other way from the Government or the EU, that is a real responsibility which must be taken on board.

Should we encourage the EU to lift restrictive measures in place? We should do so slowly in a way which will not allow abuse of a system and give people the idea that they will get the money anyway and can continue with activities which do not support change within the country.

Mr. Nkomo addressed many of the questions. All I would add to what Mr. Nkomo said on the role of South Africa is that we cannot ignore the fact that Mbeki as been a quiet player in this. We have been very disappointed with the role he has played over the past year. He is just one person. The other key leaders were mentioned as well. The fact remains that South Africa is the key player in southern Africa. We cannot change that fact. We need to keep trying to engage in a way that will bring some sort of pressure. We have our embassy in Pretoria and we have that possibility. I support inviting the committee to attend the next court hearing for Jestina Mukoko. More engagement at that level would be fantastic. Trócaire works with the embassy in Pretoria but we must keep the pressure on in an intelligent and clever way. We must work with different leaders in a way which we believe will have an effect. Engagement is the key thing.

The Order of Business is coming up in the Dáil and members are anxious to be there. I thank Ms Brennan and Mr. Nkomo for their contributions. I was delighted to hear from Ms Brennan, in effect, a strong exhortation to us to keep up the support of the donors and the friends. Certainly, we will do that and follow the matter up. I congratulate Mr. Nkomo on his nomination for the "Index on Censorship — Freedom of Expression" awards which he attended in London yesterday.

The committee will continue to monitor the situation in Zimbabwe and support the humanitarian, human rights and civil society work of Trócaire and its partners. I agree with Mr. Nkomo that Zimbabwe must decide the pace of democratic development. All our efforts are geared towards helping that development. It is important that Mr. Nkomo and his colleagues enjoy the support of their close neighbours in the South African development community. They are also receiving support from further afield, not only from Ireland but also from the European Union more generally. We will do our best to ensure the Zimbabwean government of national unity — an important step on the road to recovery — succeeds. The continued support of all these players will remain critical in the months ahead. I can confirm that the committee will continue to help to keep the attention of the Government and the people on Zimbabwe and individual cases such as that of Ms Mukoko.

The committee is conscious that other Irish non-governmental organisations, some of which have been mentioned, are working in Zimbabwe. I refer, for example, to Concern, Trócaire, Camfed International, SERVE, the Methodist Missionary Society (Ireland) and Oxfam Ireland. Two Irish people, based in Mozambique, are working with SERVE's Zimbabwe project. Approximately 45 Irish people are working for Irish missionary orders in Zimbabwe. We welcome and support the work they are doing.

I thank the delegates for attending. It has been a privilege for us to have met them and to have enjoyed this opportunity.

The joint committee went into private session at 4.35 p.m. and adjourned at 4.40 p.m. sine die.