Hunger strikers demand justice in Zimbabwe as leaders meet

By staff writers
February 1, 2009

Africa's heads of state meeting this Sunday (1 February 2009) were greeted by hunger strikers calling for justice and democracy in Zimbabwe as the political leaders continue to seek an accommodation.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela's wife Graça Machel, and hundreds of others joined the campaign and pledged solidarity with the Zimbabwean people, most of whom are now struggling to survive on a meal a day or less.

Campaigners are planning to fast for one or more days. Kumi Naidoo, secretary-general of Civicus a human rights NGO, said he would fast until 11 February, at the Central Methodist Church in central Johannesburg, as an act of solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe who are starving.

Naidoo began his hunger strike at the launch of the protest initiative last week. He intends to remain in the church for the duration.

The hunger strikers are calling for the immediate suspension of abductions and kidnappings in Zimbabwe and for the declaration of a humanitarian crisis there.

They are also urging the Southern African Development Community to stop treating Robert Mugabe as a legitimate president.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwean lawmakers are shortly expected to pass constitutional amendments that clear the way for a unity government between the president and the opposition.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa says a bill will be introduced in parliament on Wednesday 4 February, with the expectation that it will be passed by Thursday, so that the new government can be put in place within two weeks.

But observers say that there are still pitfalls that could delay or scupper the process, as well as widespread scepticism among many opponents of the present regime.

The bill creates the post of prime minister for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change agreed to join the new government last week, after months of negotiations.

There is currently a state of crisis in Zimbabwe. The country is suffering from chronic food shortages, 94 percent unemployment, and a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 6,000 people.

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