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For some Zimbabwean students, a war in distant Ukraine hits close to home

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BY FORTUNE MOYO

Since the war between Russia and Ukraine broke out, Mandla Mpala has developed a new ritual.

Every morning when he wakes up and each evening before bed, he checks his phone for updates, hoping for good news.

In November 2021, Mpala, who has always dreamed of becoming a doctor, received a scholarship to study medicine in Russia under the Zimbabwean Presidential Scholarship programme, which former president Robert Mugabe introduced in 1995 to help children from underprivileged families pursue a university education in other countries.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Mpala, who can’t afford to pay for a degree in Zimbabwe.

He was already dreaming beyond admission to a time when he would graduate and return home, so he could practice medicine and take care of his younger sister.

He had shared the good news with his friends and family, had his passport ready and was planning to book an appointment for a visa interview.

Then the war began, thwarting his plans. It is an uncertainty Mpala shares with other international students in Russia, Ukraine and surrounding countries whose studies were interrupted by the war.

“It is a scary feeling, and it’s making me wonder if we will ever be able to go,” says Mpala.

When he first heard the news about the war, Mpala didn’t consider how it would directly affect him.

“I just thought it was something that was going to end soon,” he says.

Still, he had a bad feeling.

“As the days turned into weeks and into months, I knew this war was not going to end anytime soon.”

At least 4,000 students leave Zimbabwe annually to study abroad under the Presidential Scholarship programme.

Initially, students who received these scholarships studied in South Africa, but the programme has expanded to universities in other countries such as India, Russia, China and Turkey.

About 60 students received scholarships to study in Russia under the 2021-2022 programme, says Nick Mangwana, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services.

The two countries have a long history, dating to Zimbabwe’s struggle for liberation, when the Soviet Union provided Zimbabwe with arms and other military support, which led to the country’s independence in 1980.

The Soviet Union also supported students from African countries, including Zimbabwe, through educational aid.

It became one of the top donors of educational aid and the third-biggest host country for students from sub-Saharan Africa after France and the United States.

Even today, Russia still provides educational aid to sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2020, it awarded 15,000 scholarships to international students.

From 2018 to 2019, it offered 71 scholarships to Zimbabweans, out of 1,500 reserved for sub-Saharan African countries.

For students like Mpala, such an opportunity could be life-changing, given that nearly 70 percent of students who drop out of Zimbabwe’s tertiary institutions do so because of high tuition fees, according to a World Bank report.

Enrollment in tertiary institutions is also low.

The latest available data from the World Bank indicates that in 2017, about nine percent  of college-aged Zimbabweans were enrolled in higher education.

This pales compared with countries such as Kenya at 11.7 percent, South Africa at 20.5 percent and Botswana at 23.4 percent.

The same data shows that only about nine of Zimbabweans ages 25 and older have completed short-cycle tertiary education or vocational training.

International students from Zimbabwe who have already begun their studies in Russia, Ukraine and neighbouring countries share this uncertainty.

Katiyo Dube, who is enrolled in a doctoral program in African film in the Czech Republic, says that since the war began, he is unsure whether he will meet his program’s requirements.

“First preference at the Czech Republic ministry of immigration, which deals with issuing visas, is now being given to Ukrainians,” Dube says.

“Meaning some of us who applied have to wait a bit longer before getting responses.”

Without a visa, Dube cannot transit through the European Union to conduct research, which he needs to do for his doctorate.

“That can be anytime, so it’s important that I have my visa ready with me and stay prepared,” he says. “The delay is frustrating.”

Mangwana says some Zimbabwean students have already contacted the government requesting assistance.

So far, the ministry has provided financial support, travel documentation and other assistance to more than 60 students.

“We are willing and ready to support them in any way.”

Some students have expressed interest in attending local universities, an option the government is considering so they can complete their studies.

“However, that is now at institutional level depending on the stage at which the student was at,” he says.

Anesu Musabe, coordinator for Opportunities for Zimbabweans, a nonprofit that has assisted more than 6,000 students with scholarship opportunities in other countries, says that remote learning might be an option for some international students.

But those in universities that have been shut down in Ukraine face a particularly difficult situation.

And while the government has helped some international students who are already enrolled, Mangwana says there’s little officials can do to help those yet to begin their studies.

But their presidential scholarship is guaranteed, he says, and the government is in touch with the universities in the event the war continues.

Mpala is hoping for peace. Meanwhile, he has enrolled in Russian language classes offered online by the Russian government.

The recorded lessons are held twice a week.

“This is an advantage for us as it will help us not to do another year of the preparatory language course when we eventually get there,” he says.

But his optimism is waning. He keeps wondering if the war will ever end. – Global Press Journal

 

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Zimbabwe to more than double spending in 2023

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BY GODFREY MARAWANYIKA AND RAY NDLOVU

Zimbabwe provided the first details of how a new mineral royalty policy will be enforced, as the country considers more than doubling spending in 2023 to help revive an economy that exited a recession last year.

The royalty policy that came into effect in October compels miners to pay half of their royalties in minerals and the rest in cash. The plan presented by Zimbabwean Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube on Thursday breaks the payment down to half in mineral form, 40% in local currency and 10% in foreign-currency cash.

Although traditionally, royalties are remitted in cash, it is pertinent that the current formulae be reviewed in line with government policy to preserve value and mitigate against revenue loss,” said Ncube.

The southern African nation has vast mineral resources including gold, diamonds and coal deposits. It has the world’s third-largest known platinum deposits after neighboring South Africa and Russia. Miners say they will comply with the new policy.

Ncube projects total expenditure will more than double to 4.2 trillion Zimbabwe dollars ($6.5 billion) in the 2023 budget.

The bulk of the funds will be spent on social services and infrastructure projects, with a key focus on the mining, energy and agricultural sectors to stimulate economic growth, he said in a budget presentation to lawmakers at the new Chinese-built Parliament in Mount Hampden, 23 kilometers (14 miles) north of the capital, Harare.

Economic growth globally is being crimped by tightening financial conditions as central bankers including Zimbabwe’s try to temper high inflation, adding to the damage from the war in Ukraine and China’s slowdown.

Zimbabwe’s benchmark interest rate is at 200%, while annual inflation is at 269%.

The IMF last month cut its forecast for global growth next year to 2.7%, from 2.9% and sees Zimbabwe’s economy expanding at 2.8%.

Other highlights

Ncube expects Z$3.9 trillion in revenue.

Plans to increase value-added tax to 15% from 14.5% from Jan 1

Allocates Z$76 billion  toward next year’s general elections, in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa is seeking re-election

Budget deficit to GDP is forecast at 1.5%

To plug the funding gap, the government plans a bond issuance on the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange

Offers tax relief measures including cutting an electronic tax levied on US dollar transactions to 2% from 4%-Bloomberg 

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Zinwa pre-paid water system weighs heavily on Hwange residents

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BY FORTUNE MOYO

When Dr Tulani Maposa’s tenants wash their dishes or clothes at a tap outside his house, chances are that he’s secretly watching them.

Sometimes when residents take showers, he listens through the walls to make sure they don’t stay in too long.

Keeping a close eye on tenants’ water practices may sound like an invasion of privacy.

But Maposa swears it’s not his choice. “I am forced to monitor how tenants are using water so that it lasts for the month,” says the family man and medical doctor for a local football team.

Maposa owns a three-bedroom house in Empumalanga, a suburb of Hwange, a coal mining town in western Zimbabwe.

He occupies part of the house with his wife and three children, and rents out two bedrooms to two other families.

Maposa and his tenants share common areas like the kitchen and bathrooms.

A new and controversial change in the way residents like Maposa are billed for water has met stiff resistance from consumers and their advocates, who say it hurts those who can’t afford to pay for water in advance.

The Zimbabwe National Water Authority, popularly known as Zinwa began installing new meters last year that require customers to prepay for the water they use.

But landlords like Maposa say the new meters have tremendously increased their bills, forcing them to take drastic, and at times invasive, measures to ensure their tenants don’t waste water.

efore the authority introduced prepaid water meters, residents paid their water bills after usage, at the end of the month.

The new system requires customers to go online and pay for a code that allots them “tokens” of water.

When the tokens run out, the meter automatically shuts off the flow of water until the consumer buys more.

Maposa says his monthly bill, which used to average around 2,000 Zimbabwean dollars (ZWL) ($3.89) before a prepaid meter was installed at his property in March, has shot up 65% to 3,300 ZWL ($6.42) for the 30 cubic meters (almost 8,000 gallons) of water the three households on his property use.

“It is such an unfair system,” he says.

During times of network connectivity failure, which are common and can last up to four days, Maposa says it’s impossible for even people who have money to buy more water when they run out.

He’s concerned that could turn into a health crisis, especially now that people are trying to avoid contracting the coronavirus.

Clifford Nkabinde, who works as a freelance accountant for various organizations, says his water bill has increased nearly 60 percent since April, when the water authority installed a prepaid water meter at the family house in Empumalanga, where he lives with his parents.

“When I don’t get any work for a particular time, life becomes tough,” Nkabinde says.

“My parents are my responsibility; and with the introduction of these meters, life has become more difficult as I also take care of food, electricity, water and other necessities.”

Nongovernmental organizations also accuse the water authority of using the prepaid meters as a way to privatize water, which they say is an infringement on the human right to water.

“Prepaid meters ensure that access to water is only guaranteed to those who can pay,” says Joy Mabenge, national chairperson of the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, a social and economic justice organization.

“This is akin to privatization and commodification of water.”

But Marjorie Munyonga, a spokesperson for the water authority, denies that the agency is trying to privatize water.

She says the upgrades to prepaid water meters were necessary because the gadgets are an emerging innovation to help with water resource management.

“It does not in any way limit anyone’s right to water,” she says. “In fact, prepaid meters are giving consumers greater control of their water-use patterns, which was not the case with the old metering system.”

Munyonga denies that the new meters have made water more expensive for consumers, saying the agency uses exactly the same pricing tariffs for the new meters as it did the old.

She says there are new pricing tiers designed to encourage conservation of water, which might explain why some are paying more.

For example, a customer who uses under 10 cubic meters (2,641 gallons) of water is charged 173.59 ZWL ($0.33) for each cubic meter (264 gallons), compared to 300.89 ZWL ($0.59) per cubic meter between 21 and 30, she says.

“The narrative that prepaid water is more expensive is a result of misconceptions emanating from the fact that when the water authority introduced prepaid meters, the postpaid and prepaid systems were integrated in a way that allows clients to pay off their debts wherever they purchase prepaid tokens,” Munyonga says.

Many urban water supply agencies in African countries such as Namibia, Zambia, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya and others have adopted prepaid water meters to improve collection of payments.

Despite the development, controversy surrounds the system as some see it infringing on people’s right to water.

Local residents such as Nomthandazo Masuku say individual cities should create backup water supply systems to kick in when residents run out of water and can’t afford to buy more from the water authority, or when they have no network connectivity.

The mother of two says she and other residents are pushing the Hwange Local Board, the town council, to drill boreholes for residents as an alternative water source.

“When the water token is running low, we are forced to use the bush to relieve ourselves because we need to save water for other uses,” she says.

“It is more difficult when you have children.”

Dumisani Nsingo, the public relations officer for the Hwange Local Board, says the local council is looking into the issue of drilling boreholes in its area of jurisdiction as a contingent measure in the event of water disconnections.

“We included the drilling of eight boreholes at selected areas in our budget this year,” Nsingo says.

Other residents want the water authority to stop installing the new meters and return their old ones. In February, about a month before Maposa’s meter was installed, he and a dozen other residents took the agency to the High Court in Bulawayo.

A judge agreed with the residents that installation of prepaid meters without consent of the consumers was “unlawful, unreasonable and unfair.”

The judge ordered the agency to stop installation of meters, remove those it had already installed, and replace them with the old ones.

But Maposa says the water agency defied the court order and continued to install new prepaid meters, including at his home.

Munyonga, the water agency official, says it would have been impractical to stop the programme because 2,843 prepaid water meters had been installed in Hwange, representing 96 percent of clients.

“The rollout of the meters is going ahead well, not only in Hwange, but in other parts of the country,” Munyonga says.

Justice Alfred Mavedzenge, a constitutional scholar and legal adviser at the Africa Regional Programme of the International Commission of Jurists, says the court order was a temporary relief order, which doesn’t stop the agency from installing prepaid meters.

As long as the matter has not been finalised, it can continue installing the meters, he says.

“Personally, however, I believe it is unlawful for Zinwa to install the prepaid meters without consulting the residents,” Mavedzenge says.

“Maposa and company in the meantime can appeal this interim order.”

But Maposa says he and other residents have no intention to go back to court and ask the judge to force the water agency to obey the order.

Instead, they have decided to request local authorities to engage the agency on their behalf to see how they can come up with a system that works for both parties.

Until then, Maposa says he must continue to monitor his tenants’ use of water.

He doesn’t like to because it’s exhausting and he doesn’t feel good about having to spy on his tenants. He laments his loss of humanity — that sense of care that makes communities share resources — and attributes it to the prepaid meters.

“In the event one has no money to buy water, it is difficult to ask for water from your neighbour because they also buy the water,” Maposa says.

“Before prepaid meters, as neighbours we would share water and at the end of the month, when the bill came, we would split the cost. Now that is not possible.”

So far, Maposa’s tenants don’t seem to mind him monitoring their water use.

As he speaks about how uncomfortable it makes him, one of his tenants walks by and overhears the conversation.

The tenant declines to give his name or to be interviewed at length, but he says he understands why his landlord has to be vigilant.

“It’s tricky,” he says, “but I guess he has to do that so that we are all accountable.” – Global Press Journal

Fortune Moyo is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

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Fear grips undocumented Zimbabwean workers in South Africa

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JOHANNESBURG -Zimbabwean domestic migrant worker Precious clocked in late for work, launched into her duties for a white South African family as if nothing happened, yet hours earlier she had been arrested for being in the country without papers.

South Africa — the continent’s most industrialised country — is buckling under a wave of illegal migration triggered by economic woes in its neighbours.

Many come from Malawi, Lesotho, but the majority are from Zimbabwe.

Lately police have scaled up crime-busting stop-and-search operations, including weeding out undocumented migrants.

One such early morning blitz was launched this week in Springs, a district at the eastern end of the largest city of Johannesburg.

Several dozen police officers mounted a check point on a narrow road, stopped cars and buses, meticulously searching boots and ordering occupants out, demanding identification documents.

Grabbed by the waist or arm, one-by-one they were led to the side of the road to a queue stretching out in front of immigration officers.

“These are weekly operations,” provincial police chief Elias Mawela, told AFP.

“When it’s confirmed they are illegal in the country they’ll be taken in and later on they’ll be taken to court… and back to their countries of origin”.

But in some raids, police officers solicit bribes to release the migrants.

The day Precious was arrested at a minibus taxi rank in downtown Johannesburg, she was one of 30 people bundled into a police van.

She was asked to pay 1,000 rands on the spot — equivalent to her weekly wages — or risk being taken to the police station for eventual deportation.

Precious immediately texted her employer warning she would be late and frantically called friends and associates to raise the bribe money.

‘Scared’

“I was scared,” said the single mother of two.

“It’s not good being a foreigner these days,” said Precious, 36, folding a pair a velvet pants she was ironing.

Official data lists an estimated 3.8 million migrants in South Africa, a figure considered a gross understatement.#photo2

Foreigners, especially those from the rest of Africa, are targets of xenophobic resentment and accused of taking jobs in a country where at least one in every three people is unemployed.

Zimbabwe has a long history of immigration into South Africa, dating back to the 19th century when the gold rush saw mining companies hiring labour across the borders.

In 2009 Pretoria granted four-year work visas to around 250,000 Zimbabweans fleeing economic and political turmoil at home. The permits have since then been repeatedly renewed, but authorities have vowed they will not be extended beyond June 2023.

But many more Zimbabweans have continued to pour into South Africa illegally through porous borders in search of greener pastures.

The huge influx of foreigners has irked many South Africans who accuse them of taking their jobs and placing undue pressure on public facilities.

Recently an anti-immigration group of activists picketed outside a public hospital west of Pretoria — blocking patients they suspected were foreigners, accusing them of putting the public health sector under strain.

Their action followed a viral video of provincial health minister berating a Zimbabwean patient, accusing her of seeking free treatment at a government hospital at the expense of South Africans.

Domestic worker Precious recalls giving birth to her now 11-year-old son at a public hospital in Zimbabwe.

“There is nothing there, not even water to wash the baby when he’s born. No painkillers,” she said.

Asked about some of his bribe-taking officers in a country dogged with high crime levels and endemic corruption, police commissioner Mawela urged anyone who is asked for a bribe “to bring it to our attention so we can investigate it”.

“We can’t just take it lightly these accusations”.   – AFP

 

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