Tsvangirai tells exiles he cannot help them

ZIMBABWEAN Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai described the conditions under which exiled Zimbabweans were living in the Johannesburg Central Methodist Church as a “sorry sight” on Saturday, but could not commit himself to any assistance.

During a rally to mark the 10th anniversary of the launch of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Tsvangirai said that on a previous visit to the church he had seen people sleeping all around it.

He was responding to a request for assistance from a tearful woman living in the church. She complained of a tough life in SA, beginning with rape at the hands of criminals at the border and ending up on the cold streets of Johannesburg.

But Tsvangirai said that besides exiled Zimbabweans there were millions of citizens in the country suffering due to the absence of economic activity. “The only way we can restore our dignity is when we are no longer refugees,” he said.

About 3000 people, mainly Zimbabweans, are living in squalid conditions in the Methodist Church. City authorities are planning to move a first group of 280 to the old Moth Hall in Noord Street.

Tsvangirai is in SA to lobby President Jacob Zuma ahead of the annual summit of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo . Zuma is due to pass on the rotational Sadc chairmanship to Congolese President Joseph Kabila at the September 7-8 meeting. Tsvangirai and Zuma are expected to meet today.

Another woman asked Tsvangirai how she could safely return to Zimbabwe when the MDC leader could not even protect his own parliamentarians.

Tsvangirai urged Zimbabweans to keep abreast of developments in the country and decide for themselves when to return. He said a programme was in place to protect MDC parliamentarians. Since last year’s elections, several MDC MPs have been arrested over what are seen as trumped-up charges meant to erode the party’s majority in the legislature.

This month, Zimbabwe’s delicate unity government enters its six month, amid what is seen as a rush to resolve outstanding aspects of the agreement ahead of a progress review by Sadc. The regional body guaranteed the power-sharing deal, signed in September last year.

Tsvangirai, with the leader of the other MDC faction, Arthur Mutambara, appealed to the Sadc for help on sticking points such as the continued grip on office of reserve bank governor Gideon Gono and attorney-general Johannes Tomana.