Posted on July 14, 2004

Zimbabwe Sees Red Over MDC Colours

Basildon Peta, The Star (SA),, Jul. 13, 2004

South Africa’s most senior Catholic prelate is puzzled as to why South Africa is not considering sanctions against Zimbabwe when these were effective in ending apartheid.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, spoke on Monday as the human rights situation in Zimbabwe deteriorated further.

Zimbabwe state television has directed that the colour red — and so the Aids ribbon — not be shown because it is the symbol of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

And in a separate development, President Robert Mugabe’s government, which faces acute foreign currency shortages and a collapsing health sector, has introduced ox-drawn ambulances to ferry ill people to health centres in rural areas.

The main opposition party said the introduction of ox-drawn ambulances, reported in the Zimbabwe government’s own media, was yet another indication of the “continuing collapse of institutions” in Zimbabwe while Mugabe focused on terrorising the innocent.

Napier told Sapa that while he was not calling directly for sanctions against Zimbabwe, he did not understand why they were not being considered.

He said no progress had been made with PW Botha, the second-last white president, during the apartheid era. Most churches therefore had supported the African National Congress’s call for sanctions, through the United Democratic Front.

“Sanctions in South Africa brought us a quicker end to the oppression. But I think you have got to do it intelligently,” said Napier.

Equally, if sanctions were applied on Zimbabwe, they should be applied “intelligently” and it should be up to the people of Zimbabwe to decide when they should be lifted.

The cardinal’s words resonated with those of Zimbabwean Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube’s call for South Africa to consider sanctions.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe News Service (ZNS) has reported that the Zimbabwean government has banned the colour red from the state-run national television because it is the official colour of

the MDC.

The first casualty of the “no red” directive has been the Red Ribbon, the internationally recognised HIV and Aids awareness symbol.

Producers of the weekly Aids discussion programme, Perspectives, ordered participants — which included Aids activists — to remove their red ribbons before filming could begin.

“We were told to take off our red ribbons. When we asked why, we were told it’s because of the colour,” activist Martha Tholanah told ZNS, a news service recently created by Zimbabwean journalists.

A ZTV producer said they had been instructed “not to give unnecessary publicity to the opposition by avoiding the colour red on screen”.

Paul Themba Nyathi, a spokesperson for the MDC, described the decision to ban red as a classic example of how Mugabe focused on trivia while the country burned.

Referring to the government’s decision to introduce ox-drawn ambulances, he said: “Zimbabwe is being dragged back towards the stone age.”

The move comes after the bankrupt state-run National Railways of Zimbabwe reportedly brought back steam locomotives, which had long fallen into disuse, because it could not afford to run its modern electricity and diesel locomotives.

Nyathi said: “As long as we have Robert (Mugabe) and his gang around, we will not end at ox-drawn ambulances, but we will see further deterioration in all aspects of life.”

According to state media reports, the ox-drawn ambulances are a result of an initiative by the Ministry of Health and are based on the ox-drawn carts used for rural transport.

They would initially be used in at least 10 district councils around Zimbabwe to ferry people to hospital.

The state-run Herald newspaper said preference for the ox-drawn carts would be given to children and pregnant women. The carts would be based at the steads of headmen in the districts.

Health ministry officials told the Independent Foreign Service that the carts were an act of desperation because there was no money to buy proper equipment.

“At many state hospitals, the only drug you will find is Panado. An ambulance will thus be a big luxury,” said one official.

“Maybe these ox-drawn carts will help in reducing people dying in s. They will either die on their way to the hospital or on arrival.

“That will save the families the hassle of transporting bodies to mortuaries.”

Health Minister David Parirenyatwa was quoted by The Herald as saying the carts would make a great impact in reducing avoidable deaths. He said most maternal deaths in Zimbabwe were caused by avoidable factors, such as a lack of transport.

He hoped the cart ambulances would provide an affordable form of transport “in a way communities can manage”.