Zimbabwe to get Commonwealth training, support

A NETWORK of regional and international civic organisations affiliated to the Commonwealth is developing a special programme to assist Zimbabwe with training, along with technical and other humanitarian support.

This is despite Zimbabwe having left the Commonwealth in 2003, ahead of its likely expulsion over human rights abuses.

Yesterday, the head of the Commonwealth Foundation, Mark Collins, said in Johannesburg that Zimbabweans could apply for Commonwealth scholarships again.

Zimbabwe left the Commonwealth when the government was angered by the countrys continued suspension from the organisation. Political contact was severed, but some civil society links survived.

Collins said engagement with Zimbabwe by the Commonwealth network had been growing since civil society bodies petitioned for such support at the 2007 Commonwealth heads of state and government meeting in Kampala, Uganda.

This week, at a three-day round table of Commonwealth associations and regional civic bodies held in Johannesburg, representatives committed themselves to press freedom and the rule of law.

Ironically these were the principles adopted by the Commonwealths Harare Declaration of 1991.

This meeting has been the first step and a programme for the future has been developed, Collins said.

The roundtable had acknowledged that aid money would not make any difference to the dire situation in Zimbabwe if conditions there were not conducive to reform. While non-governmental organisations were now able to travel to much of the country freely, the concern was that repressive legislation was still in place.

Formal political ties between Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth are yet to be restored, although Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai met Commonwealth officials during his recent visit to Europe and the US.

Chairman of the Commonwealth committee on Zimbabwe Carl Wright said Tsvangirais meeting had encouraged the roundtable to invite a Zimbabwe cabinet minister to attend.

Regional Integration and International Co-operation Minister Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, a Movement for Democratic Change member, had been invited. She had not attended, but had sent a representative

Commonwealth heads of state and government were due to meet in Trinidad and Tobago later this year, with the thought that the body ought to re-engage with Zimbabwe. But Wright said the organisation was now concerned with reconstruction and development.

Earlier this year a mission by the Commonwealth Local Government Forum to Zimbabwe found a shortage of skills, including manual workers.

Wright said it was envisaged that cities twinned with Zimbabwean towns such as Durban which had such an arrangement with Bulawayo would provide technical skills for their partner cities.

Business Day (SA)

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