Mugabe, Catholic teaching on Aids, UN independence and others

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The West is failing to act while Mugabe ruins Zimbabwe

The West is failing to act while Mugabe ruins Zimbabwe

Sir: Those of us who know and love Zimbabwe despair that the West and the UK government in particular will ever seriously address the problem of Zimbabwe's dictator.

This is the third fraudulent election in five years. Aided and abetted by the AU and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Robert Mugabe has once again stolen the election and this time even more blatantly. What is it about this man that makes the whole world frightened of his anti-West and anti-Blair ranting?

When is the British government going to understand that the farm invasions were not about giving land to poor black peasants.They were about keeping Mugabe and ZanuPF in power. One look at the list of recipients of former white-owned farms tells anyone who cares to understand that they are Zanu PF cronies: judges, army officers, senior policemen, civil servants and anyone else who Mugabe regards as deserving of reward because of their support for the ruling party.

Even more important is the fact that the land is simply not being utilised. Why else are five million people facing starvation in Zimbabwe? It is not because of drought. In the southern part of Zimbabwe drought is a regular occurrence but never before has the country been in its present desperate position and it is one man and his desperate clinging on to power at any cost that has caused the crisis.

PAULINE HENSON
Worcester

Sir: Numerous countries are crying foul regarding the recent election in Zimbabwe. For an ex-Zimbabwean such as me this is rather amusing when you consider that most of these countries were directly or indirectly responsible for bringing Mugabe to power and for keeping him there. How quickly our politicians conveniently forget the very history that they themselves have created.

NICHOLAS R SWART
Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada

Catholic teaching and the spread of Aids

Sir: Even at a time of religious hyperbole your editorial statement that "millions have died in Africa" as a result of the late Pope's "theological rigidity" on condom use is preposterous. The primary cause of the vast majority of HIV/Aids transmission and deaths is, and has been, the powerlessness of African women in the face of promiscuous HIV/Aids-infected men. Even when government-sponsored programmes make condoms available, and people have access to them, most women are in no position to demand their use. In cultures of profound gender inequality and grinding poverty where sexual services may be an only source of income and maintenance, prevention is an intractable problem - but not impossible as Uganda showed.

The consequences of official Catholic teaching, which is far from monolithic on this matter, patchily applied, and with often little impact on young sexually active people, needs to be placed in this context. As a former director of the Catholic Institute for International Relations, I saw it as an institutional responsibility to try to get the prohibition of condom use in areas of high HIV/Aids incidence changed. In retrospect it would have been more important to have campaigned on gender relations in the Catholic Chuch.

IAN LINDEN
School of Oriental & African Studies
London WC1

Sir: We focus too much on the superficial aspects of a Pope, such as his personality. One of the most significant things regarding the selection of a new Pope is whether people in the third world will be allowed to use condoms to prevent the spread of Aids. These are life and death issues, as well as taking firm moral stands against war, and starvation.

ROBERT E GRIFFIN
Forty Fort, Pennsylvania

Sir: Pople John Paul II worked tirelessly to uphold the institution of the Catholic Church which continues to work precisely against the precepts laid out by Jesus Christ, such as protecting the innocence of children, encouraging humility, freeing humanity of the burdens of guilt and sin and pointing out the dangers of materialism.

In addition, scholars will tell you that there is nothing in the Bible about a pope, priests, confession, monks or nuns. It is a well known fact among those who do not support the institution of the Catholic Church that these have been invented in order to maintain the wealth, power and position of certain male members of that Church who want to keep millions subordinate and feeling unworthy and guilty.

The pope spoke about toleration and love but was in fact intolerant and showed no love for the children of Africa dying of Aids, for the women who want to preach about Christ, or for the thousands of children who have been abused by priests over the centuries.

CLARE WAGNER
Amersham, Bukinghamshire

Privatisation

Sir: The recent debate about school meals really says much about the back to the future world that is Britain today. The problem, as with much in the public sector, began when the service was contracted out to the private sector. The private companies said they could do the service more cheaply. The only way this could be done was by either reducing ingredients or cutting staff.

Is this not becoming a rather monotonous pattern of privatising in the name of competition only to find the service provided is now much worse? Other recent examples that spring to mind include the liberalisation of directory inquiries and the part privatisation of London Underground. The evidence is there for all to see, but will that stop the relentless push ahead with ever more wrongheaded privatisations? I doubt it.

PAUL DONOVAN
London E11

Elderly tied in red tape

Sir: About 20 years ago my mother moved into warden-supervised sheltered accommodation provided by her local authority. At the time, as income she received only her state pension plus supplementary benefit. The charge for her accommodation was inclusive of rent, rates, water, heating and electricity - all administered by the one authority. She therefore had only two essential items to keep track of: her pension and her accommodation charge.

Now, at over 100 years old and with failing sight, she has felt obliged to ask me to manage her affairs on her behalf saying it has all become too much for her. I of course agreed, pointing out that I thought she had done remarkably well. I had no idea just how well until I started to try and understand the current system.

From 11 April she will receive a means-tested combination of an "appropriate amount" (itself a "minimum amount" based on her being single and also severely disabled), a retirement pension, a "guarantee credit" (which is her "appropriate amount" less her Retirement Pension but not including "attendance allowance"), and a "savings credit" (which does not count the first £82.05 and being "rewarded" at 60p in the pound "of the qualifying income from £82.05 to £109.45", which amounts in her case to £0.15) from which is derived her "pension credit" and thus her total pension.

As before, she and the other tenants each have to pay their individual rent and council taxes, but now these are set against means-tested housing benefits and council tax benefits that have to be recalculated and notified every time there is a change. Again, their now individual water and sewerage rates, as well as their separate electricity bills (measured now on separate newly and expensively installed meters) all have to be separately calculated, billed and paid for. The total cost of the bureaucracy and the paper so generated must have increased enormously.

To cap it all the local authority is currently engaged in trying to persuade the tenants to vote for the privatisation, in effect, of the sheltered properties.

I do find that those charged with providing this service are sincere, hardworking people always willing to give advice and support. Nevertheless, on top of the inevitable loss of independence at her age, for my mother the whole adds up to a confusing and even threatening world that has displaced the cosy refuge that she once felt she had.

I am afraid that the responsibility for this unintended mistreatment of our elderly rests with all of us. It is dressed up with phrases such as "improved efficiency" and "freedom of choice" and is done in the taxpayer's name, but it shows the results of Margaret Thatcher's pied piper luring of a selfish electorate to the ballot box have not been effectively reversed by New Labour.

ROGER CHUBB

Chelmsford, Essex

Disruptive children

Sir: Dr Alison Poulton's suggestion that children with ADHD could be "identified" by their teachers in primary schools and "treated with stimulant medication" (Letters, 2 April) is another example of how we, as a society, like to create labels and invent diseases which are simply a deviation from the standard of the human condition.

Medicating disruptive children is a form of social control helping to maintain the social strata within society. Dr Poulton should be drawing attention to inequalities in society, such as poverty, poor diet, poor education, housing and low self-esteem that breed violent and disruptive children.

RICHARD LANIGAN
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
Surrey

UN independence

Sir: David T Johnson of the US Embassy in London (Letters, 1 April) really ought to get out and about more. He is certainly right to concede that "Yes my government and my countrymen have criticised the UN".

However it is hard to categorise as mere criticism the not uninfluential Richard Perle's statement during the shenanigans prior to the Iraq war, when he thanked God for the death of the UN. The problem Mr Johnson shares with his government is the inability to see that which the rest of the world sees all too clearly: the UN was not designed to be an arm of US policy, even though that's the way it has worked out.

The UN is supposed to be a grouping of independent states, and on the pitifully small number of occasions when that independence is exercised, the US sees it as a "failure" of the UN.

EDDIE DOUGALL
Bury St Edmunds

Indefensible seal cull

Sir: How shocking that Mel Cappe, the High Commissioner for Canada, (Letters, 2 April) can trundle out platitudes on "sustainable activity" and "sound conservation" when the ice is stained with the blood of 350,000 seals, 95 per cent of them less than four weeks old. And for what? How can these appalling methods be "humane"?

There is no scientific justification for this massacre and he should be ashamed to support such bloodshed.

JULIE ROXBURGH
East Horsley, Surrey

Keep embassies open

Sir: Tony Blair declared 2005 to be the "Year of Africa". Why, then, has Britain decided to close its embassies in three of Africa's poorest countries: Lesotho, Swaziland and Madagascar.

I have just returned from a visit to Madagascar. 12 million of the 17 million population live in extreme poverty, the result of 30 years of bad governance and corruption. But since 2002 Madagascar has had a government fully committed to beating corruption and beginning the free education of its children. The new government wishes to end the country's isolation and develop closer relations with the English-speaking world. There are several large British companies operating there and the British Geological Survey team is currently mapping the oil reserves on the mainland and offshore. British tourists are arriving in greater numbers as the word spreads that the country is changing and improving. One would think a growing interest and presence requires official British representation.

Maintaining an embassy there cannot be that costly. The people of Madagascar are surprised that one of their oldest friends may be abandoning them just when things start to improve. The corrupt ex-government is now implying that the embassy's closure shows Britain's lack of confidence in the new regime.

Surely it is a retrograde step to close our embassy not only in Madagascar, but also Lesotho and Swaziland.

RICHARD LESTER
St Margarets, Middlesex

Congestion charge

Sir. The London congestion charge is to increase from £5 to £8 a day, although 75 per cent of those that responded in the consultation process were against the increase. Mayor Ken Livingstone's dismissal of this expression of public opinion makes one wonder why the consultation ever took place.

MICHAEL CONSTABLE
London N1

Media-shy Charles

Sir: Perhaps Charles Windsor should reflect that is we, the bloody people, that provide for him and his bloody family the extravagant lifestyle that they enjoy. If he doesn't like the situation, then he should put into motion a process to disband the monarchy.

JOE MURPHY
Plymouth

Punch-up on the pitch

Sir: The sports minister, Richard Caborn, referring to the fight between two Newcastle United footballers on Saturday, says (quite correctly) that "In any other walk of life fighting at work would be a sackable offence". Any other walk of life than being Deputy Prime Minister, that is.

HYWEL MORGAN
Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

20th century greats

Sir: The five greatest figures of the 20th century: Pope John Paul II, Churchill, Reagan, Roosevelt and Thatcher. So says Bruce Anderson (Opinion, 4 April). I'd bet good money that 90 per cent of your readers would have found room for Mandela and Gandhi in there. But who'd have to go to make room?

PETER FURTADO
London W1

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