Leading Article: No stability for Africa until Mr Mugabe goes

Click to follow
GREAT ZIMBABWE was one of the glories of ancient Africa. Modern Zimbabwe is one of its disgraces. And this is due to one man - Robert Mugabe, who has reigned there since he helped to end white rule in 1980. Mr Mugabe has been correctly criticised for pursuing land reform without paying proper compensation to the white minority that owns most of the country's land. But even this high-handed action pales in comparison with his campaign to undermine the rule of law and silence all opposition in his one-party state.

Recently, soldiers have seized, and allegedly tortured, journalists who reported on army disaffection about Mr Mugabe's campaign in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. When Zimbabwe's supreme court judges protested against these illegal arrests, Mr Mugabe went on television and told them to resign. He even accused "British agents" of trying to undermine the state.

Mr Mugabe has behaved despotically before. In 1987, he abolished the reserved seats for whites in the parliament. He then decided that being Prime Minister wasn't enough and took over presidential powers when President Canaan Banana resigned. The Rev Banana has been the object of a nasty campaign in which Mugabe has accused homosexuals of being "lower than pigs and dogs".

The Zimbabwean Acting High Commissioner implied in yesterday's Independent that his country has fair elections. Not so. They are a joke. Only three of the 150 members of parliament are outside Mugabe's party. His "elections" would have impressed the old Soviet rulers, so efficient are they in delivering the desired result.

These abuses cannot be ignored. Mr Mugabe has enjoyed the tolerance of the West because it felt that it should not criticise Zimbabwe while racists ruled South Africa. Nelson Mandela's presidency has changed all that.

Instead of co-operating with Mandela to bring stability to southern Africa, Zimbabwe, a vital strategic power, has now become a force for bad in the region. Mr Mugabe has sent an army into Congo to prop up Laurent Kabila's regime because Mr Kabila has given Mugabe's nephew valuable mining rights. These actions serve only to encourage all those in the West who say we should ignore Africa now that there is no obvious interest to be served by intervention.

So where do we go from here? Land reform, if carried out in a democratic manner, is a just cause and could be of international benefit. If tobacco plantations, for instance, were to be replaced by food crops, many of us would applaud. However, Mr Mugabe must carry out any further reform according to his recent agreement with the International Monetary Fund. Furthermore, Mr Mugabe has had a sufficient crack of the whip. He should stand down at the country's elections next year. In the meantime, he should strengthen democracy by allowing the courts and reporters to go about their lawful business.