African leaders fly in for summit over land crisis


President Mugabe today hosts a regional summit as frantic diplomatic efforts continue to find a way out of Zimbabwe's ever more dangerous land crisis.

The meeting with South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique comes after squatters set fresh fires on farms near Harare yesterday, and families of white farmers fled in droves to the safety of towns.

Nearly 200 youths carrying whips, sticks and rocks attacked Alan Windram's farm in Arcturus district, 60km (35 miles) northeast of Harare, though the farmer had already left. Also yesterday, the body of a black foreman was found on the land of David Stevens, a farmer killed on Saturday.

However, there were fragile signs of a halt to the illegal seizure of farms by Mugabe supporters and veterans of the 1970s war against white rule when landowners agreed to open talks on signing over land on some 1, 000 farms occupied by squatters.

"Everyone is taking a breath and waiting," said Lisa Fulton, an official of the farmers' union. And Chenjerai Hunzvi, the veterans' leader, urged a "cessation of hostilities". Tim Henwood, the farmers' leader, said: "In the interests of national unity, I am sure we will get a result."

But any ease-up in the violence - connived at, if not actively controlled, by Mr Mugabe - in which two white farmers have already been murdered, may be purely cosmetic, lasting no longer than the summit.

The farm confrontation is becoming ever more entangled with political opposition to Mr Mugabe. Youths who rampaged through one farm at Arcturus near the capital said it was a centre for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

But Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, retorted that political attacks would not intimidate his supporters. "We are not retreating," he declared, describing Mr Mugabe as "a deranged dictator".

"We have to look positively beyond Mugabe," he said, shortly after arriving home from a week-long trip to Britain, South Africa and the US. "Mugabe is history."

But in a BBC interview, the Zimbabwe President was intransigent. The land crisis would be solved "soon," he said, ruling out UN or other outside intervention, and warning that Europeans "do not understand how closely this question touches our hearts."

Mr Mugabe is due to meet South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, President Sam Nujoma of Namibia and President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique in Victoria Falls. The meeting will take place after a larger summit of internal and external belligerents in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At heavy cost to his country's crippled economy, Mr Mugabe has sent some 11,000 troops to fight in the Congo alongside forces loyal to Congo's President, Laurent Kabila, who will attend the first summit.

The agenda of the talks, to be held under the guise of a meeting of the South African Development Community (SADC) chaired, was shrouded in secrecy. But officials said President Mbeki, who has thus far carefully avoided direct comment on the crisis, will focus on Britain's obligation to support land redistribution, so as not to antagonise Mr Mugabe.

The problem lies in the terms for such assistance. Harare insists Britain must compensate white farmers for land confiscated by the government. Britain rejects this, arguing that the sales must be voluntary, and that redistribution must be transparent to ensure the land doesn't just end up with Mugabe's cronies.

Britain, which contributed £44m to land re-allocation before suspending the scheme in 1988, also insists occupied farms must be vacated before new negotiations can begin. A Zimbabwean team led by Stan Mudenge, the Foreign Minister, is due in London on 27 April for talks on the issue.

Warning implicitly that the upheavals in Zimbabwe could spill into other countries including his own, President Mbeki declared in a newspaper interview that land reform was essential in Zimbabwe - but in such a way that did not create instability in the wider southern African region.

Mr Mbeki may today be able offer Mr Mugabe assistance with Zimbabwe's economic crisis. Harare's stock market plunge 2.4 per cent to a new four-month low yesterday amid rumours of an impending devaluation of the currency.

Pretoria is believed close to finalising a proposal for a financial lifeline, originally devised as a R800m bond issue by Zimbabwe, underwritten by the South African government to finance mainly fuel and power imports to off-set the desperate shortages in Zimbabwe. But this could change.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas