Mugabe silent on promise to end farm occupations

Foreign Minister vows to remove squatters, but analysts predict President will refuse to implement breakthrough agreement
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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe promised yesterday to evict black people illegally occupying white-owned farms, but sceptics were waiting for President Robert Mugabe to back the move.

Under the surprise accord reached late the previous evening at a Commonwealth meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, the Zimbabwean government agreed to end the black occupation of white farms in return for British aid for the land reform programme.

Stan Mudenge, the Foreign Minister, said yesterday: "It is a commitment by Zimbabwe and a commitment by Britain and the international community to come to the aid of Zimbabwe in land resettlement."

However, Mr Mugabe, who is out of the country on a short holiday, remained silent on the agreement.

Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, called for international pressure on Mr Mugabe to make sure the accord was honoured.

Its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, said: "We welcome it as a major step, but the real test will be on the ground, on whether Mugabe and his government will implement it."

He said the fact that the government had agreed only at an international conference in Nigeria to halt violence against its citizens spoke volumes about how Mr Mugabe abused his people. "It didn't need Abuja for this government to commit itself to the rule of law ... Mugabe is now desperately trying to find a platform to speak to the world which has isolated him," Mr Tsvangirai said.

The reaction in Harare ranged from pessimism to indifference. Amos Niki, a vegetable vendor, seemed oblivious to developments in Abuja. "It is the least of my concerns," said the 29-year-old, who lost his job at one of Zimbabwe's main textile firms because of the economic crisis.

He said he was sick and tired of politicians "not practising what they preach and not preaching what they practise.

"This government has ruined this country and unless they assure me that they are now prepared to get things right and enable me to get my job back and look after my family ... I am not interested in their machinations," he said.

Around the corner from the vegetable stall, the state-run Herald newspaper bore the headline "Breakthrough in land talks" but the vendor struggled to attract the attention of passers-by. "People are fed up of these politicians ... They are liars ... Maybe I will sell all my copies the day we publish a headline saying ­ 'Mugabe dies'," he said.

Many people familiar with President Mugabe's theatrics were treating the Herald headline as just another story.

The lack of interest in, and scepticism towards, the land pact agreed in Abuja, where Commonwealth foreign ministers met to pave the way for the heads of government meeting in Brisbane, Australia next month, did not end with the man in the street. The professionals were equally pessimistic.

Luke Tamborinyoka, of the Daily News, said: "Mugabe is only buying time so that he can be received in Brisbane as a true statesman and diplomat. He is repackaging himself and applying a little lipstick so that he can be an attractive guest among others in Brisbane."

The pessimism was based on the President's record of not honouring promises made by his government. Mr Mugabe's decision, on his return from a trip to Cuba last year, to reverse a ruling by his cabinet to evict land invaders is still vivid in the minds of many. Several promises made to African leaders to implement land reforms based on the rule of law have also never seen the light of day.

Pessimists say the land dispute seems to be Mr Mugabe's only remaining card to play in next year's presidential elections, which he is seen as likely to lose. They say Mr Mugabe has given so much power to the war veterans that it would be difficult to stop them now.

Emmanuel Magade, a lawyer and analyst at the University of Zimbabwe, said: "If we can start seeing the eviction of the illegal settlers in the next few days ... then this will raise optimism that the Abuja pact is a great step towards returning Zimbabwe to normalcy." But he said he could not see that happening.

The war veterans hailed the Abuja pact as an admission by Britain that it had been "bungling". Andy Mhlanga, secretary general of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association, said he only supported the pact "as long as it guaranteed the black people of Zimbabwe their right to their land".