Mugabe steps up war against rivals

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Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi, leading the campaign of intimidation of Zimbabwean farmers and farm workers on behalf of President Robert Mugabe, raised the prospect yesterday of further bloody attacks on the opposition, as the Justice Minister revealed that Mr Mugabe plans to invoke special powers to seize white-owned farms. "We are here to ensure that Zanu-PF's reign shall never be interrupted by sell-outs," Mr Hunzvi told about 2,000 supporters at a Harare rally.

The term is an ominous echo of the language of the war of liberation of the 1970s, during which the label of "sell-out" could be a death sentence.

The threat came as Emmerson Mnangagwa told the Zimbabwe News Agency that "within 10 days the legal framework to take land and redistribute it to the people will be in place," and that "we will immediately proceed to take it [land] and give it to the people." Parliament is not sitting but Mr Mnangagwa said Mr Mugabe would use the "Presidential Temporary Powers Act" to seize the land.

The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, who hosted an apparently fruitless cmeeting with Zimbabwean Cabinet ministers in London on Thursday, said: "The confiscation of farms without compensation would be a big step backwards. There can be no justification for this. . . . I have said all along that Britain would be prepared to fund a fair land reform programme within the rule of law.

"If it takes this step the Government of Zimbabwe will make it impossible for those who want to help with land reform in Zimbabwe to do so."

Mr Mnangagwa's statement and Dr Hunzvi's language set the alleged "breakthrough" announced last week between "war veterans" and commercial white farmers - which promises to end violence but not remove veterans occupying farms - in a more realistic context. The "agreement" was President Mugabe's latest attempt to squeeze the life out of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

The head of the commercial farmers' union immediately denounced the planned move to seize farms. "We feel that this is a lack of good faith on behalf of the government while we are trying to negotiate in good faith with the war veterans in an attempt to stop violence and prepare the situation for free and fair elections," said the CFU executive director David Hasluck.

Zimbabwe is providing a ghoulish insight into all that dictators can do to prevent multi-party democracy. The MDC is popular and its activists brave, but only seven months old. At least 10 of its members have been murdered, and countless numbers are being beaten up in the terror unleashed in the run-up to elections due by August. Mr Mugabe, through his ruling Zanu-PF party and by other means, has resorted to an entire repertoire of intimidation to crush the most credible opposition he has yet faced.

The deal from Zanu-PF backed "veterans" - former liberation soldiers, Zanu activists, paid young thugs, and the detested internal security force, the Criminal Investigation Organisation - puts Mr Mugabe back in the driving seat in the important rural areas. Many white farmers,weakened by months of invasions and violence, now sound defeated. "It is not electioneering that is taking place but a guerrilla war," said one.

But whites number only 70,000. The violence is aimed primarily aimed at 13 million black Zimbabweans. The "deal" allows the veterans, who have killed black workers, to stay on the farms. In fields and at mock trials, re-indoctrination of the rural poor is already under way.

"I have told my workers there is nothing that I can do to protect them anymore," said one MDC-supporting farmer, safe in Harare with his family. "I'm telling them to comply with the Zanu thugs but to vote the way they want."

This assumes rural blacks might don the Zanu T-shirt but then on election day throw out Mugabe. But it is not that easy. Mr Mugabe is not going to repeat the mistake he made in the February constitutional referendum when the electorate turned against him for the first time - so his supporters will carry on the terror, and MDC activists risk their lives canvassing in the countryside.

Zanu-PF has an area north-east of Harare virtually ringfenced. Members patrol roads and run a network of spies, attacking any MDC organiser en-tering the area. Murders are few so far but severe injury is common and rapes and beatings reported. Zanu-PF rallies are now "obligatory" - to refuse is to have your housetorched.

The MDC rallies face a terrified, uneducated population, remote from outside influence, and utterly reliant on the lies of state radio for "news". Peter, 37, working 18 hours a day in the area, said: "They are telling people that all the voting slips have numbers and so they can be traced. They're saying they'll know where the traitors are." Morgan Tsvangirai, MDC's leader, has managed to avoid retaliation, but government-sponsored terror will inevitably undermine his support.

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