Opposition accuse farmers of sell-out to save their land

Commonwealth backs Britain against Harare as MDC warns that Mugabe's terror machine may win him the election
Click to follow

Party workers from Zimbabwe's fledgling opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change, yesterday admitted Robert Mugabe's campaign of murders and beatings had destroyed the national network which could have secured them electoral victory. They accused white farmers of selling out to the president and his ruling Zanu-PF party.

At the same time, divisions emerged in the white-led Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU), many of whose members played a crucial part in broadening the MDC's support base to rural areas.

Insiders at a crisis meeting of the CFU yesterday said it was split between those in the leadership who believe survival lies in co-operating with Zanu-PF and a smaller number determined to fight for multi-party democracy.

Government supporters killed another opposition supporter, it emerged, bringing the toll to at least 15 in two months of violence. Some 400 Zanu supporters descended on a village in east Zimbabwe and forced farm workers to identify MDC sympathisers.

In Harare yesterday Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi, the leader of mobs that have invaded more than 1,000 farms, appeared at the first of two separate court hearings against him this week. But his credibility did not appear compromised by charges that he defrauded the war veterans' sickness fund, as hundreds of his supporters chanted slogans outside the court.

The upbeat crowd provided a contrast to the mood at MDC offices three blocks away. Until 10 days ago it was bustling with workers ferrying campaign material to rallies and briefing journalists, but now the support centre is quiet.

Two MDC stalwarts who are also commercial farmers, Chris Aspen and Mike Carter, said only the rapid arrival of international election monitors could curb the Zanu-PF terror campaign. "They must come now, not on election day, when it will be too late," they said.

Mr Aspen, disgusted by what he saw as CFU betrayal of the MDC, said he was prepared to tear up his CFU card, "because they are all Zanu-PF" and were putting their businesses before democracy.

But Mr Carter said many farmers, fearing for their livelihoods and safety, had no option but to stop supporting the MDC. "We cannot combat state terrorism. Now we just have to hope for the best." Mr Carter listed farmers who from January until last month had campaigned for the MDC in rural Zanu-PF heartlands but who now did not want to have anything to do with the party.

Mr Carter said: "Our support groups have collapsed out of fear. We cannot raise money any more. Now the farmers are saying they do not believe in the MDC and that, in Africa, the white man should not get involved in politics. The talks between the CFU and the veterans ended the terror on the farms. But the CFU was duped into building up the power of the warlords."

Zanu-PF is now, with the complicity of white farmers, running "re-education camps" on at least four farms to which rural people are brought by the truckload to chant party songs.

Ruediger von Pezold, owner of Forrester farm, the biggest tobacco producer in Zimbabwe, told The Independent white farmers were in an impossible position. "They tried and thought there was a chance, but obviously there was not, because the trouble didn't stop." He said his farm was still running, despite the continued presence of squatters.

Mr Carter said that in Mashonaland East about 60 farmers were duped into taking part in a veterans' "peace tour". They had been asked to meet veterans' leaders but were "humiliated into singing Zanu-PF songs".

The MDC, which grew from a trade-union base, is still likely to win Zimbabwe's cities if delayed parliamentary elections go ahead. Its support among township people and professionals of all races is almost complete. But to have any hope of a majority it needs at least half the seats in rural areas, where people are still subject to powerful chiefs and superstition and where there is no voter education.