Zimbabwe opposition wavers as Mugabe raises stakes in land war

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The Independent Online

Buoyed by regional support for land resettlement and signs that Zimbabwe's opposition forces are wavering over their role after June's parliamentary elections, President Robert Mugabe intends to step up his anti-British, isolationist rhetoric and believes he will be re-elected in two years, say observers.

Buoyed by regional support for land resettlement and signs that Zimbabwe's opposition forces are wavering over their role after June's parliamentary elections, President Robert Mugabe intends to step up his anti-British, isolationist rhetoric and believes he will be re-elected in two years, say observers.

In his latest tirade, at a liberation war ceremony in Harare on Friday, the president accused Britain of plotting to isolate Zimbabwe.

"It is more than unfortunate that the government's noble responsibility of acquiring land and giving it to the people should have drawn so much wrath from Britain which continues to lobby the international community to politically and economically isolate Zimbabwe," he said.

The 76-year-old president claimed his opponents, helped by whites, Britain and other Western interests including the media - "the same forces we fought against" in the 1970s' liberation war - wanted to destroy unity. "I am for the revolutionary values of the past. Are you?" he asked 3,000 people at Heroes' Acre, a shrine to 44 heroes of the 16-year war against white rule.

He referred to the controversial endorsement of his regime by a southern African leaders' summit in Namibia last week, at which Zimbabwe's "free and fair" election, and "just and equitable" land redistribution plans, were praised by presidents including Thabo Mbeki of South Africa.

"There is now quite a greater part of the world which has understood the situation and strongly supports us," said Mr Mugabe.

The ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), which won 62 seats, intends to keep land at the top of the agenda for the next two years.

The acquisition by fair means or foul of 3,041 farms for the resettlement of 500,000 families will be followed by takeovers of assets in cities, heartland of the opposition Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) which won 57 seats. President Mugabe now urgently needs his army - or part of it - back from the Democratic Republic of Congo where his support for President Laurent Kabila is costing $1m (£690,000) a day. With that money saved and by raiding the coffers of most ministries, Zanu-PF believes it can carry through a resettlement programme more ambitious even than that which followed the end of white rule in 1980.

Even if the resettlements are economically disastrous - likely, given that there are few funds for infrastructure or training and no international donors have said they intend to return to Zimbabwe - President Mugabe believes the appeal to greed and envy of his "accelerated resettlements" will undermine the MDC, who already have had to discipline one MP for saying land reform by negotiation with whites cannot work.

There are also signs that the opposition are losing their nerve amid a government-orchestrated scare aimed at farmers, journalists and business people. Ten days ago the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) scaled down its national stoppage from three days to one. It was "worried about damaging the economy".

And one document, believed to have come from liberation war veterans, calls for the launch of "Operation give-up-and-leave", a plan to "systematically harass and mentally torture" Zimbabwean whites.

Last Thursday, the Commercial Farmers' Union withdrew two court challenges against the regime, one aimed at police who ignored court orders to remove squatters from farms and the other targeted at the war veterans' leader, Chenjerai Hunzvi, now an MP, for inciting violence. The 3,000- member CFU said it did not want to precipitate more vindictive policies against them.

The MDC, which routed Zanu-PF in Matabeleland and all major cities, is vulnerable to division because it is a broad-based church, uniting far-left elements of the ZCTU and conservative business interests. Its supporters, many of them restive, unemployed township youths, could waver if land is taken from whites in cities and offered to anyone with a Zanu-PF party card.

In rural areas, some of which the MDC controls, the provincial governors - all appointed by President Mugabe - appear to enjoy massive power. They are spearheading resettlements and choosing the beneficiaries of land with no reference to constituency MPs.

Yet John Makumbe, a political analyst critical of the government, says thousands of students graduate from the University of Zimbabwe this week and he expects a massive show of red cards, the football analogy the MDC used successfully in its election campaign - at rallies round the country. "Mugabe has got wind in his sails, for the moment," he said. "But support from other southern African leaders does not resolve the situation at home. As [they] were endorsing him, Eskom (the South African power company) was threatening to turn off our lights because bills have not been paid.

"The MDC is calling for Mugabe's impeachment and there are plenty of people in Zanu-PF who want a change of leader. Mugabe's speech was empty. It just called for a return to the past. It was a desperate plea for support from an old man."

Zimbabwe's inflation stands at 60 per cent, banks are stopping loans, there is a fuel crisis and food shortages loom, but as President Mugabe says: "The middle class is an anomaly in traditional African society and paupers have no money to go shopping anyway."

In a memorable pre-election address, President Mugabe derided whites "who like to sip their tea under the jacarandas" and stated proudly "they forget the people of Zimbabwe can eat sadza [maize porridge] if it helps them win the revolution". But President Mugabe is only promising land. Not crops.

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