Somehow, Mr Mugabe must be made to see sense

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The events of the last week will have dispelled any lingering illusions that last month's elections in Zimbabwe might quickly restore a measure of stability and good government to that unhappy country. Far from diminishing, the number of illegal farm occupations has grown - so much so that farmers and labour unions will call a national strike on Wednesday in protest at the prevailing state of lawlessness.

The events of the last week will have dispelled any lingering illusions that last month's elections in Zimbabwe might quickly restore a measure of stability and good government to that unhappy country. Far from diminishing, the number of illegal farm occupations has grown - so much so that farmers and labour unions will call a national strike on Wednesday in protest at the prevailing state of lawlessness.

Simultaneously the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is challenging in the courts up to 40 of the 62 parliamentary seats won by President Mugabe's Zanu-PF party. If even half of these appeals is upheld, his control of parliament could be destroyed, even when account is taken of the 30 additional seats filled by Presidential appointment. Given the level of intimidation and ballot-rigging by Zanu-PF, and the courageous independence of the Zimbabwean judiciary, there must be at least a chance that some results will be overturned.

Even before the election, the economy was heading towards catastrophe. Now Zimbabwe risks being sucked into an even faster downward spiral of collapse, where economic and political disorder feed off each other uncontrollably. Recession is deepening, amid forecasts of a 15 per cent fall next year in commercial farm production, including tobacco, the country's chief export crop. A strike of any length would only make matters worse, increasing both the hardship of the population and the likelihood that Mr Mugabe will use the crisis to increase his emergency powers. The same goes for the dispute over the results. It is hard to imagine the President, having used his henchmen to fix the results, accepting their reversal by the courts. At that point, Zimbabwe would be within an ace of civil war.

Somehow, Mr Mugabe must be made to see sense - that a return of order to the farms, and co-operation with an opposition he can no longer ignore, are vital for his country. No one, not even the white farmers Mr Mugabe continues to demonise, disputes that equitable land redistribution is required. The IMF and other aid givers stand ready to provide essential help as soon as these conditions are met. But until the President changes his ways, nothing can be done. There have been hints of late that Mr Mugabe will step down when his presidential term ends in 2002. It is becoming clearer by the day, however, that Zimbabwe cannot wait that long for solutions.

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