Letters: Mugabe's land reforms

Mugabe's land reform 'skills' have destroyed Zimbabwe
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It is hard to believe that the Deputy President is unaware of the starvation and chaos that has followed in the wake of Zimbabwe's violent land seizures. What "skill" is the Deputy President talking about ? Ask anyone who lived through that nightmare, be it farm owner or farm worker and they will tell you that it does not take skill to murder, brutalise, rape and steal, which is exactly the method that Mugabe's thugs used to "take back" the land.

One wonders where Phumizile Mlambo-Ngcuka has been for the last six years that she missed it all. How does she explain the three million people who have left Mugabe's Zimbabwe if land reform has been so "skilfully" carried out? And why are five million Zimbabweans now facing starvation in a country once known as "the bread basket of Africa"?

Zimbabwe is now so desperate for food, for every commodity you can think of, that Mugabe has to go to any country that will have him with begging bowl extended? Is that a lesson any country wants to learn? Perhaps the South Africans will also learn from Zimbabwe's "skill" in destroying homes and livelihoods for 700,000 people as Mugabe has just done in his so-called clean-up operation.

Basildon Peta writes that the Deputy President's remarks were defended by the Head of Communications in the South African Presidency who said that the comments were made "in jest". If that is true then it shows appalling insensitivity to the suffering of her African brothers and sisters and if it is not true and the Deputy President really meant what she said, then God help the whole of southern Africa. So blinded by Mugabe's perceived glory as a liberation hero is Africa that it seems where he goes the rest will follow.



Support for airline strikers

Sir: In Saturday's Editorial & Opinion you provided an analysis of the wildcat strike action by baggage handlers at Heathrow Airport ("An old-fashioned industrial dispute", 13 August), which sought to defend BA as an innocent party.

You referred to the legislation introduced by Margaret Thatcher in order to prevent secondary or sympathy strike action, such as the one which took place at Heathrow. Mrs Thatcher passed such draconian, anti-labour laws in order to ensure that workers could never win in any industrial dispute from there on in.

Perhaps it would be appropriate to bear in mind that today, in the year 2005, Britain has the distinction of being home to the lowest paid workers who work the longest hours in Western Europe, in addition to the highest paid corporate and management executives.

I for one applaud the action taken by the baggage handlers in solidarity with the workers at Gate Gourmet. Moreover, I would like to see more, much more, of the same around the country, as workers find their rights, pay and conditions under increasing attack in Blair's neo-liberal Britain by immoral companies intent on short-term and ever increasing profits regardless of the human or social cost.

The responsibility for what happened at Heathrow rests solely with BA for sub-contracting their catering operation to a company which cares not a jot for the welfare of their employees. The message that has been sent to the US corporation that owns Gate Gourmet, Texas Pacific, is that their slash and run US-style business practices will not be tolerated by British workers now or in the future.



Sir: How does it happen that a foreign national is allowed, on British soil, to revert to such 19th century methods as lockout against his entire work force, thereby causing serious damage to a British airline, when that same foreign national is simultaneously the chairman of BA's competitor Ryanair?

Surely this is something the Government should be showing an interest in? Or is it another of those things Tony Blair "can't do anything about"?



Sir: While we feel strongly the misery of individuals and families that are hanging around Heathrow for days, we have no sympathy whatsoever for airline travellers as a group.

Whenever we hear people applauding themselves for getting a bargain flight, as most seem to do, we wonder whether they ever consider the implications of this - ancillary staff (whether "outsourced" or not) getting squeezed for pay and conditions, suppliers being forced to produce the maximum for the minimum, the airline preserving its own profits before anything else, poor standards of accommodation, cleaning and hygiene on board, and worst of all, the fact that the multiplicity of cheap flights is a major contributor to pollution, global warming and the despoliation of the planet.

Upsets such as that at Heathrow and its causes, fuelled by the constant greedy expectations of passengers urged on by grasping airline advertising, sicken us. We just hope we are not alone in this?




Sir: It used to be called, "the world's favourite airline". For one day only - last Friday when it was on strike - British Airways regained its position, if only in the eyes of the long-suffering residents under the Heathrow flight paths.

With a third of all flights cancelled, the noise climate was almost acceptable. These reduced flight numbers could be reached more often - even with BA back in the fold. Just over a third of all passengers using Heathrow are interchange passengers. They contribute very little to the nation's economy but, because they are profitable to the airport and the airlines, the Government has agreed that they be exempt from Air Passenger Duty.

This tax break has partially accounted for the huge rise in interchange passengers in recent years - up from just 9 per cent in 1992. If anything, there is a strong argument for interchange passengers to pay a higher rate of tax. Heathrow could still be one of the world's leading airports with fewer interchange passengers. And, with fewer flights too, it would cause less problems for the residents - and not just for one day.



Intelligent design is no scientific theory

Sir: Dr Milton Wainwright's letter promotes the idea that "intelligent design" has some scientific merit, attacking the vast majority of scientists for dismissing it out of hand. They do this because the idea does not even qualify as a scientific theory (the definition of which is far different from the colloquial use of the word).

The theory of evolution, that of natural selection and genetic mutation, quite adequately explains the fact of evolution, the observed change in the gene pool of species over time. Any "intelligent designer" term added would be entirely superfluous. No new predictions could be generated using such a theory. No observation could be made to prove the absence of such an "intelligent designer", and because of this any such theory would be unfalsifiable. No mechanism is proposed by which such an "intelligent designer" would interact with life.

No paper seriously discussing "intelligent design" has ever been submitted for peer review. But proponents of "intelligent design" will continue to insist that their pseudo-intellectual falsehoods have substance; at least creationists are honest about the religious nature of their arguments. As one internet user put it, "intelligent design" is merely creationism in a clown suit.



Sir: That George Bush is content not only to place "intelligent design" theory on equal footing with that of Charles Darwin, but also to propose introducing it to the youth of America in science classes, is surely evidence enough that the man has a very curious notion of what it is that scientists actually do.

Mr Bush would do well to consider the words of the late philosopher Bertrand Russell: "It is not what the man of science believes that distinguishes him, but how and why he believes it (Russell's italics). His beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence, not on authority or intuition."

Simply because "ID" may possess cute features that appeal to the intuition does not for a second establish it as a viable alternative to a theory backed up by over a century of experimental confirmation.



Misappropriation of Robin Cook's death

Sir: It is instructive, if indeed we need such instruction, to notice how the politicians have appropriated the death of Robin Cook to serve their own pretensions. The mantra is repeated on all sides: Robin Cook was a great parliamentarian. His parliamentarianism was his greatest attribute; we are also parliamentarians, ergo, to complete the syllogism, he was one of us. No he was not. He brilliantly exposed the lot of you as time-servers, liars and hypocrites who committed or condoned war crimes. That, I submit, is how the overwhelming majority of us, the people, will remember Robin Cook.

Ironically Blair was the only one who expressed his true feelings. By not turning up to the funeral.



Sir: More theatrical forms of funeral and memorial services are being held these days where the deceased is remembered in an understandably favoured light, but I hope the unfortunate episode of the racing pal of the late former Secretary for Foreign Affairs savagely attacking another person, in this case the Prime Minister, from the pulpit, does not set a precedent.

The Prime Minister cannot be expected to attend funerals of all those politicians whose friends may consider merit special remembrance; current cabinet members maybe; but where to draw the line? That was a tasteless piece of rhetoric pandering to those who enjoy the opportunity to denigrate those in public life and perhaps to try to show how much nicer and fitter a person is their own favourite.



Surfing hero is honoured

Sir: Your columnist Miles Kingston writes (3 August) that the heroic surfer George Freeth is "pretty much forgotten even by historians of surfing". This is not so. The Surfing Museum in Brighton pays special tribute to Freeth as the man who almost single-handedly revived the sport in Hawaii in the early 1900s, and introduced it to California.

We also honour his "British" links, as the son of a sea captain who sailed the Hawaiian Islands. Research has shown the surfer was in fact three-quarters English, rather than Irish as stated in your column. There is a rare photo of George Freeth surfing on display at our current exhibition.

So while the great man may have ridden his last wave many decades ago, he still holds a valued and honoured position in the history of surfing. He will never be forgotten.



Revised anthem

Sir: In view of Steve Crawshaw's arguments ("Not worth the paper they're written on", 13 August) that "the Government seems ready to exploit the national fear by riding roughshod over principles which have long been sacrosanct", might not the anthem on the last night of the Proms go - "Rule Britannia, Britannia waives the rules"?



Untimely tax

Sir: I was shocked to read (10 August) that President Tandja of Niger has co-operated with IMF and EU strictures, including the imposition of 19 per cent VAT on basic foodstuffs.

Imagine the outcry if VAT was imposed on food in this country. I was outraged to find a young "Thatcherite" economist recommending the imposition of VAT on food when I was working as a consultant to the Asian Development Bank in Kyrgyzstan some years ago.

We cannot influence the IMF, in effect a sub-department of the US Treasury, but we should protest vigorously if the EU is supporting this starvation-inducing kind of policy.



Selfish suicides

Sir: Damien Cominos has a fair point about the minor incidents to which he is called as a paramedic. However, he goes on to list as trivial and "avoidable" various drains on A&E expenditure (letter, 10 August), and includes overdoses and suicide attempts.

Perhaps if mental illness was not seen generally as the "fault" of the sufferer, and if more care and money were available for mental health services in this country, then overdoses and suicide attempts would indeed become largely "avoidable". Until then, presumably, those who succumb to the life-wrenching afflictions of medical addiction or depression should stop being so jolly selfish and think of the NHS.



Cookbook cover

Sir: In your profile of Simon Hopkinson (13 August), you neglected to mention that his newly revived cookbook Roast Chicken and Other Stories was co-written by the eminent food writer Lindsey Bareham. Her name appears on the cover along with Mr Hopkinson's, and I'm sure that he would acknowledge the importance of her contribution.



Orchestral image

Sir: In his article "Where's the orchestral variety?" (12 August) Philip Hensher says "It's often overlooked how very different the national and local styles of orchestras can be." He has very cleverly illustrated his point with a picture of a complete section of left-handed string players.

How unusual!