Farm Invasions Update
Friday 15th September 2000
NATIONAL REPORT IN BRIEF:
The extent of the break down of law and order is illustrated in two reported cases of farm invaders retaliating against arrests by lighting veld fires. The damage to grazing through deliberate veld fires country-wide is of extreme concern to the cattle industry.
No regional reports were received from Manicaland and Matabelelend.
Mutepatepa: On Crewkerne farm, invaders have threatened the irrigation gang with axes and have cut the main irrigation pipe in an attempt to prevent irrigation. Police have made several arrests. The owner has impounded cattle that have consistently been driven onto wheat fields. The farm foremen has received a death threat via one of his children. Police are investigating.
Mazowe / Concession: Police are now investigating the hut-building, tree-cutting and verbal abuse reported at Amatola Farm. A deliberate fire has burnt out 800 ha on Mazowe Ranch.
Marondera: On Carolina Farm, electrical goods were stolen last night. At Barrowdale Farm, a cow was slaughtered on Tuesday night.
Marondera North: Agritex, DDF and the Governor are expected to come and start pegging and allocating Rupture Farm.
Beatrice: A labourer on Bhara Bhara Farm was assaulted after he attempted to recover a water cart that the owner had lent to illegal occupiers. Police are investigating. A war vet visited Argyle Farm and warned the owner that they should expect similar treatment to Stoneridge Farm, which has experienced serious work stoppages.
Harare South: The Daily News correctly reported yesterday that the owner of Blackfordby will no longer be farming this farm. The problems at Stoneridge Farm have decreased since field work has been suspended. The harassment on Dunottar Farm continues - there are now about 20 brick houses built in this season's tobacco land and brick-making continues.
Wedza: On Rapako Farm, game fences are being cut and repaired on a daily basis. On Wednesday, illegal occupiers attempted to drive game out of the fence. Trees are being cut for hut building and to sell for firewood. Police in Wedza have told the owner that they cannot react to the tree cutting for hut building but will react to timber being carted off the farm for sale. The arrest of poachers at Fair Adventure Farm on Wednesday triggered a reaction from invaders, who started a veld fire that night. At Nelson Farm, a pump was stolen but recovered. Maize theft was reported from Chakadenga Farm; tagging materials and dip was stolen from Lifton Farm and a borehole motor was stolen from Imire. An extensive veld fire burnt out large portions of Mt Arthur, Mandy, Plymtree and Raleigh farms and affected some neighbouring farms. A white Mazda pick up was car-jacked two days ago from an individual on his way back to his communal area in Wedza.
Enterprise: There are strong suspicions that two fires which broke out last night on Olympus Farm were started deliberately.
Bromley/Ruwa: Some of the farm labourers on Mara Farm assaulted illegal occupiers and were arrested for inciting violence. The invaders have threatened retribution. There have been deliberate fires on Belmont and Luwande farms. Hut building continues and police are not reacting to any reports at all.
Macheke/Virginia: Work stoppages continue in the district.
Mashonaland West (North):
Game and fish poaching is rife in the province and there have been numerous veld fires.
Banket: The roof was stolen from a farm store in the area.
Lions Den: Police and Tredar arrested twenty five fish poachers at the Pondoro dam.
Mashonaland West (South)
Selous: Hut building continues on several properties.
Chakari: On Newbiggin Farm there has been another work stoppage due to war vet interference.
Chegutu / Suri Suri: On Stewartonia Farm the owner was threatened by a war veteran with a spear and tractor drivers were told to get out of the lands that they were ridging or else the tractors would be burnt. On Farnham there has been another pig stolen. On Leny farm there was five hundred metres of four strand fence stolen last night and another impala shot. This property has been conditionally conceded, but no government valuation has been undertaken. In the meantime, improvements continue to be stolen or vandalised by the invaders. On Tiverton Farm, war veteran Gilbert Moyo continues to occupy the old homestead.
Kadoma / Battlefields: There is severe poaching on Damvuri and Rockbar farms.
Zvishavane: Six bulls were stolen from Zimasco plus another animal and
all were slaughtered at Maglass Village. Six head were also stolen from Kinsale
Ranch - one person has been arrested. Stolen cattle have been recovered from the
Mziwa District and members of a syndicate have been arrested for receiving
stolen cattle. In apparent retribution to the arrest of poachers, four veld
fires were caused by arson. Charcoal burners are starting fires on ranches as
are people clearing land by slash and burn methods. On Kinsale, the owner's son
has been unable to return to the property for over five weeks due to a death
Masvingo East and Central: On Fomax Dairy, which borders Mucheche Township, 16 000 residential stands have been issued and agricultural stands have been demarcated under the supervision of the DA and Agritex. Twenty more invaders have moved on to Beauly Farm and a new invasion took place on Heathcote Farm.
Chiredzi Area: Soon after a rancher had received assurances from the provincial governor that the Save Conservancy was not identified for resettlement, twenty new invaders moved into the middle of the ranch. There is an increase of invaders in Gona Re Zhou Game Park. Veld fires were reported last night on Mukwasi and Hammond Ranches. On Ruware Ranch, a re-inforced game scout patrol has had some success in containing poaching.
For feedback and comments on the format and content of the CFU Farm Invasions Update, contact Malcolm Vowles (Deputy Director - Admin & Projects) on Harare 309800 of e-mail email@example.com
17 September 2000
In this issue :
From The Zimbabwe Standard, 17 September
POLICE IGNORE COURT ORDERS
THE MDC finally had their confiscated documents returned yesterday afternoon, after police had initially ignored two court orders served on them on Friday. By yesterday morning, the MDC was still battling to recover its property and only managed in the afternoon after serving the police with the third court order after the first two had been ignored. MDC secretary-general, Professor Welshman Ncube, told The Standard yesterday that police at Harare Central Police Station and at Police General Headquarters had refused to accept the court orders which nullified the search warrant police had used to confiscate the documents.
At PGHQ, the MDC officials were denied entry and had to leave the order at the gate, while at Harare Central, the officer-in-charge, a Mangena, refused to accept the order before being forced to do so by the MDC officials, Ncube said. Despite the court order by Judge President Godfrey Chidyausiku cancelling the warrant, police clung on to the documents. When the party went to collect their documents yesterday morning, they were told to bring the court order as police claimed they had not seen the two earlier orders served on them on Friday. Ncube said the police refused to accept the first two orders because they wanted to keep the documents overnight and scrutinise them.
As soon as the court order was granted, Ncube said, police at the central police station marched MDC security officers at gunpoint from the room where the documents were kept. By last night, MDC personnel were still trying to determine whether police had returned all the documents and computer discs. Presidential press secretary, George Charamba, last night defended the police and said government was happy with the investigations so far. "Government dismisses with absolute contempt and no regard, suggestions and claims by some self-interested political quarters, including the British government, that the police acted unlawfully and in defiance of a High Court order in their pursuit of available leads on this crime."
On Thursday and Friday, heavily armed police descended on the MDC headquarters in Fife Avenue and the party’s offices at Eastgate Shopping Complex and St Martins in Sunningdale, taking away computer diskettes and any documents they could lay their hands on. Ncube said his party had information that police officers and government spies had spent Friday night copying the documents. Even before they could be allowed to take their documents, police insisted on scrutinising the contents of the documents, despite the fact that this was unlawful, said Ncube. "The police were reluctant to give us our documents and were trying to buy time so that they could photocopy them. It is sad when a police force is turned into an arm of a crumbling political party and is used to terrorise popular parties. We now have a lawless police force," said Ncube.
Ncube said the police were being used by Zanu PF to get access to MDC documents that contained party strategies and policies. He said the police took some papers that had nothing to do with a bomb blast, such as cheque books and policy documents. The MDC officials detained on Thursday were also asked about the party’s finances and presidential election strategies. Ncube also pointed out two reasons why the police could have seized the documents. "We believe there were two possibilities. Either they simply wanted to get information on the party’s strategies and devise counter strategies for Zanu PF. But the more likely scenario is that they want to forge documents and claim to have found harmful documents from our offices. Unfortunately they can only use such documents for propaganda purposes because legally they cannot use them."
Contacted for comment, the minister for state for information and publicity, Professor Jonathan Moyo, said that the court orders were not going to stop police investigations. He urged the MDC to co-operate with the police in the investigation and to stop being jittery as if they had something to hide. "You cannot get any court order which stops the police from doing their work. MDC is only trying to make political statements on the issue. They will do us a favour if they can co-operate with the police," said Moyo.
Meanwhile, the United States government has deplored the bomb attack on the MDC headquarters, saying it was a cowardly act to intimidate people and called on the authorities to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators. Moyo said that it was surprising that that MDC was getting sympathy from Western countries. "We are surprised at the support they are getting. Is there something that they know that we don’t?" In a related incident, MDC youths marched into the city centre yesterday, demonstrating against the police action. Youth chairman, Nelson Chamisa, said the demonstration was a warning shot to Zanu PF to stop using state arms against the MDC. MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was in South Africa when the raids were carried out. He returned home on Friday night.
From the BBC, 16 September
Britain attacks Zimbabwe raids
The UK Government says it deplores the action of the Zimbabwean police in carrying out a second day of raids on the offices of the main opposition party - the M. On Friday, police seized documents and copied computer discs, ransacking the personal office of the party's leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. Britain said it was appalled at the raids and urged the Zimbabwean Government to ensure that the police behaved impartially and within the rule of law. On Thursday, police arrested four MDC members, apparently in connection with a grenade attack on their party headquarters, and later released them without charge.
The British Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain said no justification had been given for the raids. "Britain deplores any action by the Zimbabwean authorities which intimidates the legitimate parliamentary opposition, or indeed any citizen," he said. Mr Hain urged the Zimbabwe Government to "acknowledge the rights and freedoms of opposition parties in a democratic state." During Friday's raid, heavily-armed police searched the offices and removed documents, computer discs, stationery, cheque books, address books and membership lists. MDC staff had refused them entry until police indicated they would use battering rams to get in.
Shortly after the police action Zimbabwe's High Court ruled that the search and seizure was illegal, according to a party spokesman. MDC Secretary General Welshman Ncube said Judge Godfrey Chidyausiku had ruled the search warrants invalid because they were not sufficiently specific about alleged offences or the suspects or documents being sought. "We are entitled to get our documents back," Mr Ncube said. "Our fear is they are busy photocopying them or removing items they want," he added.
The raids follow Monday's explosion at the party headquarters, which the MDC has blamed on the government. The activists detained on Thursday include Nelson Chamisa, the head of the party's youth wing, and Gandhi Madzingwa, the personal assistant of Mr Tsvangirai. They were released without charge after several hours. Our correspondent says the latest developments are likely to reinforce Zimbabwe's reputation for officially-sponsored lawlessness. President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party won a narrow victory in the June election, but now faces a strong opposition challenge in parliament for the first time since independence.
From The Zimbabwe Standard, 17 September
"British never sought meeting with Mugabe"
BRITISH diplomatic officials have denied reports in Zimbabwe’s state-owned press that their government last week tried to court President Robert Mugabe to a meeting with prime minister Tony Blair. A report by The Herald, from New York, said that Mugabe had spurned a meeting with the British prime minister at the UN meeting. Claiming that Britain was being increasingly isolated as support for Zimbabwe’s land redistribution programme increased, the paper said the British had been desperately trying to arrange a meeting between Mugabe and Blair, and, further, that Mugabe had declined to meet with foreign secretary, Robin Cook, because he was "too junior".
"We have not sought to arrange a meeting between the prime minister and President Mugabe," Tina Wicke of the political/press and public affairs section said in a statement to The Standard yesterday. "We have repeatedly said that we would be willing to support a land reform programme in line with the principles agreed by the government of Zimbabwe and international donors at the 1998 Land Conference. We know this view is held by other donors." She added: "After the June elections in Zimbabwe, the foreign secretary made it clear that we were willing to respond to a fresh start in relations with the new Zimbabwe government. We hope that the new government will demonstrate its willingness to reflect the people of Zimbabwe’s desire for change." On whether Mugabe had declined to meet foreign secretary Cook, Wicke said it was a matter for Mugabe whether or not he sees the foreign secretary.
From The Zimbabwe Standard, 17 September
Joint delegation to seek audience with President
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe should step down to save the country from further economic decline, some senior Zanu PF MPs have told The Standard. The Zanu PF members said they are in agreement with the opposition MDC legislators that a delegation from parliament comprising members of both parties be sent to meet with President Robert Mugabe in order to urge him to resign. The Zanu PF legislators who spoke to The Standard said they supported the maiden speeches made by MDC MPs that President Mugabe should leave office.
In her maiden speech on Tuesday last week, the MDC MP for Glen Norah, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, said that the living conditions of the people had been badly affected by the slump in the economy characterised by rising inflation, galloping interest rates and massive retrenchments. She blamed all these problems on Mugabe. "The problem is that he is the source of the problems we have in the country," she said. "I would want to put to this house that perhaps we should send a team to meet with the President, to have a heart-to-heart talk with him to hear what it is that he has to say."
According to a senior Zanu PF member, the majority of his colleagues saw nothing wrong in having a team meet with the President and discuss with him the future of the country and the way forward. "The MDC has made valid points in reference to the president, and we support them. But what needs to be done is for us to first remove the suspicion among ourselves and start trusting each other so that we can understand each other," said one senior official from Zanu PF. "We first need to break the barriers of suspicion between the two parties and then, in the near future, we will be able to accept it," he added.
The MDC has long been calling for the resignation of President Mugabe. Said the MDC chief whip, Innocent Gonese: "We want to bring this matter to the attention of our fellow MPs in the House and knock some sense into them that we must try to persuade the president to resign - he no longer has the stamina to carry on as our national leader." Zanu PF members, on the other hand, are afraid to come out into the open on the issue of Mugabe’s resignation and are keeping their cards close to their chests for fear of being disciplined by the ruling party’s politburo. The only time when some of the members talked openly about it was in 1998 when two former Zanu PF legislators, the former Masvingo Central MP, Dzikamai Mavhaire and Michael Mataure of Chimanimani asked for Mugabe’s resignation. As a result, the two were suspended from the party for a year. President Mugabe has kept it a closely guarded secret whether or not he will run for the presidential elections of 2002.
From The Zimbabwe Standard, 17 Septmeber
Mugabe lawsuit - plaintiffs under constant threat
THE plaintiffs who filed a human rights abuses case against President Robert Mugabe in New York say they are under constant threat now that their suit is public, and are prepared to report everything from auto accidents to parking tickets they encounter. The four plaintiffs are accusing Mugabe of orchestrating killings, beatings, ambushes and lootings in an effort to squelch political opposition from the MDC. They say they were targeted in the months leading up to the parliamentary election because of their ties to the MDC, and are now even more vulnerable since they took action.
The risk is worth it, they say, because they are disgusted by police who ignore their crime reports, dismayed by a growing anarchy in the country, and tired of risking their lives for campaigns. "I don’t care if they kill me," said Evelyn Masaiti, an MDC legislator who says she was assaulted during her run for office. "All I can do is make sure law and order prevails in our country". Masaiti and the other plaintiffs, Maria Stevens, Elliot Pfebve and Adella Chiminya, spoke recently at a news conference in Harare. Chiminya sobbed as she quietly recalled how her husband, Tichaona, an MDC youth organiser, was doused in petrol and burned to death.
Topper Whitehead, a human rights activist serving as a spokesman for the plaintiffs, said the four are taking extra precautions to ensure their safety. "These brave people here are standing forward and in a way saying no more - we cannot lie down and take it." The lawsuit, seeking nearly US$400 million in damages, was filed earlier this month in US District Court in Manhattan under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreigners to file suit in the United States for violations of international law. Whitehead said the claim was filed in the US because there has been little response to the allegations in Zimbabwe. Lawyers hope to turn the case into a class action suit, drawing hundreds or possibly thousands more who have been affected.
"We are prepared ... for the purpose of justice," said Pfebve, an MDC National Executive Board member who says members of the ruling Zanu PF mutilated, then killed his brother and beat his father so badly he lost two fingers. "It should serve as a lesson not only to Mugabe but any future leader, that they are to be accountable for their actions." Stevens says her husband David, a white farmer and an MDC supporter in Macheke, was forced to drink diesel before he was abducted and killed by war veterans. Her farm is still occupied and the labourers are in hiding because their lives have been threatened, she said. "I can’t go back, no one can go back, because they (war vets ) claim it is a liberated area."
Masaiti said the homes of 18 families in her Mutasa constituency were destroyed before the June election. She is trying to focus on helping her constituents, many of whom are without food, water and shelter, and have been given plastic sheets to help guard them from the coming rains. Whitehead says there is still much information to be gathered, but he is confident the group has substantial evidence for a strong case in the US. "If justice does not happen at home, what are we supposed to do?" he said.
From The Zimbabwe Standard, 17 September
Farm workers threaten to sue Mugabe
THE National Employment Council (NEC) for the agricultural industry has written to President Mugabe threatening him with court action if government does not follow set procedures in the retrenchment of farm workers. The organisation, which incorporates the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union (GAPWUZ), expressed concern over the fate of workers on farms to be acquired under the fast track resettlement programme. In the letter, submitted on Thursday, the organisation threatened action if the procedures were not followed.
Citing part IV, section 26 of the Labour Relations Act, they said the new farm owners were required to take on the employees of that farm under the same conditions they had enjoyed under previous owners. In this case, said the NEC, government was the new owner of the farms and consequently had to ensure that the workers remained in employment. Alternatively, they said, if the government was not willing to offer the workers employment, it was obliged to offer them retrenchment packages provided for in the Labour Relations (Retrenchment) Regulations. "This legislation places the full onus for the farm workers on the new owner of the land, which is, in this case, your government. We have no doubt that you will ensure that the farm workers are treated according to the legislation. We will bring action against any breach of the terms of these regulations.
"We are concerned that some workers have already lost their jobs," wrote the organisation. The president’s chief press secretary, George Charamba, has, however, dismissed the organisation’s threats saying the president was prepared to meet them in court. Said Charamba: "The litigation is uncalled for because the president is prepared to meet them in court. The same statutory environment where they get these laws is the same environment that government is getting the power to take land on behalf of the public. While they are dealing mainly with sectarian concerns, government is acting in the public interest and this overrides their concerns. The whole letter is premised on the fact that the farm labourers are not part of the resettlement programme, yet government policy includes them."
The NEC also expressed concern that government had not provided adequate infrastructure for the people being resettled. It said it was unsure how the 2000/01 crop would be financed since farmers could no longer access the requisite collateral to secure loans.
16 September 2000
In this issue :
From The Times (UK), 16 September
Armed police raid Zimbabwe opposition
HARARE - Heavily armed police stormed the main offices of Zimbabwe's opposition MDC yesterday and seized all the party's documents. Twenty-six plainclothes and paramilitary police armed with AK47 rifles, battering rams and boltcutters forced open the doors of the MDC support centre in central Harare. They were about to smash open the locked doors of records offices but party officials gave in and opened them. The police made a chest-high heap of documents. Police computer experts downloaded the party's database on to discs. They ransacked the office of Morgan Tsvangirai, the party's president. The MDC headquarters about a mile away was also cleared of documents. The police did not produce a search warrant. Gandi Mudzingwa, Mr Tsvangirai's personal assistant, said: "This is breaking and entering and theft."
The incident ended a two-day confrontation between the party and police, who on Thurday ransacked the same offices with warrants to search for "arms of war". They found nothing and were stopped from taking files away because the warrants referred only to weapons. Yesterday's raids pre-empted a court order that the MDC was seeking to stop any new search warrant. George Charamba, President Mugabe's spokesman, said that the raids were to "gather clues and leads" into the hand-grenade bombing of the MDC's headquarters on Tuesday night. MDC officials said the raids were the start of a campaign to try to crush the party and that police were looking for party strategy documents and lists of donors.
From The Daily Telegraph (UK), 16 September
Harare opposition party office raided
Harare - Armed Zimbabwean police with battering rams forced their way into an office of the opposition MDC in the centre of Harare yesterday as President Robert Mugabe stepped up a campaign of harassment against dissenting voices. The raiders, dressed in body armour, were made up of regular police and the Central Intelligence Organisation, the secret police unit, which comes under the personal control of Mr Mugabe. No one was arrested, but hundreds of documents and computer disks were taken away. Most of the documents related to fund-raising activities and international operations. Sekai Holland, a member of the party's national executive committee, said: "We decided it was best to open the doors to prevent unnecessary damage. We are not frightened by them. They expect us to run away, but we will not." The raid followed a search for arms at three party offices in the capital on Thursday. Four party officials were detained then, but were later released without charge. Earlier in the week, there was a hand grenade attack on the head office of the MDC. No one was hurt. The government has denied MDC accusations that it was responsible.
From News24 (SA), 16 September
Zim grabs Anglo estates
Harare - President Robert Mugabe's government on Friday listed another 57 white-owned farms for confiscation, including large chunks of two of Zimbabwe's most intensive sugar and citrus estates. Notices published in Friday's edition of the state-controlled Herald newspaper brought to 2011 the number of properties officially earmarked for "compulsory acquisition" by the government for resettlement. Agriculture Minister Joseph Made last week said the government intended seizing 2226 farms, a total of seven million hectares or nearly 90 percent of commercial farms, owned mostly by whites. "We continue to be bombarded, without consultation or any advance knowledge of what they are up to," said Malcolm Vowles, deputy director of the CFU.
Friday's list includes 38000ha of Hippo Valley Estates, owned by South African-based mining conglomerate Anglo American Corporation, and is 70 percent of the land owned by one of the country's two large-scale sugar estates. The two estates produce about 500 000 tons of sugar annually, half of it for export. Hippo is in the south-eastern Lowveld area, where thousands of hectares of game ranches were also listed for confiscation on Friday. The region has been subjected to lawlessness in the last month, with thousands of trees felled and vast areas of grassland burned by war veterans who have divided the land into plots for local villagers to plant maize. Anglo American is down to lose another 207ha from its Mazoe citrus estate in the fertile Mazowe valley, about 40km north of Harare, where it produces internationally renowned citrus for export.
CFU officials say the government has entirely ignored its earlier assurances that it will seize only properties that are under-utilised and which are part of multiple holdings. The union says land earmarked for confiscation includes intensively farmed horticultural, tobacco and dairy operations vital to the country's earnings of foreign exchange. The listing is the first step in a complex legal and bureaucratic process in which the government has to obtain the approval of the High Court for each confiscation. However, the CFU fears that appealing to the law will have little effect as more than 1700 farms have already been illegally occupied by war veterans. Dozens of affected farmers have abandoned their properties.
From The Star (SA), 15 September
Mugabe can come to our summit – Namibia
Windhoek - Namibia's foreign affairs, information and broadcasting ministry on Friday refuted a news story which alleged that Namibian President Sam Nujoma had excluded his Zimbabwean counterpart, Robert Mugabe, from an upcoming regional investment summit, the Namibian Press Agency reported. The ministry said the story was false. The story quoted an unnamed Namibian presidential aide as saying Mugabe had been excluded from next month's regional investment summit "for the sake of not scaring away potential investors". The annual Southern Africa Investment summit is to take place in Windhoek from October 9 to 11. The ministry said the story was misleading and had caused serious diplomatic embarrassment to Nujoma's office and the Namibian government. The article, which appeared in newspapers in Southern Africa, had left "a bad taste" in the mouths of the Namibian government and the organisers of the summit. In a statement the ministry said: "It should be obvious to anyone that President Sam Nujoma, as leader of the host country and chairperson of SADC would not exclude any Southern African leader from an event organised to benefit the region as a whole."
From The Daily Telegraph (UK), 16 September
South Africans fear they have elected new Mugabe
SOUTH AFRICANS awoke yesterday to find full-page advertisements in their daily newspapers, the first salvo in a government campaign to defuse a deepening crisis over President Thabo Mbeki's eccentric views on Aids. The controversy over Aids, which Mr Mbeki believes is caused mainly by poverty rather than HIV, has exposed the president's thin skin and his readiness to play the race card to defend himself. Such is the confusion that surrounds the Aids issue – with ministers at one point distributing excerpts from a crank theory that Aids in Africa is part of a conspiracy to wipe out Africans as a prelude to invasion by aliens - that many South Africans worry that Nelson Mandela's political heir has become unhinged.
At social gatherings around Johannesburg, whites speculate that Mr Mbeki - aloof, surrounded by yes-men by day and surfing the internet alone at night - is displaying hints of authoritarianism reminiscent of another man once considered a promising African leader, Robert Mugabe. Significantly, Mr Mbeki has refused to criticise Mr Mugabe for his land seizures in Zimbabwe, even though the farming crisis there is threatening to destabilise the entire region. Public attacks on Mr Mbeki were once confined to whites and the Left-wing black fringes. But now they are coming from within the ruling African National Congress.
The party's health committee this week leaked an internal document demanding that the government should acknowledge clearly that HIV causes Aids. In a rare display of revolt, it has refused to climb down in the face of ministers' demands that it be withdrawn. Yesterday, Mr Mbeki's officials attempted to contain the damage. "Neither the president nor his officials have ever denied a link between HIV and Aids," insisted the government advertisements. Oddly, however, the statement pointed to a recent interview in which Mr Mbeki, asked point blank by Time magazine whether Aids was connected to HIV, was as nebulous as ever. He said: "No, I am saying that you cannot attribute immune deficiency solely and exclusively to a virus." At most, said Mr Mbeki, HIV is only one of many factors that lead to Aids. Tuberculosis could equally well lead to the collapse of the body's immune system.
Such is the scale of the Aids calamity - about one in five South African adults are infected with HIV - that Mr Mbeki's foray into science is weakening his grip on the party machine, which has been the source of his power in the absence of popular support. Mr Mandela's successor likes to think of himself as the man to lead his continent into a new era of the "African renaissance". Yet in just over a year in power his views on Aids have turned him into the object of ridicule and despair, a crank. None of Mr Mbeki's cabinet ministers dares to contradict the eccentric theories of the "Chief", as the Sussex University-educated Mr Mbeki is called in Pretoria's Union Buildings.
Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the Health Minister, herself a doctor, has been distributing to provincial health officials extracts from a book by a bizarre American conspiracy theorist, Milton William Cooper, who argues that Aids was introduced to Africa in 1978 through the smallpox vaccine as part of a plot to kill off Africans as the prelude to an invasion by aliens. Mr Mbeki is starting to see enemies all around: white racists, black lackeys, scientists corrupted by drug companies, hate-filled journalists and many more. One Johannesburg newspaper reported that South Africa's intelligence services had detected a plot by "foreign powers" to depose Mr Mbeki and replace him with the businessman and former trade unionist Cyril Ramaphosa. The story was later denied by all sides, but indicates the level of paranoia that is creeping into Mr Mbeki's entourage.
In a sign of the anger the controversy has generated, the health minister was abruptly cut off last week in a live interview with one of Johannesburg's most prominent journalists, John Robbie, a former Irish international rugby player. "Go away, I cannot take that rubbish any longer," he shouted as he cut her off. "Can you believe it? I have never in my life heard such rubbish." This followed a racially charged row earlier this month, when Mr Mbeki launched a tirade against the white opposition leader, Tony Leon, who had castigated him for neglecting sound scientific advice in favour of "quackery and snake-oil cures". The president was livid, saying the "white politician" who questioned his quest for an African solution was displaying "entrenched white racism that is a millennium old". In the same speech, he also warned black intellectuals against being the "foot lickers" of the white business class.
"Mbeki has intellectual ambitions of going down in history as a great African thinker, and that ambition gets in the way," said Tom Lodge, professor of politics at the University of the Witwatersrand. Perhaps the most trenchant comment on Mr Mbeki comes from his mother. Epainette Mbeki in a radio chat show said: "He should forget about the ego. He should also be prepared to listen to the next man. No matter whether his ideas and yours agree, he should be prepared to listen to the next man."