Parks Mankahlana, Mr Mbeki's spokesman, said the visit had been planned for some time and was not a direct result of the situation in Zimbabwe, South Africa's main trading partner. But the South African government is monitoring developments in Zimbabwe with alarm. There are fears that an economic collapse could lead to a major influx of refugees into South Africa.
Mr Mbeki is also reported to have been privately angered by President Mugabe's handling of the crisis over land redistribution and its adverse impact on Africa's image internationally. South Africa has studiously refrained from making any public comment on developments in Zimbabwe, opting instead for behind-the-scenes diplomacy in an attempt to prevent its troubled neighbour sliding into economic collapse and anarchy.
Nelson Mandela, the former president, said yesterday that "quiet diplomacy" was the best approach for South Africa. "In my experience, South Africa would be more effective if they dealt with the problem quietly," he said in response to questions. Jacob Zuma, South Africa's deputy president, made indirect criticism of Mr Mugabe in a speech at the opening of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) parliamentary forum in Cape Town.
"Powerful leaders should not be allowed to intimidate democratically elected parliaments and should remain accountable to them," Mr Zuma said to applause from delegates of 13 African states, including Zimbabwe. The opposition New National Party called on Mr Mbeki to assure farmers that illegal occupation of land would not be tolerated in South Africa.
A 76-year-old South African farmer and his wife were found shot dead on their remote farm in the Gravelotte district yesterday. Domestic workers found Jon Cross dead in his bath with his hands and feet tied while the body of his wife, Bina, was found in the kitchen. Police refused to link it to events in Zimbabwe.
Yet President Robert Mugabe, at his first meeting with Tim Henwood, president of the Commercial Farmers' Union, appeared to contradict his belligerent speech on Sunday. Mr Henwood said he had been given an assurance of a swift return to normality.
Chen Chimutengwende, the Information Minister, confirmed that police had orders to scour all 4,000 white-owned farms for unlicensed firearms, ammunition, stockpiles of diesel - of which there is a desperate national shortage - and military training facilities.
Mr Chimutengwende said: "There is so much military activity on farms. So many white farmers have applied for licences to train security guards. But we now know that this is for military purposes and it includes firearms training. They have many unlicensed weapons."
He accused white farmers of recruiting bogus security guards from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change with the aim of forming guerrilla groups. He said: "They are preparing for war. They are not interested in elections."
The consequences of these accusations have been felt all over Zimbabwe. In the Chipinge area, up to 115 farms have been searched. A farmer described how police had checked his firearms licences on Sunday and inspected the level of fuel in his tanks. He said: "Our feeling is that they want to make out what the farmers have at their disposal. Our president has said we are hoarding fuel. They wanted to see whether we are or not."
A farmer in the Chinhoyi area described what happened on one farm last week He said: "Every single square inch of the farmhouse was searched. They even looked under the knickers." The police retreated looking "disappointed" after failing to find any illegal weapons. In the eastern Manicaland province, a farmers' leader said about 100 properties had been searched.
He said: "They have been checking firearms licences and the level of fuel supplies. The police said this was in connection with economic sabotage." Ministers have repeatedly accused white farmers of conniving with the opposition to wreck the economy and forcibly overthrow Mr Mugabe.
Squatters have used these charges to justify the land invasions and they have made a concerted effort to disarm farmers. In the Centenary area, the CFU said that squatters had raided two farms yesterday and removed all the guns they could find. The firearms were later delivered to the police.
Farmers believe this is part of a campaign to harass them and render them defenceless. The farmer near Chinhoyi said: "It is psychological action. It is harassment of the citizenry, giving us one hassle after another." After enduring the occupation of 1,057 farms during the past two months, farmers are becoming ever more fearful.
One in the Tengwe area said: "I'm so sad that they have to use us all as scapegoats. It's almost like the beginnings of genocide." After months of threats and harassment, farmers will no longer be named in public. Yet their leader emerged optimistically after meeting Mr Mugabe.
Mr Henwood said: "He has given an undertaking to get things back to normality. He is meeting the war veterans this afternoon and we expect more tomorrow." Asked whether Mr Mugabe had promised a public statement calling on the squatters to withdraw, Mr Henwood said: "He didn't say that, but he indicated that something like that would happen."
Zimbabwe in no mood to celebrate
Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the end of white rule in Zimbabwe, but nobody - not even the government - was celebrating as another white farmer was murdered.
Trapped in a losing land war, a collapsing economy and a downward spiral of popularity, President Robert Mugabe's government last week took the humiliating decision to cancel all the celebratory parades and public extravaganzas.
Although the government claimed the decision was intended to free up funds for victims of the recent floods, most political commentators concluded that it was afraid of a massive show of public indifference, or even hostility.
Instead of celebrating Mr Mugabe's past triumphs, there was growing speculation that he might try to use Freedom Day to back out of the increasingly bloody land war that his Zimbabwean African National Union party has been waging against white commercial farmers and black farm workers.
The murder of a white farmer at the weekend and the killing of another yesterday has focused international condemnation on what many regard as Mr Mugabe's brutal and cynical attempt to retain power in forthcoming elections by stirring up racial conflict.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change says eight of its supporters have been murdered by government thugs and many more beaten.
The latest murder of white farmer Martin Olds occurred yesterday at Nyamandhlovu, 500kilometres south of Harare.
Gloria Olds told Reuters by telephone, from a farm near the second city of Bulawayo, that her 42-year-old son, Martin, was murdered early yesterday.
"They killed my son. They beat him to a pulp," she said about four hours after Mr Olds had phoned a neighbor saying he had been shot and wounded and needed an ambulance.
Neighbors said police forced a way through to the burning homestead, named Compensation, where he was found dead. It was not clear whether Mr Olds died of the beating or the bullet wound.
On Monday a delegation of farmers who met Mr Mugabe to discuss the murder of Marondera farmer David Stevens had said the President was adopting a more conciliatory tone and they were cautiously optimistic that he might soon move to restore law and order.
Until now Mr Mugabe had ruled out any government action against the violent gangs that have invaded up to 1000 white-owned farms.
Mr Mugabe was reported yesterday to have sent his condolences to the widow of Mr Stevens.
"How can he say he is sorry when he it was him who sent these bastards?" said one of a group of white farmers who were waiting for news outside Marondera town.
More than 40 white farming families from the area were still taking refuge in the town yesterday, prevented from returning to their homes by the same gang of "liberation war veterans" who murdered Mr Stevens on Saturday.
According to Guy Watson-Smith, regional chairman of the farmers union, an army patrol to the region on Sunday had failed to drive off the gang. Journalists who tried to visit Mr Stevens' farm were attacked with rocks and spears, and the area was still considered unsafe.
The British high commission has been thronged with people applying or re-applying for passports or registering for possible evacuation. As many as 20,000 white Zimbabweans may be entitled to British citizenship.
INTERVIEW-Mugabe trying to start race war-opposition
Apr 18 2000 2:12PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is trying to start a race war in a desperate bid to divert attention from the crumbling economy before a May election, the leader of the nation's biggest opposition party said on Tuesday.
As Zimbabwe marked the 20th anniversary of its independence from Britain, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, said the embattled Mugabe had branded white farmers as traitors in a last-ditch attempt to rally the mainly black population behind his plan to grab their land without paying compensation.
``By targeting white farmers, by promoting the racist angle, he is hoping that the whole nation will support him on this dangerous path,'' Tsvangirai told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Washington.
``Fortunately the whole of Zimbabwe doesn't see this as a racist issue. They see this as political opportunism on the part of Mugabe, trying to raise this land issue in the next election,'' he said. ``And yet he had 20 years to resolve this whole issue, so people have seen through this strategy.''
Mugabe, 76, a former guerrilla commander who has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980, said in an anniversary speech in Harare that white farmers, who have resisted his attempts to seize their land, have behaved as enemies of the state. He refused to call off thousands of black ``war veterans'' who have occupied at least 500 white-owned farms.
His comments came just hours after news that white farmer Martin Olds had been killed by farm invaders. It was the second such killing since the farm occupations began four months ago. Last weekend white farmer David Stevens was abducted from his home, brutally beaten and shot dead.
Amid the spreading violence, two officials of the Movement for Democratic change, including Tsvangirai's driver, were killed at the weekend when their car was firebombed by veterans.
``I believe the responsibility for the current state of affairs lies squarely on President Mugabe himself,'' said Tsvangirai. ``When the farm invasions were first on the table as part of his plan, he was publicly condoning lawlessness and anarchy.''
``It's a very shattering experience that people are getting killed. Some of them are very close to me -- blacks and whites. It's not about race. It is not a race war.''
In February, Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic change handed Mugabe the biggest humiliation of his presidency by helping to defeat a referendum on a new constitution that would have expanded his powers and authorized him to seize the white farms, which he claims must be redistributed to poor blacks.
Critics of Mugabe's rule say he has previously handed some of the best land appropriated by his government to political cronies, while presiding over an economy racked by corruption and mismanagement. The result has been falling wages, soaring inflation and fuel shortages that have angered his people.
Sixty five percent of Zimbabweans surveyed in recent polls made clear they want a change of government, but Mugabe has become increasingly erratic as he clings to power.
``After the referendum he (Mugabe) praised the white community for participating in the referendum,'' noted Tsvangirai, whose political party includes many white farmers.
``Two months down the line, he's accusing them of being traitors. Where is the basis for that accusation?''
Since the farm invasions began Mugabe has ignored court rulings, refused to order the police to remove the squatters and recently dissolved parliament as a precursor to the elections, which are supposed to be held sometime in May.
``I think there are those in Zimbabwe who realize that Mugabe is acting as a lone ranger,'' said Tsvangirai. ``I think he has just sidelined his cabinet, parliament has been dissolved, so he's acting alone.''
The opposition leader, a former nickel miner and trade unionist, said most Zimbabweans were bitter and disillusioned after two decades of Mugabe's rule.
``We were very hopeful in 1980 that we were going to create a new country that was going to be a shining example on the African continent. But unfortunately we feel betrayed by the outcome. We are much poorer, the country is in crisis with self-inflicted problems and with a leadership...that has turned into a very serious liability,'' said Tsvangirai.
``I think that we may have an election. But whether it's going to be free and fair is questionable.''
U.N. deplores anti-farmer violence
Apr 18 2000 1:17PM ET
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations deplores violence in Zimbabwe directed at white farmers and believes the issue of land reform should be settled by peaceful and constitutional means, a U.N. spokesman said Tuesday.
He was replying to a reporter who asked how concerned the world body was about the situation in the African nation where two white farmers have been killed by black war veterans seeking to take over commercial farms.
``We do continue to view this as a domestic matter,'' U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said.
``But I can say that the United Nations deplores the violence in Zimbabwe. We have been monitoring the situation for a while and continue to monitor it closely.
``And we believe that the differences over land reform should be settled by peaceful and constitutional means,'' he added.
Supporters of President Robert Mugabe and veterans of the 1970s liberation war have invaded several white-owned farms in a land grab to redress imbalances dating from the country's history as a British colony.
The occupations turned violent late last week when invaders began to beat farmers and to make their wives sing and dance to celebrate the liberation of the farms.
Britain warned on Tuesday that Zimbabwe faced the most serious crisis in its history and accused Mugabe of failing to act against the lawlessness and violence gripping the country