The stay away was about 80 per cent effective - a higher percentage in Bulawayo and slightly lower in Harare with almost all the smaller centres closing down for the day. It was also peaceful throughout the country. If I was the president I would be deeply concerned about an organisation which can close down the whole country for the day - and do so with such precision that they initially call for a stay away Monday to Wednesday, then Wednesday to Friday and finally, with 24 hours notice, one day - Wednesday. I thought the change to a one day strike was strategic and well thought out - just took a bit of time to get there.
However it is a moot point that the president took any notice of the event - he is getting used to being humiliated in public by the people in the cities. However I am sure the point was not lost on Thabo Mbeki who just happened to arrive in the city the day of the strike and could only have been impressed by the silence and the discipline of the people. It was the first truly national strike with farmers joining the urban workers in the stay away from work. It also served as a useful reminder, if one was needed that the workers of this country have run out of patience with the government and want action, not words on the issues that affect them most.
I was very proud of the ordinary people of the country heeding their leader's call to stay away and be peaceful about it on an issue like the rule of law. Where else in the world would you get the ordinary people staying away from work on such an issue - not prices, not wages, not other bread and butter issues, the rule of law! It was extraordinary from any perspective.
The question is, did it work? Was anyone listening? Most probably the main impact was not on the Zimbabwean government but on the president of South Africa. Here to discuss the growing crisis in Zimbabwe for the third time since the beginning of the year, Mbeki brought a powerful team that indicated that at last, they were getting serious. We had told the South Africans that Mugabe did not understand "softly, softly", if they wanted to get his attention, and more importantly, his co-operation, they had to use a pole and hit him on the head with it. In many respects it's a replay of September 1976, when the South Africans effectively executed Smith politically and paved the way for the transition of power to the black majority. Mugabe is in exactly the same place as Smith was then - trying to prevent the majority coming to power against the backdrop of intense international isolation, a collapsing economy and fighting a war he cannot hope to win. You could also say that the Zimbabwe crisis has now reached the same point as the Rhodesian crisis in 1976 where it threatened the interests of South Africa.
They held 5 hours of talks, and then headed back to South Africa. It was a replay of the failed talks at the Victoria Falls and no sooner had Mbeki crossed the Limpopo than Mugabe turned his back on any agreement reached and further tightened the screws on his people. The Sunday Times, a leading South African paper editorialized that "perhaps its time to get tough with Mugabe". But their front page carried a story in which they speculated that the South African leader was trying to sideline Mugabe in an attempt to get Zimbabwe back onto a sustainable track. To be frank this story was nonsense and I sincerely hope it does not represent the view of the South African government. The editorial was more on target.
What everyone has to understand in this current situation is that Mugabe wants to run for a fourth term in 2002. His party and the whole country want him to step down now to allow the process of selecting a candidate for the Zanu PF party to sponsor into the presidential election in that year. He is joined in this ambition by the old guard who are frankly terrified of the prospect of losing the election and with it the hold on power they have so meticulously pursued since 1980. For them any loss of power would mean oblivion and perhaps prosecution for corruption and/or human rights abuse.
If Mugabe gets his way and runs as the Zanu candidate in 2002, we are in for a torrid time. In a way it could be said that the campaign is already joined with Mugabe running against his only real competition, Morgan Tsvangirai. The use of the army, the police and the CIO to eliminate opposition and to intimidate everyone who might be useful to them, is clearly already underway.
This is a government that has used patronage to cement its hold on power and the strategy for 2002 is no different. Violence directed at the opposition, subversion of the players in the opposition including the independent press and the ability to offer free bounty at the expense of those who are politically unimportant. In the 2002 case it's the farmers, and in particular the white farmers, who offer the best opportunity. The land issue is not about "reform", it's a blatant asset grab, which, if they can get away with it, offers their constituency short term gains at the long term expense of every Zimbabwean. The welfare of Zimbabwe and the region does not figure on the horizon of the Zanu strategists. Quite the opposite.
An interesting development this week has been a sudden and pronounced change in editorial policy at the Zimbabwe Newspapers Group - how long this will be maintained is not possible to predict. Its not likely to persuade those of us who watched them totally pervert the profession of journalism during the recent campaign. The issue is why the switch? The policy towards the Daily News, which has been such a key factor in recent months, was clearly revealed this week in a plot to kill the Editor, Jeff Nyarota. This came to light when one of a team of four recruited by the CIO for the purpose decided that his heart was not in this thing and came to Jeff and confessed his role. This was confirmed by telephone conversations with a senior CIO operative, which were recorded and heard on speakerphones by the whole editorial team.
The question is how far will they go down this road? Are they willing to risk going outside the law, suspending the constitution and formalizing the suspension of the rule of law that has informally been the case in the past 5 months? My own judgement is that they will stop short of this, as it would attract the immediate wrath of other states in southern Africa. However they probably think they can get away with a lot using the tactics they have adopted in recent weeks. The decision to push the farm issue to the point where in effect they will destroy the commercial agricultural industry (certainly the white component) is perhaps on the edge of that strategy. At last the farmers have woken up to what they are dealing with and have decided to attack the issue through the only means they have left, which are the courts. If they succeed then we must wait to see if our civil service will allow themselves to be used and whether our police and army will accept actions that are in clear violation of the constitution. It's a judgement call.
Some people have already made up their minds and a friend sent me an advisory note from the City of London to clients in the City. They were very straight; Mbeki's failure to deal with Mugabe means that South Africa will shortly face similar problems to those being confronted in Zimbabwe. Their advice, withdraw any short-term investments and scale back on longer-term activity in South Africa. We live in a global village, and no one is able to get away with actions that break the invisible rules that govern financial markets. Sanctions are swift and ruthless. No politically driven prevarication there.
7TH August 2000
Black Zimbabwean Stan Chinyoka is a poor farm labourer. He is afraid that if land reforms planned by President Robert Mugabe come into effect in his region, his life will be ruined.
Stan is employed as a farm worker by a white farmer who pays his salary, provides housing, education and meets the rest of his family's basic needs.
The 45 year-old has worked for the last 20 years at Gem Farm, a vast farm about 12 kilometres (seven miles) north of the town of Concession, off the Harare-Mvurwi road, between the Umvukwe mountains.
He lives with his mother, his two wives and nine children in two traditional huts in the living quarters reserved for black labourers, below the farmer's hilltop house.
His children go to school in a small dry-clay building festooned with bright pink bougainvilleas.
"Our family could not make ends meet without what our boss is providing in return for my work," the labourer says, his hands rough from hard work in the fields.
"The government want to give land to war veterans and communal land farmers but what will happen to us then?" he asks.
Zimbabwe's authorities launched an accelerated land reform programme a week ago, saying 3,000 white-owned farms would be seized and redistributed to landless blacks.
The process of moving people onto reacquired land has begun in the southwestern province of Matabeleland North and the northern province of Centenary, but those who have received land are mainly war veterans or communal farmers.
"The government has not provided any plan or explanation on the farmworkers' situation," the owner of Gem Farm says, asking not to be named. He says he does not know if his farm is on the list of the 3,000 to be seized.
Some 4,500 white farmers own 70 percent of Zimbabwe's most fertile land.
An estimated 500,000 to 700,000 farm labourers are employed on the commercial white-owned farms. With their families, they number about two million.
Many of the labourers have Malawi or Mozambique origins. They earn low wages of around 25 dollars a month and live and work in tough conditions, spending hours bent down in fields using their hands or a shovel as their main tool.
The labourers have suffered some of the worst violence since liberation war veterans and their supporters began occupying white-owned farms in February.
The veterans consider the labourers as political allies of the white farmers and thousands of them have been beaten, burnt, forced to attend "political re-education sessions" and tortured. At least three labourers have been killed.
Gem Farm was taken over for 48 hours in May and used as a "re-education camp."
Today, the veterans are not occupying the farm but there is constant fear of an "invasion."
"We do not know what to fear most," Stan says, "being beaten again or be forced to the streets in no time with my family."
HARARE, Zimbabwe -- To the West, he is an aging despot with bloody hands, a brutal race-monger who terrorizes white farmers and black critics and fuels the violence that still churns through the countryside. But on this continent, many Africans are painting a strikingly different portrait of President Robert Mugabe.
In South Africa, 54 percent of blacks in a recent survey said they supported the invasions of white-owned farms here. In Namibia, the prime minister praised Mr. Mugabe for highlighting the racial inequities in regional land ownership. And in Nigeria, a newspaper assailed the West for trying to demonize an African leader intent on redressing a historical wrong.
Westerners might find this alternative view of Mr. Mugabe jarring. How can the villain also be a hero? How can he be praised for pursuing an honorable cause if his supporters commit murder? And as a result, even in the barrage of foreign media coverage about the crisis in Zimbabwe, little but condemnation for Mr. Mugabe is heard. Other opinions are dismissed as those of apologists, collaborators or worse.
But in truth, the perceptual dissonance reflects mostly the lingering impact of this continent's painful colonial history on the modern-day lives of black Africans. The white regimes have been swept away, but all across Africa, the single most valuable and plentiful resource -- land -- remains in the hands of tiny white minorities. "The media is highlighting the issue of violence," said Richard Sakala, a spokesman for President Frederick Chiluba of Zambia, last week. "But I don't think they're talking about the core issue, about how land is distributed in that country."
In 1980, white rule ended in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, but today, whites -- who make up less than 2 percent of the population -- still control more than half of the arable farmland. The black majority ekes out a living in overcrowded tracts of stony soil. In six-year-old post-apartheid South Africa, blacks make up 75 percent of the population but occupy only 15 percent of the land. In Namibia, 10 years into independence, some 4,000 whites own about 44 percent of the territory.
The racial disparities are achingly visible in Zimbabwe's rolling hills and lush valleys. More than 60 percent of the blacks in this country live off tiny slivers of land, growing their own food, going hungry when the soil wears out. Old people tell stories and sing songs about how the best land was taken by British settlers around the turn of the century. Today, from their meager plots, these struggling peasants can often see and envy the vast, fertile farms of the whites.
So while most blacks condemn the political violence, many welcome the spotlight that Mr. Mugabe has drawn to the land question, his pointed reminder that white settlers stole this land. And even in the highly urbanized cities, which voted overwhelmingly against Mr. Mugabe's governing party in June's parliamentary elections, that reality retains its bitterness.
In recent years, of course, Mr. Mugabe has not always been the champion of the landless. He officially abandoned Marxism in the mid-1990's and has used the promise of land reform mainly to curry favor with rural voters at election time. He blames whites for the slow pace of change, but his own government has lacked the political will, the administrative capacity and the cash to make land reform a reality. His government's announcement last week that it would take over 3,000 farms seemed calculated more to rile white farmers than to outline an immediately feasible plan.
Some Africans, notably Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, have sharply criticized him, calling for an immediate end to the farm invasions and the violence that has claimed the lives of as many as 30 government critics before the June elections. (Today, black squatters still occupy about 1,000 farms.) A strike last week by Zimbabwe's black unions and white business owners to protest the farm invasions brought the nation to a one-day standstill.
But even those blacks who speak harshly of Mr. Mugabe's violent tactics recognize that the desperation for land is real. And some suspect that the harsh criticism from the West may be fueled, in part, by those who want to maintain the status quo. "The power of the white settler lobby should not be underrated," the East African, a newspaper based in Kenya, warned in an editorial last month.
Foreign aid donors and white farmers here agree that two million acres of fallow land should be turned over to black peasants. But despite the assurances from white farmers that they support land redistribution, they have repeatedly failed to systematically identify tracts available for sale.
And Western governments and aid donors say violence on farms must end before they will provide promised financing. That makes some people seethe. "When all is said and done, who are they to decide that historical injustices should play second fiddle to the problems on the farms?" said Sam Moyo, a highly regarded land expert who is helping Zimbabwe's government negotiate with the white farmers union.
There are other points of dissonance, too. While Western officials were cheering the opposition alliance of black union members, white farmers and white industrialists that swept into Parliament in June, some South Africans felt a nagging sense of unease.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of Zimbabwe's new opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, said South African officials were so suspicious of his group that they asked whether he had links to the rebel movements in Angola and Mozambique, which were financed and supported by the white apartheid government through the early 1990's, in an effort to destabilize the black governments in those countries. "They were asking whether I have relations with Unita or Renamo and I told them no," he said.
Mr. Tsvangirai says he will oppose Mr. Mugabe for the presidency if he runs again in 2002. No matter what, he says, the man who led Zimbabwe for 20 years will go down in history as having destroyed his country.
But even some Western officials disagree. They say if Mr. Mugabe succeeds in returning a significant chunk of land to the black majority, he will be viewed with some respect on the continent.
"His legacy is not about stabilizing the economy or attracting foreign donors," said a white Western official, who has worked on economic issues in and around Africa for several years. "It's the reason why he sat in a jail for so many years; it's the land," he said. "And when the dust settles, he will get some sympathy in Africa. People may disagree about his tactics, but they'll say, 'This guy really did it.' "
HARARE, Zimbabwe (PANA) (Panafrican News Agency, August 4, 2000) - Zimbabwe embarked on a regional diplomatic offensive Friday to enlist the support of southern African states to ward off punitive economic sanctions the US is contemplating imposing on the country for tolerating lawlessness by government supporters.
Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge said Zimbabwe would lobby Southern African Development Community or SADC countries at a weekend regional summit in Namibia to win support against the US moves intended to ban all aid to the country.
Washington also plans to use its influence to block similar international assistance, including debt relief that the country desperately needs.
The US Congress has drafted and passed a Bill, titled "Zimbabwe Democracy Act 2,000," for Senate approval, which will provide for the stiff sanctions against Zimbabwe, in punishment for President Robert Mugabe's backing of the occupation of white-owned by independence war veterans demanding land reform.
"I'm leaving for Windhoek (Namibia's capital) for a meeting of the SADC council of ministers. We will be explaining the importance of the (US Congressional) Bill and its implications to the whole region. SADC will be directly affected by the sanctions, which the US wants to impose on Zimbabwe," Mudenge said.
"It's a bad Bill. It's really dangerous it's horrible. The Americans want to re-colonise Africa and make Zimbabwe their protectorate that is outrageous," he added.
The Zimbabwean government is in the middle of implementing a controversial land reform programme, under which it plans to compulsorily acquire thousands of white-owned farms to resettle landless blacks without paying full compensation to the farmers for the land taken.
Under this plan, which has drawn international criticism, the government says the obligation to pay the white farmers for the land it intends to acquire from them lies with Britain, Zimbabwe's former colonial power, as agreed in an independence deal 20 years ago.
About 4,500 white farmers own more than 70 percent of Zimbabwe's arable land and Mugabe wants to acquire and resettle landless peasants on half their land holdings.
Zimbabwe has already successfully lobbied the Organisation of African Unity and the Non-Aligned Movement for support against the US economic sanctions, which economists said would badly hurt the country's agriculture-driven economy, already shaken by the 1999 withdrawal of international balance of payment support.
Mudenge said he would take the diplomatic offensive against the US to Congress itself and at the United Nations in coming weeks, in addition to engaging unnamed lobby groups in Washington to plead Zimbawe's case.
"I'm looking forward to going to Congress myself for lobbying, perhaps together with other SADC foreign ministers. There is ultimately an option, which we are examining, and it's that of taking the matter to the UN General Assembly," he explained.
"We support the maintenance of the rule of law. It's not an issue where there can be any quibbling. Violence cannot be supported and it's against the laws of this country," he added. "Police are arresting people implicated in violence and some of them are awaiting trial."
But Mugabe said Friday at a meeting of black farmers that his government would not carve in to the international pressure on the land reform, which is widely popular among peasant farmers from whom his governing ZANU-PF party draws most of its support.