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The Sunday Times -June 25 2000
                                     NEWS REVIEW

As Zimbabwe votes this weekend after a brutal election campaign,
    David Dimbleby interviews Robert Mugabe and finds his
         ruthlessness masked by bizarre bonhomie
 Robert Mugabe: 'Some people think politics is a real matter of life
     and death. They don't just take it as a political game'
             I'm no Idi Amin

It is disconcerting to meet the man. You expect a hardness in the
manner, a coldness in the eyes. But the man who shimmies into the
room makes no attempt to dominate. The handshake is soft, the
gestures graceful and the quiet chuckle disarming.

Can it be true, you think, that at this moment, as we stand chatting,
women teachers are being stripped and beaten and maybe raped, farm
workers assaulted with iron bars and knives, houses ransacked,
thousands of his opponents fleeing their homes in terror? And if it is
true, as you know it to be true, can it be that he does not know, or
has he ordered the reign of terror that his party has unleashed?

At 76, Robert Mugabe is still as much a mystery as he was when he
took over the leadership of Zanu, one of the liberation movements
whose veterans are causing so much trouble in Zimbabwe today. Few
people seem to warm to him. He is private, reserved, cerebral.

When Britain was chairing the talks that led to independence at
Lancaster House in 1979, Joshua Nkomo, as leader of the Zapu
delegation, wanted to dine at the best restaurants every night.
Mugabe, on the other hand, was discovered by Charles (now Lord)
Powell, his Foreign and Commonwealth Office minder, sitting in an
overcoat in an empty flat, hunched over a one-bar fire watching
children's television. Not a man with a taste for the fleshpots, at least
for himself.

He may indulge his new wife with shopping trips to Europe, bumping
passengers off Air Zimbabwe's scheduled flight to Gatwick and
diverting it to Paris or Rome on a whim. He may reward his own close
aides with farms and properties that have been acquired for
redistribution to the landless. But he mocks reports in the British
press that he has bought a castle in Scotland. "If you can find it, you
must stay there as my guest."

For him power is
the reward. The
baubles with
which he
the loyalty of his
courtiers is a
way of creating
an elite on whom
he can rely, in a
country that has
never had an
elite, not perhaps
unlike the
Elizabeth I and the Cecils.

Everyone he meets considers him sharp-witted, clever, intellectual in
his instincts. I have talked to the British who have negotiated with
him, to Ian Smith, who was his opponent, and to fellow black leaders
who fell out with him. All agree that he is shrewd, even brilliant. But
though he may be a ruthless politician, he is not physically ruthless.

Edgar Tekere, his comrade in arms during the war of independence,
remembers Mugabe being horrified by one of the raids carried out by
the Rhodesian Army. More than 1,000 young guerrilla fighters were
killed in their training camp and hundreds more injured. "Is it really
worth all this?" Mugabe asked him. Tekere, battle-hardened, was
alarmed. Dreadful though the attack had been, he believed it should
stiffen the guerrillas' resolve to fight on. He found Mugabe's
apparent faint-heartedness incomprehensible.

THERE has been nothing faint-hearted about the present election
campaign. It has been conducted from the start with a total disregard
for the rights of opponents. They have been bludgeoned not with
arguments but with blows in an attempt to frighten them away from
the polling stations this weekend.

It is not a new tactic. Every Zimbabwean election since independence
has been violent. At the first, in 1980, the British governor,
Christopher Soames, had the power to recommend that the elections
should be declared null and void if there was widespread coercion. In
the event, he turned a blind eye to the evidence on the grounds that
worse violence would ensue if the election was suspended.

In a memorable phrase, he justified his action: "This is Africa. This
isn't Little Puddleton-in-the-Marsh. They behave differently. They
think nothing of sticking tent poles up each other's what-not and
doing filthy beastly things to each other. It does happen, I'm afraid."

Mugabe's victory in 1980 was followed in the run-up to the 1985
election by violence on a far worse scale than has been seen in the
past few months. The hatreds and suspicions between rival factions
in the liberation war against Smith had left a legacy of dissidence in
Matabeleland in southwestern Zimbabwe. Mugabe sent his army in
to crush the revolt and destroy the influence of Nkomo.

The ferocity with which the Fifth Brigade acted exceeded any
justifiable suppression of rebellion. No one knows how many were
killed. Maybe only 5,000; maybe 10,000 or more. A typical action
would see the Fifth Brigade come into a village, force the men to dig a
pit, make them climb into it, shoot them and then, at gunpoint, have
their wives put back the soil and dance on their husbands' graves.
Beatings and rape were commonplace. The scale was different from
what is happening now, but the intention was the same: to destroy
the opposition.

The origins of this year's campaign are to be found in the first
electoral defeat Mugabe has suffered. In February a referendum was
held on various changes proposed to the constitution. One new
clause was intended to assuage the growing criticism of Mugabe. It
would have restricted the term of office of the president to five years.
But for Mugabe the most important change would have allowed him
to seize white-owned farms without paying compensation.

The electorate, offered the chance to express an opinion, ignored the
niceties of the constitution and used the referendum as a vote of
confidence in Mugabe. The turnout was only 20%, but more than 1m
cast their votes; 55% of them voted against Mugabe. He tried to
appear magnanimous in defeat, claiming that, though the outcome
was disappointing, he would accept the will of the people. But the
message was ominous. Zimbabwe had had enough.

After 20 years of Mugabe in office, with the economy crumbling,
inflation running at 60% and jobs impossible to find, the voters,
particularly urban ones, were no longer convinced by the promises of
land reform that the new constitution offered. Like voters in
democracies everywhere, they were voting with their pocket books.

Mugabe's reaction was to hit out at his enemies, real or imagined. It is
not clear whether he initiated the invasions of white farms by
veterans of the liberation war or whether they acted first, realising
that they were now unlikely to get land through legal means, and he
climbed on their bandwagon. It barely matters. The events that
followed were endorsed at every stage by the government, despite
deaths and rapes and beatings, despite a High Court order declaring
the farm occupations illegal and despite international condemnation.

                                   The tactics
                                   during this
                                   election have
                                   been organised
                                   by Mugabe's
                                   secret police, the
                                   (CIO), working
                                   with his political
                                   party, Zanu-PF,
                                   and with the War
                                   Zanu-PF has
                                   tried to
intimidate its opponents either to vote for it or not go to the polls at
all. The intimidation is brutally simple. Anyone suspected of being a
supporter of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which
includes many white farmers and their black workers, is seen as a fair
target. At first it was the farmers themselves who were attacked.

I visited a farm 80 miles from Harare that had been occupied. A gang
armed with knives, pangas and sticks had surrounded the wire
compound around the house and demanded that the young white
farmer come out. They suspected he was a supporter of the MDC. He
was away and his mother faced the mob while his grandmother
cowered indoors. His father, incapacitated by brain damage after an
accident, could barely speak.

His mother called on the telephone for help. Two neighbouring
farmers arrived to try to negotiate. They almost succeeded in
persuading the veterans to take a neighbouring and disused farm that
belonged to the same family, but the veterans said the land there was
not fertile and forced the mother to sign over the deeds of her farm.
Curiously, they left her the farmhouse and the barns.

Three weeks later they were back. This time the mob had grown to
150. But their target was different. In the words of the farmer, "They
beat the shit out of my workers." They accused them of being MDC
supporters and claimed their employer had given them MDC T-shirts.
I asked him whether he had encouraged his workers to vote against
Mugabe. He said: "No. I told them they must vote for whoever they
pleased. It's a free country. But I said today you have a job. Who
knows, if Mugabe wins, whether you will have one tomorrow?"

Visiting this farm reminded me of the first farm I visited in Rhodesia in
the late 1960s. It was owned by a tobacco farmer who was suffering
from the sanctions that Britain had somewhat half-heartedly imposed
on Smith's regime. Tobacco sales were poor and he was switching
much of his land over to maize. His farmhouse was a sad sight.
Threadbare carpets, thin curtains, an odd assortment of cups and
saucers from which we drank tea.

On the brink of bankruptcy, he talked about his love of Rhodesia and
about his black workforce. Theirs, he said, was a simple life. Work all
week. Get drunk at weekends. He did not doubt his own right to be in
Rhodesia on what had been black land. He did not take seriously the
possibility that one day there would be black rule. As far as he was
concerned, he was doing what was right for his workers and that was
all that counted.

What he would have made of the present discontent, I do not know.
If those farmers still in Zimbabwe are any guide, he would have been
horrified, but stoic about staying on in the belief that, after the
election was over, things would somehow be sorted out.

Jim Sinclair, a former leader of the Commercial Farmers' Union, told
me: "We've always been inclined to take it with a pinch of salt in
terms of the rhetoric. Mugabe has said so much and done so little."
But he does admit to being shaken by recent events and to have
learnt that white farmers are politically and physically vulnerable.
With hindsight, he concedes the farmers could have done more
themselves to co-operate with the government on land redistribution
by helping to plan and fund resettlement programmes and giving
them practical assistance. The price of that failure was that the
country was now, in his view, "in a state of real anarchy".

When I met Mugabe, I did not expect him to throw up his hands and
plead guilty as charged. But his response to the accusations levelled
against him showed some chinks in his armour. This is a man who, for
20 years, has run Zimbabwe almost as his private fiefdom, and yet he
conceded that he was losing support.

The interview took place in Zimbabwe House, Mugabe's political
fortress, which used to be Smith's official residence. Many years ago
I interviewed the Shah of Iran in his Tehran palace. We were shown
into an office the size of a tennis court, turfed with Persian carpets.
For small talk before the interview began, he showed us over his
private dental surgery flown in from Switzerland.

Mugabe's style is simpler. He came into a small anteroom with his
press secretary, shook hands with all our crew and sat patiently while
we adjusted the lights. He was relaxed, polite, even wryly humorous
at times. As he himself said to us, "I'm no Idi Amin." But ruthlessness
has always been part of his political style. Perhaps he just murmurs,
"Who can rid me of these troublesome opponents?" and leaves
others to do the work.

His reaction to the violence that is sweeping the countryside and the
towns bordered on the satirical. "You can't have an election
campaign with opposing parties without incidents," he told me.
"There is still a lot of work to be done among people to educate them
about politics, so they don't take politics as if it was real warfare . . .
Some people think it's a real matter of life and death. They don't just
take it as a political game."

His own actions smack of desperation. Zimbabwe is an uneasy blend
of political tyranny and vestiges of the rule of law. There is a free
press that daily attacks him and his ministers for corruption,
ineptitude and the incitment to violence. The judges are still
independent and throughout the campaign have found against
Mugabe. They declared his attempt to strip holders of British
passports of their Zimbabwean citizenship unconstitutional. They
granted an injunction to the opposition, ordering the Zimbabwe
Broadcasting Corporation to provide airtime to put their case, an
order almost wholly ignored.

When they declared the land occupations illegal, Mugabe could not
have their judgments reversed or order their removal from office.
Instead his police force simply ignored the illegality, knowing that
Mugabe would support them. The white farmers, he told me, "are just
suffering this little inconvenience of their land being occupied . . .
this little area of trespass", which should be set against "the
inconvenience we have suffered as a people for decades".

Ignoring the deaths and injuries caused to farmers and their workers,
and the fear spread by the veterans, Mugabe claimed that the
demonstrations were peaceful "by and large" and argued that there
would be worse death and bloodshed if he tried to enforce the court
order. "A leader has to have these scales of judgment and see where
the greater harm would occur."

In defence of the war veterans, he is lyrical. "Their cause is my cause.
That's what I fought for, that's what I suffered for, when I went to
prison, and when I spent all those days in exile, leading the struggle -
it was mainly to get our land back and this is precisely what the war
veterans are doing."

The relationship between Mugabe and the war veterans is complex.
Many of the genuine veterans were teenagers when they left
Rhodesia in the 1970s to train in Mozambique or Tanzania and return
to fight a guerrilla war. They expected the spoils of victory but for
many years were ignored.

It was not until the mid-1990s that they became a political force,
demanding and winning a lump sum and a small pension for their war
efforts. Ever since that victory, Mugabe has been uneasy about the
power they could muster, particularly when they deride his
government for paying pensions to former Rhodesian military and
civil servants under the terms of the 1980 Lancaster House
agreement, while denying them their due.

In supporting their cause now, Mugabe cannot avoid drawing
attention to his own failure. He has had 20 years in which to arrange
an orderly transfer of land from white to black, but, apart from in the
early years after independence, little has been done. The last British
government pointed out to him that it had funds allocated for land
reform, which he had failed to claim. But instead of trying to resolve
the problem, Mugabe blames Britain, the former colonial ruler, and
particularly the present Labour government for his woes.

It is difficult to establish exactly what went wrong in Mugabe's
dealings with new Labour. Perhaps he expected it to be more
sympathetic to his black liberation movement than the Tories. But
when Labour laid down the conditions that would have to be met
before more aid was given, or dared to criticise, as Robin Cook did,
the transfer of land to the president's cronies, Mugabe's reaction was
by turns disdainful, angry and at times almost paranoid.

"We dealt with the Conservative party. We knew that their own
philosophy did not quite agree with our own philosophy as a
liberation movement, as a party given to socialism . . . But when we
had the misfortune of Labour winning, the difficulties started because
they didn't want to hear anything about the issues of land.

"We tried to educate them on all the discussions we had had with the
Major government. No. They say they would not inherit anything
from the Conservatives. They would not bear any colonial
responsibility. They appear to us arrogant little fellows, you know,
the people who have suddenly come into leadership. They think
leadership is demonstrating how important they are. They treat us
like midgets."

I asked him why he had called the Blair government "a gay
government of a gay United Kingdom". For a moment a slight smile
flickers on his lips as though he is about to acknowledge that this
was exaggeration. But not for long. The smile fades. "I understand
they have gays among them. But that's their own affair. What we do
not want is for them to foist their own inhuman tendencies on us . . .
It's our criticism of homosexuality here at home that has offended
them. They wanted to see us become as liberal as themselves."

He complains about the citizen's arrest attempted by Peter Tatchell
when Mugabe was in London in November. Tatchell laid a hand on
his arm and shouted that he was arresting him for breaches of human
rights. "I don't know what crime I had committed, except the crime of
denouncing gays - whatever they call it, homosexuality or sodomy."

Then entering territory that would be libellous were it not universally
accepted as absurd, he explains that the minister of state at the
Foreign Office, Peter Hain, who had seen him the previous evening,
was Tatchell's lover, "wife of Tatchell", and had discussed the
ambush with his "husband". As Hain comments: "You can only
laugh at it, except that the consequences were so serious. It lifted him
to new heights of irrationality. It brought him into conflict not just
with Britain, but every other country in the world. His African
colleagues are in despair."

When discussing the prospect of defeat in the election, Mugabe
returns from fantasy to reality. He knows that, although the elections
have been neither fair nor free, he cannot guarantee their outcome.

International observers have been prevented from travelling
widely and the appointment of local agents at every polling
booth has been obstructed. But there is an independent
electoral commission that supervises the count district by
district and those ballot papers that are completed are likely
to be counted fairly. It is all down to the courage of individual
voters to go to the polls and cast their votes as they want.

With the revolutionary struggle a fading memory for many,
Mugabe concedes he is losing ground. "We didn't expect a
No vote in the referendum and it was a defeat." He attributes
it in part to the failure of the economy to produce the benefits
the people required.

"The younger ones will say, 'We know nothing about this
liberation struggle. Don't talk history to us, what we want is
money, incomes. We don't have them, so your government is
no good for us. We will vote against you.' " It is a telling
admission from a man who has controlled so much of
Zimbabwe for so long.

Though this is still a predominantly rural economy, the
emphasis, particularly for the young, is now firmly centred on
urban life and urban possibilities. Harare bears scant
resemblance to the Salisbury of the 1960s. Partly because of
restrictions on the export of funds, there has been a property
boom in the capital, the only place to invest. Despite an
increase in crime, in car hijackings and muggings, this is still a
city bearing the stamp of prosperity.

There are good restaurants, bars and nightclubs, expensive
cars and a servant or more in every white home - and in an
increasing number of middle-class black homes, too. At
present it is like a city in the grip of severe recession but, with
the proper remedies applied, it should be able to recover. It
is no wonder that young blacks want to share what young
whites have had for so long and cannot see Mugabe
providing it.

"Over the last 20 years," Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition
leader, told me, "there has been a demographic change. The
order of priorities has shifted. People are more concerned
about jobs, about poverty, corruption and the debt and the
economic mess the country is facing, rather than land. Of
course, land continues to be important, but it is not the
topmost priority."

Tsvangirai lives in a suburb of Harare in a modest brick house
now converted into a fortress. His bodyguards protect the
entrance, their baseball bats piled in a corner. A three-strand
electric fence surrounds the garden. The two bedrooms that
face the street have had brick walls built in front of them to
screen them from gunfire or grenade attack: sensible
precautions from a man who was nearly killed two years ago
when a group of war veterans invaded his office, beat him up
and tried to throw him out of the 10th-floor window.

Tsvangirai once hero-worshipped Mugabe: "I would have
died for him." Today he complains angrily about his betrayal.
"We lived through a reign of terror by Smith. Now we are
living through a reign of terror again, by one of our own. It is
unforgivable. He will have to answer for these atrocities. It is
not something that is going to be brushed away."

As we talk, Mugabe at last considers, albeit reluctantly, the
possibility of a victory for Tsvangirai's MDC. "I could in a
dream see them in power, and then, when I get up, I say: Oh,
it was a dream after all, not reality."

It seems a concession even to admit to the dream that so
many of his own people fervently hope will turn out to be
true. As the Old Testament prophet wrote: "Your old men
shall dream dreams. Your young men shall see visions."

© David Dimbleby 2000

David Dimbleby's report from Zimbabwe - Smith, Mugabe
and the Union Jack - can be seen on BBC2 tonight at

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Reports from the MDC as of 9:30 and 11:00 am on the first day
of polling.  and . There is
also a Sunday briefing by Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC at .

There are some good articles on The Daily News Web site at , dated June 23rd

If you want an example of moronic reporting, check out the CNN story at
where it claims a white farmer as saying that his biggest concern is the
"war vets" on his farm getting drunk and stealing his chickens! Somehow I
don't think that is really his biggest concern -- I'm assuming that the CNN
reporter in this case is clueless.

There's also some good current stuff on the BBC Web site at . Apparently the Voice of America is also
broadcasting a programme entitled "Zimbabwe Forum". Go to for scheduling and frequency details, as well as Real
Audio files.
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