|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
NYT - Zimbabwe's Potemkin prosperity has evaporated since the elections, replaced by penury and mounting signs of economic collapse.
Here in the second largest city, lines of cars stretch a quarter mile and more at fuel-parched service stations, and drivers spend the night in their cars' back seats lest they lose their place in line. Milk, cooking oil and, most of all, corn, the national staple, are a distant memory at most stores. At one downtown grocery, tubes of much-prized American toothpaste are kept in a locked case.
Zimbabwe's currency, which traded on the black market at 120 to the dollar in April 2002, went for 6,200 to the dollar last December, 12,000 on April 1, and 17,000 in early May. By mid-May a single American dollar brought as much as 25,000 Zimbabwean dollars, though the rate has since steadied at about 20,000
The president's key finance aide has called for some of the farmers whose properties were confiscated in a land seizure programme to be allowed to resume growing crops to boost the country's flagging agricultural output.
Gideon Gono, governor of the central bank and Mr Mugabe's main policy maker, made the proposal as he announced a 31% devaluation of the Zimbabwe currency.
He added that the skilled whites and other new investors would be given special guarantees of uninterrupted tenure of five to 10 years, backed by government force to prevent any disruptions on the farms.
Mr Gono was careful to say that it would not reverse Mr Mugabe's redistribution of white-owned land to blacks.
However, observers say his plan would be an implicit admission that the land seizure policy has failed.
A Zimbabwean economist, John Robertson, said: "This shows the desperation of the government to improve the economy. They say it is not a reversal of their land seizures, but it is. It won't get very far.
"I don't think many farmers will take up the offer because they would have to give up their title deeds and lease their land back.
"The range of measures proposed by Gono and the government show that the economic situation is dire. But they are avoiding the fundamental changes needed because those would be opposed by Mugabe. These measures don't add up. The economy will continue to be a disaster area."
At the start of the land seizure policy in 2000, Zimbabwe had 4,500 white farmers, now about 400 remain on portions of their farms. Mozambique, Zambia and Nigeria have welcomed some of the skilled white farmers.
The economy has also shrunk by more than 40% in five years.
Yesterday Mr Mugabe did not comment on Mr Gono's proposal.
During the election campaign in March, the president said he was disappointed that only 44% of the land seized from whites was being cultivated and that the remainder was lying fallow.
He has also had to admit that Zimbabwe, once called "the breadbasket of Africa", needs to import food to feed its population. For months he had boasted that the country had a bumper harvest and would "choke" if it was forced to take international food aid.
But Mr Mugabe said this week that his government would welcome food from the UN, as long as it came without any political conditions.
The government announced yesterday that it was busy redrawing its 2005 budget to fund food imports.
Drastic cuts to other parts of the budget will be needed to raise the money to import food, the acting finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa, said, according to Reuters.
On Thursday the government devalued its currency and banned imports of luxury goods to try to reduce the economic freefall. But the devaluation falls far short of the Z$25,000 that one US dollar (55p) fetches on Zimbabwe's thriving black market.
Mr Gono reduced by half his forecasts of the country's economic growth, to 2.5%. That figure is viewed as unrealistic by economists, who point out the five consecutive years of economic decline.
John Worsley-Worswick of Justice for Agriculture said: "This is a puppet show and it's not going to solve things. Gono is a master of spin and he is saying that he can fix things. But the reality is that the few farmers who have managed to stay on their land are being hammered by the military.
"This suggestion that white farmers could come back is an admission of their failure, but I don't know anyone who would take them up on their offer. The government's agriculture policy has failed abysmally. There is no maize, there is no wheat, people are hungry. It's a debacle."
· Eighty percent of black South Africans who responded to a survey believe Mr Mugabe is ruling badly.
Since 2000, 75% of white farmers have lost their property
Bank governor Gideon Gono suggested farmers forced off their land in controversial reforms could come back to boost flagging agriculture.
The white farmer-dominated Commercial Farmers' Union said Mr Gono's plan would need to be backed by government.
Since 2000 more than 75% of white farmers have lost their property.
A spokesman for the United Nations World Food Programme said Zimbabwe's food crisis could not wholly be attributed to the departure of white farmers.
"You have to remember that Zimbabwe was on an economic downturn for several years, and the drought then impacted on that, and you cannot forget the impact HIV-Aids is having on the population there as well," said Mike Huggins.
"There already is a weakened population, there is not enough adequate health care throughout the country to really deal with the pandemic, and that is also have a major affect on agricultural production," Mr Huggins told the BBC.
Gideon Gono, the main policy adviser of President Robert Mugabe, made his suggestion on Thursday as he delivered a raft of measures that included a 31% devaluation of the Zimbabwean currency.
Mr Gono was careful to stress that the suggestion did not represent a reversal of the land reform policy under which farms were forcibly redistributed from white farmers to blacks.
This suggestion that white farmers could come back is an admission of [the government's] failure
Justice for Agriculture
However, Mr Mugabe himself said in March he was disappointed that only 44% of the land seized from whites was actually in cultivation and warned that the remainder would have to be cultivated.
Mr Gono said: "In order to ensure maximum productivity levels, there is great scope in the country promoting and supporting joint ventures between the new farmers with progressive-minded former operators."
He said the whites would be given guarantees of uninterrupted tenure, backed by government security forces.
The government has not responded directly on the issue.
The deputy chairman of the Commercial Farmers' Union said he hoped white farmers would be able to participate in the agricultural recovery of Zimbabwe.
Stof Horgood told the BBC he found Mr Gono's message "encouraging" as it would mean "a security of tenure on the ground".
Justice for Agriculture, whose stated aims are to secure justice and peace for the agricultural sector, dismissed Mr Gono's suggestion as a "puppet show".
Its spokesman, John Worsley-Worswick, told Britain's Guardian newspaper: "This suggestion that white farmers could come back is an admission of [the government's] failure, but I don't know anyone who would take them up on their offer."
President Mugabe has expressed disappointment over land cultivation
In addition to the devaluation, Mr Gono banned the imports of luxury goods, reduced interest rates for exporters and cut in half his forecast of the country's economic growth to 2.5%.
Some analysts say Mr Gono's measures may fall foul of the political situation.
Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of political lobby group, the National Constitutional Assembly, told Reuters: "Mugabe has staked his public pride on some of the policies that Gono says need to be revisited... and if there are any reviews Mugabe will want those to be done slowly."
White farmers reject Mugabe plea to
By Toby Harnden , Chief Foreign Correspondent
White farmers evicted by Robert Mugabe's government have reacted with contempt to an offer that they should return to Zimbabwe to take part in "joint ventures" with those who brutalised them and stole their land.
Gideon Gono, the governor of the country's central bank, suggested the idea last Thursday as a possible solution to Zimbabwe's economic crisis.
Greg McMurray, a tobacco farmer who fled Zimbabwe in 2001 and is now a grinder at a factory in Wiltshire, said: "These are empty promises. We have had all the assurances before and then they just turn around and change their minds.
"I had them coming into my garden and threatening my fiancée. Men with a bit of beer in their bellies told me, 'We'll come and burn you and your wife and your house'.
"I would love to go back but the economy's in ruins. The place is a shambles. So many professional people have left. It would need a new regime before most of us would think seriously about going back."
The prospect of a return for white farmers was dangled by Mr Gono, Mr Mugabe's leading economic policy maker, in a rambling three-hour statement in which he also announced a 31 per cent devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar.
He said: "In order to ensure maximum productivity levels, there is great scope in the country promoting and supporting joint ventures between the new farmers with progressive-minded former operators as well as other new investors, so as to hasten the skills transfer cycle."
During the evictions, some white farmers were murdered and many others were beaten and their families abused. The evictions prompted the collapse of the agriculture sector, the traditional engine of the economy.
Those who took over the farms had no specialist knowledge - and most farmland now lies uncultivated. The machinery has been stolen, buildings have been plundered and the former workers are starving.
Eddie Cross, the economics spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change - which was heavily defeated by the ruling Zanu-PF party in recent parliamentary elections that were widely condemned as being rigged - said that Mr Gono was desperate.
Mr Cross said: "He's got no power and he can't deliver. The reality is a thousand miles away from everything he says. He wants to regain some credibility with multilateral institutions. He has meetings with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank next month. This is about having something to say to those guys. The only salvation will be a change of government and a return to the rule of law.
"Until then, no one's going to invest here or come back. Who on earth is going to do anything in agriculture when there is such dispute over land ownership? They'd be mad."
While Mr Gono's words could be interpreted as an admission that the land seizure policy pursued by Mr Mugabe - which led to him becoming an international pariah - had failed, they offered little comfort to the dispossessed.
One tobacco and cattle farmer, who was forced off his property by armed squatters in 2000, said: "He can't be serious. My house has been burnt down, my fields destroyed and he wants to invite me back?
"There has to be a proper return to respect for property rights. We need facts, not words and a legal framework. No one's going to go back on the basis of this."
The man, who asked to remain anonymous, is among 1,600 evicted landowners who have stayed in Zimbabwe and are attempting to get compensation.
In 2000, there were 4,500 white farmers. Now only 400 remain on parts of their farms, many having made deals with Mugabe's regime. Thousands of others lost everything and have had to seek help to set themselves up in ventures outside Zimbabwe.
Colin Ransome, of the Zimbabwe Farmers Trust Fund, a Scottish-registered charity, said: "A lot of those who settled in Britain have young families and new jobs. Everyone is very wary. Iron-clad assurances would be needed."
ARCHBISHOP Pius Ncube, the winner of the 2005 Burns Humanitarian Award, has called on Tony Blair to stop the repatriation of failed Zimbabwean asylum-seekers, saying they would face "certain death" if they returned to their country.
The longstanding critic of Robert Mugabe won Scotland's fledgling equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition of his struggle against the Zimbabwean regime.
In an exclusive interview with Scotland on Sunday, he warned of widespread starvation in his country and urged the world community to continue opposing the dictator.
The archbishop of Bulawayo urged Britain to reverse its policy, introduced last year, of returning Zimbabweans who have failed in their efforts to be granted asylum. Britain refuses sanctuary to refugees unless they can convince authorities they will face persecution in their own countries.
There are an estimated 1,800 Zimbabweans in the UK who have failed in their attempts to win asylum.
Ncube said: "I urge Britain to suspend all action against Zimbabwean asylum-seekers who face certain death if they are returned to the country."
Ominously, the Zimbabwean government has warned they will regard nationals repatriated from the UK as potential "undercover mercenaries".
warned of widespread starvation in Zimbabwe because of crop failure and the mismanagement of its once-rich farmland, laying blame at the feet of the
so-called "freedom fighters", who have taken over land from which white farmers have been ousted and allowed farms to deteriorate to the point where harvests have been barely a quarter of what had been expected.
"They have no idea how to farm," he said. "I call them 'cell-phone farmers' because that is how they keep in touch with what is going on. They are away during the week and only come down to visit their land on a Friday. You can't run a farm that way."
He said that since the recent elections, which Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party are widely suspected of rigging, conditions in rural areas have deteriorated sharply. The rainy seasons have been disastrous, to the point where there are serious shortages of drinking water. Emergency supplies of grain are being withheld from those who voted against Mugabe.
The Archbishop, present as part of the annual Burns Festival, said there was widespread evidence that the election results, which brought in yet another Mugabe victory, had been rigged, with ballot boxes stuffed with pro-Zanu votes, and opponents of Mugabe facing threats and intimidation.
He said that the only possibility of rescuing Zimbabwe from corruption and economic decline was a popular uprising within the country.
He said: "I have been asking the people of Zimbabwe, 'Why do you not get rid of the guy? Why allow this man to bully you?' I have called for a national uprising. But we lack a leader, someone to inspire people - a Mahatma Gandhi who would walk barefoot to lead the people. Unfortunately, we just don't have that person at the moment. Yes, there is a lot of fear in Zimbabwe, but you can overcome fear."
Archbishop Ncube himself has never lacked courage. He has faced a lifetime of intimidation, death threats and violence. His car is regularly followed, and his telephone tapped. But he says that he has never backed down, and that is his greatest strength. "Once you show you are afraid, they will hound you. But when you show you are not afraid, they feel disorientated. They know that what I am saying is the truth. I refuse to be intimidated."
Ncube said he was grateful for the award since it helped draw attention to the plight of those in Zimbabwe.
May 21 2005 at 01:01PM
Harare - Thousands of Zimbabwean commuters were stranded in Harare on
Saturday as fuel shortages worsened, state radio reported.
Fuel shortages have worsened in the weeks following parliamentary elections
at the end of March, which were won by President Robert Mugabe's