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FromThe Sunday Telegraph (UK), 24 December

The worst Christmas I can remember

In the week after another white farmer was murdered in Zimbabwe at the start of a renewed government-backed farm-occupation campaign, Sally French, the wife of a white farmer, writes of preparing for Christmas under occupation.

CHRISTMAS Eve on Nyamwanga Farm is usually a time of bustle, mince pies baking in the oven, a Christmas cake to ice, presents to wrap and carols around the Christmas tree with our two children, Danielle, 12 and Duncan, 11. This year everything about Christmas is an effort.

We have some uninvited guests: more than 100 so-called war veterans and squatters have been occupying our farm since March and have erected grass huts all over our land. December is normally a glorious month in Zimbabwe, everything is green, the skies are spectacular and the rivers start to flow. But now if I look out of our window across to the blue Mazowe hills or down to the river, I can see the squatters ploughing our land with their hands or a few cattle and making a huge mess of the beautiful farm my family has owned since 1953.

It's been the worst year I can ever remember. During the day they threaten us and beat up our workers and we dare not let the children out of the house on their own. Every night the squatters start drumming and chanting. Almost two months ago, they attacked my husband Guy when he went to plant the new cotton crop. When he led his workers into the fields at 6am on October 31, a gang surrounded him. The leader shouted "we are going to kill you" and insisted that the farm was theirs as it had been so designated by the government in September. Then they started beating him with nail-studded clubs and sticks until he was unconscious. The workers who tried to help him were also set upon. One was hit on the head with an axe, another had a broken rib and broken collarbone and another a broken arm.

So much for title deeds and the rule of law. The people who assaulted my husband are all out on bail and the person who led the assault has never been arrested. Since then we live with constant fear for the children and how this is all affecting them. As we decorate the cypress tree that we have cut down from the garden - we dared not go out to buy one this year - we try to console ourselves that we're not the only ones suffering. About 1,000 white-owned farms are still occupied. In our area, Shamva, which is about 50 miles north of Harare, there are 17 other families in situations like ours.

When Henry Elsworth, a 70-year-old white farmer, was killed last week, we all thought to ourselves that it could have been us. It is particularly bad for our children. The joy of living here was always the open spaces and freedom they enjoyed. My son is a keen tri-athlete. The Mashonaland championships are in January and he is unable to ride his bike or go for a run or even walk about the farm for fear that there might be an incident with these squatters. My daughter finished junior school this year and wanted to bring her boarding school friends out for the first weekend of the holidays where they could camp and waterski at the local dam. Their parents were not happy with the venue because we could not guarantee their safety and the trip was cancelled.

The children are likewise unable to ride their ponies as we fear what would happen if the squatters surrounded them. To date, Guy has not been able to plant a single seed, so we will have no harvest next year. This was a profitable farm - we have 980 hectares with cotton, maize, sugarcane, soya beans and oranges. This should have been a good year as we have had the best planting rains I can remember. Our financial position is getting worse as we have huge overheads and if the situation continues we will be in dire straits. We are really watching the pennies this Christmas.

It is a real effort to keep up the Christmas spirit this year. We are trying our best because of the children but the tension means everyone is on a very short fuse, losing their tempers over nothing. We will not risk driving into Harare for Midnight Mass and we will probably have prawns instead of turkey tomorrow. It will be even worse for our 83 employees - they will have little or no income this festive season so you can imagine what sort of Christmas they will have.

We don't want to leave Zimbabwe because we were both born here - I am 40 and Guy 44 - and don't see why we should leave. This is our land. If they can frustrate us enough to make us leave they'll have got what they want and we will lose everything that we have worked for and invested in. It seems as though President Mugabe won't be happy until he has driven every single middle-class person out of the country. Farmers are usually eternal optimists as they have so many uncontrollable parameters to fight against, such as the weather and the market value of their produce. This year it's all doom and gloom, as our livelihood here is close to intolerable and our future pretty bleak. Christmas is supposed to be a time of rejoicing - but there's certainly no rejoicing here.

From The Independent on Sunday (UK), 24 December

Mugabe to recruit youth terror squad

Harare - Amid hints that President Robert Mugabe wants to end the farm occupations that have brought Zimbabwe to its knees, his henchmen have laid plans for a "youth corps" which observers fear will terrorise the population. The moves come as the ruling Zanu-PF party faces unprecedented disputes over the president's future.

As Mr Mugabe, 76, signalled that his government was ready to talk to white farmers last week, the Youth Development Minister, Border Gezi, told parliament in Harare that young people are to be recruited to help implement the government's "fast-track" land resettlement scheme - a plan to distribute five million hectares (12 million acres) to 150,000 families, which is blighted by a lack of money. The announcement last Tuesday was taken by observers to mean that special units - made up of ruling party youths and war veterans now under the control of the defence ministry - would be deployed in the rural areas, where 70 per cent of voters live, ahead of the presidential election in 2002.

Mr Gezi said in parliament that the youth corps would be "trained in self-defence". "There have been complaints that the fast-track land programme does not benefit the needy," he said. "We are going to physically deliver cheques to people, under the trees in the villages." Mr Gezi's tactics in Mashonaland were among the most ruthless used to secure victory for Zanu-PF in June's parliamentary election. One senior party official said: "When President Mugabe says the MDC will never form a government, you must never assume he is joking. The guy means it and he will go to considerable lengths to achieve that."

In the June election - blighted by land occupations and government-sponsored violence which claimed 35 lives - the MDC, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, won 57 out of 120 constituencies. The year-old party had been instrumental in February in defeating a referendum to change the constitution. The attention of the ruling party is now focused on the presidential election, in which Mr Mugabe is expected to be its candidate. The Zanu-PF people's congress in Harare 10 days ago, attended by 7,000 party faithful, did not produce the challenge to Mr Mugabe's 20-year rule some had predicted. "It was Mugabe's congress," said a EU diplomat. "It was all about putting him in pole position for 2002. He got the endorsement he was after and that could explain why he is showing signs of wanting to end the chaos in the countryside."

Despite numerous court challenges from commercial farmers, some 1,500 farms are still occupied by veterans of the Seventies' war to end black rule, and there are almost daily reports of violence. Outwardly, at least, Mr Mugabe is safely in the Zanu-PF saddle and used the congress to consolidate his position while promoting his protegee, Emmerson Mnangagwa, a sign that he has chosen his heir. He also dropped the former justice minister Eddison Zvobgo from the politburo, Zanu-PF's supreme decision-making body. Mr Zvobgo, who was the architect of the 1987-1990 constitutional amendments that created Mr Mugabe's powerful position, had signalled an interest in leading the party. Mr Mnangagwa, 58, was made secretary for administration in the politburo. He is already the Speaker of parliament. Yet one party faction considers him "unelectable" as a presidential candidate, not least because he lost his constituency in June. The most intriguing new member of the politburo is the young and dynamic finance minister, Simba Makoni, probably appointed to government in July so Mr Mugabe could impress the foreign donor community.

From The Sunday Independent (SA), 24 December

UN envoy calls for DRC truce

Kinshasa - A United Nations special envoy in the DRC called for an "end of year truce" this week after President Laurent Kabila threatened a major offensive to quell Rwandan support for rebel troops in the east. Kamel Morjane's call on Friday came shortly after Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe joined Kabila and another of his regional backers, Namibian leader Sam Nujoma, for a summit in Congo. If Rwandan troops and rebel movements they back did not pull back to positions agreed to on December 6 in Harare, "the allies will use all means at their disposal to recapture the town of Pweto," Mugabe said after the meeting. Pweto, in mineral-rich Katanga province, was seized by Rwandan troops and rebels shortly before the accord was signed.

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Comment from The New York Times, 26 December

Devaluing the Law in Zimbabwe

Since a constitutional referendum last February exposed widespread popular contempt for his autocratic 20-year rule, Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, has sought to shore up his dwindling power by stoking racism and violent lawlessness. He has been at it again this month, telling supporters of his governing party to "strike fear in the heart of the white man, our real enemy." The president was speaking only two days after suspected party militants killed yet another white farmer in an ambush - the seventh white farmer killed this year. At least two dozen blacks accused of complicity with whites have also been killed.

In casting himself as the champion of Africans seeking redress from the legacies of white domination, Mr Mugabe calculated that he could count on African leaders to give him their backing. And so they mostly did, until now. Earlier this month the leaders of South Africa and Nigeria, Africa's two most powerful democracies, visited Harare and wisely advised Mr Mugabe that the rule of law must take precedence over his plans to turn white-owned land over to blacks. The same week, a special envoy of the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, who is from Ghana, declared that Zimbabwe had met none of the basic requirements for United Nations assistance for land reform.

These rebukes represent a welcome recognition by Africans themselves that no legacy of white rule has been more destructive across the continent than the absence of legitimate law. No remedy for Africa's multiple woes - including inequitable land distribution - will bring lasting relief if it is achieved through lawless means. South Africa, Zimbabwe's largest trading partner, has a particular interest in stabilizing its neighbor and stemming the spread of racial tensions.

In a poignant counterpoint to Mr. Mugabe's crude race-baiting, Zimbabweans last week mourned the death of Justice Enoch Dumbutshena, Zimbabwe's first black judge and a powerful symbol of its surprisingly independent judiciary in the early years of majority rule. In a landmark case in 1983, Justice Dumbutshena acquitted six white air force officers accused of sabotage on behalf of South Africa, then under apartheid, finding that they had been denied due process. Justice Dumbutshena's courageous ruling showed that the value of law was well understood by enlightened black Zimbabweans even then, as it must be today.

From The Star (SA), 24 December

Christmas cheer lost in the queues in Zim

Harare - 'Twas Christmas Eve, and weary Zimbabweans were still waiting in long lines for fuel and cash, hoping to scrape together enough of both to hold whatever celebration they can afford. Lengthy queues have been a part of life in Zimbabwe since this time last year, when economic troubles began causing fuel shortages. But during the last week, the fuel queues became four-lane monstrosities that clogged Harare's streets and caused occasional fist-fights over line-cutting.

For many, waiting for fuel was the second queue - after waiting for cash at banks and automatic teller machines that repeatedly ran out of money during the week as workers tried to cash their annual bonuses, that many people received on Monday. Thursday was the last banking day here ahead of the holiday weekend, which led to lines that snaked around blocks in downtown Harare as people hoped to get cash from ATMs, only to find that banks had reduced the maximum withdrawal - by as much as 75 percent. "The queues were just too long, and there were signs that the ATMs would run dry because there were no staff to feed cash into the machines," an unnamed banking official told the state-run Sunday Mail.

By Christmas Eve, the lines downtown began shrinking, both because many ATMs were empty and because people had given up on finishing their Christmas preparations. The queues were only a problem for people who had money in the first place. The average Zimbabwean's disposable income has fallen by 70 percent since January, according to estimates in the independent press here. "No Christmas for me. We are suffering," said a security guard in downtown Harare, who asked not to be named. He said he wasn't working during the holiday week, but he didn't have enough money to take his wife and children to visit relatives in their home village.

During the holidays, many city-dwellers travel to the villages where their families live. But bus fares have skyrocketed as fuel prices more than doubled this year and passengers have complained that not enough buses are running this year. "Normally we do not have problems with the buses," said Netty Butsu, who was heading to her village in the Mhondoro region. "I think it's because of the fuel shortage," she said. Police were called to the nation's busiest bus terminus, Mbare-Musika, on Friday to control hundreds of disgruntled passengers who had waited hours for a bus home.

After a year marked by widespread political violence and Zimbabwe's worst-ever economic crisis, even seasonal greetings have been affected. Two of Zimbabwe's privately run weeklies, the Independent and the Financial Gazette, weren't optimistic enough to wish their readers a happy new year, only a better one.

From The Daily News, 25 December

War veteran kidnap suspects get pardon

Bulawayo - CAIN Nkala, 42, the chairman for Bulawayo province of a faction of war veterans, and Jackson Anthony Nkala, 61, on Thursday benefited from the Presidential amnesty order when they were acquitted of kidnapping a MDC supporter. The two walked out of court as free men after prosecutor Pelleck Ncube withdrew the charges before Bulawayo magistrate Farida Lang, in line with the Presidential Clemency Order, invoked by President Mugabe to pardon all perpetrators of pre-election violence in June this year. The two faced charges of kidnapping and assaulting an MDC member, Welcome Makama.

Together with eight other war veterans they appeared before the same magistrate on 19 June on a separate charge of kidnapping MDC polling agent, Patrick Nabanyama. Nabanyama was kidnapped from his home in broad daylight on 19 June and has never been seen since. The MDC has already appealed to the US Department of State to intervene in establishing the fate of Nabanyama, an aide to David Coltart, the MP for Bulawayo South.

The State case against the two men was that on 22 June, Makama, in the company of Moses Ncube and Maxwell Ndlovu were putting up MDC posters in Entumbane suburb when they were confronted by a group of war veterans. The court heard that Makama's friends made good their escape, but he was not so lucky. He was hauled to the war veterans' offices where they repeatedly assaulted him and took his identification particulars. He was only released after the war veterans had established that they knew his father. Mugabe's pardon, which largely benefited Zanu PF "political criminals", was roundly condemned by civic groups and the international community for giving the impression that Mugabe condoned violence.

From The Boston Globe (US), 25 December

Land seizures in Zimbabwe wreak chaos, inefficiency

Enterprise Valley - Not for 50 years had oxen been used to plow on Owen Connor's farm. Mechanization made it one of the most productive farms in the district. But ox plows are back now, gouging ragged, widely spaced furrows for hand-scattered corn seed. The tillers are ruling party militants and squatters who have camped illegally on Connor's property since February. He can't stop them. The government and police have refused court orders to remove the squatters. The squatters are black, Connor is white, and a legacy of racial resentment is proving more powerful than the economic imperatives of modern farming.

''We've gone back half a century in time to an age before technology,'' said Connor. For this 67-year-old farmer, the political upheaval of the past year and the long-festering issue of land add up to a litany of woes: corn and wheat production slashed by half, a forest of lumber worth $150,000 razed by the occupiers for firewood, Connor's workers assaulted, his cattle prevented from grazing, disease, and parasites infecting his livestock. A neighbor has been allowed to milk the cows to spare them ruptured udders, but squatters took some of the milk and prevented the rest from being refrigerated and taken to market, he says.

''Now the rains have come, the squatters are frantically trying to plant. It's absolutely chaotic; it's a free-for-all everywhere. I don't know what we are going to do to survive,'' Connor said. He said he has moved his family's personal effects and valuables into storage after receiving death threats and being told his homestead, 30 miles northeast of the capital, Harare, would be fire-bombed. ''They seem to want to make it untenable for us, to drive us out,'' Connor said. Connor grew up on the farm. As a teenager, he toiled to clear virgin land with oxen until the family bought its first tractor. He and his son, Kevin, 41, have both been honored for producing more than four tons of corn, the nation's staple food, per acre.

Since February, occupiers led by ruling party militants and veterans of the war that led to independence in 1980 have seized land on about 1,700 white-owned farms, often violently disrupting production. At least seven white farmers have been slain. President Robert Mugabe says the occupations are a justified protest against disproportionate land ownership. On Dec. 14, the president urged supporters to keep up the fight with Zimbabwe's whites and their ''black puppets.'' ''Our party must continue to strike fear in the hearts of the white man, our real enemy,'' he said.

The government has begun nationalizing hundreds of the 3,000 farms it says it will carve up and hand over to landless blacks without compensating the white owners. It argues that 20 years after independence, three-quarters of Zimbabwe's 12.5 million people are poor, while many of the 4,000 white farmers are rich. The land seizures, it says, will avert a bloody uprising that Mugabe has so far managed to prevent. ''Zimbabwe has found a lasting solution to the land problem - giving land to the masses in a massive way. There will be no compromise,'' said Willard Chiwewe, a senior ruling party official. Mugabe's opponents say the government's land reform program is plagued by corruption and mismanagement, with many nationalized farms going to politicians and their cronies. They contend the latest round of land seizures are a ploy to bolster Mugabe's waning support among about 7 million landless poor.

Connor's farm has been targeted by the government for confiscation. Ian Millar's has not. But both are on the verge of bankruptcy. Millar farms grain, soya, and bananas on 1,600 acres about 20 miles north of this lush valley. Occupiers have kept his 320 workers from entering the fields. Millar owes $360,000 in bank loans that he says he can't repay. ''I'm ruined,'' he says. '' ... I haven't got a clue what I or my workers are going to do.''

From The Daily News, 25 December

Zimbabwe, allies rule out leaving DRC soon

Zimbabwe's costly military involvement in the DRC is set to last much longer than expected after the latest declaration that the troops will only leave the DRC after Ugandan and Rwandese troops have pulled out. George Charamba, permanent secretary in the Department of Information and Publicity in the President's Office, said yesterday that Presidents Mugabe, Sam Nujoma and Laurent Kabila agreed to take "appropriate action" if the rebels refused to pull out. "We have goals and objectives which we must accomplish," said Charamba, "and these are determined by the attitude of the invaders."

Mugabe, Kabila and Nujoma held a one-day summit in Kinshasa on Friday, where they agreed that they would force the rebels out of that country should violations of the Lusaka ceasefire agreement continue. But Ugandan Brigadier Katumba Wamala told a Sunday newspaper in Kampala that it was highly unlikely his troops would get out of the DRC before adequate security guarantees were put in place. "As long as DR Congo has no effective government and as long as all areas along our borderline are threatened by rebels against our government, we still need to be there to have these areas secured," he said.

While Mugabe and his allies were meeting in Kinshasa, the Rwandan army said it had successfully attacked and dismantled a Hutu base in the DRC and freed more than 600 civilians held by the rebels since 1994. Charamba said speculation about the return of soldiers was out of civilian anxiety, which did not take into account the realities on the ground. "We will give them time to respect the ceasefire agreement, and if they fail to do so, as they have done in the past, then we will launch appropriate action," he said. "Military conflicts do not have a timetable. Any military operation has to be carried through until the objectives are realised, and our case is no different."

This development scuttles the speculation that Zimbabwe's soldiers could soon come back home. A Rwandan government spokesman said the rebels at the base fled Rwanda after taking part in the 1994 genocide there, in which more than 800 000 minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus died in government-orchestrated massacres. "For the last 10 days, the Rwandan army had been tracking them down in the Masisi forests along the Congo's eastern borders, where they trained and rearmed," said Charles Kayonga, the presidential defence adviser. Kayonga said the army captured six rebel officers in the operations at the footsteps of Nyamuragira volcano, inside the Congo's Virunga National Park. Rwanda entered the DRC's now two-year civil war in 1998 in pursuit of the Hutu militiamen, the Interahamwe. Rwanda backs the Congolese rebels fighting to oust Kabila, accused of providing arms and training for the Interahamwe.

From The Independent (UK), 26 December

How luck and a lot of resolve can change a life

Harare - Richard Chipunza has many talents. He knows where, for three Zimbabwe dollars (3p), you can pick up a pot of glue to sniff. He knows how to scrounge a meal from fast-food joints where office workers in a hurry dump their half-eaten lunch. A 23-year-old former street child, he also knows that E=mc2. Thanks to a local project supported by Hope For Children, the charity chosen by The Independent as the recipient of this year's Christmas appeal, he has just sat his A-levels. "I want to go to university in January and study sociology. Once I am a graduate, I can become a social worker. That is my dream. I want to work with people and show them that it is possible to uplift yourself in life," he says.

There are few better examples than Mr Chipunza to demonstrate that a bit of luck and a lot of resolve can change someone's life. Luck came into Mr Chipunza's life in December 1995, in the shape of Charles Rutanhira, director of the National Organisation for the Development of the Disadvantaged (Noded). "It was raining the day we met Mr Rutanhira," says Mr Chipunza. "Collins, my younger brother, with whom, by then, I had spent nearly four years on the streets, had malaria. I had spent the day with him at a hospital trying to get the staff to treat him for free, which they did. We hoped to spend the night in the railway station and we were sheltering in a drain. Mr Rutanhira spoke to us for the first time that afternoon. He returned with food for us the next day. Then he said he would meet us at a drop-in centre which Noded supports. He said that if we went there, he might be able to arrange for us to be sponsored to go to school."

That day was to be the start of a new experience for the boys, then aged 18 and 16. It was the first time in their lives that they would encounter what luckier children take for granted from birth: an environment in which adults deliver security, safety and meals. Until then, the brothers had survived purely on resolve. Mr Chipunza's father was killed in Zimbabwe's liberation war in 1979, when Richard was two years old. He was raised by his paternal grandparents in a rural area "where people hunt, and drink beer. One day after the maize had ripened, my grandfather and his wife went drinking. They were drinking bad stuff. I remember seeing her foaming at the mouth. A few days later I heard they were dead. The headmaster allowed me to finish grade seven, and Collins finished grade five. Then we had to move to my uncle's place in Chitungwiza, and things got worse."

Chitungwiza is to Harare what Soweto is to Johannesburg - a huge township of up to 2 million people, which acts as a labour feeder to the big city. But when there is no work, it is crime-ridden and dangerous. The boys were put to work sweeping the floor and watering the garden, but they were neglected. "One day, to get money for food, we sold some scrap metal which was in the garden. My uncle was furious and said he never wanted to see us again. This was in January 1992."

Within days of beginning life on the streets of Harare, the Chipunza brothers had their bag of clothes stolen. "We used to guard cars at The Tube, a nightclub. Everyone would be after the white people's cars because they give more money. The older kids would always try to get the whites' cars. The old kids were a menace because they wanted to have sex. They would try to grab you when you were sleeping and try to do it to you. I always got away." On the street, the children sniffed glue and smoked. Occasionally they would be picked up by police.

In 1998, two and a half years after Mr Rutanhira first spoke to him, Mr Chipunza passed his O-levels, obtaining two As (in agriculture and science), four Bs and one C. He has just sat English literature, geography and history A-levels and is awaiting results. Mr Rutanhira says: "Richard is one of our success stories." Out of seven boys whom Noded has managed to educate, three have gone on to A-levels. Mr Chipunza is currently living with Collins under a piece of plastic sheeting attached to the house of an aunt and uncle in Chitungwiza. He says: "The centre was amazing. There was a cook and we got clothes. Our administrator, Mr Ngwerume, was really dedicated and, when rain flooded the river and we could not get to school, he would drive us there in his car so we never missed a day."

But Collins failed his O-levels, and Mr Chipunza is worried about him. "We are getting by at the moment by selling sweets in the street in Chitungwiza, mowing lawns and doing odd jobs. But Collins is smoking dagga (cannabis) again and he is not hanging out with good guys. I need to get him to go to school. If I get good results and go to university, I will try to find a job so that my brother can go to school. Like Mr Rutanhira, I want to talk to kids in the streets to encourage them to change their lives." But Mr Chipunza still has a long way to go. He has no income, and no time even to address the trauma of his childhood. "My mother's name was Georgina Sumburero and she was from Mozambique," he says. "I do not know where she is but I am sure she did not want to lose us. I wonder if I would recognise her if I bumped into her one day."

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