The ZIMBABWE Situation Our thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.

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Dear Family and Friends,
Many of us in Zimbabwe are on the verge of giving up. Our lives have become almost unbearable. We cannot afford the food we manage to find. We can only buy petrol on the black market and it costsmore than our wages. Services and infrastructure are rapidly collapsing, 16 people died fromsuspected water borne diseasesin a major town this week. Our small towns seem to have been completely taken over by political warlordswho have thepower to take over businesses,ban newspapers,arrange for people to be beaten if they are thought to support the political opposition and prevent the police from doing their jobs.And every day themindless violence gets worse and worse. This week afarm manager and his wife in their seventies were attacked by amob ofyoung menwho beat, slapped and tortured them for five hours. When their son came to try and help them his hands were tied with bark rope and wire and he was beaten on his back and legs with whips made from fan belts, chains and sticks. The photographs of their injuries are so horrific that I couldhardly bear tolook at theblack and purple bruises on arms, legs, backs and buttocks. In a country where three quarters of the population are being fed by international food aid, the violence demonstrates yet again that it is not land or race which has caused Zimbabwe's hell, just evil politics. Six days out of seven most of us wonder what we are still doing in Zimbabwe and where this is going to end. We look at the situation in the DR Congo and Liberia and wonder if that is to be our fate. Every single day the question we all ask is do we stay or go. Most of us have nowhere to go even if we could afford to do so and so we struggle through the days and look for hope and encouragement from our friends, from people who are worse off than us and from the growing number of exiled Zimbabweans and others who are speaking out and trying to get world leaders to do something before we descend into civil war.
There are groups who regularly demonstrate in the UK and in South Africa, who hold petitions outside Zimbabwean embassies abroad and who lobby their politicians to try and help Zimbabwe. There are people who have been tortured and raped and whose relations and friendshave been murdered or abused but they bravely continue to describe their horrors to the world. Many of these people, particularly in South Africa and Botswana, continue to be hounded and harassed by Zimbabwean state agents, they live on the run, sleeping in safe houses and surviving on the goodwill of strangers determined to help save their country. Those of us in Zimbabwe applaud their courage, thank them for their hard work and bravery and are given courage by their love for our country.
This week ordinary Zimbabweans were given huge hope by the words of US Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Writing in the New York Times, Mr Powell called for the leaders of Africa to assist in bringing an end to horrors in Zimbabwe. He did not hide his words in the usual diplomatic talk we have become so very, very tired of. Colin Powell said: "If the leaders on the continent do not move to convince President Mugabe to respect the rule of law and enter into a dialogue with the political opposition, he and his cronies will drag Zimbabwe down until their is nothing left to ruin." Zimbabweans thank Colin Powell and all the others who shout, sing, carry placards and petitions and call for an end to our daily horrors.
I wear my yellow ribbon of support for those who are suffering, this week it is for Ronnie, Norma and Jamie Saul who were so brutally assaulted. Until next week, with love, cathy. Copyright cathy buckle, 28th June 2003. http://africantears.netfirms.com "African Tears" and "Beyond Tears" are available in Europe, Canada and the US from: Donald.Martin@fsbdial.co.uk ; in Australia and New Zealand from johnmreed@johnreedbooks.com and in Africa from www.exclusivebooks.com and www.kalahari.net
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BBC

Zimbabwe's brutal police tactics

Tim Butcher
In Bulawayo

At first sight the soldiers and police patrolling the wide, sunny
thoroughfares of Bulawayo - Zimbabwe's second city - seemed slightly
comical.

Their uniform hasn't really changed since the country won independence
23 years ago so they were wearing the same baggy serge trousers and itchy
"woolly pullies" used in Britain in the era of National Service.



To my eye they looked like extras in a rather amateur period drama.

But I can assure you there was nothing comical about their tactics.

Encouraged by President Robert Mugabe's increasingly despotic regime,
the security forces in Zimbabwe now treat any street gathering as a
potential protest march.

Any time the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) even
hints at calling a general strike, the response of the authorities is
brutal.

Swish go the sjamboks, their heavy animal-hide whips, as the police
beat anyone who get in their way, and hiss go the tear gas canisters.

Under the draconian Public Order and Security Act recently passed by
the regime - much tougher than similar legislation enforced by the white,
minority-rule government in the days when the country was known as
Rhodesia - a gathering of three people is not just a crowd, but a
potentially political event that needs explicit police authority.

Now in a city the size of Bulawayo, an old market town built in the
colonial era, groups of three or more are quite common. So the police are
kept constantly busy.

They beat people queuing at the main bus terminus in Lobengula Street;
they chase people away from the nearby Catholic cathedral whenever a funeral
is held; even a car crash outside Haddon & Sly, Bulawayo's oldest but now
emptiest department store, is enough to cause police Land Rovers to screech
up in attendance.

Rubberneckers soon become sore neckers as onlookers are manhandled and
beaten. But the really striking thing about recent political skirmishing was
that I could not see a single white person involved.

'Great lie'

For three years of increasing chaos in Zimbabwe, Mr Mugabe has been
repeating ad nauseam his great lie - that it is all about white farmers and
land. If only the greedy white farmers would hand over land stolen from
black Zimbabweans during colonial times, all would be well.

The real story of Zimbabwe is of a brutal, unpopular elite clinging to
power at the expense of the majority. And to fall for the lie about
white-owned farms is to miss the point completely.


Out in the townships to the west of Bulawayo, the true victims of the
crisis are to be found.

Thousands of black, semi-urban Zimbabweans, who went to school, got
degrees and saved their wages have seen their quality of life destroyed by
Mr Mugabe's economic mismanagement.

People like Nkosi Kunene, a 21-year-old carpenter from Tshabalala
township, have simply been left behind economically.

His salary used to be enough to live off. He had to work hard five
days a week - including a daily two-hour trudge to save on the bus
allowance - but he could afford regular food, new clothes every so often,
and he could save enough to dream of paying the lobola bride price that
would allow him to marry his long-term girlfriend.

He told me this over a meal of grilled chicken in a fast food
restaurant. It was his first full meal in a month, and when the bill came I
saw why.

Inflation and exchange rate collapse meant a modest meal for two cost
me 13,000 Zimbabwean dollars - a little more, Nkosi said, than he earns in a
month. Somehow the food did not taste quite so good after he told me that.

Unlikely hustlers

Out on Bulawayo's avenues - specially designed by the early colonists
to be wide enough for a span of eight oxen drawing a wagon to turn round - a
strange game of cat and mouse was being played by the police and illegal
money changers.

Everyone knows the army and the police are the greatest
profiteers from black market currency trading

Zimbabwean money changer

Now I had always believed money changing was in some way underhand,
but in Bulawayo the black market for exchanging money has been cornered by
female members of the Zionist Christian Church.

Clearly the ZCC is pretty light on usury because hundreds of its
female congregation were at it. They were easy to identify in their white
turbans and gowns, carrying unfeasibly large bags needed to hold bricks of
increasingly valueless Zimbabwean dollars.

Every so often the women would melt away into the crowd as the police
staged another swoop.

"They have to have the occasional crackdown," said one of the money
changers in impeccable English.

"But it is only really for form's sake. Everyone knows the army and
the police are the greatest profiteers from black market currency trading."

And with that she was gone, leaving me to wonder whether the police
would arrest me if I dared to queue behind two other people to buy the local
newspaper.

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From The Times (UK), 28 June

Mugabe risks humiliation to restore Libya fuel deal

From Jan Raath in Harare

Robert Mugabe won a vague pledge from the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar
Gaddafi last night to restore some of the $360 million fuel supply deal to
combat Zimbabwe's worsening shortages. The Zimbabwean President had flown to
Libya for negotiations on the deal that ended last September after Harare
failed to meet payments. Mr Mugabe's decision to risk humiliation again,
seven months after being rebuffed in his last attempt to persuade Colonel
Gaddafi to relent, is a measure of his desperation. Fuel supplies in Harare
are in chaos. The international oil companies that distribute fuel to petrol
stations have not received deliveries for more than a month from the
National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (Noczim), the state-owned fuel company with
a monopoly on importation. Noczim is bankrupt after nearly two decades of a
policy, directed by Mr Mugabe, of selling fuel for a fraction of its
international market price. Thanks to the black market there is no visible
reduction in the volume of traffic on the capital's streets. The Government
tried to shut down the black market this week by banning motorists from
carrying fuel in containers.

Expectations were not high that Mr Mugabe would succeed in Tripoli, and the
statement issued at the end of last night's talk left the extent of Libyan
"co-operation" deliberately vague. Amos Midzi, Zimbabwe's Energy Minister,
recently announced that Noczim owed Tamoil, Libya's state-owned oil company,
$65 million, and was paying off the debt at the rate of $5 million a month.
"The Libyans are not going to be impressed," John Robertson, an economist,
said. "On the strength of that, are they now going to give us credit for the
$30 million worth of fuel we will want every month?" Zimbabwe's state press
has said that Mr Mugabe is offering to pay Libya with tobacco, cattle and
tea. But with the mass expropriation of white-owned farms, the Zimbabwe
tobacco industry has fallen from being the world's biggest exporter to
producing only a third of its normal output this year. Mr Mugabe's scourge
of commercial agriculture has also decimated the beef industry. Sources said
that a Libyan refrigerated aircraft arrived in Harare this month to collect
a consignment of beef carcasses but left empty after two days. Libya began
supplying Zimbabwe with fuel in 2001. Payment was made partly with an
unspecified shareholding in Zimbabwe's fuel pipeline system, storage
facilities and petrol stations, only some of which are state-owned. Mr
Mugabe has also offered a selection of white-owned farms seized by the
government.

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From Business Day (SA), 28 June

SA betting on French counter to US power

Jonathan Katzenellenbogen, International Affairs editor

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who ends his three-day visit
to SA today, is likely not to say anything in public that is critical of
Zimbabwe. De Villepin rose to prominence for mounting a hard but futile
diplomatic effort to prevent US military action in Iraq and he is not about
to stick out his neck on "regime change" in Harare. The talks with his SA
counterpart, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, covered "everything", according to a
French diplomat, a clear sign that this visit was about placing down broad
political markers. His visit followed that of UK Foreign Secretary Jack
Straw and preceded a visit by US President George Bush. While they pledged
co-operation in Africa, Franco-British jostling continues and gave the trip
a greater urgency after Straw's recent visit. Of all the world powers,
France has demonstrated a consistent, high-level focus on the continent, and
there is no sign that this is wavering. It is intent on making diplomatic
and commercial headway into the Anglophone countries. And for SA that alone
is important, although SA as a regional power will from time to time have to
seek to rival French influence.

The absence of a tough public line on Zimbabwe will place SA officials at
ease with De Villepin. By not highlighting the issue, France is able to get
closer to African governments and potentially provide an alternative channel
for dialogue. But this sort of opportunism has its risks and costs. A future
government in Zimbabwe may want to have little to do with the French. The
French manoeuvred the European Union into allowing a temporary lifting of a
travel ban to allow President Robert Mugabe to attend the Franco-African
Summit. Clearly France was unprepared to have the event scuttled by African
leaders refusing to attend because Mugabe was barred. Considering that
France supplied the apartheid government with fighter aircraft and
submarines, the ruling African National Congress is particularly well
disposed towards Paris. In some ways that shows the adeptness of France's
Africa policy and its standing on the continent.

But the world outlook against a superpower-dominated world also helps. SA
took the French line towards the Iraq war, in insisting on more time for the
inspectors and opposing military action. Over and again France has shown a
heavy commitment to supporting and intervening in its old colonies. When the
peacekeeping force put together from the Economic Community of West African
States was delayed, France stepped in and arguably averted a civil war in
Ivory Coast. And, more recently, France intervened to try to prevent further
bloodletting in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, in the case of
Rwanda in 1994, France came under criticism after claims that it continued
to support the Hutu-led government even after the genocide of a half-million
Tutsis began in April 1994. SA and France have had their differences over
the Congo. France has always supported the Kabila government, but SA is
widely perceived to have leaned towards Uganda and Rwanda. However, with the
signing of the Congo peace accord, SA and France do not have significant
differences on the issue now. While SA may be pleased that French interests
can balance those of the UK and the US, it may find that French interests
are deeply entrenched and difficult to handle.

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Mail & Guardian (SA), 28 June

Zim police try to search opposition offices

Harare - Zimbabwe police on Friday attempted to search the offices of the
main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party for "subversive
materials", an MDC official said. The official, who asked not to be named,
said six police officers led by a detective inspector, came to the MDC's
offices in central Harare armed with a search warrant. "The search warrant
said they were looking for subversive materials," said the official, but
noted that the police only wanted to search one office - that of the party's
financial director. They left 45 minutes later, as the financial director
was out and his office locked. "We suspect they think we're keeping lots of
money in the offices," the MDC official said. He said the police also left a
list of nine MDC activists whom they wanted to interview. The government
recently accused the MDC of causing cash shortages by hoarding scarce bank
notes to pay activists. The opposition party denies the charges.

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The Scotsman

MP gets post in Zimbabwe action group

EDINBURGH MP John Barrett has been elected secretary of the influential new
cross-party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe.

The group, which is made up of MPs from all the major political parties,
will attempt to raise the awareness of Zimbabwe both inside and outside
Westminster.

Mr Barrett, the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West and a member of the
all-party Commons International Development Committee, said: "Thanks to
Robert Mugabe and his regime, Zimbabwe remains one of the great tragedies in
Africa.

"Zimbabwe is not only caught in the stranglehold of Aids/HIV disease, with
33 per cent of its population infected, but over one in ten children now die
before reaching their fifth birthday.

"Whilst Zimbabwe has traditionally been a net food exporter to its country
neighbours, the land reforms pursued by Mugabe have left his country with
the highest food aid requirement of any country in southern Africa.

"The Department for International Development now estimates that despite the
Zimbabwean harvest, some one million metric tonnes of maize will still be
required in aid for that country alone.

"Zimbabwe is a broken country containing suffering which the international
community cannot shy away from."

He added: "Hopefully, this new parliamentary group can put further pressure
on the Government to take decisive action."

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Sunday Times (SA)

More to Zimbabwe than meets the eye

Analysis

Even as opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai languished in jail, talks
between his party and the ruling Zanu-PF continued, writes Ranjeni Munusamy



Something rather inexplicable is said to have happened during Movement for
Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai's recent detention in Harare on a
second treason charge.

Zimbabwe's Minister of State Security, Nicholas Goche, went to the Harare
Remand Prison to visit him, but was turned away. The prison authorities told
him that the commissioner of prisons had instructed that no one, not even
the minister, should see Tsvangirai.

It seems absurd that Goche, head of the police ministry, would want to visit
the government's arch-enemy. Even stranger that he was not allowed into
Tsvangirai's cell.

The incident illustrates that there's much more going on in Zimbabwe than
meets the eye.

The MDC's five-day mass action and stayaway campaign earlier this month
forced the hand of hardliners in the ruling Zanu-PF.

The country and its economy have ground to a halt and, in order to show that
the government still wields ultimate power and control, Tsvangirai was
arrested and kept in prison for two weeks.

He was already on trial for treason, along with MDC secretary-general
Welshman Ncube and another opposition official, Renson Gasela, this for
allegedly plotting with Canadian-based consultant Ari Ben Menashe to
assassinate President Robert Mugabe.

Tsvangirai's defence team is seeking a discharge, saying the state has not
presented sufficient evidence to make a case against the accused.

The treason case was raised during a visit to Harare in May by SA President
Thabo Mbeki, Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo and Malawi's Bakili Muluzi when
they tried to coax Mugabe and Tsvangirai toward talks.

Obasanjo apparently told Mugabe that the trial was an impediment to
progress, making it difficult for the African leaders to plead Zimbabwe's
case to the international community.

Mugabe is said to have responded that he was aware the case was not going
anywhere and would possibly flop or be withdrawn along the way. However, it
was a way of dealing with Tsvangirai's arrogance, he said.

The second treason charge is a similar demonstration of who's in charge, but
also appears to be crumbling quite spectacularly.

Judge Susan Mavangira neatly set out the flimsiness of the allegations in
her ruling when she granted Tsvangirai bail last Friday.

The state set out to prove that Tsvangirai had tried to provoke a violent
overthrow of the government, and had advocated mayhem during the stayaway
campaign.

Mavangira said of the state's allegations: "There is not a single statement
in which the applicant's [Tsvangirai's] precise words are used."

"Bits of newspaper reportage relied on by the state were not fact but a
matter of editorial deduction that the applicant meant that there must be a
revolt, violent conduct or breakdown of law and order," she said.

On the contrary, stated the judge, Tsvangirai's defence team submitted into
evidence pamphlets and advertisements distributed during the stayaway
campaign, urging those taking part to be "peaceful, disciplined, vigilant
and courageous".

The state produced a pamphlet that read: "Jesus is coming, the signs are
here. Action for national survival."

That, according to the state, was evidence that the opposition was
advocating Armageddon. Mavangira delivered a little reality check -
stayaways are not unlawful in Zimbabwe. Therefore, the pamphlet did not
support any allegation of criminal wrongdoing by Tsvangirai.

She went on to say that the use of the word "revolt" in an affidavit by the
Minister of Home Affairs, Kembo Mohadi - in which he claimed that this is
what the MDC leadership urged through its mass action - was a "thumbsuck".

And all this came from a member of the Zimbabwean judiciary, allegedly
firmly under the thumb of the Zanu-PF government.

But in the context of the economic implosion, a worsening fuel crisis, acute
poverty, food and currency shortages and joblessness, Zimbabweans from all
walks of life - even, it appears, Mugabe's disciples - are being forced to
choose.

The choice is not a political one, between Zanu-PF and the MDC; it is now a
matter of survival - finding a way to exist within the status quo, or
forcing something to happen that can change the course of history.

Despite Mbeki and Obasanjo's unfailing faith in him, Mugabe is not about to
make a noble exit any time soon. He professes to want to appoint a successor
in Zanu-PF who will hold the centre in the party.

Zanu-PF is due to elect a new leader only in 2005. With the party being
pulled in different directions by factions, it does not appear to be in any
position to reach consensus on a successor within the next year.

This realisation has dawned on key players, on both sides of the political
divide, who are trying to push the process along.

For this reason, Tsvangirai's incarceration - even his humiliating court
appearance in leg irons - did not have the effect of scuttling talks between
the MDC and Zanu-PF. Contact between senior members continued during
Tsvangirai's detention.

While the talks are played down, and even denied, they grind on secretly and
against the odds.

The central objective is to arrive at a mutually acceptable strategy that
will see Mugabe relinquish power.

It is not clear how much Mugabe knows about the discussions. He is adamant
that unless the MDC acknowledges him as the legitimate president, he is not
prepared to bring his party to the negotiating table.

The MDC argues that if the talks bear fruit, it would be a moot point
whether last year's presidential election was credible , as Mugabe would
have to surrender the rei ns to a power-sharing interim government.

In such an eventuality, the MDC leadership is ready to accept a Zanu-PF
leader to head a transitional authority, as long as an election - run by a
credible, independent electoral body - is in sight.

The preliminary discussions involve members of the national executive of
both parties, and aim to set up negotiating committees - responsible for
thrashing out different aspects of the transitional arrangement - and a
timetable for the process leading up to an election.

Ncube - who ran the party while Tsvangirai was in prison - is leading the
talks for his party. Next to Tsvangirai, he is the highest-profile member of
the opposition, and its intellectual and strategic authority.

But it is the Zanu-PF representation that is amazing. Justice Minister
Patrick Chinamasa, who last year was responsible for rubbishing the first
round of negotiations after the elections , and who led Zanu-PF's walkout,
is a leading member of the delegation. Goche is another.

The mysterious attempt to visit Tsvangirai during his detention could
therefore have been a display of goodwill, or an effort to reassure the
opposition leader that, despite the new complication, their delegation's
bona fides were intact.

But the process from here on will be rugged, as the MDC has vowed to keep up
the pressure through mass action. The state will have to reciprocate with
force.

But behind the scenes, the delicate process of horse trading will prevail.

The MDC demands a judicial termination of the treason trial. Zimbabwe's
prison cells are teeming with MDC supporters facing flimsy charges. They do
not have the money to apply or pay for bail, and t he opposition wants them
released as a display of goodwill from the state.

MDC insiders say there is a realisation that it would not be in the
country's interest for Mugabe to go into exile or to be prosecuted for human
rights abuses. No settlement would be possible if the MDC harboured such
ambitions.

There now seems to be general consensus that a key element of the settlement
would be an amnesty provision for Mugabe.

But as long as the talks are secret the process remains complicated.
Ordinary Zimbabweans queuing for food, fuel and money need to see a ray of
hope to prevent the uprising that now seems inevitable.

Mugabe must be bound to the process and its timetable. However ominous this
week's call from US Secretary of State Colin Powell for the region's leaders
to pressure Mugabe into dialogue may have been, it is really the only way
forward.

It is surprising how many Zimbabweans - even those around Mugabe - share
that view.

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Sunday Times (SA)

MDC delegation plans to hijack US president's visit

Ranjeni Munusamy and Dingilizwe Ntuli


Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change is planning to take advantage of
the visit by US President George W Bush to South Africa to sell its cause to
the world.

The MDC's management committee decided this week to send a high-profile team
led by spokesman Paul Themba-Nyathi to Pretoria to gain exposure to the
large media contingent expected to cover the visit.

About 150 US journalists are expected to accompany Bush on the visit next
month.

Themba-Nyathi said his party wanted to disseminate information about the
abuse of state power in Zimbabwe to increase international pressure on the
country.

He said another lobby group led by deputy secretary-general Gift Chimanikire
would attend the African Union summit in Maputo next month. It aims to put
pressure on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to commit himself to
dialogue.

MDC leaders have also requested meetings with the leaders of Senegal,
Botswana and Ghana, who are respected for their democratic governance, said
Themba-Nyathi.

Meanwhile, the MDC said this week that 50% of its revenue is spent on legal
fees in protracted legal battles against the state.

MDC economic secretary Eddie Cross said the steep bail imposed on leader
Morgan Tsvangirai last week had severely depleted its coffers. The party
believes it is part of a calculated move by the government to financially
cripple the opposition.

Tsvangirai was released on Z10-million (about R100 000 at the official rate
of around Z100 to the rand) last week after spending two weeks in prison for
mobilising week-long anti-government protests.

"We have 25 law firms working for us who represent every MDC activist
arrested on trumped-up charges almost on a weekly basis in what we believe
are deliberate attempts by the government to financially cripple us. It
costs us about Z100-million a month to run the party and the costs continue
to escalate due to increased inflation and rising lawsuits against our
members," said Cross.

He said the MDC also worked with non-governmental organisations and civic
organisations that pay medical fees for its members injured in political
violence.

The MDC, he said, has no major financier, hence its appeal to sympathisers
to help raise the amount set for the release of Tsvangirai, who was charged
with treason.

The opposition leader, who is accused in another treason trial of plotting
to assassinate Mugabe, was also ordered to lodge title deeds of property
worth Z100-million with the court as part of the bail.

The MDC paid the bail money and lodged the title deeds of its eight-storey
Harvest House headquarters in central Harare.

Cross said the MDC's major source of revenue is membership subscriptions,
which amount to Z40-million a month from its 2 million subscribers, who each
pay Z20.

It also receives Z100-million annually from the state under the Political
Parties (Finance) Act, and individuals and the corporate world chip in
generously, Cross said.

He dismissed insinuations that the MDC was funded by foreign sources.
"Contrary to the widespread belief that we are a foreign-funded party, the
MDC has largely survived on the generosity of our members and private
companies, who have always come to our aid whenever we appeal for
assistance.

"The largest single foreign donation we ever received is 50 000 in 2000
from the Westminster Foundation to train our election personnel . . . that
was the last time we received foreign assistance.

Cross said the 30 MDC branches in South Africa, Belgium, New Zealand,
Australia, Britain and the US were financially independent from the Harare
headquarters.

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Telegraph

Kubla Khans of the 21st century
(Filed: 29/06/2003)


The motivations of entrepreneurs are various: they may be driven to prove
doubters wrong, or gain power, or develop inventions. But a few successful
money-makers feel compelled to erect stupendous monuments and use their
riches for bizarre ends.

Perhaps some even imagine themselves the subject of Coleridge's famous poem:
"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure-dome decree".

Separately but simultaneously in England and America, two eccentric and
extremely wealthy businessmen have been constructing private palaces at
stupendous cost. Each surely sees their edifice as a great achievement. In
both cases, the price seems too high for all concerned.

Our local empire-builder is Nicholas van Hoogstraten, now serving 10 years
in prison for the manslaughter of a business associate. The sinister
property developer has spent years building what he describes as his
"mausoleum" in Framfield, East Sussex.

The property is reputed to be the most expensive private house built in
Britain for a century. It remains unfinished, despite a budget of 40m and a
greater expanse than Buckingham Palace.

The millionaire van Hoogstraten is, in his own words, "ruthless and
violent". He was jailed in the 1960s for hiring a thug to throw a grenade at
a rival and was described by the trial judge as an "emissary of Beelzebub".

He has since accumulated a considerable fortune through the ownership of
tenanted houses and flats and also acquired a reputation as an unsavoury
landlord. Ten years ago, five people died in a mysterious blaze in one of
his properties.

Van Hoogstraten specialises in offensive statements and behaviour. He called
the Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, "100 per cent decent and
incorruptible" and did business with him. He stated: "The only purpose in
creating great wealth like mine is to separate oneself from the riffraff."
But his dream of making a giant tomb to hold his body for 5,000 years is -
at least temporarily - smashed.

While van Hoogstraten appeals against his conviction, Hamilton Palace, his
neoclassical mansion, lies unfinished and windswept. A sequestrator acting
for his victim's family is trying to seize his assets to honour a 5m civil
claim.

Across the Atlantic - in this case, a world apart both in geography and
probity - the American Kubla Khan is called Ira L Rennert. He is creating a
100,000 sq ft monster house in the Hamptons, Long Island - Manhattan's
swanky beach resort. It will be the largest home in America, with 29
bedrooms, 40 bathrooms, a bowling alley and a theatre, on 65 acres of
oceanfront property.

Rennert is an ex-stockbroker who runs various businesses through a private
company he owns called Renco. These include steel mills, coal mining,
magnesium production and the original maker of the Hummer vehicle, AM
General.

These acquisitions were mostly funded with $1.5bn of junk bonds, but several
subsidiaries have defaulted and some have gone bankrupt. Few are profitable
and some are mired in litigation and environmental prosecutions. But Rennert
himself seems to have done all right: he extracted more than $500m in
dividends from his various interests before they went wrong.

Rennert is not a violent convict like van Hoogstraten: he is deeply
religious, devoted to his family, and a big giver to many Jewish causes. But
his apparent greed is disturbing; he said to a friend that all he wanted
when he retired was "a billion dollars in cash - and the companies".

Yet his firms are notorious polluters - according to the Environmental
Protection Agency, the 10th worst in the US. Moreover, his financial
manoeuvres have cost bond holders $700m of losses.

Meanwhile, the vast construction of Fairfield, Rennert's new home, continues
into its sixth year. It has even inspired a novel called The House That Ate
the Hamptons. Rennert is almost 70, and may not enjoy the place for long by
the time it is eventually finished.

When studying characters like the two above, it is hard not to agree with
the title of the Roxy Music song, In Every Dream Home a Heartache. What on
earth drives people to such mad ambitions? Who could possibly want to live
in a house with 40 bathrooms? To quote Coleridge again, "And all should cry,
Beware! Beware!"

Luke Johnson is chairman of Signature Restaurants
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