Africa, Headlines

POLITICS-ZIMBABWE: President Mugabe On War Path

Chris Anold Msipa

HARARE, Dec 9 2003 (IPS) - Zimbabwe, already in a dire economic, political and social situation, faces another bitter year ahead. The ruling ZANU-PF has declared war against the opposition, the West and the Commonwealth.

ZANU-PF, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, has threatened tough action against what it calls agents of Zimbabwe?s opposition and its western allies. It has also ordered the government to withdraw its membership from the Commonwealth.

?The message is clear. The Commonwealth is not vital for Zimbabwe to exist. We have decided to leave it because it is racist and does not respect our hard-won independence,? said one ex-combatant of the Zimbabwe?s 1970s war of liberation.

The commonwealth is an organisation of about 53 independent states which were formerly parts of the British Empire, established to encourage trade and friendly relations among its members.

Tapiwa Padera, a war veterans? leader, said there was no going back on the road ZANU-PF had taken to redress the hardships facing the majority of Zimbabweans.

He was speaking in a telephone interview with Inter Press Service after this year?s charged annual conference of the ZANU-PF at the weekend in the southeastern city of Masvingo.

President Robert Mugabe, who until the meeting had kept people guessing on his exit plans, has praised his party support for him, its decision to leave the Commonwealth and its backing of his land reform programme.

The former guerrilla leader celebrates his 80th birthday in two months. But he has dashed hopes for a new face to replace him, arguing that he is still fit, has the mandate of the people and will rule until they want him out, or when he feels too tired to go on.

Media commentators had predicted Mugabe would take advantage of the two-day conference and allow the ruling party to decide on his successor. He says that was never his idea.

Instead he has chosen war. ?Icho!? Mugabe shouted.

?Charira!? his followers responded, vehemently.

The slogan, coined during the liberation struggle of the 1970s, means ?The War Has Erupted? and ?direct confrontation?. It was abandoned in 1980 after Mugabe declared national reconciliation with the white minority settlers in Rhodesia (now renamed Zimbabwe), following independence.

One political commentator says its invocation now smells bad, especially for the labour-backed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). And President Mugabe has made it clear the threat is genuine.

?Anyone who has a thought to destabilise us must take care that we can unleash (security) forces on him. I think the MDC have learnt their lesson,? Mugabe said.

?If they want to violate our rule, the law of the country? We can unleash legal violence, which we are permitted to do to correct violence. If they are throwing stones, naturally, some measure of force must be used to term them.?

Mugabe said Zimbabwe had taken the stance after London continued to use the MDC to remove him from power and stop seizure of farms owned by about 4,500 whites, who held more than half of the country?s prime land.

He said the opposition, to fulfil the scheme, has since launched ?strikes, demonstrations and senseless protests?. The white-run industry joined in, creating artificial shortages and hiking prices, while interest rates are shooting up at commercial banks.

Mugabe said the continued gold production also fails to reflect in the national reserves. The amount of the yellow metal the state handled annually in the recent past have since dwindled from between 27 and 29 tonnes to just 10 tonnes.

?But now, with the measures we took, I understand from the Reserve Bank that gold has now started flowing in,? he said, referring to the recent crackdown on illegal gold dealings in the country.

Mugabe said ?numerous factories? have also closed down for political reasons, to cause anger among the people and turn them against the government for the benefit of the Movement for Democratic Change.

He has announced measures to empower blacks for more goods production, which will cause competition and force prices down to counter the alleged sabotage. The state will now take full control to acquire inputs and make them available to the new producers.

Mugabe has lashed out hard at some senior members of his party who he says have become too greedy for money and adopted double standards, with ?one leg in the MDC and another leg in ZANU-PF.?

He accused the members of seizing plots allocated to ordinary people for either their own use or for relatives and friends.

Mugabe said his government had set up a committee to probe such people, who face unspecified action if they did not surrender the extra farms.

His administration, he said, would also deal with white farmers like the ?Nicole Brothers? in his home area in western Zvimba District, who are resisting the agrarian reforms.

Mugabe also said the state would intervene to ensure interest rates, which have now reached 400 percent, are not only harnessed but are also reversed immediately.

His pullout from the Commonwealth has been communicated to the group meeting in Nigeria, which media reports say received the statement Sunday, hours after it had further extended the suspension of the Southern African country.

President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria has been given personal charge to monitor the political climate in Zimbabwe, with hope to restore its membership. But the Southern African nation has already taken a stand.

Obasanjo, as well as the South African Head of State, Thabo Mbeki, and the Malawian Leader, Bakili Muluzi, is mediating between ZANU-PF and the MDC to bring them into talks to end their impasse. The three maintain their efforts are proceeding well and a solution is possible soon.

However, the MDC dismisses the statements as misleading. It complains against continued rights violations, while its petitions against the presidential and legislative poll results stand in the High Court.

The state has also not dropped treason charges against MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, accused of plotting to kill Mugabe before last year?s presidential poll. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

ZANU-PF?s conference had raised hopes for an end to Western-led sanctions and normalisation of the strained international ties, to return the economy back on track. But the party?s weekend declaration to quit the Commonwealth has shattered those expectations.

The Commonwealth last year suspended Zimbabwe after accusing the ruling party of grabbing white-owned farms, vote rigging and rights violations against the opposition. Mugabe, who enjoys support from some developing countries like South Africa and Cuba, says the accusations and the sanctions are racist plans to derail his land reform programme.

Zimbabwe used to export food surplus. But the land grab and poor planning, as well as sanctions, the Cyclone Eline of 2000 and two successive dry seasons, have forced the country to beg for its staple grain, maize. About six million people, half the country?s population, need food aid now.

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