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The final showdown looms
Lamb, The Sunday Times London
March 25, 2007
POLITICIANS inside and
outside Zimbabwe are scrambling to find an exit strategy for President
Robert Mugabe amid warnings that the country is on the brink of
The government admitted
last week that two-thirds of its maize crop — the country's
staple food — has been wiped out by drought. But many fear
that the brutality of the past two weeks against opposition activists
is distracting international attention from a bigger catastrophe.
"We have the world's
greatest humanitarian crisis on our hands," said David Coltart,
an MP from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
"We already have the world's lowest life expectancy
and highest inflation; imagine on top of that drought? There will
The warning comes as
Mugabe faces unprecedented international condemnation — including
criticism from other African leaders for the first time —
and opposition within his ruling party, which will meet this week
to decide his future.
The main item on the
agenda of the Zanu-PF central committee on Thursday is whether Mugabe
should run again in presidential elections due next year. His original
plan to extend his mandate to 2010 was rejected at the annual party
conference in December.
Any such move will be
blocked by his deputy Joyce Mujuru, wife of the former army chief
General Solomon Mujuru, who many believe is the real power in the
country and who fell out with Mugabe over December's conference.
Sources close to the
general told The Sunday Times that he will threaten to form a breakaway
party if Mugabe insists on standing again.
On Friday Joyce Mujuru
held secret talks in Johannesburg with her South African counterpart
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in what appeared to be a warning shot to
Meetings have also taken
place between emissaries of Mujuru and those of Morgan Tsvangirai,
leader of one of the two MDC factions. Tsvangirai is currently recovering
from a savage attack by Mugabe's thugs two weeks ago, which
he described as "an orgy of heavy beatings".
The two sides
have apparently been discussing forming a transitional government
to try to rescue the country from its downward economic spiral that
inflation reach 1,700%. It is predicted by the IMF to reach 4,000%
by next year.
It would not be the first
time that Solomon Mujuru and Tsvangirai had met. The pair come from
the two main Shona tribes — Mujuru, like Mugabe, is a Zezuru
and Tsvangirai a Karanga — so an alliance between them could
avoid ethnic strife.
Although Tsvangirai would
not ideally like to ally himself with a military leader, he has
always been anxious to avoid bloodshed. His beating, along with
that of about 50 MDC activists, has shown the lengths to which Mugabe
is prepared to go.
Despite the international
outcry at the attack on Tsvangirai, repression has worsened over
the past two weeks. There are now unofficial curfews in townships,
with people being picked up and beaten at random, and lists at borders
of MDC members and journalists. The regime has instructed state
hospitals not to admit MDC victims.
One of Mugabe's
staunchest critics, Pius Ncube, the Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo,
exhorted people not to be daunted. "I am ready to stand in
front," he said. "We must be ready to stand, even in
front of blazing guns. Starvation stalks our land and the government
"This is no longer
about the MDC and its political aspirations," Coltart said.
"We've had a total crop write-off in the south where
people were already living on the edge."
Zimbabwe was once the
breadbasket of southern Africa, but this will be the sixth consecutive
year of food shortages since Mugabe launched his violent programme
of seizing white-owned farms. The World Food Programme is giving
food aid to 1.5m people, nearly 10% of the population.
Authorities have consistently
attributed the low yields to drought. But critics blame the farm
seizures for the sharp decline in agricultural production. Just
100 to 200 white farmers are left on their farms, compared with
4,000 in 2000. Most farms are now in the hands of "cellphone"
farmers, ruling party cronies who coveted the farmhouses for weekend
getaways and have no real interest in farming.
But this year there is
no doubt that southern Zimbabwe has suffered a severe drought. The
state television ZBC quoted Rugare Gumbo, the agriculture minister,
as admitting that crops in many areas had failed. "The dry
spell experienced this season has badly impacted on agriculture.
Crops, especially maize, in most parts of the country are a write-off,"
He expected a maize harvest
of just 600,000 tons — only one third of the minimum annual
requirements, and declared 2007 a drought year. With most Zimbabweans
already struggling to find one meal a day, aid workers say food
shortages will push many over the edge, particularly its 1.6m Aids
concerned about the increasing pressures on families," said
James Elder, of Unicef in Zimbabwe. "Hyperin-flation and another
drought are going to mean ever more stress on orphans as they strive
to feed and educate themselves." Raymond Majongwe, head of
the Progressive Teachers' Union, said recently that an average
teacher's salary of Z$200,000 (£5) a month was only
enough to buy 4Å bananas a day.
The price of fuel has
almost trebled in the past week to Z$14,500 (35p) per litre. Bus
drivers in Harare now hike up their prices twice a day, forcing
some of those with jobs to quit because they can no longer afford
It is not clear where
the government would find the foreign exchange to import food. Zambia,
on which it has previously relied for maize, has announced that
it will not export any more because part of its own crop was wiped
"If the international
community ignores this situation, the rate of economic collapse
will escalate, tension will continue to rise and there may well
be bloodshed, in fact a bloodbath," Coltart warned.
He claimed that Mugabe's
increased use of violence was a sign of desperation. "The
attack on Morgan was clearly an own goal," he said. "It
has raised Morgan's profile; rather than deter people it has
fuelled their momentum and brought the two factions of the MDC together."
He conceded that most
Zimbabweans may still be too fearful and weakened by hunger and
disease to act, but suggested that desperation could force their
"I believe the
regime is already a paper tiger," he said. "The question
is when people realise that, because at that moment Mugabe is in
real trouble." Pointing out that police salaries were way
below poverty level, he explained: "Three years ago when I
was stopped at roadblocks I was treated with hostility. Now when
I'm stopped, 90% of the time the police ask me when things
are going to change."
But whether regime change
comes through street agitation or political negotiations, the problem
remains of what to do with Mugabe. Not only does the 83-year-old
president show no sign of wanting to retire but he has so much blood
on his hands that he would be fearful of being put before a UN war
Mugabe told a meeting
of the Zanu-PF Women's League in Harare on Friday that he
had no intention of stepping down. "The opposition is always
calling for change, change, change," he said. "I am
not pink. I don't want a pink nose. I can't change.
I don't want to be European. I want to be African."
like a cornered bull," said a diplomat in Harare. "I
fear we are heading for a dark tunnel where things will get worse
before they get better."
party members fed up with their country's decline and MDC
leaders are working to find some kind of exit strategy. "Personally
I find it an anathema but for the sake of saving lives we recognise
we may well have to agree some form of amnesty," Coltart said.
The Zimbabwean government is planning to construct
a grandiose monument to Robert Mugabe, commemorating his life and
achievements, writes Christina Lamb.
The monument is to be
built in his home town of Zvimba and is expected to include a statue.
"The idea has been
discussed and we are moving onto the planning stage," Ignatius
Chombo, the local government minister, told the ZimOnline news service.
"It would be a
shrine for the local community and one that would be used to depict
the president's life history and legacy as well as aspects
of the liberation struggle."
Unlike other dictators
Mugabe has previously eschewed any form of personality cult.
Building a statue,
while the country is in an economic crisis so severe that hospitals
have no drugs and the government had to stop issuing passports because
it could not afford the ink, is likely to provoke an outcry. The
site chosen is the size of a football pitch and there have been
reports of nearly £200,000 being made available to buy materials
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