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Vol 41 No 9

Published 28th April 2000


Comrade Mugabe's last stand

The upswing in political violence is about beating back the opposition not a belated crusade for land redistribution

The collapse of the 27 April British-Zimbabwe ministerial negotiations in London on land redistribution now makes any bilateral agreement unlikely before the parliamentary elections due before mid-August. The issues in the London talks were familiar - land, race, political rights, and complaints about Whitehall's meddling in Zimbabwe's affairs. President Robert Mugabe, under unprecedented political pressure, has little incentive to cut a deal with the former colonial power this time. President Mugabe's current calculations are overwhelmingly short-term and electoral. More than once his own strategy in the past month has been at variance with his own ministers such as Vice-President Joseph Msika or Home Affairs Minister Dumiso Dabengwa who have been publicly countermanded by the President. Indeed, the ministerial team Mugabe sent to London, certainly Minister of Local Government John Nkomo and retiring Trade Minister Nathan Shamuyarira, appeared keen to maintain a dialogue with Whitehall, and say they are happy to accept international monitoring of the elections. And a day after the failed talks, the self-appointed leader of the liberation war veterans, Chenjerai Hunzvi, ordered them to end the farm occupations which sparked the crisis talks in London. On a smaller scale, the Zimbabwe crisis has become a domestic political problem for Britain's Labour Government, under fire from the Conservative opposition for saying too much and doing too little. Conservative Foreign Affairs spokesman Francis Maude is calling for Zimbabwe to be expelled from the Commonwealth. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's main demand for an end to government-inspired occupations of commercial farms reflected the relentless coverage by the British media of the white farm owners, 20,000 of whom have British passports.

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