- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2000

Zimbabwe's dictator Robert Mugabe says that his government-sponsored campaign of terror, during which more than 1,000 white-owned farms have been invaded, then occupied or burned by violent black mobs in recent weeks, is a "spontaneous uprising" about the inequities of colonialism's legacy: the downtrodden, landless, black many vs. the fortunate, landed, white few. While land seizure is certainly the pretext for the violence and chaos now besetting Zimbabwe, the 20-year-old nation's precipitous descent into anarchy is, in fact, all about power, to which Mr. Mugabe is lawlessly clinging.

"The whole issue has nothing to do with race," said Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), to the Times of London last week. "It's about intimidating the opposition and subduing the nation so that when elections come [the government] is in a stronger position."

By all accounts, Mr. Tsvangirai would seem to be right. Race may be the pretext of the current strife, but racial redress doesn't seem to be Mr. Mugabe's end goal. When Zimbabweans in February handed Mr. Mugabe his first ever electoral defeat by rejecting a new constitution that would have granted him extensive, new powers, it suddenly seemed possible that his ruling party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), might lose this year's parliamentary elections. Since then, Mr. Mugabe has taken drastic measures to camouflage the nation's dire economic woes inflation and interest rates stand at more than 50 percent by whipping up an anti-white, land-seizure movement.

Since the Mugabe offensive began, more than a dozen people have been killed, including not only two white farmers with opposition party ties, but also as many as 11 black opposition activists. While two young white farm women have been gang-raped, hundreds of people have been beaten and terrorized, among them many black farm workers and their families, by roving bands of alleged "veterans" of Zimbabwe's war for independence. On Saturday, a group calling itself Revival of African Conscience bombed the Daily News, the nation's only independent newspaper. On Tuesday, the same group, which is suspected of having government ties, issued a death threat to the Rev. Tim Neill, a senior Anglican priest in Zimbabwe, who has become an outspoken government critic.

Where is the world? Mr. Mugabe has been condemned globally, for whatever good that does. Quite disappointingly, he has won the backing of his African neighbor-states, including South Africa, who support his efforts to seek British financial aid for his "land reform" program. Britain, having already contributed $70 million to buy white-owned land for the Zimbabwe government, ended its support for the scheme in 1998 when it became clear that the land was being purchased, not for the landless, but for senior members of the Zanu-PF party. According to the Commercial Farmers' Union, the Zimbabwe government continues to hold more than six million acres that have not been distributed, while many farms bought since independence stand idle and abandoned.

What next? Today, in London, as the violence in Zimbabwe escalates, Zimbabwean and British ministers are scheduled to meet for talks. As reported by the Times of London, the Zimbabweans are "expected to give an ultimatum to Britain to pay for the takeover of white farms in Zimbabwe or see more land seized by the so-called war veterans." Outside diplomatic circles, there is a name for this: blackmail.

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