- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is coming under pressure from members of his inner circle to step aside before next years presidential election, the nations former prime minister, Ian Smith, said yesterday.
Mr. Mugabes handpicked "politburo" and the younger members of his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) are telling the president he has become an international embarrassment and a political liability at home, Mr. Smith told reporters and editors at a luncheon at The Washington Times.
"The hopeful news is that his own people have turned on him," Mr. Smith said. "They realize if they go into the next election with Mugabe, they lose."
Mr. Smith, who at 82 remains as defiant as when he defied international opinion by unilaterally declaring the nation — then called Rhodesia — independent in 1965, said there are any number of places Mr. Mugabe could live a life of luxury in exile.
He said Mr. Mugabe, called the "Old Man of Africa" after 20 years in power, has become a billionaire several times over from money skimmed in Zimbabwe and Congo.
"I dont know why he doesnt go. He could fly out and in a couple of hours be in the Congo. There are quite a few countries — Libya, North Korea, Nicaragua, Cuba and others — that would be willing to accept him," he said.
Mr. Mugabe has outraged the international community by supporting the seizure of land from white farmers and political opponents.
He says the goal is to redistribute the nations wealth to the war veterans who fought against their colonial masters — led by Mr. Smith. But most Africa analysts say the seizures are meant to distract voters from the countrys failed economy and Mr. Mugabes increasingly totalitarian government.
It is estimated that pro-Mugabe squatters have taken over more than 7.4 million acres and settled more than 100,000 war veterans. Mr. Mugabe promises to settle another 300,000 by the end of the year.
Yesterday in Zimbabwe, Philemon Matibe was ordered off his farm by an 80-member mob, led by the district administrator and four policemen. He was the first black farmer to lose his land in the confiscations.
Mr. Matibe accused the authorities of ruining him in retaliation for his prominence in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). His land was immediately redistributed to 40 persons, most of them members of Mr. Mugabes ZANU-PF.
Amid the uproar over the confiscations, which have involved several murders, Mr. Smith said that even South Africa is working behind the scenes to persuade Mr. Mugabe to leave.
"Nelson Mandela has made it clear he wants the fellow out and [South African President Thabo] Mbeki has told him the same thing, but hes done it tactfully," Mr. Smith said. "Mugabe has brought black Africa into disgrace. It is time to get the gangsters out of there."
Mr. Mugabe, who faces a presidential election in April, barely maintained his parliamentary majority during separate elections last year in the face of a strong challenge from the MDC.
Mr. Smith said Morgan Tsvangirai, the likely presidential candidate of the MDC, is a political leader "we can work with."
"In a fair election, MDC would win 70 [percent] to 80 percent support," he said. "I have more black support than Mugabe."
Mr. Smith said that corruption in Mr. Mugabes government is rampant. He said that Mr. Mugabe is forcing the resignation of judges who rule against his regime, and that while several MDC politicians were assassinated in the run-up to the parliamentary elections, no one has been arrested.
But he said that he does not fear for his own life. "What would he gain [by killing me]? Hed only make me a martyr," Mr. Smith said.
Mr. Smith declined to say whom he was meeting in Washington, apart from a short visit with his old friend, Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican and until last week, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
In all, he said he was cautiously upbeat about the state of affairs in Zimbabwe and in Africa generally.
"Im a little more hopeful now than Ive been in some time, but we have to keep up the pressure," he said. "It wont turn around quickly. It will be a long haul. We have a lot of repair work to do, [but] Im positive about the future."

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