HARARE, Zimbabwe Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe yesterday vowed to shred the nation’s 20-year-old racial reconciliation policy and arrest everyone who supported the white regime of former Prime Minister Ian Smith.
Angrily shaking his fist in the air, Mr. Mugabe raised the specter of a violent witch hunt to save his embattled presidency.
He lashed out in response to Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which formally presented parliament with articles of impeachment against Mr. Mugabe yesterday. He pledged to hunt down Smith supporters much as Europe hunted Nazis.
At a public rally in his support, Mr. Mugabe blamed whites for his impeachment and said “white people are making black people fight.”
Mr. Mugabe, 76, said white Zimbabweans backed by Britain and the United States were trying to destabilize the country, which won independence from Britain in 1980 after a bloody war against Mr. Smith’s white-led Rhodesia.
At least 31 persons, mainly opposition supporters and five white farmers, were killed in nearly five months of violence linked to the invasions of hundreds of white-owned farms by self-styled liberation war veterans.
It is not clear precisely how Mr. Mugabe would carry out his threat against tens of thousands of whites and a far greater number of black former soldiers and civil servants, many of whom still serve in the army and government.
“The national reconciliation policy we adopted in 1980 is threatened, gravely threatened, by the actions of the white settlers in this country. So we will revoke it,” said Mr. Mugabe, who said he would arrest and try Mr. Smith on genocide charges.
Mr. Smith, who at 81 remains a forceful figure in Zimbabwe, was a world figure for 14 years after 1965 when he led 250,000 white Rhodesians in a Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain rather than accept black rule.
After a costly seven-year war against guerrillas led by Mr. Mugabe and other black leaders, Mr. Smith was forced into a cease-fire and political settlement in 1979.
“In Europe they are still pursuing Nazis who fought on the side of Hitler. We are looking to bring to trial those who fought against our legitimate struggle. We will look for those who fought on the side of Ian Smith. Wherever they are, they will be arrested,” Mr. Mugabe said.
However, white opposition member David Coltart said Mr. Mugabe’s threat would not stand up in court because of amnesties granted to both sides after the liberation war.
“A variety of amnesties have been declared over the years, including one in 1980 which also covered members of the Smith regime, and that remains the law,” said Mr. Coltart, the MDC’s secretary for legal affairs.
A formal impeachment in Zimbabwe and Mr. Mugabe’s backlash threaten to intensify already bitter animosities between the MDC and Mr. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, which has ruled since 1980.
The impeachment articles slate Mr. Mugabe for a litany of offenses including gross misconduct for committing troops to Congo when Zimbabwe is near bankruptcy; encouraging violence that provoked the murders of 35 persons by ruling party supporters; and refusal to enforce court orders to remove illegal land invaders.
A poll of 2,000 people by Probe Market Research, the local arm of Gallup, found 74 percent want Mr. Mugabe to step down, 64 percent consider him a major obstacle to change, 56 percent support impeachment vs. 27 percent opposed, and 56 percent favor putting him on trial.
“It is becoming increasingly obvious that political opinion is being polarized around the figure and policies of President Mugabe,” wrote the Helen Suzman Foundation, which commissioned the poll.
Smelling political blood in the water, some Zimbabwe pundits have taken to referring to Mr. Mugabe as “Bobodan” a combination of his nickname “Bobo” and Slobodan, the first name of Yugoslavia’s former authoritarian ruler Slobodan Milosevic.
Several hundred ruling party supporters with ragged clothes chanted outside parliament, waving freshly printed posters declaring, “Impeach the Chief Justice not our president” and “Zimbabwe Will Never be a Colony Again.”