- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2001

Twenty-one years ago, Robert Mugabe saw Zimbabwe's defining moment. His people had been subjected to Portuguese slave traders, British colonialists who raped their land of precious resources, South African farmers who suppressed their voices and countless "peace talks" that led to nowhere. By April 1980, his people were ready for change and voted overwhelmingly for his ZANU party, making him leader. Zimbabwe became independent, and blacks were no longer subjected to white rule. Today, Zimbabwe is waiting for another moment.

Mr. Mugabe, referred to as the Old Man of Africa, is now disempowering the very same people. Those who formerly supported him are deserting him, and those he considers threats to his power are being murdered or charged with terrorism. Consider Morgan Tsvangirai. Despite the fact that the person who had previously seriously challenged Mr. Mugabe for the presidency of the country — the Rev. Ndonga Sithole — had been arrested and charged with plotting to kill the prime minister, Mr. Tsvangirai is hoping to overthrow the president in elections in April 2002. But today he, too, will face the Zimbabwe Supreme Court on charges of state terrorism and inciting violence. If convicted, this could conveniently put Mr. Mugabe's main competition behind bars just in time for the election and keep him there for life. Interestingly, in a gesture of desperation, Mr. Tsvangirai was charged with a law dating back to the era of white-ruled Rhodesia, a law used to silence black dissent and nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s. All Mr. Tsvangirai had said was that Mr. Mugabe should go peacefully, or he would be removed violently.

Discontent has grown as the economy has rapidly deteriorated, and Mr. Mugabe has implemented a policy of settling war veterans from the time of the uprising for independence on land formerly owned by white people. It is estimated that 7.4 million acres have forcibly been taken, settling 100,000 such veterans, and Mr. Mugabe wants to settle another 300,000 by the end of the year.

As Mr. Tsvangirai sees it, though, empowerment is about jobs, not about land liberation. Since the land confiscation started, agricultural production has been disrupted, causing a food shortage. He hopes to focus on land and economic reform policy. He would rearrange the budget, too, focusing funds on health concerns, rather than defense, which Mr. Mugabe has used to fight his own domestic battles. This would help fight the growing HIV/AIDS crisis, which is killing 2,000 people a week there.

But before he can do any of that, he has to be sure that Mr. Mugabe will allow free and fair elections — something unlikely without international monitors. "It is crucial that that election be run in a manner which is legitimate and which will give the people of Zimbabwe an opportunity to express themselves to their own leadership … but we can't do it alone," Mr. Tsvangirai said in an interview at The Washington Times. "We need the assistance and support both of the regional governments and the international community."

For people who have had their voices silenced, a little monitoring doesn't seem too much to ask. Mr. Mugabe should know that the international community is already watching as Zimbabwe prepares for another defining moment.

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