- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

HARARE, Zimbabwe Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has pledged to unseat President Robert Mugabe within a year, warning his country will become another African "basket case" if the government remains in power.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Tsvangirai, widely believed to have been cheated of victory in May's presidential election, said Mr. Mugabe had unleashed a humanitarian disaster on Zimbabweans by trying to hound white farmers off their land.

"Time is running out for this country," he said. "We have six to 12 months at the most that is, if we can survive that long. If we can achieve change within 12 months, then maybe there is hope.

"If it goes beyond a year, the government will have destroyed the infrastructure of this nation and the spirit of its people. It will mean the subsistence and informal sectors dominating and no investment. It's another African basket case; that's what it will mean."

Aid workers say the government's land-redistribution program has aggravated a regional famine that has left 6 million Zimbabweans, half the country's population, at risk of starvation.

Since February 2000, when Mr. Mugabe was defeated in a referendum that would have entrenched his hold on the presidency, youths claiming to be veterans of Zimbabwe's war against minority rule have occupied most of the country's 4,500 white-owned farms.

Playing a populist card, the president pledged to correct the iniquities of the past and distribute the farms to millions of landless blacks. Paid by the government, the self-styled war veterans began a violent campaign of intimidation, killing 12 white farmers and scores of their workers and chasing many more off their land. They also burned millions of acres and prevented the farmers from tilling their fields.

A government decree earlier this year ordered 2,900 whites to stop all farming activities in June and move off their land as of Friday. Many of the farms were allocated to members of the Cabinet and political associates of Mr. Mugabe.

"It is a racist project and a monumental humanitarian disaster," Mr. Tsvangirai said. "In the face of famine, you can't be seen to chase off your farmers. This is like the Cultural Revolution of Mao Tse-tung, and the results of that were suicidal."

Slamming the government's threat to arrest the hundreds of farmers who defied the eviction deadline as a gross abuse of human rights, Mr. Tsvangirai also dismissed suggestions that he was pandering to the former colonialist masters. Virtually every white Zimbabwean supports Mr. Tsvangirai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

"This country is facing a crisis that transcends the black-white divide," he said. "We are a national party that does not pursue a racial or ethnic agenda. We are fighting a government responsible for a litany of actions of violence and lawlessness against its people of corruption and of gross economic mismanagement."

Zimbabwe's economy will shrink by 11 percent this year. Inflation is running in triple figures. In the past two years, the Zimbabwean currency has weakened 600 percent against the dollar.

In two years, Mr. Mugabe's government has succeeded in turning one of Africa's few success stories into a bankrupt and starving country.

But deposing the president within 12 months is going to be a tough ask. Mr. Tsvangirai has ruled out violent means, although he slowly is coordinating a program of nonviolent mass action.

He also is challenging the presidential election result in the Supreme Court and claims to have gathered "shocking and irrefutable" evidence to show that Mr. Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party has stolen the election. But Mr. Mugabe in the past two years has filled the Supreme Court with die-hard supporters of his ZANU-PF party.

The MDC also is contemplating boycotting upcoming regional elections if the courts reject an injunction to stop the polls on the grounds they will be rigged.

In the meantime, Mr. Tsvangirai is facing charges of treason, which he cannot discuss while they are before the courts. An indistinct videotape shows Mr. Tsvangirai supposedly plotting with a Canadian-based consultancy firm to kill Mr. Mugabe. Mr. Tsvangirai claimed he was set up and his remarks were taken out of context.

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