- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 29, 2002

The government of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe is confiscating land, setting prices on almost all goods and prohibiting the public "denigration" of Mr. Mugabe. Mr. Mugabe's wrong-headed (and hate-driven) policies have put Zimbabwe on a death spiral that is gaining momentum. Famine has become the norm in Zimbabwe once the bread-basket of southern Africa. The U.N. Food Program estimates that 6.7 million of Zimbabwe's 12 million people are at risk of starvation. Unemployment is at 70 percent and there is a chronic shortage of most goods.
As catastrophic as the situation in Zimbabwe currently is, it could become worse. As part of an effort to bolster his sparse support, Mr. Mugabe is bringing racial divisiveness to dangerous levels. In the world according to Mr. Mugabe, good and bad is represented in black and white. And if a black Zimbabwean steps out of line with Mr. Mugabe's despotic wishes, he becomes intrinsically "white" and therefore an enemy of the people. At a recent speech at a committee meeting for his own party, known as ZANU-PF, Mr. Mugabe lashed out at merchants who don't follow his mandatory price schemes, which are often set at way below costs. "While many manufacturers and traders want to blame it on production costs, it is clear the consumer is being ripped off, abused and taken advantage of by avaricious, heartless business people, several of whom would want to politicize production processes in sympathy with white landed interests," he said.
In Zimbabwe, one form of officially sanctioned racism is getting replaced with another. Although Mr. Mugabe was once widely admired for his successful drive to rid the country of apartheid rule, his popularity has plummeted as his drive for racial revenge has brought ruin on Zimbabwe. Since the sole purpose of Mr. Mugabe's "land-reform" program has been to expropriate the land of whites, it is unsurprising the policy has resulted in a food crisis. The best lands have been doled out to Mr. Mugabe's relatives and cronies, and the poor recipients of other lands have been given no assistance or training in operating the country's highly mechanized farms. Although some sort of land redistribution would have been appropriate for Zimbabwe given the country's past of racial repression, Mr. Mugabe's land grabs have been so destructively clumsy as to verge on nihilism.
African countries, including Ghana, Botswana and Mozambique have harshly rebuked Mr. Mugabe and his thuggish policies. But the region's power broker, South Africa, has refused to criticize Zimbabwe's president-by-fraud. For the sake of the Zimbabwean people and regional stability, South Africa must press Mr. Mugabe both publicly and privately to begin adopting more reasonable policies. If Zimbabwe's leader continues on his current tract, the people will suffer unestimable hardship.
Next year, President Bush will be visiting South Africa and three other African nations. Mr. Bush has set a constructive agenda for his Africa trip, supporting the very initiatives the continent urgently needs to avert a widening food and AIDs crisis. Mr. Bush's trip is expected to reinvigorate support for the region's New Partnership for Africa's Development, a plan to tie aid to democratic and other types of reform. Earlier this year, Mr. Bush earmarked $5 billion a year in aid for those countries making progress in these areas. He will also promote wider access for Africa to rich markets around the world.
During his trip, Mr. Bush will surely discuss the situation in Zimbabwe with South African President Thabo Mbeki. The famine in Zimbabwe is causing a chaotic refugee crisis that could make it more difficult for South Africa to counter human trafficking and potential terrorism. The crisis that Mr. Mugabe has created in Zimbabwe could have a wider geopolitical impact if it isn't brought under control soon.

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