- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Zimbabwe’s economic and social crisis has become “unbearable” under President Robert Mugabe and the regime faces a crisis in the very near future, a leading Catholic prelate and one of the country’s most outspoken human rights campaigners said yesterday.

“Life is terrible, unbearable in Zimbabwe right now,” said Pius Ncube, archbishop of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, in an interview during a trip to Washington this week to meet with senior U.S. officials and humanitarian groups.

Archbishop Ncube, who has clashed repeatedly with Mr. Mugabe for his public condemnations of government policies, said he was optimistic about the future of Zimbabwe if only because “the situation can hardly go on much longer as it is.”

“Even Mugabe must realize that,” said the bishop. “Things in our country can hardly get worse.”

The U.S. government has echoed many of the archbishop’s criticisms of the Mugabe government, condemning the regime for suppressing political liberties, mismanaging the economy, failing to deal with a food crisis and the spread of AIDS, and adopting a coercive land-reform program that has driven most the country’s productive white farmers off their land.

Mark Bellamy, principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, said the Bush administration was determined to maintain “targeted sanctions” on Mr. Mugabe and his top aides until a deal is struck on new elections paving the way out for the 79-year-old Mr. Mugabe.

The United States and the European Union “must not yield to appeals to restart official aid,” Mr. Bellamy said. “We must make it clear we will only assist Zimbabwe when it is on the road to political recovery.”

With South Africa, Nigeria and Malawi trying to engineer a compromise between Mr. Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the beleaguered Zimbabwean opposition movement, Archbishop Ncube said he was trying to keep a low profile during his Washington visit.

But he was given meetings with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and with officials from the National Security Agency during his stay.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday’s meeting with Mr. Powell was designed to “thank the archbishop for his principled stance in favor of human rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe.”

Mr. Bellamy, who joined the archbishop at a forum on Zimbabwe yesterday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was critical of Zimbabwe’s neighbors, in particular regional power South Africa, for failing to apply more pressure on Mr. Mugabe to step down.

“We have not gotten very far in this crisis because some of the main actors, notably South Africa, have been apathetic at best,” he said.

Mr. Mugabe, who helped the country achieve independence from Britain in 1980, has slammed his critics as “colonialists.” He defended the land-distribution program as necessary to redress past injustices.

A widely disputed election last year, a regional famine, and mounting clashes between the government and the MDC have left Zimbabwe’s economy in tatters. Unemployment is at 60 percent and inflation is running at 500 percent annually.

Archbishop Ncube noted that the Zimbabwean dollar was on a par with the U.S. dollar a decade ago. Today, a bottle of Coke costs 1,000 Zimbabwean dollars on the streets of Harare, the capital.

“My heart simply bleeds for my country,” he said. “And I am only telling you 1 percent of the problems we face.”

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