Skip to comments.Zimbabwe's president continuing crackdown - Mugabe targeting dissidents, journalists
Posted on 07/07/2002 2:58:32 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Almost four months after Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's disputed re-election to a fourth term, any hope that the 78-year-old former guerrilla leader would relax his crackdown against political opponents has all but evaporated.
Since turning back the toughest political challenge of his career in a campaign marked by violence and allegations of fraud, Mugabe has put restrictions on white farmers at a time when nearly half of Zimbabwe's population faces starvation. He has also continued repression of dissidents and journalists and, most recently, threatened to nationalize one of the country's largest companies.
"Things have not improved for Zimbabweans since the election," said an African diplomat based in Zimbabwe. "I'm afraid that things are only getting worse. This government knows it no longer has the popular support of its people, so it must govern with the only tool it has left: force."
The U.N. World Food Program estimates that nearly half of Zimbabwe's 11 million people urgently need international assistance to avert starvation as a result of famine. Donor nations blame the famine on bad weather and the government's policy of seizing the country's most productive farms, owned by whites, and handing them over to poor blacks.
Relief agencies say that Mugabe's ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), has used food donations from abroad to reward its supporters and punish members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Tawanda Hondora, chairman of Zimbabwe's Human Rights Forum, said the government has required peasants to show ZANU-PF membership cards to receive food rations and has stopped organizations thought to be sympathetic to or aligned with the MDC from distributing food.
Last week, however, Mugabe blamed the nation's food shortage on National Foods, a multinational subsidiary of Anglo American, a South African mining firm. In remarks published in a state-owned newspaper, Mugabe accused National Foods of hoarding such basic commodities as salt.
"We will not allow Anglo American to become the principal saboteurs of our economy," he said.
If National Foods does not "want to operate in partnership with the government and the people," Mugabe said, "the government would put the enterprise in the hands of the people."
Last week, Mugabe's government ordered nearly 3,000 whites to stop farming as he prepared for their eviction next month. Branding them "unrepentant racists and fascists," Agriculture Minister Joseph Made has given them until Aug. 10 to vacate farmland to make way for blacks.
And even as his fellow African leaders court Western investment with an ambitious revitalization plan that promises good governance and democracy, Mugabe's party has continued to intimidate and prosecute independent journalists, opposition politicians and their supporters. Using a new press law passed only days before the March 9-11 election, Mugabe's party has arrested 11 journalists for writing stories critical of the government.
An icon of Zimbabwe's fight for independence, Mugabe has portrayed ZANU-PF's struggle against the MDC as a battle against a puppet of Britain, the country's former colonial ruler.
Western governments widely accuse Mugabe of rigging the March election, using youth gangs and militias led by war veterans to wage a campaign of torture and intimidation against MDC supporters. Human rights organizations say that torture of dissidents has continued in the months since the election, and the U.S. and European governments have refused to recognize the election results.