Wrecking Zimbabwe

Mugabe's mess: Seizing land to change the subject from his own abuse of power.

May 06, 2000

SQUATTER occupation of Zimbabwe's commercial farms is not redistributing that nation's wealth, but destroying it.

The so-called veterans seizing white-owned farms are not farmers and not farming. Zimbabwe is running out of the food it raises, and foreign exchange for the food it imports. Seasonal tobacco auctions began with little to sell. Farms had a record crop of cured leaf that remains ungraded. Mobs burned thousands of bales.

Tobacco provides one-third of Zimbabwe's exports and one-fifth of its gross domestic product. Disruption of a year's crop would not halt cigarette production in Europe, but send buyers to Brazil.

The unrest that has taken more than a dozen lives also shut off investment and tourism, depleted foreign reserves and cast a pall on the economy of neighboring South Africa.

President Robert Mugabe, 76, has ruled the 20 years of independence. He is creating a racial crisis to mask his political crisis: His ZANU-PF party would likely lose promised elections to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change of Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mr. Mugabe's cronyism, economic mismanagement and dispatch of 11,000 Zimbabwean troops to Congo's civil war are to blame. No Zimbabwean national interest is discernible in Congo. Many people believe that Mr. Mugabe seeks personal wealth there.

Rather than let democracy prevail, part of the veterans' movement led by Chenjerai Hunzvi began seizing land, stirring anti-white sentiment and fomenting a crisis that may be used to justify the suspension of elections.

A case can be made for orderly transfers of land to farmers, to roll back the legacy of colonialism. This is not that. The pressure of Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations on Mr. Mugabe to restore law is justified by history. They helped overturn white rule and usher in the change that put Mr. Mugabe in power in 1980.

South Africa's Nelson Mandela showed gracefully how to relinquish power. Mr. Mugabe does not believe in giving up. He would rather destroy his country. Zimbabweans deserve better.

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