Monday, 15 September 2008

Zimbabwe's new leaders order Britain to pay for stolen land

Zimbabwe's new leaders order Britain to pay for stolen land

Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, who reached a deal in talks with President Mbeki, struggled to show a united front
Martin Fletcher
Zimbabwe's new unity Government clashed with Britain within hours of its creation yesterday when it demanded that the country's former colonial master should compensate the 4,000 white farmers whose land the Mugabe regime has seized for its own supporters.

The agreement to create a power-sharing government that Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai signed in Harare described the farm seizures as irreversible and said that the British Government should “accept the responsibility to pay compensation for land acquired from former landowners for resettlement”.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that it would support a fair process of land reform as part of a wider recovery package but insisted: “We have never agreed to accept responsibility for compensation.”

Mr Mugabe began the frequently violent land seizures in 2000 to boost his fading popularity, accusing Britain of reneging on a commitment in the 1979 Lancaster House agreement to compensate white farmers for land redistributed to blacks. The move triggered Zimbabwe's economic collapse as productive farms were plundered and ruined, and hundreds of thousands of black workers lost their jobs.

The compensation call heightened fears that Mr Mugabe was setting the tone for what is supposed to be a government of equals.

Western sources said that the detailed agreement, released yesterday, was deeply ambigious, with no clear definition of the relative powers of the Cabinet, which Mr Mugabe will chair as President, and the Council of Ministers, which Mr Tsvangirai will chair as Prime Minister.

Mr Mugabe will retain considerable authority. He will chair a national security council, comprising the heads of the army, police and secret services, while Mr Tsvangirai will only be a member. He will retain the power to proclaim martial law. He can allocate ministerial portfolios, make key appointments and dissolve Parliament “in consultation” with the Prime Minister.

Western officials said that the agreement contained “a lot of Zanu (PF) rubbish”, including demands for an end to international sanctions, which it blamed for Zimbabwe's economic problems, and to “external interference” in the country's affairs. Foreign media organisations will still have to register and international aid agencies must operate “within Zimbabwe's laws”.

More positively, the agreement commits the Government to developing an economic recovery plan - encouraging three million Zimbabwean exiles to return - a national healing process, an end to political violence, free political activity, impartial state institutions, fair food distribution and constitutional reform.

Amid the pomp and ceremony yesterday were reminders of how hard it will be for Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai to set aside their emnity.

Their supporters clashed outside the convention centre where the agreement was signed, throwing stones and insults at each other. Inside, Mr Mugabe was jeered by supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as he delivered a grudging speech in which he blamed Britain for his country's woes. “We are committed to the deal. We will do our best,” he said, but he barely acknowledged Mr Tsvangirai, continued to refer to the MDC as the “Opposition”, and accused it of wanting “much more than it deserves”.

It also emerged that Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai have yet to agree the highly contentious allocation of ministries. The MDC is expected to control the police, and Zanu (PF) the army, but nothing is yet certain. “It's very hard to see much change in the wind,” one diplomat said.

It was left to Mr Tsvangirai - who has been imprisoned, beaten and tortured by the Mugabe regime - to provide the spirit of optimism and reconciliation missing from the President's speech. “I call upon supporters of both Zanu (PF) and the MDC to unite as Zimbabweans and put the interests of our nation and our people first,” he declared. “Divisions, polarisations and hatred belong to the past.”

The new Government's priority would be to end Zimbabwe's desperate shortages of food and medicine. “We need to unlock our doors to aid. We need medicine, food and doctors back in our country. We need electricity, water, petrol for our vehicles,” he said.

Britain and other Western donors made clear that the provision of the billions in financial assistance that Zimbabwe needs to rebuild its shattered economy will depend on the new Government breaking decisively with the past.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, called for evidence that normal life was improving before any relaxation of sanctions against regime figures. “The most important criteria for any change ... is the economic condition of the people as they face a difficult winter,” he said. “The sanctions are on individuals, they do not target the Zimbabwean economy, which is in free fall because of the policies of the Zimbabwean Government. The new Government needs to start to rebuild the country. If it does so, Britain and the rest of the international community will be quick to support them.”

EU foreign ministers said that they would offer economic support to “a transition government that takes measures to restore democracy and rule of law in Zimbabwe”. They will review the sanctions imposed on 168 senior members of the Mugabe regime next month.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, said: “I encourage the Government to take steps to show clear commitment to a new policy direction and to seek the support of the international community.”

Even among fellow African leaders there were doubts that this Government of polar opposites could survive. “Will it hold or will it not? That is the question,” said Jakaya Kikwete, the President of Tanzania and the chairman of the African Union.

Land slide

— The Land Apportionment Act 1930 restricted blacks' access to land in Rhodesia and forced them into wage labour

— In 1965 Rhodesia declared itself an independent state, but Ian Smith resisted pressures from his Government to address racial inequalities

— Two major black political parties formed in the late 1960s to agitate for land and political rights

— In 1979 talks at Lancaster House in London led to a peace agreement and new Constitution

— The agreement said that for ten years, the Government could buy land only from white farmers willing to sell and at full market prices

— In that decade, 40 per cent of the targeted eight million hectares of white-owned land were acquired

— The resettlement fund officially expired in 1996, although it was reportedly spent by 1988

Source: archives
From The Times
September 16, 2008

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