/ 7 April 2008

Farms raided as Zim election drags on

Zimbabwe’s war veterans have launched fresh invasions of the country’s few remaining white-owned farms as President Robert Mugabe appears to be falling back on the tested tactics of violence and raising racial tensions, in preparation for a run-off vote in the presidential election.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) warned that it might boycott a second round of elections because it would lead Zimbabweans ”to the slaughter” of a wave of government-sponsored violence.

It is instead taking legal action to force the state election commission to release immediately results from the presidential election, held nine days ago, which the MDC says will show that its candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, won outright with 50,3% of the vote, making a run-off election unnecessary.

The High Court is expected to rule on the petition on Monday.

Writing in Monday’s Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, Tsvangirai calls on Britain, the United States and South Africa to come to the defence of democracy in Zimbabwe. He said Zanu-PF was withholding the election results and planning a violent second-round campaign in an attempt to maintain its ”untenable grip on power”.

Farms targeted

War veterans, many of whom did not actually fight in the liberation struggle against white rule, targeted at least 18 farms in Masvingo, Manicaland and Mashonaland, provinces where a significant number of rural voters swung from Mugabe to the MDC in the presidential and parliamentary elections.

In previous elections, assaults on white farmers on the pretext of righting colonial injustices provided the cover for violence against their farmworkers and the wider population as a means of intimidating voters from supporting the opposition.

A camera crew from state television accompanied the war veterans to one farm where a white family was given four hours to get out of their home, suggesting the invasions were officially sanctioned.

Hendrik Olivier, director of the Commercial Farmers’ Union, said the police were failing to take action and the country’s remaining 300 white farmers, from the 4 200 a decade ago, feared they were again to be made political targets.

”The war veterans are going round giving notice to farmers to get off immediately. They’ve been taking over equipment and livestock and telling the farmers their time is up. This thing can quickly get out of control if it’s not dealt with,” he said. ”Why was the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation there to film the threats to the farmer? You can see this thing is orchestrated.”

Chanting war veterans, some of them beating drums, also threatened farmers in Centenary, where the owners were given hours to leave.

There were also signs of renewed pressure on the opposition. Prosper Mutseyami, a newly elected opposition MP from Manicaland, said the police were arresting MDC election agents there. ”Nine of our agents were beaten up by the police and then arrested for behaviour likely to provoke a breach of the peace,” he said.

Land issues

In a sign that the government intends again to make white farmers an election issue, the Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, a Zanu-PF hardliner, claimed the MDC was bringing exiled farmers back into Zimbabwe ready to reclaim their land.

”The MDC claim they have won and they are unleashing former white farmers on farms occupied by new farmers to reverse the land-reform programme,” he said. ”Their intention is to destabilise the country into chaos over the land issue.”

If the government is hoping to revive the land battles of the past, it may not have the same resonance with voters.

”The problem is that the countryside has turned and it will be a tall order to turn sentiment around,” said Wilfred Mhanda, head of the Zimbabwe Liberators’ Platform, a group of war veterans who no longer support Mugabe. ”He is a desperate man and the money-printing machine will be working overtime. Some will take part [in land invasions], but not out of conviction. They will be more or less like mercenaries.

”There’s a lot of misery in the countryside and people know who is to blame. Life is getting more desperate for them by the day.”

In the Guardian, Tsvangirai accuses Mugabe of a systematic attempt to overturn the election results.

”Adept at stealing elections from the hands of voters, Mugabe is now amassing government troops; blocking court proceedings where we have attempted to seek an order simply for the electoral commission to release the final tally of the March 29 poll, raiding the offices of the Movement for Democratic Change; and casting a pall of suppression and gloom over the country,” he wrote.

”This can only mean, despite some earlier evidence to the contrary, that sanity has been discarded along with truth in the offices of Zanu-PF.”

Zanu-PF was stalling further on releasing the results on Sunday. The state-run Sunday Herald newspaper said the party was demanding a recount, claiming the figures had been manipulated against Mugabe, in a sign that there may be resistance within the electoral commission to efforts by Zimbabwe’s president to ensure there is a second round of elections because no candidate won more than half the vote.

Tsvangirai also calls on foreign powers to defend democracy in Zimbabwe. ”Major powers here, such as South Africa, the US and Britain, must act to remove the white-knuckle grip of Mugabe’s suicidal reign, and oblige him and his minions to retire.”

The MDC feels badly let down by South African President Thabo Mbeki and other regional leaders, in particular. In the party’s view, Mbeki has played a deceptive role in which he has projected himself as an honest broker but sought to engineer a result in which Mugabe leaves office but Zanu-PF remains in power. — guardian.co.uk Â