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DATE=5/3/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=ZIMBABWE / CRISIS NUMBER=5-46251 BYLINE=WILLIAM EAGLE DATELINE=WASHINGTON CONTENT= NOT VOICED: INTRO: Last week, Zimbabwe's Commercial Farmers Union said it was making progress in talks with squatters occupying over a thousand white-owned commercial farms. The union did not elaborate. Whites -- who represent only about two percent of all Zimbabweans -- own over half the country's arable land. The squatters want the land redistributed. Despite the optimistic statement by the farmers' union, some Zimbabweans say the issue may not be settled soon. They say that for the ruling party, this is not about land - it's about President Mugabe's using an emotional issue to hold on to power. From Washington, William Eagle reports. TEXT: Some in Zimbabwe say appearances can be deceiving - especially in the world of politics. For example, the squatters who are leading the occupation of over one thousand white-owned farms call themselves war veterans. But Trevor Ncube [pron. NEW- bay]- the editor-in-chief of the Harare-based Independent newspaper - says most of occupiers were not even alive when the country became independent twenty years ago. /// NCUBE ACT /// Clearly over 70 percent of the people were not born in 1980, so there is no way they can be war veterans. These are unemployed thugs that the ruling party has rounded up in the cities and rural areas. Also, some are old men, who were not involved in the war. They say they were rounded up and told to go to these farms. So, clearly, the majority of them are not war veterans. /// END ACT /// Mr. Ncube says military men dressed as civilians are helping direct the farm takeovers: /// NCUBE ACT /// [Since we made the charge two weeks ago] there has been no denial from Ministry of Defense or from the government. We have the names of some of the colonels assigned to direct the farm invasions. The other thing that gives weight to that is the so-called "war veterans" are heavily armed with A-K-47 assault rifles and other assortments of rifles. Where would they get these arms? They're being supplied with food, with two-way radios and vehicles. The logistics of it are clearly being run by someone who knows what he's doing. /// END ACT /// Government supporters say there is no firm evidence to conclude that the government is supporting the squatters with food, logistics, or military training. In the press, the issue is portrayed as one between Zimbabwe's blacks and whites. Others say it's not that simple. They say that of the dozen or so people killed by the veterans so far, most have been poor, landless and black. /// OPT /// Among the victims are an electrician, a policeman, a pregnant woman, and the driver of the leader of the main opposition party. /// END OPT /// The victims of the violence are usually workers on the farms who are suspected by the veterans of opposing the ruling party. The government of President Robert Mugabe, which must hold new parliamentary elections by August, blames the crisis on the farmers - and on Great Britain. London had promised to cooperate with Zimbabwe in the redistribution of farm-land but then suspended its cooperation two years ago, saying the Mugabe government was giving the land to political cronies, and not to Zimbabwe's needy. Margaret Ndongo agrees. She's a Zimbabwean parliamentarian - and the head of the Zimbabwe Union of Democrats. She joined the liberation forces over two decades ago at age 15 - and later became a founding member of the War Veterans' Association. She says she asked the government for a list of those who have been allotted leases on formerly white-owned land over the past 10 years. Ms. Ndongo says that over half of the 520 land-owners listed were not farmers at all but absentee landlords. /// DONGO ACT /// On the list are senior government officials, senior police officers and army officers, and senior civil servants. The priority was wrong. The priority should have been landless needy people. The civil servants are the ones who are supposed to make sure land is distributed to people [in a professional manner]. They were in sensitive positions -- but [gave priority to] themselves. That's where my argument is. /// END ACT /// /// OPT /// The South Africa-based Mail and Guardian newspaper adds that in 1998, nine commercial farms in Zimbabwe were put up for sale. The 550 thousand acres were split into 253 units. The paper says among those who obtained leases were a cabinet minister, two provincial governors, several civil servants, two judges, four members of the president's office and employees of large organizations. /// END OPT /// Parliamentarian Margaret Dongo says the lists should be part of public debate. /// DONGO ACT /// My question is: the land issue has been a thorny issue for the last 20 years - why has it become an issue three months before elections? It is government's responsibility to make sure that land is re-distributed in a fair manner and not to politicize the land issue. At the end of the day, it is the government that should have reported to parliament any constraints with acquiring land from the white farmers. The issue is not racial, it is about the government's failure to administer the land acquisition program. /// END ACT /// Harare-based historian and author David Martin takes issue with Mrs. Dongo. He says she fails to acknowledge what the government has done in response to the charges of corruption. /// MARTIN ACT /// There certainly was some corruption in this process, that's undeniable. The list was not made public for Mrs. Dongo - but for all parliamentarians - and has shocked a number of people within [the ruling party] ZANU-PF. Many cabinet members have spoken quite disparagingly about this. Unfortunately, when it comes to publicity and propaganda ZANU is bad [at promoting its own point of view] - two of the cabinet ministers named in the list have been forced to give back the farms they came by through improper means. Others were allowed to keep the farms after showing they paid for them. Where land has been taken over, and where property has been misappropriated by government officials, it has been returned by force. But unfortunately, ZANU-PF has not publicized that. /// END ACT // David Martin also says it's wrong to say that the land issue only comes up at election time. He says it has come up often over the past 20 years. But he says for the first 10 years or so, the government was restricted in what it could do by the Lancaster House agreement with Britain, which laid out the terms for Zimbabwe's independence. /// MARTIN ACT /// The first 10 years the British said they could not take land, it had to be on the basis of "willing seller, willing buyer." Thereafter, they could do whatever they wished: they could pass any laws they wished; And so, they kept trying to get the British to compensate the farmers. It was not up to Zimbabwe to pay the farmers. The original farmers had taken the land without compensation from the Africans. And so, it was up to the British government as the colonial power to pay compensation. The sticking point was who is going to compensate the farmers. Mugabe has said he will not pay compensation for the land - but only for [improvements] - wells, dams, fences, barns, etc. He says the land belongs to the people and was taken from them without compensation [by the British] - and that is how it must be returned to them. Or the British government can pay the compensation itself. /// END ACT /// /// OPT /// For many years, President Robert Mugabe preached reconciliation of the races. However, observers say that at election time, some politicians tend to demonize whites. Critics of the white community say whites are British, others call them enemies of the country -- especially for their participation in the newly formed opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. It is considered the most serious rival ever to President Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party. Recently, Zimbabwe's minister of local government and national housing, John Nkomo, charged that the new party is sponsored by Great Britain, white farmers and multinationals. He says angry veterans viewed this alleged collaboration as an attempt to reverse the gains achieved since independence and to subvert Zimbabwe's sovereignty. Parliamentarian Margaret Dongo says the government only complains about foreign involvement when the foreign aid is going to the opposition: /// DONGO ACT /// The question of funding is always [raised] when opposition parties [accept foreign funding], but when the ruling party is funded by foreign organizations, there is no complaint. The ZANU PF is being funded [in part] by Tiny Roland, a British citizen [head of the LONRHO corporation]. We do not call him an agent of the British. We are sick and tired of the situation where when things go wrong, the opposition is blamed, and when things go well, credit is given to the ruling party. Let's be realistic. It is obvious they are getting funds from their allies. If the opposition does, too, what's the difference? /// END ACT /// /// END OPT /// Mrs. Dongo agrees that the unequal distribution of land is a real issue that has to be solved by any government that comes to power in Zimbabwe. But she says the focus of the upcoming elections should on why the government has so little to show for 20 years of efforts to solve the land issue. And she says voters should ask how the government plans to improve the skills of small-scale black farmers, so their new holdings can be as profitable as those of the commercially oriented white-owned farmers they're replacing. Government supporters say the government should be credited with trying to get Great Britain to pay compensation for any white farms that are re- distributed. They say London is withholding any progress on the issue - in the hopes that Robert Mugabe's government will be defeated. (SIGNED) NEB/WE/KL 1 1 03-May-2000 15:06 PM EDT (03-May-2000 1906 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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