Continuing violence over the weekend here cast doubts over a deal proposed by neighboring African leaders to settle Zimbabwe's simmering crisis.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, a frequent diplomatic campaigner for democratic rule, and Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, who leads one of the continent's fastest-growing economies, put their international reputations at risk to bail out Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe.
Precise details of the proposal and Mr. Mugabe's reaction remain unknown. But the Southern African presidents on Friday proposed to publicly back Mugabe and use their influence to win British and International Monetary Fund support for a land-resettlement scheme. In exchange, Mugabe was to withdraw squatters from commercial farms, halt violence, restore the rule of law, and hold free parliamentary elections.
Mr. Mbeki asserted publicly that the crisis was about land, and that Britain and the United States had been wrong to walk away from financial pledges to Mugabe. Mbeki did not acknowledge the wave of political violence and house burnings perpetrated by war veterans and ruling-party supporters against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. The MDC has rapidly grown in Zimbabwe, and managed to defeat a new constitution drafted by Mugabe in February.
On Sunday, the head of the war veterans' association, Chenjerai Hunzvi - or "Hitler" as he is known from his independence war nom de guerre - held the first of what he said would be a series of conciliatory meetings with veterans and seven white farmers.
War veterans' promises
On a game farm occupied by war veterans outside Victoria Falls, Mr. Hunzvi promised an end to violence in exchange for cooperation on plans to transfer white-owned land to blacks.
Hunzvi declared in an interview with the Monitor that he was concerned only with land and had no interest in halting violence aimed at supporters of the opposition MDC. "Without correction of the land issue, there is no need to diffuse the violence," Hunzvi said. "In America you had the Boston Tea Party, and it was violent. Why do I care to diffuse violence against MDC?"
The same day, an estimated 700 invaders seized the Forresters Farm, one of Zimbabwe's largest tobacco plantations 60 miles north of Harare. Three people were still reportedly being held hostage yesterday. And some 200 club-wielding veterans invaded the Lynton Farm east of Harare.
"To say that land is the issue is missing the point - at least in the eyes of the international community," says Greg Mills, director of the South African Institute for International Affairs. "Most would agree there is a problem with the distribution of land in Zimbabwe, but land is not the issue, it is a symptom of mismanagement by Mugabe's government."
The next step is for a trio of Zimbabwe ministers to meet with British officials in London Thursday. On Friday Mugabe, Hunzvi, and the Commercial Farmers Union plan to discuss a mutually agreeable resettlement plan.
Land reform issues
Although there is legitimate desire for land reform among veterans, Hunzvi's veterans' association and the ruling party are inextricably linked. Farm invasions are frequently carried out by young men in Mugabe's ruling party ZANU-PF T-shirts, who routinely beat farm workers and demand the surrender of MDC membership cards. Hunzvi himself is a member of the ruling party's central committee and a key strategist in its campaign for parliamentary elections, tentatively set for late May.
Mugabe has offered no public solutions for 70 percent inflation, 70 percent interest rates, 50 percent unemployment, and crippling shortages of foreign currency, fuel and electricity.
But the land issue and associated violence have effectively ended all discussion of his economic mismanagement, allowed war veterans to block MDC campaigning in rural areas, and given Mugabe a tangible issue around which to campaign.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society