Magazine article Newsweek International

The Seeds of a Crisis

Magazine article Newsweek International

The Seeds of a Crisis

Article excerpt

The militants often arrive in Zimbabwean government-owned vehicles. They march onto white-owned farms, push down the gates and take possession of land they say was stolen from their ancestors a century ago by British colonists. Last week a band of roughly 120 militants invaded the ranch of Zimbabwe's leading cattle exporter, Tony Lubber. "They tore up my fences, intimidated my 200 workers and scattered the cattle," he says. "The police seem unable to help. They tell me it is all a political matter." More than 400 local farms have suffered similar attacks since late February. An official of the Commercial Farmer's Union, a lobby representing mainly white farmers, says, "It's a miracle that no one has been killed."

Many Zimbabweans--black and white alike--blame President Robert Mugabe for the attacks. His government has called for an end to the farm seizures. But Mugabe's grandiose promises and disastrous economic policies have bred anger in the countryside. And now, with parliamentary elections scheduled for April, Mugabe is fighting for his political life. In February, just before the raids began, Zimbabweans voted down a draft constitution that would have extended the 75-year- old president's term for up to 12 years and given him power to confiscate land for redistribution without paying for it. A chief reason for the defeat was weak turnout in the countryside--bad news for Mugabe, since impoverished rural blacks have always been his bedrock constituents. As a rebel leader, before he came to power in 1980, he promised to reward each of his followers with "a musha and a mombi" (a field and a cow). …

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