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The BBC's Duncan Kennedy reports
"President Mugabe's fighting talk has gone down well with his own supporters but added to the tensions"
 real 28k

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"Rural areas used to be President Mugabe's powerbase"
 real 28k

Saturday, 8 April, 2000, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Economic fears over Zimbabwe turmoil
President Mugabe of Zimbabwe
The president said whites opposing his policy should leave
Southern Africa faces the threat of economic chaos if the conflict over white-owned farms in Zimbabwe continues, according to officials and business leaders.

The strongest warnings have come from South Africa where deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said it was in his country's interests to ensure that the situation in Zimbabwe did not explode.

Anything that explodes in Zimbabwe will have very serious consequences for us

Aziz Pahad
The warnings follow President Robert Mugabe's statement that he would fight any opposition by white farmers to his plan to take over their land.

He told an election rally on Friday that his government no longer intended to ask for the land, but would take it without negotiation. Any whites who objected should leave the country, he suggested.

Regional consequences

After South Africa, Zimbabwe has the biggest economy in the region.

According to business leaders, economic turmoil caused by a confrontation over the ownership of white farms could reduce agricultural output and have severe economic consequences.

"The whole region will carry the cost if there is an economic meltdown in Zimbabwe," said Kevin Wakeford, chief executive of the South African Chamber of Business.

Some farmers have already surrendered their land
His comments were echoed by the Vusi Mabilisa, the secretary of the Economic Association of Swaziland: "The sub-region as a whole would stand to lose if Zimbabwe lost its place as an important import and export market."

South Africa's deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said Pretoria was closely monitoring the situation.

"We are very concerned about the situation and we are in constant touch with the government in Zimbabwe," Mr Pahad said.

Zimbabwe is South Africa's largest trading partner and there have been warnings in the press that unrest there could lead to an influx of Zimbabweans into South Africa.

Opposition warnings

War veterans and government supporters are squatting on about 800 white-owned farms, and there have been attacks against some of the owners.

Zimbabwean war veterans
Mugabe praised war veterans for leading the occupation of farms

Opposition leaders say the dispute has nothing to do with Mr Mugabe's desire for fair land distribution, but is instead an attempt to make sure his party wins power in elections due next month.

The opposition parties have also warned that Mr Mugabe might be pushing the country towards chaos to provide a pretext for declaring emergency rule and further delaying elections.

Mugabe's rally

At a rally on Friday attended by over 3,000 supporters of his Zanu-PF party, Mr Mugabe said that if whites wanted to stay in Zimbabwe they must do so on his terms, and not oppose the seizure of their land.

"If they want to go, we will open the borders for them. We will give them a police escort," Mr Mugabe told supporters.

Zimbabwe's parliament passed legislation on Thursday to give the government the right to seize farms without compensation.

The wording of the constitutional amendment is identical to a clause in a draft constitution which was recently rejected in a national referendum.

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See also:

07 Apr 00 | Africa
Mugabe threatens white farmers
08 Apr 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Making martyrs in Harare
07 Apr 00 | Africa
US suspends Zimbabwe cash
07 Apr 00 | Africa
UK 'not bound' by Zimbabwe bill
06 Mar 00 | Africa
Points of view: Occupying farms
01 Apr 00 | Africa
Zimbabwe protests turn violent
02 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Cook talks tough on Zimbabwe
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