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Review of 2001 Sunday, 30 December, 2001, 11:27 GMT
Zimbabwe's bleak future
Opposition MDC supporters being watched by Zimbabwean police
The government crackdown on the opposition is continuing
Barnaby Phillips

A man peers out through an open door, staring at the rain, no expression on his face. He is far from home and family, and he feels the helplessness of exile.

He is one of hundreds of Zimbabwean men sleeping in a government hostel on the outskirts of Johannesburg.


We want our country to pick up ... but the problem is that the ruling party doesn't want opposition

Felix Ndlovu

They came to South Africa looking for jobs, but they have discovered they are not welcome here. Now they are dependent on hand-outs and charity, and they don't know what future awaits them.

Until recently, they were living in the Sandspruit squatter camp, to the north of Johannesburg, in a collection of rough, homemade shacks. But long-running tensions between the Zimbabweans and the local community erupted in October.

Local people accused the Zimbabweans of stealing their jobs - and their women.

At least 100 shacks were burnt down, and the Zimbabweans fled to the government hostel.

No future

But despite their hardships and disappointments, I couldn't find any one of them who was contemplating returning to Zimbabwe.

"There are no jobs in Zimbabwe," said Raymond, a secondary school graduate who arrived in South Africa this year.

Queue for petrol in Zimbabwe
Petrol shortages have crippled parts of the country

He, and all the others here, are fundamentally economic refugees, but they also express concern about the worsening political situation at home.

Felix Ndlovu, who left Zimbabwe several years ago, said: "We want our country to pick up, and human rights to improve, but we hear the problem is that the ruling party doesn't want opposition, that is why they are having problems."

Felix's analysis is not far off. Back in Zimbabwe, on the streets of his home town, Bulawayo, tensions between the ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition MDC party are running high.

In November, fighting between the parties broke out on the streets.

The MDC headquarters was burnt down.

It was attacked by Zanu-PF supporters with the blatant support of the Zimbabwean police, according to Moses Ndlovu, a local MDC leader.

"We heard noise from a group of people who were singing, chanting Zanu-PF slogans ... We all ran in different directions, but what I managed to see was police actually in uniform getting down from their van carrying petrol that was used to douse this building."

Widespread crackdown

President Mugabe is using everything at his disposal to try and crush the MDC. State institutions - the army, the police and the judiciary - are all being co-opted.

And with elections just months away, the president's rhetoric is increasingly wild.

Burnt-out farm workers homes
Farm workers' homes have been attacked

At a recent funeral he warned "MDC perpetrators of political violence and crime against humanity ... that their days are numbered".

Human rights groups say that in fact it is President Mugabe's government which is responsible for the vast majority of abuses in Zimbabwe - at least 38 people killed in political violence this year, although the real figure may be much higher.

Farmers's gloom

It is Zimbabwe's precious land which is at the heart of the country's political crisis, and where black subsistence farmers and white commercial farmers see their country's future heading in very different directions.


It is a really sorry state of affairs

Vernon Nicolle, white farmer

Vernon Nicolle was one of Zimbabwe's most successful white farmers - he and his family produce wheat near the town of Chinoyi, north-west of the capital Harare.

But Vernon's farm - like hundreds of other white farms - has been invaded by government supporters, who are threatening to kill his workers, and are insisting he abandons large parts of his property.

Now he is overseeing the dismantling of his irrigation equipment.

In his heart, he seems to know that the days of Zimbabwe's white farmers are numbered, and he finds it hard to keep his composure when asked what the future holds.

'A sorry state'

"For the first time in my life there's a tear in my eyes, I'm sorry ... it is a really sorry state of affairs," he says, before asking that the interview be stopped.

But the men who have invaded Vernon's land say they are only correcting an historic injustice.

It was the whites who took this land by force at the end of the 19th century, and moved blacks onto crowded, infertile tribal homelands.

War veterans wait at gates of a white-owned farm
White farmers face an uncertain future

Zamian Manginjiwa is one of those who is reclaiming his heritage. He and his family are using an ox-drawn plough, moving slowly across the vast fields which Vernon used to drive across by tractor.

"The government and the donors are going to help us farm this land...and we are happy, very, very happy", says Zamian.

Not so lucky are the farm labourers - and there are hundreds of them. If and when Vernon's farm closes, they will have nowhere to go.

One woman says she doesn't know where the money will come from, and has no idea what the future holds.

Her plight is no different from that of tens of thousands of farm workers across the country. Land is being redistributed- but the process is badly organised, and favours government supporters.

Cities in decline

And there is no solace in Zimbabwe's cities. Once an African success story, Zimbabwe now has one of the fastest shrinking economies in the world.

Money is worth less and less, every day; annual inflation is running at about 100%.

In the townships people are reluctant to talk about politics openly, but do not hide their dismay at the economic situation.

Bread in Harare
Bread is in short supply

"Each day we wake up and don't know how much a loaf of bread will cost," says one man. Another says, "People who have money are leaving the country".

Economic decay and political conflict are entwined - the land invasions and violence are frightening investors and destroying confidence.

The outside world's response to Zimbabwe's crisis has been hesitant and confused.

Pressure

The Commonwealth and Southern African governments are trying to negotiate between the government and the opposition. The United States is threatening sanctions if political repression continues.

In South Africa President Thabo Mbeki is starting to move away from his policy of quiet persuasion, and is talking openly of the threat of a "civil conflict" in Zimbabwe if next year's presidential elections are not seen as legitimate.

President Mugabe
President Mugabe remains firmly in control

But it is impossible to see how Zimbabwe can hold elections which could remotely be described as fair.

Foreign observers are likely to be severely restricted, and most independent journalists will probably not even be allowed into the country.

The government withdrew the BBC's accreditation earlier this year.

For almost 20 years Zimbabwe confounded the critics; its economy thrived and racial tensions were managed. But that legacy is collapsing with frightening speed - and its people now fear a desperate future.

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13 Dec 01 | Africa
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