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Friday, 8 November, 2002, 17:25 GMT
Zimbabwe crisis: You asked the BBC's Mike Donkin
The BBC's Mike Donkin has recently returned from Zimbabwe, despite a ban on foreign correspondents there.
He has been reporting on the country's faltering economy and the continuing food shortages.
Currently some four and a half million Zimbabweans need food aid, a number which is expected to soar to 6.7 million by next March.
But Save the Children, Oxfam and other relief agencies have all had distribution stopped or disrupted.
The European Union and the United States have both condemned the government for diverting food aid to its own supporters and ignoring opposition activists.
Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge told state television that reports that the aid was blocked were "a fandango of a fairy tale of lies" concocted by opponents of the government.
Meanwhile, a leading Zimbabwean churchman has called on President Mugabe to stand down, rather than starve his own people to keep power.
What is the situation for people in Zimbabwe? Is food aid getting through? Will President Mugabe step down?
BBC correspondent Mike Donkin answered your questions on Friday, 8 November.
Around 4.5 million Zimbabweans need food aid - a number which is expected to soar to 6.7 million by next March.
The European Union has condemned the government of President Robert Mugabe for diverting the food aid to its own supporters and ignoring opposition activists. Save the Children, Oxfam and other relief agencies have all had distribution stopped or disrupted.
BBC correspondent, Mike Donkin, has been to Zimbabwe, despite a ban on BBC reporters. He's now here to answer your questions. Thanks for joining us Mike.
The first e-mail is from Philip in Belgium: I heard you on the radio and was wondering why 3 million people may have to die again, like in Rwanda, before the EU and UN will start investigating the matter in Zimbabwe? Why can't they be pro-active? Or is suspending Mr Mugabe visa for the EU enough for Brussels?
I spent a couple of weeks there. It's the first time I've been to Zimbabwe and I travelled around fairly extensively. You have a situation there where the white commercial farmers are now being driven from their land - there are very few left.
That land, when they leave it, with them go the black farm workers. They are something like 1.5 million of them now it seems displaced with nowhere to go. They're in a much tougher situation, it has to be said, than their former bosses. This is as a result of Mr Mugabe's land reform policies. Mr Mugabe is dealing fairly stiffly with any opposition that comes his way to those policies.
Therefore you have an internal situation which it's difficult for anyone in the country to compete with. Given that, the idea that the European Union - outside forces - could do anything is, at this stage, asking a lot. To start with, what rights do they have to intervene?
It's the sowing season, the rains are about to come. The settlers who are being moved onto that land - mainly Zanu PF party supporters - are not farmers themselves. They don't have the seeds, the fertilisers, to start doing the job. Therefore there is already a shortfall of food - we came across that - and that shortfall is going to get worse because we have predictions of perhaps the drought getting more serious.
Now when you start talking about helicopters dropping food, that presumes that there is some kind of structure on the ground for that food to be distributed. At the moment, the NGOs, the non-governmental organisations, that are operating in Zimbabwe are having a lot of trouble with Mr Mugabe's government because he would like to see the food distributed in the way that the government sees fit. A lot of people say that's just to supporters of the government.
So on the ground, you have villages where the opposition is the stronger party and they're complaining they're not getting any food at all. So if willy-nilly helicopters drop aid into what is anyway a sizeable African country - how is it handled on the ground, who does that?
I spent a couple of weeks there and I travelled around. I came down from the north of the country to Harare. I spent some time in Harare. I travelled down to the south to Bulawayo and beyond Bulawayo to some of the areas where the drought is at its most serve down there and where the food shortages are most severe and where the people are suffering most.
So that was the context of the trip. Within that, I guess I saw quite a lot on the ground. As you drive along the roads you see farm workers who've been ousted at the roadside. Refugee camps where they end up.
You see white farmers with their lorries full of all their worldly goods after 80 - 90 years - driving off to, what they see, is a very uncertain future as well. So that's what I actually saw on the ground.
Mike, what was your eye-witness view on what was happening before you. Did you see people starving? Was there a real situation that would be in any civilised part of the world, a real concern?
In terms of commenting on why this is all coming about, the economy of the country and the state that it's in. I can't offer my opinion. I can reflect on the opinion given to me by the Bishop of Bulawayo - one of the senior churchmen in the country - who told us the economy is in tatters, people are leaving in droves. He said, Mr Mugabe's policies are to blame for this happening.
A century or so ago, it was Britain who came in. Cecil Rhodes founded Rhodesia and Zimbabwe was a half of that. So yes, the land you could say was taken away from the people of that country in the first place. The fact that that land was then - the white farmers would certainly say - improved so that the country as a whole benefited - so that the blacks benefited with whites - is a secondary argument.
Twenty years ago Zimbabwe got its independence and from then on, of course, Mr Mugabe has been making the decisions. But he lived - it's true to say he still lives with that colonial background.
So when it comes to a question of attributing blame, that's a very hard thing to attribute. Every country has a history - Zimbabwe's has a history of colonialism - clearly that plays into the present situation.
The opposition - the Movement for Democratic Change - the main opposition party, they would say - yes, indeed food is being distributed politically and they have indeed called for the United Nations to be brought into the fray.
Up to now the United Nations hasn't had a lot to say about this. It's fair to say that the United Nations has been somewhat preoccupied with the Middle East, with Iraq, with other issues. But up to now Zimbabwe hasn't featured heavily.
Mr Tsvangirai would like that to be the case. Maybe we'll see in the future. As the situation gets one that is going to be of more concern - and that seems to be everybody's prediction - then maybe we'll see the UN playing a more active role.
But equally it's very hard for Britain to get involved because Britain was the colonial power. Mr Mugabe, each time that Britain does condemn - and there has been a lot of condemnation in Britain - Mr Mugabe then says, well, they would say that anyway - these are the old imperialists still trying to tell us what to do. And amongst his people that has a currency. People were unhappy about the way that Britain handled things in the past and when independence came along twenty years ago, they saw it as a fresh start.
But for Mr Bush and Mr Blair generally, for the West to start trying to impose solutions on Zimbabwe would not go down well. It particularly wouldn't go down well, I guess, with Zimbabwe's African neighbours because in the past Mr Mugabe has been a good friend to the ANC when it fought for freedom from white domination in South Africa.
So Mr Mugabe is quite a substantial figure in the region. For Britain and America to start coming in and wielding the big stick could prove to be actually very counterproductive.
So I guess that our correspondent could do worse than send them some cash and at least part of that will probably find its way in that direction.
One of the things I was impressed with when I was there is the work of the small individual NGOs. I met a Zimbabwean churchman who is running a camp for displaced people. Now I have no idea how money could be contributed to them. But let's not forget that outside of the international arena, there are a lot of people in the country who are concerned about what's going on, who are quite bravely in the circumstances trying to do their bit.
But you have to be quite careful also about the people who you're talking to because, let's face it, in a country where there is repression, there is torture going on - I heard eye-witness accounts of that - which are completely and utterly indisputable - where people are routinely beaten up in the streets even if they happen not to go to a Zanu PF rally.
You have to be careful that the people you talk to are not brought into problems that they don't deserve by your very being there - by your talking to them. And I hope that after my visit that won't happen. It would be a great, great shame because a lot of people, very bravely, had things to say to us . Some of them wanted their names to be used - wanted to be on the air - some of them said, I'll tell you this but please don't show my face - that's the degree of fear.
As things get worse, with the food situation, I think we're going to see - a lot of people told me this - more people speaking out, more people going onto the streets. And then we might find that Mr Mugabe, who has managed to rack up the repression and has managed thus far to hold the line, is going to find it that much harder. And he then has a choice. He can either get tougher still - which may rebound - or he might have to just start listening to a lot of, what seem to be, the legitimate complaints that his people have.
Of course people out in the drought-hit areas are having much more severe difficulties. One elder in a village told me, well we only eat every other day, we let the children, the young people, eat every day - for us we just have to hold back because there's not enough food to go around.
So this is the kind of situation that you're actually faced with. And every day the currency - the Zimbabwean dollar - gets less and less in value. It buys less and less for people within the country. A lot of food and raw materials and so forth had to be imported - people can't buy the basics because Zimbabwe doesn't have a currency that allows them to.
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