Weve been watching the trouble in Zimbabwe for two years. It looks like the country is now on the edge of a civil war. Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is an ethnic cleanser, a "former Marxist", and a savvy, cynical thief whose grip on power is slipping. Over the last 15 years his greed and mismanagement have wrecked his nation's economy. Mugabes scheme to retain power involves the dictator's usual routines: stoking ethnic strife, inciting economic envy, and physically intimidating his domestic opposition.
In Spring 2000, as elections approached, the situation in Zimbabwe began to deteriorate rapidly as Mugabe used a cadre of war veterans to occupy white-owned farms. Some of these men are actually veterans of Zimbabwe's 1970s war of liberation against white minority rule. The group is really an armed gang doing Mugabes bidding and supporting his ZANU-PF party. In February 2000, after the defeat of a "land reform" referendum that would have given Mugabe power to take white-owned farms without compensation, gangs under his control occupied the farms. The defeat of the referendum clued Mugabe that his regime, in power since 1980, was at risk. The opposition, black-led Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had strength throughout Zimbabwe. The MDC, a predominantly black pro-democracy group, is Mugabes real target. Mugabe maintained control during elections in June 2000. However, his government faces a challenge in elections scheduled for 2002.
Move to November 2001. On November 12 the body of a Mugabe war veteran was discovered in a grave outside of Bulawayo (Zimbabwes second largest city). The war veteran, Cain Nkala, was reportedly abducted on November 8. Nkala was the leader of the local war veterans group. The Mugabe government blamed the MDC and called the murder an act of terrorism. After the discovery of the body, violent protests began throughout the Harare. On November 16, the MDCs main office in Harare was firebombed. In Bulawayo more violence occurred. The big news was a street battle between the opposition and some of Mugabes war veterans. On November 17 the Mugabe government accused white Zimbabwean farmers and the British government of funding terrorists and terrorism. Specifically, Mugabe said the Westminster Foundation serves as a funding source for dirty tricks by the British Labor Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal party, and that is of course also from the government of Tony Blair." (Thats a direct quote from the wire service reports.) Mugabe says the murder of Nkala shows an international conspiracy is afoot to topple his government.
The MDC denies any involvement in the murder. As of November 18, the MDC is urging its members to remain column and avoid violence. The MDC is weak and lacks the street muscle of the war veterans. (And Mugabe also controls the army and police.) Its a very good bet Mugabe is orchestrating the violence. Intimidation is how he maintains control. (Austin Bay)