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Last kicks of a dying horse

"The President is mad. Long live the President!" says Godfrey, my taxi driver, unexpectedly, on the way into Harare, as we pass a dawn petrol queue in which I count 73 cars.

At the reception desk of the Sheraton, I am given a torch along with my room key. "Zimbabwe is going through a few problems," the receptionist smiles apologetically.

Down the road, inside the gleaming white presidency, Comrade Robert Mugabe, as he likes to be known, has just finished his gym. The 76-year-old works out every day from 5am to 6am to keep in shape for his mistress-turned-wife.

These days, with the country's economy in free fall, his own party members questioning his rule, and former colleagues in the freedom struggle accusing him of betrayal, Mr Mugabe is exercising harder than ever. Nero may have fiddled while Rome burnt but Mugabe pumps iron.

Edgar Tekere, a psychologist and founder member of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), who fought with Mr Mugabe in the liberation war and accompanied him in the London negotiations for independence, has no doubt about the cause. "I have come to the conclusion that the crises are the result of one pivotal crisis - that our head of state is of doubtful sanity," he said.

A few hours in the mad world of Robert Mugabe is enough to test anyone's sanity. The fuel shortage caused by the country running out of foreign currency is visible everywhere, with five-hour queues at petrol stations, empty shelves in shops, and people waiting for buses that never come.

More than half the population is unemployed, inflation is 70 per cent, and the army engaged in a war nothing to do with Zimbabwe, 1,600 kilometres away in the Congo, which is draining $A2million) a day from Treasury coffers.

Foreign investment has been scared off by Mr Mugabe's threats to seize white-owned farms, and most aid suspended. Yet the President gives an interview boasting: "No-one could have managed the economy better than me."

But the pressure is clearly starting to get to him. Last month he suffered his first electoral defeat in 20 years, losing the referendum on a new Constitution, which would have given him the power to seize white-owned land without compensation. Afterwards, members of his own party called on him to step down at a heated central committee meeting.

In recent weeks, Mr Mugabe has appeared pensive, his shoulders hunched like those of Richard Nixon in his final days. But he shows no sign of resigning.

At the presidential offices, his charming spokesman, George Charamba, has the unhappy task of pretending all is well, when the photographs on the wall, showing Mr Mugabe embracing a selection of international pariahs from Muammar Gaddafi to Fidel Castro, reveal just how isolated the country is.

Mr Mugabe is now resorting to more desperate measures. Having lost the referendum, he sponsored invasions of white-owned farms by so-called war veterans who in reality are mostly unemployed youths bused in and paid by the Government.

When the High Court ruled that the occupations were illegal and the squatters must move, Mr Mugabe refused to send in the police and instead encouraged further occupations.

In a country where blacks and whites more or less got along, he is trying to revive racism by attacking whites, blaming them for all the country's ills. Diplomats for a while were taking bets over which of their countries would be the President's next target, until he settled on Britain, the former colonial power, as the source of all evil. Zimbabwe's international isolation was complete when he ordered the opening of British diplomatic cargo earlier this month.

In an even more dangerous development, members of his Central Intelligence Organisation, a much-feared KGB-style outfit, have been touring the country, warning people that if ZANU-PF doesn't win the forthcoming parliamentary elections, the country will return to war.

"We call these the last kicks of the dying horse," said Margaret Dongo, one of only three opposition MPs in the 150-member parliament, who narrowly escaped a petrol bomb attack two years ago. "He is making careless decisions because he is confused and doesn't know what to do."

How could a man who, at independence in 1980, seemed to have everything going for him, a great orator with a brilliant brain, in charge of one of Africa's most prosperous and beautiful nations, have turned into one of the continent's most hated figures?

It all started to go wrong in 1983 when he launched his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade on Matabeleland, the home state of his great rival, Joshua Nkomo. Thousands were murdered by the Fifth Brigade before Mr Nkomo signed the Unity Accord of 1987, making Zimbabwe a one party state.

Although there were improvements in access to education and health care during the 1980s, Mr Mugabe's Marxist-Leninist rhetoric so deterred investors that there was no money to pay the bills. The collapse of communism in Europe removed his last backers.

The man on whom most hopes rest is Morgan Tsvangirai, a former trade union leader, who heads the newly formed Movement for Democratic Change. He warns: "Mugabe is a man in a total frenzy. Some of his actions are suicidal."

The opposition is warning that if it wins the elections - if there are elections - Mr Mugabe will face impeachment and possible trial for human rights abuses and corruption.

The Telegraph, London


Devolution posting for general awareness...sheesh - North Korean trained Fifth Brigade of thugs!

Regards from OZ

-- Pieter (, April 01, 2000

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