27 JULY 2002, Page 18


It's nearly too late to save Zimbabwe, says

Michael Ancram. The world must

intervene to stop Mugabe

Blantyre, Malawi IT IS not often that you see a human face devoid of hope. Last Wednesday morning in a dusty wood outside Harare in Zimbabwe I looked into many such faces. These were the forgotten victims of Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe, just a few of the 85,000 'displaced' black workers thrown violently off their farms. Their few possessions have been taken from them, and most will never find work again.

Among them are frail and elderly men and women, retired after a lifetime's work, and children whose worlds have been turned upside-down, hanging around in the sun with no prospect of an education. I saw about 100 such people. A 45-year-old foreman had been forced to leave behind the beef herd he had worked with for 15 years. He was a skilled stockman of the sort highly valued in any agricultural economy. He is unlikely ever to tend cattle again. A 54year-old farmhand, whose father and grandfather had worked on the farm before him, had lost the only home and working environment he had ever known — and Zimbabwe had lost another skilled hand. An 80-year-old wizened and lame retired worker, expecting to live Out his declining years in relative tranquillity, was stumbling around the tents and the open fires, lost. A mother pointed to her ten-year-old child and said, 'No school now. No more school ever.' From what I heard she is probably right.

The numbers are rocketing. If the land grabs continue and the 2,900 white farmers are required to leave their farms on 9 August, the number of 'displaced' black farm workers could rise to 300,000. Robert Mugabe couldn't care less. His government sneeringly describes the victims as Malawian or Mozambican, ignoring the reality that they have been in Zimbabwe for generations.

My colleague Richard Spring, MP, and I arrived at an almost empty Harare airport at about 9 a.m. Because the Zimbabwean authorities did not know we were there, we were able to see troubling sights. A whistle-stop tour of the farm

lands north-west of Harare showed us that hectare after hectare of highly productive farmland is lying unprepared, unplanted and vandalised. The sheer evil of this deliberate waste, at a time when six million Zimbabweans are malnourished and the threat of famine is just around the corner, was made starker by the evident success of the few farms still in production.

We returned to Harare to meet politicians from the opposition MDC party, including the leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. The meeting was held on neutral ground to avoid inviting undue attention. Tsvangirai is a big man in every sense. He has a large physique, a big presence and a broad smile. In conversation he was frank and to the point. There was a sense of leadership in the room, and his very able colleagues were evidently proud of him. In fact, all these politicians are remarkable. Their refusal to be cowed by constant threats and harassment, their determination to fight the corruption which is the Mugabe regime, their faith that in the end the democratic system and the rule of law will come good, deserve the fullest admiration. Amid the gloom of despair they remain a guiding light.

So do the representatives of Civil Society whom we met next. These are the uncoverers and publishers of the disgraceful human-rights abuses, of political 'cleansing', of the rule of law ignored. We met them behind barred and barbed pro tection. They, too, are brave — many of them are young black Zimbabweans, desperate about their country, prepared to speak out. They believe that Mugabe's government is without legitimacy and they are setting out to prove it.

We were given chapter and verse on the violations, the violence, the contempt for the law and the abuse of authority, including the chilling fact that many of the political assaults are carried out by the police on people in their custody.

We visited the British I ugh Commissioner, both to report and to be briefed, and then returned to Harare airport and left. While the day had passed without any specific cause for alarm, I have to admit that as the plane took off the relief was palpable. It was, however, mixed with a great sadness at what I had seen and heard, and a renewed determination to help.

A crisis is already engulfing Zimbabwe. I believe that it is about to implode into full-blown disaster. In a world where there are too many natural disasters it is almost a blasphemy to witness one that is deliberately politically engineered. Each of the elements — the displaced, the crop failures, the impending famine, the undermining of democracy and the rule of law — is the direct product of Mugabe's despotism.

While I welcome the fact that, late in the day, the British government and European colleagues have extended the travel ban on the Mugabe regime, which I have long called for, the ban does not include business associates and all spouses and families of those on the expanded list. The targeted sanctions still do not go far enough if they are to be genuinely effective. The lesson of the last six months is that it is not just the announcement that matters but a rigorous implementation of the ban, with loopholes closed, in order to show that Europe matches words with actions. This is because we have now seen the official press release, which upon closer scrutiny is quite weak. Only Grace Mugabe is included as the single spouse on the list.

The tragedy of Zimbabwe is that disaster has been coming a long time, yet so little has been done internationally to avert it at an early stage when pressure could have had a much greater effect. Footdragging and 'mental imperialism' prevented it. They must not be allowed to prevent it any more.

The international community must come together in an effective coalition and ensure that whatever it takes to secure fresh elections in Zimbabwe is brought to bear now. Soon it will be too late.

Speeches about healing the scars of Africa are not only worthless if they are not accompanied by action, but are also positively damaging because they raise expectations only cruelly to dash them. If Tony Blair meant it when he talked about a moral duty to act, he must show that he meant it.