Britain Assembles African Support Against Zimbabwe

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

London ( - Britain on Monday began to rally support from African leaders in its campaign to pressure Zimbabwe into dropping its land-grabbing policies, after a weekend in which one white farmer and two black opposition members were murdered.

British officials said Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has contacted the leaders of Nigeria, and planned to speak to those of South Africa, Mozambique and Algeria - whose president, Abdelaziz Bouteflikak is the current head of the Organization of African Unity.

Cook said he would urge the leaders to use their influence to urge Zimbabwe to stop a spree of invasions of white-owned farms, to "give the same message to President [Robert] Mugabe to stop the destruction of his own country before he also starts to damage Africa as well."

The British government is under fire from opposition Conservatives for not taking firmer action against the southern African former British colony.

Despite the three weekend deaths, allegedly at the hands of his supporters, Mugabe said Sunday he would not call on pro-government squatters to vacate farms they have seized in the past two months.

"We cannot protect you if you provoke the war veterans," he said on returning to Harare from a visit to Cuba. "You must accept the consequences.

"We warned farmers not to resist, not to pull out guns, not to fight," he added.

"There is an expectation I will say to the war veterans they must get off the land. I will not do that until we start redistributing the land."

Some of the squatters are veterans of Mugabe's Marxist guerilla movement, which fought white Rhodesian minority rule in pre-independence Zimbabwe.

Mugabe maintains the occupations are a legitimate response to the years of land dispossession suffered by black citizens, while several thousand white farmers own the most productive land.

A spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said two party activists died on Saturday when their car was petrol-bombed by supporters of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

Also over the weekend, David Stevens, a white farmer and active MDC member, was abducted by squatters and beaten to death. Five friends who tried to rescue him were also captured and severely beaten before managing to escape. Police were apparently at the scene when Stevens was taken captive.

Reports from Harare say Stevens was targeted not as a white farmer, but because of his MDC activities. After two decades of remaining outside of politics, many whites are now supporting the MDC, which poses the first serious threat ever to Mugabe's 20-year regime.

Britain Sunday called in Zimbabwe's high commissioner (ambassador) to demand that further violence and killings be prevented

Peter Hain, Foreign Office Minister responsible for African affairs, said in a statement that he had told the diplomat it was essential the lawlessness be stopped.

"I said that it was particularly disturbing that a farmer had been killed after being abducted in front of the police by squatters, and that two members of the opposition had apparently been killed by government supporters."

Faced with Conservative Party calls to cut off aid or to have Zimbabwe suspended from the Commonwealth - a grouping of Britain and its British colonies - Cook said during a television interview in India Sunday such action would be counter-productive.

"The people we help with our aid program are the people who are among the poorest in Zimbabwe ... cutting off aid would hurt those people and I am bound to say I don't see any sign that President Mugabe would be the least bit concerned if the poor in his country were hurt any further."

Cook noted that MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had told him during talks in London last week that cutting Zimbabwe off from Britain or the outside world would cause its citizens further hardship.

Confronting similar questions in another interview in Britain, Hain echoed the line that sanctions would hurt the very people they intended to help.

Ironically, Hain was a leader in the campaign to isolate South Africa's racist government during the 1980s. Anti-apartheid campaigners at the time dismissed similar arguments from opponents of sanctions.

The United States earlier this month cut back on aid for Zimbabwe land reforms in reaction to the land seizures.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow