August 24th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Embryo experiments: are there any limits?

ALP's problems deeper than pre-selections and branch-stacking

Zimbabwe: Mugabe aggravates drought crisis

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Dizzy with success / Angry amnesiacs

EMBRYO EXPERIMENTATION: Consuming our unborn is indefensible

LAW: High Court judgment deepens native title confusion

General Cosgrove was wrong on Vietnam (letter)

Why the stock market plunged (letter)

Snowy River plan damages Murray basin (letter)

Infrastructure savings (letter)

COMMENT: Whose voice can be heard?

VICTORIA: Public forces backdown on Victorian sex zone plans

POPULATION: Time to set the record straight

COMMENT: Can the ABC be saved from itself?

ECONOMY: The Reserve, interest rates and inflation

ASIA: Taiwan's banking system under siege

BOOKS: Baby Hunger: The New Battle for Motherhood, by Sylvia Ann Hewlett

BOOKS: American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles, by Thomas Keneally

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Zimbabwe: Mugabe aggravates drought crisis

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, August 24, 2002
As drought spreads its tentacles across eastern Australia, forcing destocking of many rural areas and cuts to planting of winter cereal crops, spare a thought for southern Africa, where an el Niño-induced drought, coupled with AIDS and the disastrous policies of the Mugabe Government in Zimbabwe, may cause mass starvation late this year, and early in 2003.

Like most of Australia, southern Africa is subject to periodic droughts. Historical records show that southern Africa experiences about two severe droughts every ten years: the last was in 1998.

Leonard Unganai, an agroclimatology expert with the Drought Monitoring Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, said that one of the main reasons why southern Africa tends to be drought prone has to do with the region's geographical location in relation to the position of the semi-permanent subtropical high pressure belt.

"Regions whose climate is controlled by the subtropical high pressure systems, such as southern Africa, tend to be prone to stable and enduring atmospheric circulation which causes widespread and persistent rainfall deficiencies. The major deserts of the earth are in these zones," he said.

He added that a strong relationship exists between the occurrence of el Niño events and drought over southern Africa.

In the past, southern African countries have successfully averted famine through conservation and sound agricultural practices.

Despite the imminence of severe drought, the Mugabe Government in Zimbabwe, re-elected to office in what was widely regarded as a rigged ballot, is pushing ahead with the confiscation of some 4,000 white-owned farms, which feed many of Zimbabwe's 12 million people. A large number of the white farmers have already abandoned their farms.

Apart from the effect of drought, Zimbabwe is one of the world's most deeply affected HIV/AIDS nations, with an annual mortality rate of around 160,000, and about 25 per cent of adults suffering the incurable and fatal disease.

Even before the current drought and land disputes, inflation has been running as high as 60 per cent, and annual GDP growth has been negative for some years.

Yet despite this, Zimbabwe's xenophobic leader, Robert Mugabe, has targeted for destruction the small number of white farmers who produce a disproportionate share of Zimbabwe's agricultural output.

In the guise of "land reform", Mugabe has sent so-called "war veterans" - actually members of his political party, ZANU-PF - to terrorise and, in some cases, murder white farmers who remained on the land.

After narrowly winning the rigged House of Assembly elections in 2000, Mugabe then used control of the Parliament to force through legislation which confiscated the land of white farmers.

Although landless peasants were supposed to be the beneficiaries, much of the best land has been given to members of Mugabe's own Cabinet, as well as senior military figures, public servants and others.

This, in turn, has led to growing resentment among black Zimbabweans, who overwhelmingly voted for Mugabe in 1996, but turned against him in recent Presidential elections, which he narrowly won in the face of widespread claims by international observers of fraud and ballot-rigging.

In a recent development, the remaining 2,900 white farmers were faced with a law which declared it illegal for them to continue farming on their land.

The imminent disruption of Zimbabwe's agricultural system, in a society where agriculture represents some 30 per cent of GDP, and most people still live in rural areas - many in subsistence agriculture - could well lead to food shortages, even starvation given the current drought.

The latest move by the Mugabe Government was the issuing of a proclamation, published in the Government-run Zimbabwe Herald, announcing the confiscation of 804 white-owned farms.

As a result, many of Zimbabwe's white farming community began packing their belongings, and made plans to evacuate their homes as the Government prepared to seize their land.

One aspect of the land takeovers is that owners of the 804 commercial farms listed owe an estimated £UK106 million ($A300 million) to banks and finance houses on loans for farm inputs and mechanisation.

Defaults on these loans will rock Zimbabwe's financial markets that are already crumbling in the worst economic crisis since independence in 1980.

In the meantime, the European Union has announced a $34 million aid package for famine-stricken Zimbabwe, but warned President Mugabe against interfering with its distribution.

The European Commission, the EU's executive body, said its aid package would not go through government hands but would be distributed by aid agencies and the United Nations directly.

"Direct food aid is urgently needed. ... However, the Government also has a responsibility to help ensure that aid gets to those that need it," said Paul Nielson, European commissioner for development and aid.

It is not clear whether Zimbabwe will recover from the looming crises which threaten to turn it into a basket case.

  • Peter Westmore

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