Angus Shaw, AP, April 18, 2008
President Robert Mugabe devoted his first major speech since the unresolved election three weeks ago to denouncing whites and former colonial ruler Britain, an attempt to convince Zimbabweans their political and economic troubles stem from abroad.
“There are black people who are putting prices up, but they are being used by the whites,” Mugabe said, promising to tighten laws that set prices and to crack down on—and possibly take over—businesses that break the rules.
Whites “want the people to starve so they think the government is wrong and they should remove it,” said Mugabe, who has ruled since independence in 1980 but who, according to independent monitors, failed to win re-election in the March 29 presidential vote.
The opposition and independent economists blame Mugabe’s economic policies for the collapse of what was once southern Africa’s breadbasket. Often violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms that began on Mugabe’s orders in 2000 put land in the hands of his cronies instead of productive farmers, black or white, and agricultural production slumped.
The farm invasions were a dramatic example of Mugabe’s familiar tactic of demonizing whites. His anti-white rhetoric has long struck a chord in a country that suffered under white minority rule until 1980, and where whites controlled much of the economy even decades later.
But after repeated attacks on the white community, the seizure of most white-owned farms and a dwindling of the white community’s size and power, the effectiveness of scapegoating whites may have dwindled.
Mugabe claimed Friday that his political opposition wants “this country to go back to white people, to the British, the country we died for. It will never happen.”
The 84-year-old president spoke calmly for more than hour, with no visible signs of tiring. He spoke mostly in the Shona language instead of English—unusual for an event attended by diplomats and other foreign dignitaries.
“Beware. Be vigilant in the face of the vicious machinations of Britain and its other allies,” Mugabe said. “Yesterday they ruled by brute force. Today they have perfected their tactics to be more subtle. They are literally buying people to turn against the government. We are being bought like sheep because they have money and because we are suffering.”
The few passages in English included thanks to leaders of other southern African countries “for clearly articulating our case” about the election. The leaders held an emergency summit on Zimbabwe last weekend and issued a weak declaration that failed to criticize Mugabe.
“I want to thank South Africa in a special way for the role it has played in brokering our dialogue,” Mugabe added in English.
South African President Thabo Mbeki has argued against the international community taking a hard line against Mugabe, saying he is unlikely to respond to a confrontational approach.
But the failure of Zimbabwe’s electoral board to release results of the presidential ballot has angered many people, including in South Africa. On Friday, South African port workers and truckers refused to move a load of weapons destined for Zimbabwe’s security forces.
Independent tallies suggest opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai got the most votes—but not enough to win outright and avoid a runoff with Mugabe after a campaign in which the economy was the main issue.
Mugabe accused others of plotting violence. While he named no one, his comments could signal a further government crackdown.
“We know some people are planning that there will be places where there will be violence, with people burning shops and cars,” he said. “Those who are planning this, please stop it immediately, otherwise you are going to be in serious trouble with us.”