Whites Under Siege Hunker Down in Zimbabwe Election Crisis

Angus Shaw, AP, April 16, 2008

With his 28-year grip on power slipping, President Robert Mugabe’s government has again lashed out at Zimbabwe’s white community, calling his black opponents tools of former colonial master Britain and stoking anger against the nation’s whites.

In the past, such attacks 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, the seizure of most white-owned farms and the near collapse of the economy, the white community’s size and power have dwindled. It may no longer be effective to use whites as a scapegoat for the nation’s ills.

Attacking the nation’s whites is “the last card” Mugabe has in his fight for political survival, analyst John Makumbe said. “He has nothing else to offer.”

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Following the vote, which he reportedly lost though the results have yet to be released, Mugabe again turned to the racial issue, telling Zimbabweans that the land taken from the white farmers was under threat.

“This our soil, and the soil must never go back to the whites,” he said.

Since then, ruling party militants have invaded scores of the farms still owned by whites. The opposition says the attacks are part of a wave of intimidation by Mugabe loyalists meant to ensure that the president does not lose an expected runoff.

“Looting is taking place. It is a free-for-all. Farmers are being told they are enemies of the state. There is no more discussion than that,” said Trevor Gifford, head of the mainly white farmers’ union.

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Now, there are only 30,000 whites left out of a population of about 12 million—though an estimated 5 million Zimbabweans, black and white, have fled as economic fugitives and political exiles.

Many of the remaining whites are retirees finding it nearly impossible to live on their meager pensions with the official inflation rate of 100,000 percent, the highest in the world. Independent financial firms say real inflation is closer to 290,000 percent.

One white retiree in the Alexandra Park suburb of northern Harare said his monthly pension does not buy him a loaf of bread, and he survives on handouts from relatives abroad.

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White enclaves such as tennis, sports and social clubs, have largely disappeared. Whites no longer display what affluence they retain, fearing it will make them targets.

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Meanwhile, increasing numbers of whites are suffering stress-related conditions, respiratory illness and alcohol abuse, doctors said.

Mugabe’s allies in the ruling party, with their luxury cars, ornate mansions and access to state-subsidized fuel and special rates for buying hard currency, now sit atop the economy.

Businessman and former ruling party lawmaker Philip Chiyangwa owns a Hummer even though gasoline is almost impossible for ordinary Zimbabweans to find. He boasted in the state media recently that he installed a computerized color-coded wardrobe for matching hundreds of suits, shoes and fashion accessories at his 30-room home in the exclusive Harare suburb of Borrowdale.

Meanwhile, many black farm workers seen as opposition supporters are being intimidated, and several black-owned farms have been raided, witnesses said.

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