Farmers promised protection in new economic plan

Jan Raath in Harare

Zimbabwe's five-week-old unity Government promised yesterday to protect the few remaining white farmers from the intimidation that has forced thousands to flee their land in the last few years.

Announcing a plan to rescue the country's shattered economy that calls
for $5 billion (3.4 billion) of aid, Tendai Biti, the new Minister of
Finance, promised that no more white-owned farms would be seized.

The Government's so-called land reform programme authorised by
President Mugagbe has forced 4,000 white farmers from their land,
prompting famine in what used to be considered a breadbasket for Africa.

President Mugabe, seated next to Mr Biti on the podium as the economic
plan was announced, restricted himself mostly to appeals for Western
governments to lift what he called the inhuman, cruel and unwarranted
sanctions that he claims are the cause of the country's economic

Under his rule the country has suffered economic disaster.
Hyperinflation has rendered the currency all but worthless. There are
severe shortages of the most basic goods and a failure of healthcare
and sanitation has sparked a cholera outbreak.

The nine-month programme would depend on assistance from the
International Monetary Fund, World Bank and Western governments, Mr
Biti said. He also said that the distribution of funds would be
transparent, making the finance ministry under him the primary channel
. . . of this programme. Critics of Mr Mugabe say that under his
stewardship funds flowing into the country were often diverted from
their destination.

Mr Biti, whom Mr Mugabe had arrested on fake treason charges ten months
ago, said the rescue package should allow the people of Zimbabwe to
have decent jobs and incomes, and should ensure that our hospitals and
schools are once again functioning.

The prospect of securing foreign loans seemed remote in September when
Mr Mugabe and the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai signed a
power-sharing agreement. British and American officials promised that
not a cent would be forthcoming in aid if Mr Mugabe were still in

However, Mr Tsvangirai's increasing influence in the Government has
encouraged donors, who now say they want to see key reforms before
parting with funds. Mr Tsvangirai, who is now Prime Minister, was not
at the launch but with his children in South Africa, mourning his wife
Susan, who died in a car crash two weeks ago.

A team from the IMF, which is visiting Zimbabwe, said the country was
still some way from meeting the conditions for receiving fresh funds.
It wants to see the country in a position to repay arrears on existing

Zimbabwe needs to pay the outstanding amounts. We can't just step in
and shore up the budget, a senior visiting IMF official told a group
of civil organisations this week. We want to assess the situation over
the next few months to see sound policy changes. In the meantime, she
said, the IMF was recommending humanitarian aid rather than funds to
finance the running of the Government.

The Times (UK)

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