How it all started.

Position:Zimbabwe/Britain - Brief Article

The world has been told about the "bad guys" in Zimbabwe, but not how President Robert Mugabe who was voted "Africa's best president" by New African readers in 1990 (see NA, Jan 1990), suddenly became a "tyrant" in 1998 and turned his government and country into the "worst kind" in Africa.

On page 20-24 of this issue, Zimbabwe's foreign minister, Stanley Mudenge, tells how Mugabe became a "tyrant" overnight.

"Two things in fact happened to produce the change," Mudenge says. "First, Zimbabwe took steps to resolve the land question once and for all. Secondly, Zimbabwe took the principled decision to join other SADC allies in defending the sover-eignty of thc Democratic Republic of Congo, at the request of the SADC country's legitimate government. "We only resorted to this action after the new Labour government [under Tony Blair] had reneged on the Lancaster House obligation to assist us with land reform.

"To quote the exact words of the then newly appointed secretary of state, Claire Short:

'I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and as you know we were colonised not colonisers.'

"With that letter, the present UK/Zimbabwe impasse was born."

New African readers do not have to believe Mudenge, because we publish below the full text of Claire Short's famous letter to the Zimbabwean government dated 5 November 1997, seven months after Tony Blair's then new government had been voted into power in May 1997.

"Department for International Development

5 November 1997

94 Victoria Street, London SW1E 5JL

Hon Kumbirai Kangai MP

From the Secretary of State

Minister of Agriculture and Land

Dear Minister,

George Foulkes has reported to me on the meeting which you and Hon John Nkomo had with Tony Lloyd and him during your recent visit. I know that President Mugabe also discussed the land issue with the Prime Minister briefly during their meeting. It may be helpful if I record where matters now rest on the issue.

At the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, Tony Blair said that he looked forward to developing a new basis for relations with Commonwealth countries founded upon our government's policies, not on the past.

We will set out our agenda for international development in a White Paper to be published this week. The central thrust of this...

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