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By Ibrahim Seaga Shaw - 21/09/2000  New AfricanSep 2000  

Christmas has come early for President Mugabe. Under pressure at home and abroad to drop his controversial land reform policy, Mugabe's hand has been strengthened enormously by leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) who gave him unflinching support at their 20th Summit held in Windhoek, the Namibian capital, on 6-7 August.


\r\n The SADC chairman, President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique led the chorus. In remarks, widely viewed as a clear-cut support for Mugabe, Chissano said there has been a tendency on the part of some "big powers" to put a "blanket" over the history of the freedom struggle by "portraying heroes of the freedom struggle as anti-democratic and even dictators".

"We cannot in SADC condone these views," Chissano said. "We are the democrats and we want democracy to work according to the will of our people in each one of our countries."

Present at the Summit were the presidents of Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho`and the King of Swaziland. DRCongo, Mauritius and Seychelles were represented by their foreign ministers.

In defiance of the Mugabe-bashing in the West, the SADC "congratulated" him and "the people of Zimbabwe on the manner in which they conducted their parliamentary elections on 24-25 June".

The Summit nominated the South African president, Thabo Mbeki, and his Malawian counterpart, Bakili Muluzi, to make representations to Britain, on behalf of the region, in attempts to break the impasse on Zimbabwe's land issue.

"We are convinced," the leaders said in a statement after the Summit, "that to have a land reform programme that is fair and just to all the stakeholdets, it is imperative for the UK government to honour its obligations under the Lancaster House agreement to provide recourse for that purpose."

They expressed disappointment at "the partisan and biased manner" in which a sector of the international media had misrepresented Zimbabwe's land policy.

"We reiterate our acceptance of the urgent need to effect land redistribution in Zimbabwe to address land hunger and poverty affecting millions of black Zimbabweans," the leaders said.

They welcomed Mugabe's assurances that the land programme would be handled peacefully, and within the provisions of the laws of Zimbabwe.

"We are therefore greatly concerned about the bill cited as the `Zimbabwe Democracy Act of 2000' passed by the US Senate on 23 June 2000, seeking to impose on Zimbabwe a land reform programme and a political dispensation as prescribed by the US Senate."

The bill seeks among other things to authorise the US president to support opponents of Mugabe's government by financing propaganda activities against the government through the support of the private media and opposition-minded civic groups.

"We further note, with concern," the SADC leaders said, "that the [American] bill also aims to subvert Zimbabwe's economic foundation by prohibiting assistance or debt relief from being extended to Zimbabwe by the USA and by any international financial institutions to which the USA is a member.

"This punitive piece of legislation is counter-- productive and unjust since it will have far reaching negative implications for the economic development and evolution of democratic institutions in Zimbabwe in particular and the region in general."

The leaders continued: "We find it regrettable that this bill is being proposed at a time when Zimbabwe is involved in a challenging economic recovery programme and when we in SADC are trying to deepen the integration process in our region. The bill will mark a major setback in our community building efforts."

As a result, the Summit urged the US Congress to reconsider its policy and withdraw the bill before it is passed into law.

In this regard, the SADC leaders mandated their ambassadors in Washington and the SADC Secretariat to make urgent representations to the US Congress "projecting the SADC common position on this matter".

"We also call on the region's civil society groups and parliaments to rally behind the people of Zimbabwe against this bill."

Mugabe could not have expected more. The resounding support was seen as proof that, at last, African leaders are determined not to bend the knee to big-power bullying, no matter the consequences.

Ibrahim Seaga Shaw SADC Congo peace talks  - At the time of going to press, the SADC Congo peace talks were still going on in Lusaka, Zambia. Early indications pointed to a good conference.