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African-American Groups Condemn Zimbabwe's Mugabe - 2003-06-04

Some prominent African-American political activists have made public a letter sent to Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe condemning political repression by his government, and calling for "unconditional dialogue" on a transition to more broadly-supported leadership in Harare.

The open letter is signed by leaders of eight African-American trade union organizations and Africa policy groups, and it reflects what its authors say is growing apprehension in the U.S. black community about the course of events in Zimbabwe.

The document, made available to the news media Wednesday, cites what are termed "the increasing intolerant, repressive and violent" policies of the Mugabe government and the "devastating consequences" of those policies, including widespread poverty and famine.

Mr. Mugabe is urged to take "extraordinary steps" to end the country's crisis by opening an "unconditional dialogue" with the opposition aimed at an "effective process for a transition to a more broadly-supported government that upholds the democratic rights of all."

It also calls on him to seek the diplomatic intervention of concerned African countries and institutions including the African Union in mediating the conflict.

A signatory and spokesman for the group, Bill Fletcher, president of the Washington-based TransAfrica Forum, says the criticism of Mr. Mugabe was made with mixed feelings, since the Zimbabwean leader is remembered as a hero by many for his leading role in ending minority white rule in what was then Rhodesia in the 1970s.

But he told VOA there is worry in the African-American community now that the confrontation between Mr. Mugabe and his opponents might soon degenerate into an armed conflict that would be a disaster for the region and beyond.

"It appears that President Mugabe is more interested in holding onto power than he is in bringing about, or bringing Zimbabwe back from the precipice where it currently stands, a precipice which means one more step and the country may find itself in armed conflict," he said. "And so, yes, we feel that the time has come for the president of Zimbabwe to step forward, recognize that he has made very important contributions, but that a new leadership must emerge that draws from the best elements of the ZANU-PF (ruling party] and the best elements of the MDC [main opposition party] as well as other forces that are there on the ground."

Though the Bush administration has also been a persistent critic of the Mugabe government, Mr. Fletcher distanced himself and the letter's other signatories from the policies of both the U.S. and British governments, which he said have been "disingenuous" in their seemingly exclusive critical focus on Zimbabwe.

"There are countless other situations on the continent of Africa alone where there are undemocratic practices being undertaken where there's been silence from both of these governments," he said. "And it therefore appears to most people that the interest was piqued by the land seizures, and specifically because the land seizures were of white farm owners. Now while TransAfrica Forum disagrees with President Mugabe on the way the land seizures took place, we don't disagree that land redistribution needed to take place. In fact we would suggest that it needed to take place years ago."

Mr. Fletcher said his group was fearful that in the wake the Iraq war, the major powers might try to force "regime change" on Zimbabwe, but said outside intervention or destabilizing tactics would be neither necessary nor helpful.

He said he and his associates went public with the criticism of Mr. Mugabe after a number of unproductive meetings with representatives of his government.