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Zanu-PF conference to focus on land reform

4th December 2003

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He may not be among Commonwealth leaders meeting in Nigeria this week, but Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe will be the centre of attention at his party's annual conference.

Around 3 000 delegates of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union -Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) will start gathering today for the three-day conference in the southern town of Masvingo, a party stronghold.

The official opening by Mugabe is scheduled for tomorrow.

Issues such as Zimbabwe's deepening economic crisis – inflation is above 500% and rising - and the controversial land reform programme are expected to be discussed.

Not on the agenda of the conference, however, will be Mugabe's exit from office. The topic of the 79-year-old leader's possible retirement had been a subject of hot debate ahead of the conference.

Party secretary for information and publicity Nathan Shamuyarira on Monday said "succession issues" would be discussed at a congress next year, four years before the next presidential election due in 2008.

Mugabe is instead expected to use the conference to attack his country's international isolation, including its 20-month suspension from the Commonwealth.

The conference coincides with the December 5-8 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in the Nigerian capital Abuja, to which Mugabe has not been invited.

The Zimbabwe leader last week threatened to quit the 54-member grouping of mainly former British colonies.

Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth in March last year following Mugabe's disputed re-election, and last week Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said Mugabe would not be invited to this week's summit.

At last year's conference Mugabe warned that he would respond to alleged Western hostility against his government by ratcheting up hostility against whites in the southern African country.

Relations between Zimbabwe and former colonial power Britain have soured in recent years after Mugabe's government embarked on a campaign to seize white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks.

"The more they (western countries) work against us, the more they express their hostility against us, the more negative we shall become to their kith and kin here," Mugabe said.

Mugabe said countries aligning themselves with Britain in an international anti-Zimbabwe drive would be recognised as "our enemies like we recognise Britain as our enemy".

There is nothing to suggest he will change his tune this year.

This week Mugabe took a swipe at some unnamed "apologetic" African leaders whom he accused of betraying an African brother.

"There are others who are apologetic about our nationalism.

Others who fear to be complete Africans, hesitate to express solidarity with us," Mugabe said.

It was not clear if he was referring to Obasanjo. – Sapa-AFP.
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