British cash behind bid to combat Mugabe
Top Tories backing pro-democracy trust are accused of promoting their own interests
A prominent group of British and American politicians and businessmen - many with energy and mining interests in Zimbabwe - are behind an international organisation to fund opposition to the regime of Robert Mugabe.
The Zimbabwe Democracy Trust, whose patrons include former Tory Foreign Secretaries Malcolm Rifkind, Douglas Hurd and Geoffrey Howe has been accused of using the organisation as a cover for promoting the interests of Western multi-nationals in the troubled region.
Violence erupted in the southern African country when veterans of the colonial struggle began occupying the farms of white settlers and attacking members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. So far about 19 supporters have been killed and around 400 homes destroyed or occupied.
According to ZDT literature, the organisation 'has the simplest of goals: to help the democratic will of the people flourish'. But The Observer can reveal that several of the patrons of the newly formed trust are directors of companies which have substantial commercial interests at stake in Zimbabwe. ZDT keeps its membership secret for fear of reprisals from the Mugabe regime, but The Observer has discovered that they largely come from the white business community in Zimbabwe.
In April, ZDT organised the visit to London and Washington of Morgan Tsvingirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition group in Zimbabwe. During the visits he met British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and the US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Susan Rice.
The visits followed a visit to South Africa with an itinerary which included meetings with prominent figures in the business community, including the mining giant Anglo-American, which has interests in Zimbabwe.
The driving force behind ZDT is Sir John Collins, the Zimbabwean Chairman of National Power, Britain's largest energy company, who organised a letter to the Times, published in April, calling for free elections. He did not say his company had substantial interests in Zimbabwe; in 1998 National Power won a $1.5 billion contract to develop a power station in the country.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind has a long-standing connection to the country where he worked as a lecturer prior to independence. He works for the Australian mining company Broken Hill Proprietary which has been involved in a wrangle with the Mugabe government over a mine in Zimbabwe.
Former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Dr Chester Crocker is another patron - a director of Ashanti Gold Fields, which owns Zimbabwe's largest gold mine. When approached by The Observer, he said: 'I have nothing personally to gain from supporting the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust. They were reaching out for like-minded people and I am like-minded.'
Lord Hurd, who has no known interests in Zimbabwe, said that the patrons of ZDT were aware that some people would accuse the organisation of neo-colonialism: 'The risk was in our minds when we decided to proceed, but we are not going to just sit with sticking plaster on our mouths. If anybody chooses to make xenophobic and racist comments about what we are doing, then so be it.'
Concerns about 'European' funding of the MDC were raised by South African Ministers visiting Britain last week with President Thabo Mbeki.
Analysts and advisers close to the MDC have raised concerns that Zimbabwe Democracy Trust could be playing into Mugabe's hands by allowing him to suggest the opposition is a front for white 'Rhodesian' business interests.
John Makumbe, lecturer in political science at Harare University and a supporter of the MDC, said: 'It cannot be ruled out that the ZDT viewed the Movement for Democratic Change as a way of facilitating their own interests. It is largely white Rhodesians who are backing the trust. Morgan is fully aware of the ZDT agenda'
On Friday, Harare's Herald newspaper, which acts as the mouthpiece for Mugabe, claimed that American and British financial interests were plotting to overthrow the Government. ZDT has threatened to sue over the claims. Zimbabwe Democracy Trust spokesman Patrick Robertson said: 'The ZDT was set up to make sure there is a free and fair election in Zimbabwe. All our patrons have been involved in the country in one way or another. All the more reason to want to protect it.'
David Anderson, a Zimbabwe expert at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies, said: 'The Movement for Democratic Change is backed by a mixture of self-serving Europeans and those who are genuinely liberal. The opposition wants to remove Mugabe and corruption, but they are not radicals.
'They get support from the lower orders, as any opposition would, but they don't really represent the landless.'