Due to poor harvests as a consequence of either drought or flooding, several countries in Southern Africa - Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe - are threatened by an acute famine which will affect the survival of hundred of thousands of people, most of them belonging to the poorest. Only one third of the planned food imports to refill the dwindling stocks has so far been realised and international aid flows are still rather poor.

The serious food situation in Zimbabwe, once the "breadbasket of the region", is deepening the economic and political crisis of this country, thus threatening the whole region. This situation poses a crucial test for both the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

The complex crisis of Zimbabwe has been further highlighted by the draconian measures taken by the government of President Mugabe in the wake of the recent presidential elections, which were overshadowed by violence and serious irregularities, putting in doubt their legitimacy. The chaotic, unconstitutional and populist way in which the long overdue land reform is being handled increases the food crisis in Zimbabwe even more.

It is quite evident that Western and European countries have to share responsibility for the crisis. This refers to the question of the highly imbalanced land distribution which has been inherited from colonial time and the role of the former colonial power Great Britain, but also to the policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In the Nineties, the IMF and the World Bank imposed a ruinous system of hasty deregulation on Zimbabwe which, as a consequence, resulted in massive de-industrialisation, the deterioration of public services like health and education, and finally led Zimbabwe deeper into the debt trap.

Nigeria's and South Africa's recent mediation initiative between the two highly polarised political parties in Zimbabwe is a glimmer of hope to find an African solution for a conflict characterised by widespread intimidation and violence. Nonetheless, the responsibility of the international community and donors is still challenged. The EU in particular will have to make up for its rather weak performance before and during the recent presidential elections in Zimbabwe.

Southern Africa has for many years been a focus region of the Austrian Development Cooperation, as well as the stage for varied cultural exchange programmes, and an area of hope of Austrian economic interests and investors. For these reasons, the Austrian Federal Government cannot afford to ignore the present development in the region. For a long time, Austria has had close contacts with Zimbabwe and is not impaired by a colonial past in Southern Africa. In addition, being a neutral country puts Austria into a good position to make a viable contribution to solve the conflict in Zimbabwe.

Being Austrian organisations with a long-standing record of building friendship with the region of Southern Africa, we appeal to the Austrian Federal Government

within the framework of the EU and the World Food Program of the UN, to urgently provide food aid to the affected countries in Southern Africa, assuring equal distribution and avoiding misuse for political purposes;

to start an Austrian initiative or mediation effort to revive a constructive political dialogue between Zimbabwe and the EU;

to essentially increase the amount of Austrian development aid to Zimbabwe and to use it primarily for strengthening democratisation through civil society initiatives. However, a workable agreement between the two political parties, MDC and ZANU, which includes further steps to end the food crisis in particular and the economic and political crisis in general, and which also paves the way for constitutional reform and new elections, will have to be a precondition for that.

Vienna, 11th April, 2002

SADOCC - Southern Africa Documentation and Cooperation Centre:
Dr. Walter Sauer

ARGEZIM / AZFA - Austria Zimbabwe Friendship Association:
Mag. Peter Kuthan