Mugabe suffered a surprise defeat to a new opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in the 2000 constitutional referendum that sought to strengthen presidential powers and allow the expropriation without compensation of estates held by whites.
In March of 2000, 420 farms of white landowners were occupied by former black guerrillas. The Commercial Farmers Union accused Mugabe of orchestrating the takeovers to hide the failure of the land reform, as the government owned nearly two million acres of untapped fertile land. Mugabe responded that the country had no way to pay for the parceling of these lands or to provide the minimum infrastructure, such as pipes and roads.
In May, as a platform for the June parliamentary elections, Mugabe announced that he would not give in to international pressure and would not reverse or prevent land occupations. To avoid international supervision, the government reduced the number of election observers. Despite having forged the elections, the ZANU won only five more seats than the MDC, which had the support of the union movement and mainly urban. Mugabe faced serious opposition for the first time since 1980, and he was determined to eliminate it.
In 2001, the Mugabe regime was accused of human rights violations, including the right to information. British media and NGOs reported that many judges and journalists had to leave Zimbabwe and several opposition leaders were killed.
New international pressures led Mugabe to reduce illegal land occupations in September 2001 in exchange for English financial aid to compensate expropriated white farmers. The reluctance of companies to invest in the country increased unemployment and inflation reached 70% at the end of the year.
The government, which had censored the media (controlled by the state), introduced a bill called Access to Information and Protection of Privacy in January 2002, in an attempt to silence the independent press and foreign journalists. before the next presidential elections. National and international pressure caused the government to withdraw the project.
According to Healthvv, the presidential elections of March 2002 gave Mugabe the winner with 56.2% of the votes against Morgan Tsvangirai, of the MDC, who reached 41.9%. The opposition, independent observers and the international community denounced fraud. Weeks later, the British Commonwealth expelled the country for a year, based on the recommendations of the poll watchers group report, which concluded that the elections had been hampered by government-encouraged violence. The European Union and the United States announced severe sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2002.
Denmark closed its embassy in Harare and Switzerland blocked the accounts of several members of the government and denied them entry into Swiss territory. In August 2002, 3,000 white settlers were notified that they had to abandon their lands and in September Parliament passed laws to speed up the expropriation processes, which were to be completed in a month. Two thousand five hundred settlers decided to resist, a challenge to the government that sparked violent incidents. Inflation skyrocketed. Tsvangirai was charged with treason, allegedly for trying to overthrow the president.
In March 2003, observers denounced an unprecedented crackdown on widespread clashes over land expropriation. The government also severely cracked down on massive strikes and other measures calling for Mugabe’s retirement, supported by the trade union movement and the MDC.
Mugabe intensified his speech against the countries of the North. The Daily News, the only independent newspaper, was shut down in October. Many journalists were jailed and tortured. In December 2003, the British Commonwealth indefinitely extended the expulsion from Zimbabwe.
In March 2004, the EU renewed the sanctions and expanded the list of government members prohibited from entering its territory. In June, the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) condemned Zimbabwe’s laws against the press.
That same month, several civil rights organizations expressed their disagreement with a resolution of the African Union (AU) that, during its summit in Ethiopia, suspended the publication of a report that denounced human rights violations (such as torture, arbitrary arrest of parliamentarians opponents, among others) in the country. African leaders stated that the suspension was intended to give the country time to respond to the allegations.
In October, Tsvangirai was found not guilty of treason charges relating to an alleged assassination attempt on Mugabe, although he should face other treason charges. Joyce Mujuru became vice president of the republic in December.
In January 2005 Mugabe carried out a purge at ZANU-PF, dismissing several high-ranking members. He also imprisoned Philip Chiyangwa, one of the richest people in the country, on charges of espionage. That same month, reports of systematic attacks and torture against MDC supporters came to light on the eve of the March elections.
In March, ZANU-PF obtained two-thirds of the votes in the legislative elections. Tsvangirai denounced “massive fraud” once again.
Between May and June, tens of thousands of substandard housing and illegal street stalls were demolished in an “urban cleansing” operation that offered no alternative solutions to its occupants. According to UN estimates, some 700,000 people were left homeless. In August, the treason charges still pending against Tsvangirai were dropped. In November, ZANU-PF won an overwhelming majority in the elections called to form the new Senate, reestablished after six years of unicameral rule.
After visiting the country in December, Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that Zimbabwe was “disintegrating”.
The Famine Early Warning System (FEWSNET), a US-based organization, warned in February 2006 that domestic access to basic food items had fallen sharply in the region and that large numbers of people needed food assistance. According to FEWSNET, food insecurity in Zimbabwe would worsen over the months due to the deficit (1,200 tonnes) in 2005 cereal production.
In March, the IMF presented its latest assessment of Zimbabwe’s overdue financial obligations with the agency, as well as possible sanctions against this country. The Executive Board of the IMF decided not to restore Zimbabwe’s voting rights within it, nor the possibility of using the general resources of the Fund.
In May, after seven years of economic recession, inflation exceeded 1,000% – with a record in April, 1,043% -, the highest in the world at that time. On the other hand, that month unemployment rates stood at more than 70%.
Due to the severity of the crisis, by August 2007 thousands of people were crossing borders – mainly to South Africa – every day. The opposition Democratic Alliance called on the government to create refugee camps near the border. The idea was rejected by Pretoria as making it difficult for refugees to integrate into South African society.