Hours after the ceremony that broke Mr Mugabe’s long monopoly on power
a huge and euphoric throng poured into a stadium in Harare to hail the
man to whom they are looking Ã¢â‚¬â€ perhaps prematurely Ã¢â‚¬â€ for liberation
from so much hunger, violence and repression. They sang, danced and
brazenly flaunted the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) hats and
T-shirts that they would have kept well hidden before yesterday. They
roared their approval as Mr Tsvangirai promised the food, jobs and
political freedoms that they have been denied for a generation.
For too long our people’s hopes for a bright and prosperous future
have been betrayed, he declared, in a speech that was a stinging
indictment of Mr Mugabe’s disastrous record. Instead of hope their
days have been filled with starvation, disease and fear. A culture of
entitlement and impunity has brought our nation to the brink of a dark
abyss. This must end today.
The huge, exuberant rally offered a stark contrast to the joyless
ceremony at State House hours earlier, where Mr Mugabe had sourly
administered the oath of office to the man whom his thugs have
repeatedly beaten, imprisoned and attempted to assassinate.
It was an electric but icy encounter. The two men never smiled, barely
looked at each other and exchanged only the briefest of handshakes.
Grace Mugabe, the President’s wife Ã¢â‚¬â€ who vowed during last year’s
disputed elections that Mr Tsvangirai would never step [sic] foot in
State House Ã¢â‚¬â€ pointedly shook the hands of his two deputies after they
were sworn in but not the new Prime Minister’s.
Mr Mugabe’s body language gave the lie to his rhetoric. I offer my
hand of friendship and co-operation, warm co-operation and solidarity
in the service of our great country Zimbabwe, he told the small,
invited audience. If yesterday we were adversaries … today we stand
in unity. It’s a victory for Zimbabwe.
Just as the event at the stadium was in effect an MDC victory rally, so
the inauguration was stage-managed by Zanu (PF) to demonstrate that Mr
Mugabe was still in charge. The generals who enforce Mr Mugabe’s
violent rule stayed away so that they would not have to salute the new
Prime Minister and state-controlled television and radio failed to
broadcast his inaugural speech. The invocation was delivered by Nolbert
Kunonga, the former Bishop of Harare, who is known as Mr Mugabe’s
bishop and who was defrocked by the Anglican Church.
Thokozani Khupe, an MDC stalwart sworn in as one of Mr Tsvangirai’s two
deputies, offered a gesture of defiance when she took the oath with the
fingers of her uplifted hand splayed outwards in an MDC salute.
Though subdued at the inauguration, Mr Tsvangirai came alive at the
subsequent rally and made promises that startled Western observers. In
an attempt to win over the disgruntled security forces he pledged that
all soldiers and policemen, as well as teachers and health workers,
would be paid in foreign currency from the end of this month. In return
he asked that all striking public sector workers return to their desks
and all schools reopen on Monday. Western diplomats said that they had
no idea where the bankrupt Treasury would find the funds.
We are opening a new chapter for our country, Mr Tsvangirai said, as
he appealed for national healing and identified his three priorities as
democratisation, ending the humanitarian crisis and stabilising the
He vowed to create a country free of political violence Ã¢â‚¬â€ the
knobkerrie [club] in the back of the head must end today. He promised
a Zimbabwe where people could associate and express themselves freely
without fear of reprisal or repression. He pledged a land where jobs
are available for those who wish to work, food is available for those
who are hungry, and where we are united by our respect for the rights
and dignity of our fellow citizens. He promised to restore a free
media, the rule of law and Zimbabwe’s devastated agricultural sector.
Mr Tsvangirai will face an immense task keeping those promises, given
the enormity of Zimbabwe’s problems. Seventy per cent of the population
depend on international food aid, 94 per cent are unemployed, the
country is ravaged by cholera, its currency has been destroyed by
hyperinflation and its industries and farms are moribund. We will need
help from the international community, and I ask them to engage with us
to rebuild our nation, Mr Tsvangirai said.
The West is very wary of providing finance to rebuild Zimbabwe while Mr
Mugabe remains in office, and for all Mr Tsvangirai’s bold rhetoric it
was clear that the President remains a huge obstacle to reform. The
fate of 30 political detainees has become a litmus test of Mr Mugabe’s
true intentions. Mr Tsvangirai had made their release a condition of
him entering the unity Government but last night they remained behind
David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, issued a cautious statement
saying that Mr Tsvangirai’s appointment offered the possibility of a
change for the better. He said that the delivery of international
reconstruction aid would depend on the unity government immediately
releasing the detainees and demonstrating a commitment to economic
stabilisation, restoring the rule of law, respecting human rights,
repealing repressive legislation and holding timely and free elections.
Times onlinePost published in: News