Mugabe launches new tirade against West

President Robert Mugabe used his official 82nd birthday celebrations on Saturday to launch a new tirade against the West, boosted by a split in the opposition party.

In an apparent play on the name of United States President George Bush, Mugabe warned Zimbabwe’s youth to beware “the monster of imperialism continually and dangerously lurking in the bush”.

He told thousands of schoolchildren gathered in the eastern city of Mutare that the US leader and British Prime Minister Tony Blair still aim to dominate Zimbabwe through its opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

But a rift in Zimbabwe’s opposition movement was formalised on Saturday when one of the two factions elected a 39-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology-educated professor, Arthur Mutambara, as its leader.

Mutambara, a former student leader who clashed with Mugabe’s government over its human rights record in the 1980s, told 3 500 delegates in the south-western city of Bulawayo he will unite opposition to President Robert Mugabe’s 26-year rule.

The opposition movement split when its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who still heads the other faction, defied his executive in October and imposed a boycott of elections for a newly created Upper House or Senate.

Mugabe has been able to exploit the split in the MDC leadership, portraying the party as mere pawns for Western imperialists.

“I am not the master,” he told the birthday guests, sarcastically indicating to a small group of invited Western diplomats. “Look at all those people there. They are the masters.”

Mugabe, who has ruled since the country became independent in 1980, delivered a rambling 75-minute speech denouncing whites who ruled when the country was named Rhodesia, and urging youth to be ready to take up arms to repel invaders.

He called his “fast-track land-reform programme”, which saw the seizure since February 2000 of 5 000 white-owned farms, a success and said “youth should be encouraged to develop an interest in agriculture so they can contribute meaningfully to food production”.

Despite good rains, more than five million Zimbabweans currently depend on food relief, much of it funded by or imported from the US.
The crash in farm production since 2000 has seen 90% of commandeered farmland become derelict.

Raised a strict Catholic, Mugabe used his birthday speech to condemn the emphasis on condoms as a means of checking the HIV/Aids epidemic that now infects more than a fifth of the country’s people.

Choirs sang Mugabe’s praises as he entered the border city’s Sakubva Stadium with his 40-year-old wife and three young children. He entered a secret polygamous marriage with her while his late Ghanaian first wife, Sally, was still alive.

Schoolchildren bused in from all parts of the country waved black, yellow, green and red flags of the ruling Zanu-PF to greet him.

On Thursday, 61 demonstrators were detained overnight in the capital, Harare, for protesting the planned $2-million expenditure on birthday festivities when many Zimbabweans are starving and homeless.

About 20 000 members of Rhodesia’s once 293 000-strong white community remain. They held 17% of the country’s most productive farmland until Mugabe ordered the land seizures.

“Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans, just as Britain is for the British, America for the Americans. So let us not allow outsiders to interfere,” Mugabe said.—Sapa-AP

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