Mugabe is obstacle to change, says Tsvangirai

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Friday welcomed an initiative by churches to help end the country’s political and economic crisis, but charged President Robert Mugabe is in denial and an obstacle to change.

Mugabe has rejected calls made by leaders of Zimbabwe’s major churches two weeks ago for a new Constitution, and said while he backs their drive for a national political dialogue his government has some ”non-negotiable” interests.

Addressing a news conference after meeting a church group that launched the document The Zimbabwe We Want, Tsvangirai — leader of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change — said the country’s salvation lies in Mugabe and his ruling party accepting responsibility for its woes.

”This crisis shall remain with us unless Mugabe and Zanu-PF shift their mindset through a patriotic desire to save Zimbabwe from further haemorrhage,” he said.

Tsvangirai charges Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party have rigged three elections since 2000 to remain in power — accusations firmly rejected by the government.

In that time Zimbabwe has descended into a deep economic crisis, and critics blame Mugabe’s policies for food, fuel and foreign currency shortages, massive unemployment and the world’s highest inflation rate of more than 1 000%.

On Friday, Tsvangirai said Mugabe — who complains of economic sabotage by his opponents — has to address governance and rights issues at the centre of the country’s crisis.

”We believe the latest initiative from the church, like previous efforts by both local and international political players, shall lead us to a cul-de-sac as long as Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF remain stuck in a state of denial,” he said.

”A national consensus and a national vision shall remain elusive for as long as the dictatorship defines, in its own terms, what constitutes people’s freedoms, people’s choices and people’s way of life,” he added.

National dialogue

Zimbabwean church leaders, including the influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference, announced that they will lead a countrywide dialogue in the coming months on such issues as land, electoral and constitutional reforms, human rights, national reconciliation and economic policies.

In a bold challenge to Mugabe, the alliance is proposing the establishment of an independent land commission to ensure fair distribution of land, and a review of tough media and security laws that critics say are being used to stifle the opposition.

Mugabe told the church heads at the launch of their programme that he is not convinced the country needs a new Constitution.

Critics say Mugabe (82) — Zimbabwe’s sole ruler since independence from Britain in 1980 — has manipulated the national Constitution to tighten his grip on power in the face of severe the economic difficulties.

Mugabe generally treats demands for radical reforms as part of a drive by his opponents to oust him over his seizures and redistribution of white-owned farms to black Zimbabweans.

The combative Zimbabwean leader told the churches that issues such as economic empowerment through land reforms, and the country’s political independence, are ”non-negotiable”.

On Friday, Tsvangirai said: ”Given the humanitarian emergencies confronting our nation, we urge the church to press Mugabe and Zanu-PF to open the door to all in order to save Zimbabwe.” — Reuters

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