Mugabe rounds on critics, silent on poll

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe came out fighting on Friday in his first major speech since disputed polls, fending off criticism over his rights record and accusing Britain of stirring up unrest.

But Mugabe did not speak about the outcome of the March 29 presidential elections, the results of which are still to be announced, or whether he would contest a second-round run-off against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

In a wide-ranging speech to mark the 28th anniversary of independence from Britain, the 84-year-old Mugabe fired off a string of insults against the former colonial power and said democracy had only been established in Zimbabwe after the demise of whites-only rule.

“Today we hear the British saying there’s no democracy here, people are being oppressed, there’s dictatorship, there’s no observance of human rights, rule of law,” Mugabe said at a rally at a football stadium in Harare.

“We, not the British, established democracy based on one person one vote, democracy that rejected racial or gender discrimination and observed human rights.

“We are the ones who brought democracy to this country, we are the ones who removed the oppression that was here.”

Mugabe, whose 28-year rule began at independence on April 18 1980, congratulated the people for taking part in what he called peaceful elections on March 29, but said the British were behind post-poll violence.

“There are a few of you who are engaged in fights. We want peace and stability to be maintained but we understand that there are some who have been planning political violence, burning buses, burning cars.

“These things that are being planned by these people have the support of the British.”

Mugabe has frequently accused Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of being British puppets and returned to his theme throughout the speech.

But, with Zimbabwe beset by an inflation rate of more about 165 000% and with even the most basic foods in short supply, he also acknowledged that the country was facing hardships.

“We are not saying there’s nothing we can do about our hardships. We are trying in all areas.
We want the farmers to be able to produce so we have more food and less hunger—that’s why we gave them tractors and other farming equipment,” he said.

“We are trying, even in the cities, to alleviate the suffering. We know that the biggest problem is the prices,” he added.

In a bid to keep pace with the world’s highest rate of inflation, stores are hiking their prices several times a day and essentials such as bread and cooking oil are often only available at inflated prices on the black market.

Rapturous welcome

His arrival at the stadium was greeted rapturously by his supporters but there was no sign of any foreign leaders who have attended previous independence-day celebrations.

Mugabe’s regime has come under growing pressure from the international community over the continued failure to release the results of the presidential elections.

His claim that opposition supporters have been behind recent violence have been given short shrift by Western governments, while the opposition says two of its supporters have been killed by Mugabe supporters.

In an independence day message, the United States ambassador to Zimbabwe also charged that MDC supporters had been murdered, abducted and forced from their homes in a spate of violence in rural areas.

“Sadly, as Zimbabwe celebrates its 28th birthday, many Zimbabweans are unable to celebrate. What should be a proud and joyful day for Zimbabweans is overshadowed by uncertainty and fear,” ambassador James McGee said.

In a press conference in Johannesburg on Thursday, Tsvangirai said Zimbabwe was facing its darkest days since independence.

“This is the saddest independence day since our liberation from colonial rule,” he said.

Court bid blocked

Zimbabwe’s High Court on Friday rejected an application by the MDC to halt a planned recount of results from last month’s general elections in 23 constituencies.

“I have considered very carefully the submissions and I find no merit in the application. Accordingly, the application is dismissed with costs,” Justice Antonia Guvava said.

The ruling paves the way for a recount to begin on Saturday in the 23 constituencies, three weeks after voters cast their ballots for a president, members of a 210-strong Parliament and local councillors.

Most of the recounts will take place in constituencies where Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF lost in the parliamentary election.

If the Zanu-PF manages to overturn most of the results, it will then be able to regain control of Parliament from the opposition.

‘Definitely there is a crisis’

Meanwhile, African National Congress president Jacob Zuma said on Friday that there was no need for him to play a mediating role in the Zimbabwean situation, as President Thabo Mbeki was the appointed mediator.

Speaking at a briefing after meeting Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in Johannesburg, Zuma said there was no need for him to take over from Mbeki in mediating in the Zimbabwean situation.

“The time has not come for me to play the role in mediating. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) made its decision. Mbeki is the president ... he should be respected in his role,” Zuma said.

He said he was not privy to the report in which Tsvangirai called for Mbeki’s removal as mediator.

Zuma, however, said that there was a crisis in Zimbabwe.

“Definitely there is a crisis. It is not normal to have elections and no results weeks later,” Zuma said.

Mbeki had been quoted as saying there was no crisis in Zimbabwe after he met Robert Mugabe in Harare on Saturday.

Zuma said that apart from the election deadlock, the current economic and refugee situation in Zimbabwe constituted a crisis.—AFP, Sapa

Susan Njanji

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