/ 16 May 2008

Tsvangirai vows to end Zim ‘darkness’

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai vowed on Friday to lift his country out of the ”darkness” under President Robert Mugabe and voiced confidence he will win a run-off presidential poll.

The comments came shortly after his party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said Tsvangirai would go home on Saturday after more than a month away following disputed elections.

They also coincided with the announcement by Zimbabwe’s electoral commission that a run-off presidential poll would take place on June 27.

Praising campaigners who had been targeted by Mugabe supporters, he said: ”It is because of these people that I must return to Zimbabwe, to be with our people, to lift them out of this darkness that pervades their lives.

”It is because of these people that we will triumph over the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe,” he said in a speech to a meeting of liberal groups in Northern Ireland.

In a press conference afterwards, he was upbeat about the June 27 run-off ballot. ”On the 29th of March, the people of Zimbabwe voted. Mugabe lost that first round, 57% of the people who cast their vote did not vote for him.

”I am so confident that in spite of the violence, come the second round they will reconfirm that rejection,” he said.

In his speech, Tsvangirai told the audience he knew that the MDC would form Zimbabwe’s next government and added: ”I call on our African brothers and sisters to assist us to ensure there is a smooth transfer of power.”

He said the ”downfall of [Mugabe’s] dictatorship is inevitable” and called for leaders in the region to speak out against the Zimbabwean president.

Tsvangirai won more votes than Mugabe in the first round on March 29, according to the country’s electoral commission, but not enough to secure an outright victory.

The MDC says that more than 30 of its supporters have died since the initial election.

Tsvangirai told the Belfast conference that the MDC would ”begin to fulfil our mandate to save the people”, regardless of whether or not Parliament had been convened.

”When we attain our liberty again, we will guard it jealously,” he told delegates. ”The first act of the Parliament will be to begin a consultation on a new constitution.”

He later defended his decision to leave Zimbabwe over the last month. ”I did not run away, I am not in exile, it was for strategic reasons; we had to engage with all the African leaders about the crisis.”

And he dismissed concerns for his own safety. ”Zimbabweans are already facing a very risky environment. I am not a special person, so I am just as at risk as the next Zimbabwean who is confronting the regime,” he said.

”I am as vulnerable as the next person.”


Meanwhile, Mugabe turned the tables on the country’s opposition on Friday, accusing them of being behind political violence since the country’s March 29 polls.

Mugabe, who was defeated in the first round of the presidential election for the first time since he came to power in 1980, admitted the result was ”disastrous” and blamed the party for being ”unprepared”.

Despite numerous independent reports from human rights and civil-society groups in Zimbabwe stating the contrary, Mugabe accused the MDC and white farmers of fomenting post-election violence.

”We have disturbing evidence of motorised gangs trained and equipped by the MDC and of returning white commercial farmers who have been visiting terror on villages and party supporters,” he Mugabe.

”The MDC and its supporters are playing a very dangerous game. They should know they cannot win that kind of war, which they have carried to rural constituencies in the hope of destabilising our supporters,” he continued.

Zimbabwean doctors, unions and teachers have reported a campaign of terror conducted by pro-government militias in rural areas against supporters and activists of the MDC since the March elections.

These reports have been bolstered by the United Nations, whose representative said the majority of violence had been directed at MDC supporters, and rights group Amnesty International, which said youths were being forcibly recruited to assault opposition sympathisers.

The role of intimidation and violence by ”war veterans”, pro-government militias assisted by the state, has been documented in previous elections.

Mugabe, who has previously claimed to have ”a degree in violence”, said, however, that support could not be secured through coercion.

”We need peace and freedom in our country. They [the opposition] should take heed,” he added.

In his first comments on his defeat, Mugabe told a central committee of his Zanu-PF party: ”Although the presidential result did not yield an outright winner, it was indeed disastrous.”

”Nevertheless, we are set for a second round, for the run-off which must now decide the winner,” continued Mugabe.

”Fundamentally we went to the election completely unprepared, unorganised and this against an election-weary voter.

”Our structures went to sleep, were in deep slumber in circumstances of an all-out war. They were passive, they were lethargic, ponderous, divided, diverted, disinterested, demobilised or simply non-existent,” he said. –AFP