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13 Feb 2009 06:00
If Morgan Tsvangirai was aware of the weight of expectations on his shoulders, he made no attempt to lighten the load as he celebrated his inauguration before thousands of supporters.
The civil service will be back at work on Monday, no Zimbabwean will ever go hungry again, schools—94% of which are closed in rural areas—will reopen next week, and teachers, soldiers and police officers will receive their salaries in foreign currency on their next payday.
Rights abuses will “end today”, Zimbabweans must no longer be afraid to express themselves and the press is free.
Tsvangirai invoked Nelson Mandela three times in his speech and frequently attempted some Barack Obama-esque hope-peddling: “I will work to create a society where our values are stronger than the threat of violence, where our children’s future and happiness is more important than present political goals,” he said.
But it was his audacious promises of an immediate end to all the misery that drew the most raucous applause.
“In the short term, we will convene a food summit of all relevant stakeholders to help us ensure that no Zimbabwean goes hungry,” he promised.
And when he threw down the big challenge, asking that “every member of the civil service be back behind his and her desk on Monday”, in return for a forex salary, he had the audience eating out of his hand. Wads of Zim dollars were flung into the air and the crowd chanted “Gono, Gono”.
The expectations on Tsvangirai are huge. Zimbabweans are desperate for relief and many believe it is Tsvangirai who will bring it. He will pay civil servants. He will feed the hungry, heal the sick, educate the children, bring a divided nation together, forgive past wrongs and yet still punish the guilty.
MDC activist Max Runema, a victim of state-sponsored violence, whose leg is still in a cast, told the Mail & Guardian following Tsvangirai’s speech that his biggest hope from the prime minister is that he will punish his attackers.
“What I want is for those bastards to go to jail. I know them,” Runema said. There are many others like him, bitter and battered and not ready to heed their leaders’ calls for forgiveness.
Earlier, in offices and shopping malls, people gathered around televisions to watch the unlikely spectacle of Robert Mugabe swearing in his chief nemesis.
Approaching Mugabe to be sworn in, Tsvangirai prematurely raised his hand, and Mugabe, in Shona, said: “No, I go first,” before reading him the oath. A heckler shouted from the nearby VIP tent and Tsvangirai was heard asking “Who are those fools?” as Mugabe grumbled.
There were cheers when Vice-President Joice Mujuru warmly embraced Tsvangirai. The Zanu-PF generals were also there, but they never got to salute the man they have vowed never to recognise.
Mugabe had dusted off his famous “swords to ploughshares” speech, which he gave at independence celebrations in 1980 to reassure defeated, insecure whites.
“I offer my hand of friendship and cooperation, warm cooperation and solidarity in the service of our great country Zimbabwe,” Mugabe said. “If yesterday we were adversaries, today we stand in unity. We must build on this unity by turning our swords into ploughshares.
“We are all aware that the road has been long, tedious and often frustrating. It has not been easy to overcome the deep-seated mistrust,” said Mugabe.
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