/ 31 May 2009

Tsvangirai says country still lives in fear

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said on Saturday that his efforts to restore democratic freedoms and the rule of law to Zimbabwe have so far failed.

The former opposition leader took his Movement for Democratic Change into a coalition government with longtime autocratic President Robert Mugabe in February to end the country’s political deadlock and economic collapse.

But Tsvangirai gave his party’s annual convention a bleak assessment of Zimbabwe’s situation and said that hard-liners backing Mugabe were frustrating progress.

”We have not yet succeeded in restoring the rule of law … our people do not live free from fear, hunger and poverty,” he said.

The official state media remained biased and there was only limited freedom of movement and expression, he said.

”Our members continue to be the victims of political persecution,” Tsvangirai said. ”That society for which we are striving bears little resemblance to the reality in which all of us live today,” he said.

His comments reflected the tensions wracking the so-called unity government. But despite the unhappiness, Tsvangirai has so far shown no sign that he will pull his party out of the coalition in protest. Tsvangirai had been frozen out of office, despite election victories, until Zimbabwe’s neighbours forced Mugabe to enter the unity government in February.

Tsvangirai and more than 1 000 delegates to the two-day convention wore red T-shirts emblazoned with a new party slogan: ”Together to the end. Marching to a New Zimbabwe.”

Despite agreeing to the coalition government, 85-year-old Mugabe still seems reluctant to cede real power to Tsvangirai, his former foe.

Last week, for example, Tsvangirai announced an end to restrictions on foreign journalists entering Zimbabwe and to tough licensing rules for local media. Mugabe’s spokesperson this week said the restrictions would remain.

The two men are also locked in dispute over the key appointments of the central bank governor Gideon Gono and the attorney general Johannes Tomana.

Mugabe reappointed Gono to a second five-year term as governor of the Reserve Bank in November and also unilaterally chose Tomana.

Tsvangirai says the appointments violate the power-sharing deal and wants regional mediators to intervene.

Gono is blamed for printing Zimbabwe dollars until they were worthless and accused of taking hundreds of millions of dollars from foreign currency accounts belonging to aid groups and private businesses. Tomana also is accused of being behind detentions of pro-democracy activists.

Tendai Biti, Tsvangirai’s finance minister, has appealed for $8-billion to rebuild the shattered economy. But most donors and investors have insisted more reforms and the rule of law be in place before they commit funds.

Tsvangirai told his party loyalists on Saturday the adoption of hard currency as the country’s legal tender halted world-record inflation of 500-billion percent in the now abandoned local currency.

More humanitarian aid was also being received to restore health services and collapsed utilities.

His party’s role in the coalition was ”instrumental in stabilising our economy and bringing it back from the brink of a truly national disaster,” he said.

Mugabe’s programme to seize thousands of white-owned commercial farms is blamed for disrupting the agriculture-based economy since
2000 and leaving more than half the population in need of food handouts earlier this year.

Farmers groups have reported a new wave of seizures of white-run farms in recent weeks.

”Land reform must empower the majority of Zimbabwean without victimising any of our citizens … It cannot be based on racist persecution that leaves productive land fallow and our people hungry,” Tsvangirai told the party convention that ends on Sunday. – Sapa-AP