Time to restore our honour, Mugabe tells party

For the very first time since independence in 1980, Zanu-PF lost its parliamentary majority to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's party in violence-marred 2008 polls.

"We are now like a wounded beast and you know how a wounded beast should fight. Let's fight back and restore our honour, our pride," Mugabe said at the close of the party's annual conference in the central city of Gweru.

His statement was not to be taken as a call for party loyalists to pick up "spears", but to "let our policies speak for us", he said Ndebele.

The country is due to hold general elections next year.

But Mugabe faces an uphill struggle to win over voters, many of whom are disgruntled with the poor state of the economy that has forced millions of Zimbabweans to emigrate to neighbouring countries and abroad.

The economy is battling to pick up pace and Mugabe's campaign for black empowerment which forces foreign firms to give 51% of their shares to locals, is only driving away desperately needed foreign investment.

He even asked, at the meeting, for the black ownership slice to be expanded to 100%.

The 88-year-old veteran leader sought to patch up the internal splits haunting the party ahead of the polls. He is seeking re-election in the 2013 vote to end a shaky power-sharing government with his arch rival Tsvangirai.

"It's been said some people are for [Defence Minister] Emmerson Mnangagwa, and others are for [Vice President Joice] Mujuru. That is dangerous, absolutely dangerous," Mugabe said to applause from the 5 000 conference delegates at the multimillion-dollar Chinese built conference centre.

Mugabe's party has been widely blamed for violent attacks on opponents in past elections.

"Let's have a peaceful election," he said as the conference wrapped up two days of talks — the last before the vote. "Down with violence."

No election date has been set yet, but Mugabe is pressing for polls to go ahead as soon as possible, saying he has had "enough" of the coalition government which was brokered by regional leaders to keep the country from tipping into full-scale conflict and prevent an economic tailspin.

The Southern African Development Community, which mediated the coalition government, had earlier wanted voting before June next year.

A referendum on a new constitution has to be organised before the elections.

The opposition and international community insist that fair elections cannot take place until the constitution has been amended. – AFP

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