‘We dare not let ?the people down’
Telling thousands of supporters to enjoy themselves, President Robert Mugabe ended his inauguration speech and began what will perhaps be his last five years in office.
But as he started his seventh term in a burst of colour and a show of military power on Thursday, he faced the sizeable task of easing the deep fears of Zimbabweans, who are anxious about what the next five years will bring.
Two issues already dominate the start of his new term: the economy and his succession. How he handles both may determine what legacy he leaves behind, a matter that is hugely important to him.
There are fears about the future of the economy, and the impact that Mugabe’s succession, an issue he will now have to deal with, will have on the government’s ability to deliver.
'In the office'
Mugabe was sworn in before a large and vibrant crowd, which broke into song as soon as he took the oath: “Bob is in the office”, the song went.
But even among his own backers, there is uncertainty about what the next five years will look like.
“I just hope we can fix the economy, this is all that we want,” said a farmer and war veteran, Jairos Siyamango, who had travelled more than 200km to witness the inauguration.
In his new term, Mugabe will finally have to decide on who will succeed him, an issue he has deftly avoided for years. He has kept power by pitting internal party rivals against one another and casting himself as the one true unifier the party must keep to remain intact.
But even Mugabe himself, and his closest aides, now seem to be dropping hints that this might be it.
With political opponents well beaten, Mugabe may use his new term to finally sort out his succession.
Ahead of the inauguration, a column believed to be written by his spokesperson Rugare Gumbo had hinted at what everyone suspects: “Soon Mugabe will go through the rituals of enthronement. We call it inauguration. It shall be a big event, given that this may be his last such.”
Mugabe’s speech, as many of those he made towards the end of his campaign, sounded like a farewell speech, heavily laden with references to his legacy of black empowerment and resistance to Western interference in Zimbabwe.
Already, days before his inauguration, Mugabe got a reminder of how urgently he needs to start dealing with succession. Vice-President Joice Mujuru appeared to be putting herself forward as a possible replacement in remarks she made to journalists, which sparked a row in her party.
“We know that the president will soon be 90 and God might decide to call him, but he has taught us a lot and how to lead the party. Zanu-PF will never die because President Mugabe is no longer there; there are people who now can lead the party,” Mujuru said.
The remarks angered many within the party, and her rivals this week grabbed at the chance by launching a rumour campaign in party corridors suggesting she was over-ambitious and was wishing Mugabe dead.
“It was not the best time for her to be speaking to reporters, especially not in that way. These are times of great suspicion,” a senior politburo member told the Mail & Guardian at the inauguration.
Her allies, however, said she had been misquoted by the press. Mujuru had carefully chosen her words, saying she “belonged to the Mugabe faction”.
Mugabe hopes his big win now gives him more time to settle the matter; he has fobbed off Western critics, whom he described as “vile” in his speech, and the Movement for Democratic Change appears to be in disarray. Mugabe’s speech suggested that he presently feels comfortable.
“We sought the political kingdom; we have now found it. Let us now forge ahead,” he said to cheers from the crowd.
But many fear the infighting that could now arise may distract the new government from the real business of mending the economy.
Mugabe seems to realise the huge task ahead in his new term. He acknowledged that the economy remains depressed. With some candour, he described the state of industry in Bulawayo, once the country’s industrial hub, as “an industrial scrapyard, indicative of the state of industry across the country”.
He will have to create jobs and improve service delivery to urban areas, the two issues that have cost him votes among the urban voters.
“Unemployed youth who voted did so with certain expectations. We must work for him, we must deliver for him,” Mugabe said.
There was even an attempt to ease the fears of business, whose anxiety over prospects for the next five years has shaken the financial markets.
“The business executive who voted, voted with some expectations, of course, as a creator of wealth and employment. We must ask ourselves how we can contribute to meet his expectations,” said Mugabe.
Mugabe said there were “hard truths” his government now needed to face up to. “We dare not let the people down,” he said.