/ 11 September 2013

Zanu-PF veterans fill Robert Mugabe’s new Cabinet

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe.
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe. (Reuters)

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday swore in a 62-member Cabinet of ministers and their deputies that critics say rewards veteran hardliners for his party's commanding victory in disputed elections in July.

State television showed the jovial ceremony on Wednesday that brought into the Cabinet many veteran party personalities accused of human and democratic rights violations since Mugabe led the nation to independence in 1980.

Mugabe did not retain any members of the opposition, who had been in a coalition Mugabe formed after the last violent and disputed elections in 2008.

The Crisis Coalition, an alliance of 72 independent civic, rights and church groups, said Mugabe chose "to go back to the trenches" using loyalists who have resisted reform after years of alleged vote rigging and political and economic turmoil.

Amid a worsening economic crisis, former environment minister Francis Nhema, who has a reputation of being a moderate, became the head of the black empowerment ministry, tasked by Mugabe to push ahead with a programme to take over 51% control of remaining foreign and white-owned businesses and assets.

'Same old tired people'
That programme has scared away foreign investment badly needed for economic reconstruction and restoring bankrupt health, education and public services

The outspoken previous empowerment minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, took over Nhema's environment post.

In Nhema, "we may have a new face, a person who doesn't talk too much, talks softly but still carries a big stick", said Thabani Nyoni, a crisis coalition official and leading civic activist.

He dismissed the rest of the Cabinet line-up as "the same old tired people being recycled".

The strategically important finance, defence, justice and information ministries went to veterans of Mugabe's Zanu-PF to balance out internal rivalry in the party, Nyoni said.

"It is about defending the party rather than delivering on the people's needs," he said.

Hardliner Jonathan Moyo, the architect of sweeping laws to regulate the media in 2002, returned to the key information and broadcasting ministry. His previous tenure saw foreign journalists expelled, scores of arrests and assaults against local reporters and stringent media curbs enforced by court prosecutions of Mugabe party critics.

"On his past record, we cannot expect any improvement in freeing up the media or broadcasting" that is still strictly controlled by Mugabe's state radio and television monopoly, said Andy Moyse, head of the independent Media Monitoring Project in Harare.

'Worsening of the media environment'
"We can expect a worsening of the media environment," he said.

Media freedom groups say Moyo is expected to put a positive spin on Mugabe's party policies and what they achieve, even if they fail.

The Movement for Democratic Change party of outgoing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said Mugabe had appointed "a dead Cabinet" with members who served in ministerial posts since independence in 1980 and who were responsible for the nation's meltdown of acute shortages of food, gasoline and daily power and water outages.

"It will make no improvement to the lives of Zimbabweans," charged the party's spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora. "Zimbabwe is headed for disaster." – Sapa-AP