Zimbabwe PM: Get Over Obsession With Robert Mugabe

By: Michelle Faul, Associated Press Email
By: Michelle Faul, Associated Press Email

JOHANNESBURG (AP) - In an impassioned appeal Friday, Zimbabwe's long-suffering Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai called for people to get over their obsession with his longtime enemy, President Robert Mugabe.

And he urged the millions who have abandoned the southern African nation to return to help rebuild its ruined economy.

Tsvangirai, who has been beaten up and tortured by Mugabe's thugs over the years, said victims of repression and the perpetrators of the crimes should reconcile.

He addressed white and black exiled Zimbabweans in an audience at South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand, the first open forum Tsvangirai has addressed since forming a unity government with Mugabe in February, but the message also was intended for skeptical Western nations.

"Don't be too paranoid about your obsession with Robert Mugabe because he isn't going to go away, he is there," Tsvangirai said. "Robert Mugabe was part of the problem but he is also part of the
solution, whether you like it or not."

He was responding to a white man who declared, to applause, that Mugabe "has almost single-handedly destroyed the country, lost two elections and yet is still there ... Why do you have to sleep with the enemy? Is not the simple solution that Mugabe goes?"

The United States, former colonizer Britain and others have called for Zimbabwe's leader of 28 years to retire and, suspicious of Mugabe's commitment, have not offered development aid despite desperate pleas the unity government could collapse. Neighboring countries and an African bank have pledged $650 million in credit lines - far from the $2 billion the government says it needs just this year.

The power-sharing agreement was shaken badly Tuesday when a magistrate revoked bail for a human rights advocate and 14 others abducted illegally, and sent them back to the prison where they allege they were tortured. They are accused of terror charges widely seen as trumped up.

Their re-detention was seen as a move by Mugabe to put pressure on Tsvangirai after his party set a Monday deadline for resolving outstanding issues that have dogged the unity government for months.

The magistrate ordered them freed the following day, acting on orders from Mugabe and Tsvangirai, who said "So far as I am concerned the issue is resolved."

But he made no mention of a journalist and two of his aides who remain under police guard in the hospital for treatment from alleged torture.

Tsvangirai said Friday that his and Mugabe's parties have resolved nearly all the outstanding issues and that an announcement would be made Tuesday. Zimbabweans, and others, will be looking to see if Mugabe has made major concessions or if Tsvangirai has again been forced to compromise.

The former trade union leader and longtime opposition veteran admitted Friday that he had agreed to share power from a position of weakness as tens of thousands of Zimbabweans were infected with cholera - more than 4,000 died - and schools and hospitals shut down as public services collapsed. Hundreds of people had been killed and thousands of homes burnt in state-sponsored violence, he said, while thousands were starving as inflation topped 500 billion percent.

"We could not be the authors of death," Tsvangirai said, adding that he keeps at the front of his mind the greater good of the people of Zimbabwe.

While Tsvangirai declared his country open for business and eager for investment, he said the need to share land and businesses with black Zimbabweans is not in dispute but that his government realizes it needs to negotiate how that is accomplished.

The often-violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms was the start of Zimbabwe's plunge into an economic, political and lawless morass that today has most people in the former food exporter dependent on foreign handouts. Mugabe said the farms would go to landless peasants but instead gave them to generals and cronies who let fields fall fallow.

Tsvangirai said an independent land commission must be set up to redistribute land.

When Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, after a guerrilla war to end white supremacist rule, some 4,500 farmers owned two-thirds of the richest land.

"Land is an unfinished national agenda which means that until it is resolved ... it will continue to be an emerging issue every time there is conflict," Tsvangirai said.

"Don't continue to be stewing in your own hatred," he urged his people. "Zimbabweans must never forget that if we do not reconcile and rebuild and look to the future, this country will be forever trapped in this history of tribal violence, of political violence."


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