Tsvangirai promises change in Zimbabwe (Roundup)

February 12th, 2009 - 1:09 am ICT by IANS  

Harare/Johannesburg, Feb 11 (DPA) Following his historic swearing-in as prime minister, Zimbabwe’s former longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai Wednesday pledged to work towards ending his country’s humanitarian crisis and called for a process of national healing.
“For too long Zimbabwe has endured violent polarization. This must end today,” the 56-year-old politician, who was sworn in by his arch-rival, President Robert Mugabe, told a celebratory rally in a football stadium.

Tsvangirai, who becomes prime minister of a power-sharing government comprising Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and his Movement for Democratic Change, outlined his vision for “a country, where jobs are available for those who work” and “food is available for those that are hungry”.

He also vowed to tackle the culture of political impunity, which he blamed for taking the country to the brink of a “dark abyss” and to give citizens back their freedom of expression.

Mugabe, for his part, reissued his calls for the “immediate” removal of the US and European Union (EU) sanctions and appealed for investment to end the country’s dependence on foreign aid.

While welcoming the formation of the government five months after Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed up to power-sharing, the EU made no mention of lifting its sanctions, instead warning the government of its “heavy responsibility to ensure positive change”.

Both Mugabe and Tsvangirai appeared relaxed during the swearing-in ceremony on the lawn of State House but their mutual mistrust and dislike were evident in the brief clasp of hands with which they sealed their cooperation.

Only two years ago, Tsvangirai was nursing a fractured skull meted to him by police for protesting Mugabe’s policies.

While jubilant MDC supporters gathered in Harare’s Glamis Stadium to hear Tsvangirai speak chanted “Change!”, the ability of the MDC to deliver on their demand appeared hampered.

Mugabe has already unilaterally allocated to his Zanu-PF party most of the key portfolios in the coalition government that will be sworn in Friday. These include defence and state security, instruments of repression.

The MDC gains the finance and health ministries, and with them the job of addressing the country’s economic and cholera crises.

Zimbabwe is in the grip of the worst cholera epidemic in 20 years, caused by the collapse of water and sewerage services.

The country’s other crises include 94 percent unemployment, a worthless currency, and seven million people in need of food aid.

Massive amounts of aid are needed to turn the once-prosperous country around but Western donors are waiting first for proof of reform.

“It is clear,” said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, on congratulating Tsvangirai on his inauguration, “that we will measure the new unity government by its deeds”.

One Western diplomat in Harare confided, “There is the fear that Mugabe will get his hands on it and share it with his cohorts.”

Coming after a five-month standoff between the parties over positions of power, Wednesday’s signing was being billed as a victory for the mediation of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the 15-nation regional power bloc.

SADC’s intervention, led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, began after the MDC won parliamentary elections in March 2008 and Tsvangirai took the most votes in the simultaneous presidential ballot, but didn’t get enough votes for an outright victory.

Tsvangirai withdrew from the run-off after scores of his supporters were murdered.

Mugabe won the one-man election but the poll was condemned worldwide.

While the MDC hopes that its wafer-thin majority in parliament and its support among ordinary Zimbabweans will strengthen its hand, the stage is set for a bout of protracted infighting as the oppression of MDC members and rights activists continues.

A group of around 30 political prisoners, including leading rights activist Jestina Mukoko, were still in detention Wednesday, despite Tsvangirai insisting the detainees be released before he take office.

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