Thursday, April 19, 2012
by Phyllis Mbanje
LOOKING fit and lively despite rumours of ill-health, President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday led independence celebrations at the National Sports Stadium in Harare and repeated his Zanu PF party's demand for elections this year.
After spending close to two weeks in Singapore, sparking media speculation that he may have been unwell, the 88-year-old paced briskly to the podium from his official vehicle and spoke for close to an hour before the packed 60,000-seater stadium
Mugabe was making his second major public appearance since returning from Asia. On Tuesday he addressed a children’s party, traditionally held on the eve of the country’s independence commemorations.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai – who has previously boycotted the celebrations claiming they had been turned into a political party event by Zanu PF -- attended the commemorations along with leaders of the other MDC formations.
"We refuse to be chucked out of a national day which has nothing to do with Zanu PF but has everything to do with the collective history of all Zimbabweans in their diversity,” Tsvangirai said ahead of the commemorations.
“So we will be there to pay tribute to the gallant sons and daughters of Zimbabwe who sacrificed everything to free this country."
Meanwhile, Mugabe said the constitutional drafting process "needs to be hastened" so polls could take place this year to end the coalition government.
“Finalisation of the constitution-making process needs to be hastened,” he said.
“The Principals in the Global Political Agreement will be examining the Draft Constitution so it can soon be put before the people in a referendum marking the beginning of a definite process towards general elections this year.”
Mugabe and Tsvangirai remain miles apart regarding the timing of the elections despite agreeing that their coalition arrangement was now practically dysfunctional.
The Zanu PF leader claims that, fearing certain defeat at the polls, his rivals have taken to holding back the constitutional reforms in a bid to delay the elections.
He has since threatened to name an election date insisting a free and fair ballot is possible under the current constitution.
However, the MDC’s argue that political reforms agreed as part of the coalition deal must be fully implemented first to ensure the polls are not as violent as the 2008 ballot and that the outcome is incontestable.
In his address Wednesday, Mugabe admitted that "we (political leaders) have done wrong to our people" through violence and "fighting among ourselves."
"We must now take absolute care and caution and ensure the fights of yesterday are buried in the past. All fights, all struggles that were violent should not be allowed," he said.
"Political party membership should never be forced. We (should) organize ourselves on the basis of freedom of choice, belonging to a party of choice and freely voting for the party of choice."