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Stubborn weeds still remain – PM Tsvangirai

…but we are making progress every day

JOHANNESBURG- Zimbabwe’s inclusive government has made major strides over the past 18 months, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told The Economist conference in Johannesburg Thursday.

“We are making progress,” Tsvangirai said. “There is food in the shops, water in the taps and fuel at the petrol stations. We have single-digit inflation and growth this year will be seven percent.”

Tsvangirai said the past 18 months should convince people that a fair election is possible. “They said it was suicidal to go into a coalition with Mugabe. We have demonstrated that to occupy space is important. There is progress in Zimbabwe. The barriers and the polarisation are being watered down. It is a workable arrangement. Soon we shall publish a new electoral law.”

Tsvangirai said the MDC sacrificed so much to be in the inclusive government. “It is easy to forget after 18 months the madness of the previous decade,” he said. “For ten years before formation of the present government, Zimbabwe substituted looting for growth and there was one objective: to keep the regime in power.

“The people voted for freedom, sanity and liberation. We, the victors, were forced to make a deal. “It was not an easy decision but it was an opportunity to choose progress over violence, polarisation and decay. The price was to partner with our opponents. The hostility between President Mugabe and me was legendary. No-one expected that we could talk to each other as human beings. That has meant daily compromise and conciliation.”

The prime minister said there was just too much hype about Mugabe:

“Mugabe is like an elephant in the living room. Everybody is preoccupied with him. I meet him every Monday and I can report that he is as human as you are. I am not his fan…He has been in power for 30 years. What else does he know? He is a man with a smart personality. He has been defiled by the international community. I think he would like the opportunity to restore his reputation and his legacy and that he is committed to a peaceful way forward.”

“I don’t think this is being naive. It also does not take away from what we experienced. I speak to people who have lost loved ones or who have been beaten and they want justice, not an eye for an eye. I say that would leave Zimbabwe blind. It is difficult to accept but I preach national healing and reconciliation. Mugabe is part of the problem but he is also part of the solution. Thugs and bandits don’t solve the problem.”

Tsvangirai emphasises that the majority of Zimbabweans believed the inclusive government was the best option for the country. “Eighty-five percent of Zimbabweans believe the political arrangement we have is best,” Tsvangirai said. “Some say it hasn’t solved anything and, as a victim, I share those sentiments but we need to balance the cries of the victims with the fears of the perpetrators. There should not be retribution.”

Tsvangirai however emphasized the need to deal with the commonplace disdain for the rule of law. He said government needed to focus on land productivity after Zanu PF’s brutal land grab programme. Tsvangirai also clarified the controversial indigenisation policy, would be implemented on a case by case basis. In capital intensive industries, such as mining, it could start at 10 percent, he explained.

He stressed that expropriation was not part of the policy, which would be based on a willing buyer and willing seller. He said this model had been successfully implemented in many countries, including in neighbouring Botswana.

Turning to elections, Tsvangirai said there was already a clear roadmap for elections, including a referendum on a new Constitution, the having a free and fair poll that conforms to SADC. Xan Smiley, Middle East and Africa correspondent of The Economist, had earlier suggested “creative diplomacy” in which sanctions and travel restrictions on Zimbabwean officials would be lifted by the West in return for free, fair and properly monitored elections with both sides honouring the result.

Tsvangirai said monitoring would be only one part of a process needed. Diana Geddes, SA correspondent of The Economist, asked: “In the past ten years, Mugabe has stolen one election after another from you. Why should it be different this time?” Tsvangirai emphasises that this time it will be different.

Asked which industries would receive attention in a future recovery, Tsvangirai said the whole economy was a key thrust. Tsvangirai said relations with the international community had improved since formation of the inclusive government. “In 1999 Zimbabwe stopped servicing its foreign debt, which cut us off from global finance. Until 2008 there were serious human rights abuses but in September 2008 the main parties agreed to move forward,” Tsvangirai said.

“Lately there has been humanitarian assistance and we have had friendly overtures from north, south, east and west… All I want is a respectful partnership. I am grateful to the SADC countries for prescribing free and fair elections and a level playing field.” President Tsvangirai does not worry that SA’s policy of registering up to 3m Zimbabweans in this country is aimed at forced repatriation.

“There are thousands of Zimbabweans here without passports or work permits. I think this is just to regularise them.” He said there were definite signs of improvements since 2008, when Zimbabwe was flat on its back” Changing Times

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