x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Mugabe tightens grip at swearing in with neighbours' support

Veteran leader Robert Mugabe was sworn in as Zimbabwe's president for another five-year term yesterday before a stadium packed with tens of thousands of jubilant supporters.

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe greets the crowd as he arrives for his inauguration in Harare.
Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe greets the crowd as he arrives for his inauguration in Harare.

HARARE // Veteran leader Robert Mugabe was sworn in as Zimbabwe's president for another five-year term yesterday before a stadium packed with tens of thousands of jubilant supporters.

Mr Mugabe, 89, pledged "to observe, uphold and defend the constitution of Zimbabwe" in an oath administered by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, extending his 33-year rule.

Supporters clad in clothes emblazoned with the image of the man who has lead their nation since independence in 1980 filled the 60,000-seater venue, a show of force after elections many say were rigged.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai insists the July 31 vote was stolen and his party boycotted the inauguration.

Mr Tsvangirai's spokesman said the opposition leader "can't attend a robber's party."

Former colonial power Britain has called for an "independent investigation" into the conduct of the election, which Mr Mugabe officially won by a landslide.

Unlike previous low-key investitures, yesterday's event - replete with banners, flags and chants - carried strong echoes of Mr Mugabe's inauguration as prime minister of a newly independent Zimbabwe in 1980.

A no-show by many neighbouring leaders - including President Jacob Zuma of South Africa - did little to dampen enthusiasm.

Tanzania's Jakaya Kikwete, Namibia's Hifikepunye Pohamba and the Democratic Republic of Congo's Joseph Kabila were among those leaders who did attend.

Mr Mugabe was greeted in the stadium by thunderous cheers and whistling when he arrived with his wife on board a military truck.

Gates to the Chinese-built stadium, the venue of Mr Mugabe's inauguration as president in 1987, opened shortly after dawn.

The day was declared a public holiday, helping boost attendance.

"Mr Mugabe, you are one of a kind," sang a group of supporters slamming the sides of the minibus taking them to the stadium, while others waved fists as drivers honked their horns.

"It is a great day for Zimbabwe and the world will come to a standstill today," said Alfred Tome, the Harare provincial administrator and spokesman for the organisers.

A concert will include artists from South Africa, Zambia and Jamaica - whose iconic Bob Marley played at Zimbabwe's independence event.

Banners around the oval stadium carried messages praising African leaders and denouncing western governments accused of meddling in Zimbabwe's political affairs.

"Which African ever observed elections in Europe, America?" read one banner. "Africa has spoken, respect it's voice," said another.

The inauguration had been delayed after Mr Tsvangirai challenged the poll results in a petition to the Constitutional Court that was later dropped.

The Constitutional Court confirmed Mr Mugabe as president and declared the elections "free, fair and credible", saying the results "reflected the free will of the people of Zimbabwe."

Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist from the University of Zimbabwe, said the event was at once Mr Mugabe's victory lap and his "last supper".

"This inauguration is being projected as the crowning of a victory of a struggle for the past 13 years against big Western powers," he said.

Local observers have judged the elections flawed and Western powers have raised serious doubts over the vote.

But regional and continental groupings the Southern African Development Community and the African Union were less critical.

Mr Tsvangirai condemned the election as "a farce" and "a massive fraud" and petitioned the court to overturn the result.