|September 15, 2008
Leaders sign historic unity pact
Zimbabwe's three principal political leaders signed a power-sharing agreement in Harare on Monday, bringing to an end nearly 30 years of exclusive rule by the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF). At a ceremony presided over by leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a packed ballroom in the Rainbow Towers hotel erupted in cheers and whistles as the SADC chair and facilitator of the power-sharing talks, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, announced Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai as "the Prime Minister of the Republic of Zimbabwe." As the leaders signed copies of the agreement, a praise-singer cried out: "Halala, Africa!" (Congratulations, Africa). "Africa you are able! Africa you can do it! Africa you can show it... Mama Africa, today we see your rebirth!"
When Tsvangirai, President Robert Mugabe and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara exchanged signed documents, Mbeki brought them together and encouraged them jointly to shake hands. Addressing the signing ceremony from a prepared text, Tsvangirai said the "new, inclusive" government's top priority would be getting food to Zimbabwe's people. The parties should not be driven by "past wrongs," he said, but instead needed to build on the "painful compromises" they had made. No party on its own could provide solutions to the country's problems, he added.
Tsvangirai proclaimed the MDC's mandate to change the country's policies and style of government, but also invoked the spirit of reconciliation expressed by Mugabe at the end of the country's liberation war, quoting what he called Mugabe's "wise words" in 1980: "Let us turn our swords into ploughshares. If you were my enemy yesterday, today we are bound by the same patriotic duty and destiny."
In a longer speech, delivered off-the-cuff, Mugabe praised SADC leaders - Mbeki in particular - for supporting the power-sharing talks which had produced the agreement and blamed Britain for the country's problems. He portrayed the ceremony as a "re-enactment... of that togetherness, the partnership, the cooperation" which had brought independence from white rule to the region. Now southern Africa's leaders had again come to help Zimbabwe. "I don't see any British among them, I don't see any Americans among them... Africa's problems must be solved by Africans...The problem that we had is the problem that was created by the former colonial power wanting to interfere in our domestic affairs and wanting to have a share in our natural resources."
Mugabe defended Mbeki's "objectivity" in the talks: "There are lots of things in the agreement I did not like and still do not like." But "history makes us walk the same route - we may disagree on that route... but there are areas where we now agree..."
The ceremony took on the nature of a parliamentary debate as Mugabe turned to the positions of the MDC. Calls of dissent arose as Mugabe said democracy in Africa was "a difficult proposition... because always the opposition will want much more than it deserves, the opposition will want to be the ruling party, and it will devise ways and means of getting there, including violence." Responding to shouted interjections, Mugabe said he was not referring only to the MDC: "That is how it is in Africa... So it will take us some time to get to a position where opposition parties will confine themselves to peaceful ways of opposing..."
However, he ended his address by welcoming Tsvangirai's reference to his 1980 remarks: "Now we can't avoid each other, I said, because we are moving towards the same destiny. We share the same destiny, and now the time has come to recognise that we belong together..."
King Mswati III of Swaziland, who chairs the SADC "Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation," and President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, chair of the African Union, joined Mbeki in presiding over the signing. Mswati called on the international community to lift sanctions against Zimbabwe, and Kikwete voiced the question in the minds of many onlookers when he asked: "Will it [the agreement] fall apart or will it hold?" He believed it would hold, he said: "You have proved the doubting Thomases... and your detractors... wrong." Presidents Ian Khama of Botswana, Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Armando Guebuza of Mozambique and Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia, acting Zambian President Rupiah Banda and Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili of Lesotho also attended the ceremony.