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Zimbabwe's Mugabe and Tsvangirai Talk Peace

  • Peta Thornycroft

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (r) with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in Harare, Nov. 11, 2011.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (r) with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in Harare, Nov. 11, 2011.

Following a new surge of political violence in Zimbabwe, mostly against supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change party, President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai held a meeting Friday and both committed themselves and their parties to peace. Mugabe, longtime leader of the ZANU-PF party, surprised many when he used a phrase from a memorable speech he made in 1980 to calm the tense, war-weary population on the eve of Zimbabwe’s independence.

After Friday's summit of leaders from the three parties who make up Zimbabwe's inclusive government, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said he has regularly told Mr. Mugabe about the violence against his party. He said the police do not provide protection to those being attacked, nor do they arrest perpetrators of the violence.

“I am happy that the president is here with us because in our Monday meetings I have brought before his attention the issue of violence and how it has soiled our politics and the image of our country in the region, in Africa," said Tsvangirai. "I have brought before his attention the blood unnecessarily shed in the villages on farms and in all our communities - simply because one is MDC and the other is ZANU-PF - while the police watches, and it is sad to note to date there has been no single arrest.”

When Tsvangirai said he had told Mugabe that people are defenseless against the security sector, including the army and the central intelligence organization, his supporters applauded loudly.

Mugabe said he had seen a lot in his nearly 88 years, some of it good, some of it bad, but he said peace was a priority.

He used phrases from a historic speech he made more than 30 years ago about how about how all Zimbabweans black and white were brothers, a speech which calmed the nation after a brutal civil war to end minority white rule.

"We want peace," said Mugabe. "Let’s look forward and that is it, if yesterday we fought each other and we were enemies, today I say we can not avoid each other, we are bound together by our nationality, we sing the same national anthem, fly the same flag.”

Mugabe has called for an end to violence several times this year, but the MDC says it has regularly suffered from violence committed by his ZANU-PF supporters. Security forces have repeatedly stopped or disrupted MDC gatherings, and last weekend, ZANU-PF youth broke up a rally where Tsvangirai was due to speak.

Tendai Biti, secretary-general of the MDC, said he hoped the statements made Friday were made sincerely.

“Can we walk the talk? So sincerity is number one," said Biti. "We have to tolerate each other. This issue was stated differently by each of the speakers but the net effect was tolerance.”

ZANU-PF, MDC, and a smaller MDC party have been in the inclusive government since 2008, when they reached a political agreement after that year's violence-marred elections, in which MDC won control of parliament.

The leaders' three-hour summit Friday was also attended by the three political parties' national executive councils, who will attempt to draw up a code of conduct based on statements by their leaders.

As the meeting ended, many of the politicians from all the parties joined hands and sang the Zimbabwean national anthem.