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Zimbabwe Presidential Candidate Says Nation Suffering Under Mugabe

Presidential hopeful Simba Makoni, who spent all of his adult life in the ruling ZANU-PF party, blames the party and its leaders, not the West, for the current suffering experienced by Zimbabweans. In an extensive interview with Peta Thornycroft, for VOA, Makoni says he hopes the international community will help mend Zimbabwe's wrecked economy if he comes to power in elections on March 29.

Simba Makoni says he yearns to recreate the early days of Zimbabwe's independence when the country led Africa in expanding education and health care and was not only able to feed itself but could export to the region.

"It wasn't excellent, there were blemishes here and there, but overall it was good across the board," Makoni said. "And I yearn for that, but I yearn for more; because even if we had that it wouldn't be enough for Zimbabwe in the world of today. So we have not just to get back to where we were but to go where we should be in the 21st century as a serious player in the global village. That is what I yearn for and that is what I am offering to serve Zimbabwe, to become."

The "early blemishes" Makoni refers to were the violent acts of repression against opponents of President Robert Mugabe in the 1980s. Independent observers say thousands of people were massacred in southern Zimbabwe by the army's North Korean trained 5th Brigade.

Makoni says he does not know if Western countries planned regime change in Zimbabwe as President Mugabe has claimed for the last eight years, adding that talk of re-colonization is immaterial. Makoni says that what is relevant is that, despite its current crises, Zimbabwe still has a great deal to offer its people.

"Even at the moment, you will be surprised," he said. "Life here is terrible compared to what we have been, worse so compared to what we should be, but life is still fairly comfortable compared to other environments. This is not in anyway covering up for the extreme hardships as I have described them before. I am Zimbabwean, and I am biased and aiming to be the president, I say in spite of these hardships we have this is still a good place to live in, and that's why we want to make it a better place than it is now."

To win the presidential election, Makoni has to persuade considerable numbers of life-long ZANU-PF supporters to turn their backs on President Mugabe and vote for him in the presidential poll. No one is sure, and Makoni will not say, how many or even if there are senior ZANU-PF legislators who secretly back him, and who will encourage their supporters to vote for him.

"The people who are supporting me in ZANU-PF and in other quarters, agree with me that the country is ripe for change at the highest level, that the country needs to take a different direction, a positive direction, a constructive direction for its people; and the country needs to re-engage effectively with the region and the rest of the international community," he said.

Makoni does not blame President Mugabe or anyone in particular in ZANU-PF for Zimbabwe's current crisis but says the country's fortunes have dramatically reversed by what he says has been a "failure of leadership." He says he came to the conclusion the leadership of the country had to change after years of watching the disintegration.

"There wasn't St.-Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus awakening. This has been a continuum, incremental, things have been building up," he said. "And every time one has had an opportunity to make an observation and analysis on a particular aspect, one has intimated this is not the correct way for our people. It wasn't an event, it didn't just happen."

Makoni said if he wins the presidential elections he will have to ask the international community for substantial assistance, particularly to begin to create conditions which would appeal to skilled Zimbabweans, who left the country over the last few years, to return home.