HARARE – Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai says President Robert Mugabe confided in him in one of their regular Monday meetings that he wants to rest but is being forced into an early election by hardliners in Zanu PF.
Tsvangirai, 61, told thousands of his supporters at Chipadze Stadium in Bindura yesterday that his 89-year-old rival is worried by escalating factional wars in Zanu PF and would rather have the nightmare of choosing a successor resolved by a general election slated for July 31.
“Zanu PF should not force an old man into an election,” Tsvangirai said.
“Please let him rest. Do you want him to go on top of a mountain to announce that he is tired?” asked Tsvangirai.
“Mugabe said to me in one of our Monday meetings that the problem is if I leave office today, the party would explode. Let us just go to an election and I will let you take over.”
Two factions are battling to succeed Mugabe who recently travelled to the Far East seeking medical help.
Tsvangirai told his supporters that at one point he questioned the octogenarian whether he would be able to withstand the gruelling and energy-sapping campaign.
For the past 33 years, Mugabe has been the face of Zanu PF and has failed to groom an heir.
As a result, the veteran leader is again representing the party in forthcoming crunch elections.
“I am shocked when I hear people say VaMugabe woye, VaMugabe woye (Mugabe’s slogans) when he, in essence, retired a long time ago,” said Tsvangirai.
Just before the 2008 general elections, Mugabe indicated that he would accept defeat but made a sudden U-turn, amid reports the army and a cabal of hardliners in Zanu PF prodded him to hang on.
Tsvangirai said the “nation should feel sorry for Mugabe” who he described as a hostage of hardliners in his party.
In Mashonaland Central, a perceived power base of Zanu PF, Tsvangirai came face-to-face with a people who are still living in fear as a sizeable crowd followed proceedings from the sidelines.
Earlier, Zanu PF supporters pulled down the premier’s campaign posters and threatened members of the public from attending the star rally.
Despite the presence of foreign observers, Zanu PF is allegedly blatantly rigging the electoral process, using the government system he controls, said the MDC leader.
According to the latest online poll, it is widely accepted that if this were truly fair elections, Mugabe would be trounced.
If there is a high voter turnout at the polling stations, there is a chance that his opponent, Tsvangirai, will win by enough votes to make it impossible to steal.
This is the only chance the country has of making any kind of recovery from the economic and social chasm into which it has plunged, and avoid the impending famine.
This also assumes that major international financial and logistical support would be forthcoming, a prospect that is unlikely if Mugabe were to retain power.
Domestic consumption of maize, Zimbabwe’s staple food, is 1,7 million tonnes a year.
At the moment the only maize in the country is being brought in from South Africa and Zambia and until the current crop hits the market in July, there will be little local maize.
To put this decline into perspective, until Mugabe derailed the agricultural economy with his so-called land reform programme, Zimbabwe was so productive that it not only fed itself, but exported maize to neighbouring countries and was able to hold a strategic grain reserve of a million tonnes.