ED GETS DOWN TO SERIOUS BUSINESS
President Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn into office before a capacity crowd yesterday before delivering a well thought-out speech, rallying Zimbabweans to rebuild the country’s shattered economy, while opening doors to outsiders to lend a helping hand as the nation turns a new page.
He struck all the right cords in his maiden address to the nation as president, committing himself to promoting peace and stability, while implementing policies that could breathe life into the comatose economy.
Mnangagwa, who early this month was cast aside from Zanu PF and government before making a stunning comeback that saw Robert Mugabe, 93, resign after 37 years in power, told his audience in the giant 60 000-seat National Sports Stadium that he has hit the ground running.
“I have hit the ground running to make sure that I lead in stupendous efforts we all need to summon and unleash in concert, towards taking this great nation beyond where our immediate past president left it,” he said.
He said while the past cannot be changed, there was a lot Zimbabweans can do in the present and future to give their country a different, positive direction. “I thus humbly appeal to all of us that we let bygones be bygones, readily embracing each other in defining a new destiny,” said Mnangagwa.
The 75-year-old politician said he would base a new economic policy on agriculture and foreign direct investment, pledging to create jobs. Zimbabwe’s economy is in a very bad state. It has not recovered fully from crises in the last decade, when rampant inflation grew so bad the country had to abandon its own currency. Now, according to some estimates, 90 percent of its citizens are unemployed, with over 80 percent of the population trapped in poverty.
The International Monetary Fund has warned that Zimbabwe must act quickly to dig its economy out of a hole and access international financial aid.
Yesterday, Mnangagwa said the land reform programme that sought to address past historical imbalances would not be reversed, but pledged to compensate farmers for the land that was confiscated from them. The seizure of land from white farmers was a key factor in the country’s economic meltdown.
“Fellow Zimbabweans, as we chart our way forward, we must accept that our challenges as a nation emanate in part from the manner in which we have managed our politics, both nationally and internationally, leading to circumstances in which our country has undeservedly been perceived as a pariah state.
“However, given our historical realities, we wish the rest of the world to understand and appreciate that policies and programmes related to land reform were inevitable. “I exhort beneficiaries of the land reform programme to show their deservedness by demonstrating commitment to the utilisation of the land now available to them for national food security and for the recovery of the economy.
“To that end, my government will capacitate the Land Commission so that the commission is seized with all outstanding issues related to land redistribution,” Mnangagwa said.
He said his approach towards the economy will incorporate elements of market economy in which enterprise is encouraged, protected and allowed just and merited rewards. It will also involve the public sector reforms.
Mnangagwa said it was time Zimbabwe’s abundant natural resources must be exploited for national good through mutually gainful partnerships with international investors “whose presence in our midst must be valued and secured”.
While confirming in his speech that elections would be held as planned next year, Mnangagwa urged Zimbabweans to remain peaceful even as preparations for political contestations for next year’s harmonised elections gather momentum.
“The task before us is much bigger than competing for political office,” he said. It, however, remains unclear whether his Zanu-PF party will govern alone ahead of scheduled elections next year, or whether a coalition government of national unity that includes opposition groups will be formed.
He also paid tribute to Mugabe, whom he said should be honoured for the contributions he made to the country. “Whatever errors of commission or omission that might have occurred during the critical phase in the life of our nation, let us all accept and acknowledge his immense contribution towards the building of our nation. To me, personally, he remains a father, mentor, comrade-in-arms and my leader,” he said.
He also hit out at corruption, saying acts of indiscipline and graft have no place in Zimbabwe. “Acts of corruption must stop forthwith,” he said. “Where these occur, swift justice must be served to show each and all that crime and other acts of economic sabotage can only guarantee ruin to perpetrator. We have to aspire to be a clean nation, one sworn to high moral standards and deserved rewards,” he added.
Regarding trade, Mnangagwa said his administration will relax export procedures while ensuring the reduction of all costs associate with the conduct of international trade in order to generate more foreign currency. It will also accelerate the establishment of Special economic Zones to attract investment and generate increased exports.
Turning to the banking sector, he said the maintenance of economic stability and confidence amongst the transacting public, the local business community and foreign investors remained key to his reform agenda. “To this end, government will ensure financial sector viability and stability as well as put in place measures that encourage savings through bank deposits and other appropriate financial instruments which bring fair rewards to depositors,” said Mnangagwa. “The current banking culture where costs are levied on depositors must come to an end. It contradicts the reasons at the heart of banking as a business,” he added.
He said people must be able to access their earnings and savings as and when they need them.
“Above all foreign investments will be safe in our country, and we will fully abide by terms of bilateral investment promotion and protection agreements which we have concluded with a number of nations,” he said. To reduce the high country risk perception among existing and prospective investors, his government will service its domestic and external debt obligations to the satisfaction of its lenders and creditors. “This will apply to the whole of government, including local authorities and State-owned enterprises,” he said. “In addition, government will also proactively curb externalisation of foreign currency and smuggling of goods.”
His policy is also steeped towards re-engagement with all nations. This is unlike his predecessor who was only inclined towards the eastern bloc and loathed westerners and Europeans. He also appealed for the lifting of sanctions.
“As we bear no malice towards any nation, we ask those who have punished us in the past to reconsider their economic and political sanctions against us. Whatever misunderstandings may have subsisted in the past, let these make way to a new beginning which sees us relating to another in multi-layered, mutually beneficial ways as equal and reciprocally dependent partners,” he said.
“In this global world, no nation is and can be an island one unto itself. We are ready to embrace each and all on principles of mutual respect and common humanity. We will take definite steps to re-engage those nations who have had issues with us in the past”.
Tens of thousands of people packed the National Sport Stadium to witness Mnangagwa’s inauguration. Pop singer Jah Prayzer provided the entertainment and, as people in the crowd danced, the atmosphere was closer to that of a concert.
Dignitaries, including leaders from various African countries, filed in to cheers. Opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Joice Mujuru — who both had their sights on the presidency at various times — were there. Mnangagwa and his wife Auxilia entered the stadium to a rendition of the national anthem before Bishop Nehemiah Mutendi led the stadium in prayer.
He was led in the oath of office by Chief Justice Luke Malaba, saying he would “be faithful to Zimbabwe”, “protect and promote the rights and people of Zimbabwe” and discharge his duties to the best of his abilities. This was followed by a flypast and a gun salute.
Mugabe did not attend Mnangagwa’s inauguration. The official reason given was that at 93, the former president needed to rest. But the fact he did not attend is a reminder that this is no ordinary transition, and that despite his official resignation he was forced out by the military.
Additional reporting by CNN