- cholera - Economic crisis - inflation - Morgan Tsvangirai - poverty - Robert Mugabe - Zimbabwe
AFP - Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe vowed Saturday to press on with seizures of white-owned farms, even as he urged followers at his lavish birthday bash to respect the new unity government.
The celebrations, including an 85-kilogramme (180-pound) birthday cake, were held against the backdrop of Zimbabwe's economic ruin and come weeks after the veteran leader began sharing power with rival Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mugabe left followers in no doubt he was still the boss but said they must face up to the fact they had lost last March's legislative elections and work together with Tsvangirai to sort out the economic mess.
"Under this arrangement I want it known, as some of you were thinking we are no longer in power, we have an inclusive government with the president at the top, followed by the two vice-presidents, then the Prime Minister Tsvangirai and two deputy prime ministers.
"This is a result of the vote in which we did not do well. Let us not complain too much about it. Let's accept things as they are," said Mugabe, who turned 85 on February 21.
"Through the inclusive government we hope to unite to push with renewed vigour in various sectors, the development programmes aimed to raise those sectors.
"It's not the work of one side. It's the work of all. We hope we shall in this co-operative way manage to bring about some appreciable turnaround of our economy."
Mugabe, however, stressed that his controversial land reforms policy would continue, saying "let not the original owners of the farm refuse to vacate those farms."
Consecutive years of drought and the land reform programme launched in 2000, in which some mostly 4,000 white-owned commercial farms were seized and redistributed to blacks, have added to Zimbabwe's difficulties.
The scheme has drastically reduced agricultural production, which once accounted for 40 percent of the economy, as most of the new beneficiaries lack both farming equipment and expertise.
A decade ago, Zimbabwe produced enough maize to feed the nation and export a surplus, now more than half its people are estimated to need food aid.
Some three million Zimbabweans, a fifth of the population, have fled the country's economic and political instability, and are now supporting their families with both cash and food.
Mugabe, who lost last March's first-round presidential poll but won a later run-off unopposed after Tsvangirai pulled out citing violence against his supporters, blamed former colonial power Britain for his party's poll defeat.
"They (British) imposed sanctions which resulted in some basic commodities being unavailable so that the people would be disgruntled with the party.
"Some of you thought about your tummies and children and sold out the country," blasted the veteran president, who has ruled Zimbabwe non-stop since independence in 1980.
Mugabe supporters raised more than 250,000 US dollars (200,000 euros) for Saturday's celebrations held north of the capital Harare in the town of Chinhoyi, which is in Mugabe's home province of Mashonaland West.
Several members of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party have farms in Mashonaland West and conditions are considerably better than the rest of the shattered country with a university and one of the best-equipped state hospitals.
Crowds arrived in lorries, singing songs in praise of Mugabe, while banners proclaimed him a "great leader who never lets his people down."
Tsvangirai, who has been rallying the donor community for five billion dollars in aid and investment, was not at the celebrations despite initial reports he would attend.
Zimbabwe desperately needs Western aid to rebuild schools, hospitals and sewers after a decade of economic collapse compounded by the country's long political travails.
Zimbabwe's healthcare system has fallen apart with over 83,000 people affected by a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 3,800.
It is also battling severe food shortages amid hyperinflation which has rendered the Zimbabwean dollar useless.