OPPOSITION leader and President Robert Mugabeâ€™s strongest challenger since 2000, Morgan Tsvangirai, on Saturday denounced what he termed state-sponsored underdevelopment in Matabeleland and promised to address the 1980s Gukurahundi atrocities by the state. Tsvangirai made the pledges in front of a capacity crowd at Bulawayoâ€™s White City Stadium. The groundâ€™s capacity is estimated at 12 000.
If numbers were anything to go by, it was evident that the presidential race would be a close contest between Tsvangirai and Mugabe, who launched his glitzy campaign on February 29.
Mugabe has been on the campaign trail in the rural areas.
Tsvangirai, who was travelling with his partyâ€™s “freedom team”, received a rousing welcome from his supporters clad in the MDC regalia and chanting the partyâ€™s slogans.
The previous Saturday, independent presidential aspirant Simba Makoni took his campaign to the same stadium where he was greeted by about 5 000 people. The following day the Arthur Mutambara faction launched its election campaign in front of some 3 000 supporters.
In his address, Tsvangirai said the MDC, once elected to power, would set up a Gukurahundi Fund to assist survivors and relatives of victims of the government crackdown against dissidents in the 1980s in Matabeleland and the Midlands.
He said the party would establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in a move to “heal the wounds”.
“We will set up a Matabeleland Gukurahundi Repatriation Fund that will respond to those that were affected by the government crackdown; we will also have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” Tsvangirai said amid cheers from the huge crowd.
Tsvangirai vowed that never again in the new Zimbabwe would government unleash the military against a defenceless and innocent people.
“We must never again tolerate a government that regards one tribe as inferior to the other. We should have a situation where everyone, irrespective of their tribe, should aspire to hold any office in the country,” the former trade unionist said.
Close to 20 000 civilians were killed when Mugabe unleashed the North Korean-trained Five Brigade on the southern provinces of Zimbabwe.
Despite acknowledging the atrocities, Mugabe has refused to apologise and has only described the period as a “moment of madness”.
The MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti told the same rally that Makoni was a “fake product” sponsored by Western governments to confuse the electorate in the forthcoming elections â€” the same accusations the opposition is accused of by the ruling Zanu PF.
“We know that there are Western embassies behind the Makoni project. It is a false project that will fail and will not work,” Biti said. “Makoni is a zhing-zhong who is out to confuse the electorate and people must not be fooled.”
The phrase Zhing-zhong is used by Zimbabweans to deride cheap goods manufactured in China and are usually not durable.
But Tsvangirai said Zimbabweans should desist from personalising the election process and vote for issues.
“It is not about personalities, but issues and policies that you will have to choose that will solve the crisis in the country,” Tsvangirai said. “You must elect those with the best policies that will resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe.”
The MDC leader slammed Mugabe and his Zanu PF government for ruining the economy.
“As we go to the 29th March election, it is very simple. Do you choose a man who has promised you independence, but given you no freedom? Do you choose a man whose time has expired? Do you choose a man who has isolated Zimbabwe from the rest of the world?” Tsvangirai said.
He said an MDC government would prioritise issues of governance and a new people-driven constitution, revival of the economy, people-centred agrarian reforms and a national integration and reconciliation policy.
Turning to the actual polls, Tsvangirai predicted an overwhelming victory for his party. He said he was positive that the electorate would vote for solutions to the countryâ€™s deepening crisis.
“Zimbabweans have gone through nearly eight years of non-stop violence, intimidation and political intolerance. The nation is now crying for peace and national healing,” he said.
Loughty Dube and Nqobani Dube