The day Tsvangirai Became Prime Minister

WELL before 7.00am, parishioners at the Mabelreign Methodist Church in Harare’s medium-density suburb gathered outside the church building hoping to meet one of their own members who would later in the day take an oath of office as Prime Minister of a crisis-ridden nation.


For the church members, Wednesday marked the last day when Morgan Richard Tsvangirai would chat in fellowship with them as an ordinary member of the parish.

This irregular midweek church service named the “Dedication Service” would anoint the MDC-T leader before he left the Western suburb to append his signature, pledging full commitment to make that “long walk to freedom” that Nelson Mandela spoke of in Cape Town 19 years ago to the day.

Following the service, his procession headed east where a heavy presence of police manning checkpoints blocked vehicles and pedestrians from passing along the usually busy Borrowdale Road.

All this was meant to beef up security at one of the country’s most protected properties, State House, for the historic swearing in ceremony.

Arriving at the fortified State House, journalists endured another round of security checks before rushing to designated press zones.

The day marked a new chapter in Zimbabwe’s politics. Tsvangirai took an oath of office signalling his new partnership in power with his erstwhile rival, President Robert Mugabe.

Diplomats and other invited dignitaries streamed into State House shortly after 10am.

In the midst of the arrivals, Arthur Mutambara, leader of the smaller formation of the MDC, defied all odds when he arrived at the venue in style.

Driving his American Navigator sports utility vehicle, probably for the last time without aides, the former University of Zimbabwe students union leader arrived at State House being filmed by a freelance videographer.

Following Mutambara was his co-deputy Prime Minister, Thokozani Khupe from the MDC-T, who was chauffeur-driven in an elegant Mercedes Benz ML class.

Momentarily, the sound of wailing sirens of approaching vehicles could be heard.

With video cameras ready to roll and still cameras standing by to shoot, everyone anticipated the arrival of a man whom some critics thought would never see this day, man-of-the-moment Morgan Tsvangirai.

But first, others had to be seated. Among those who attracted media attention were Swaziland’s King Mswati III, former South African President Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s director of the presidency Frank Chikane and Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

In the midst of some confusion, Tsvangirai finally arrived in a low-key silver Mercedes Benz saloon. Clad in a grey suit, Tsvangirai was ushered to the high table next to Mutambara.

Just before noon, the presidential entourage arrived in Zim 1. The presence of the chief of protocol, Munyaradzi Kajese, drew attention to the high table as dignitaries anticipated Mugabe’s arrival in the VIP tent. The octogenarian leader and his wife Grace walked down the red carpet before the national anthem was played.

Masters of ceremonies, Washington Mbizvo broke the ice by citing nuggets from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and from Galileo.

“The real leader is not happy to lead but to point the way.”

Whether the new inclusive government would heed this advice is yet to be known given the myriad of problems that awaits it. Similarly only history would judge whether this new dispensation was a marriage of convenience or conviction.

Controversial Archbishop Norbert Kunonga opened the event by reading the Biblical story of dry bones before closing in prayer.

The country’s battered economy and the humanitarian crisis across the country, Kunonga said, was allegorical to the state of affairs in ancient Iraq referred to in the Bible, trusting in divine intervention for the immediate turnaround of fortunes following the formation of the inclusive government.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai then took to the stage for the swearing in ceremony.

Standing face-to-face but avoiding eye contact, Tsvangirai gave his oaths to his seemingly relaxed new boss who administered it.

“Save, Save (Tsvangirai’s totem) mochitonga (now you are in power),” shouted opposition legislators when Tsvangirai received a round of applause from dignitaries seated opposite to the VIP tent.

A clearly irritated Mugabe almost lost his cool when the opposition legislators interjected during the swearing in, forcing Kajese to intervene.

On a lighter note, Mutambara brought smiles to leaders seated in the VIP tent when he eloquently recited his oaths — in all three instances pausing towards the end of the oath to blurt out the word “God” with emphasis.

Tensions between the country’s political parties also surfaced when opposition legislators heckled a Cape Town university student who recited her “Arise and shine” poem dedicated to the unity pact.

“Gushungo (Mugabe’s totem), we thank you for making this day possible,” she said before being jeered.  
She received a round of applause when she said: “Save, Mutambara and Khupe “I salute you.”

In half an hour, the new leaders had appended their signatures to serve in the potentially irreconcilable government.

Following congratulatory messages from regional and continental leaders, the new executive delivered their speeches in a restricted tent adjacent to the VIP tent leaving some guests unaware of the proceedings.

Speeches delivered by the leaders carried one theme — an urgent need for economic reform and the removal of sanctions.

First to speak was Mutambara who as has become the norm demanded the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe.

“This is a new era in Zimbabwe. We must work together as a team, we must speak the language of working together, the language of unity,” he said.

“For those who have imposed whatever measures against Zimbabwe or targeted sanctions, call them what you want, those sanctions must be removed immediately.”

He however added that “delivery (of duty) and recovery” from the socio-economic crisis would be the measure of success for the new government.

Tsvangirai followed with his impromptu speech when he promised to restore education, health and food security. 

Unity government facilitator Thabo Mbeki followed Tsvangirai where he again pledged support for the new government and an appeal on the lifting of sanctions which the three parties agreed were stifling economic growth.

African Union Commission chair Jean Ping and chairman of the Sadc organ for defence and security King Mswati also expressed optimism in the inclusive government.

Last to speak was Mugabe who extended an olive branch to his co-leaders despite a seven-month “long, tedious and frustrating” delay in forming the inclusive government. These delays, Mugabe claimed were instigated by unmentioned detractors, through “overt and covert means”.

“As president of Zimbabwe, I offer them my hand of friendship, cooperation and solidarity in the service of our great country,” Mugabe said.

“If yesterday we were adversaries and divided by party politics and other divisive influences, today we stand united by the imperative need to address the myriad of challenges that face our country.”

Well after time scheduled for his maiden rally as  prime minister, Tsvangirai and his new security aides left for the Glamis Stadium at the exhibition centre where over 10 000 people patiently waited to hear and see a man they regard as a symbol of hope in the midst of Zimbabwe’s decade-long recession.

Tsvangirai promised immediate change to some problems facing the country despite acknowledging the magnitude of the challenges that lie ahead.

“Zvetsvimbo mugotsi must end today (impunity must end today.),” Tsvangirai told multitudes that endured the sweltering heat at Glamis.

He appealed to teachers, health workers, the army, the policy and rest of the civil servants to report for work, promising that the new government would remunerate them in hard currency starting this month.

“By month end all professionals in the civil service will receive salary in foreign currency,” he added.

Seemingly referring to his party activists and civil activists currently held in detention, Tsvangirai promised that these people would cease to be held in the “dungeons any day or week longer.”

Tsvangirai becomes the second prime minister after Independence.

The first prime minister was Mugabe and the position was abolished in 1987 to make room for an executive president and unicameral parliament.

BY BERNARD MPOFU