President Robert Mugabe declared Friday that “Zimbabwe is mine” and vowed never to surrender to calls to step down, as his political rival threatened to quit stalled unity government talks.
Addressing his ZANU-PF party’s annual conference amid a ruinous political crisis and a deadly cholera epidemic , Mugabe returned to the kind of defiance he has often shown in the face of mounting criticism.
“I will never, never, never, never surrender. Zimbabwe is mine, I am a Zimbabwean. Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe never for the British, Britain for the British,” Mugabe told his party’s annual conference.
The veteran leader in the former British colony said he would remain until “his people decided to change him.”
While the comments struck a familiar tone for the 84-year-old leader—he said earlier this year that only God could remove him from office—he now faces increasingly grim circumstances in his crippled country.
The UN says more than 1,100 people have died in the cholera epidemic, adding to woes such as food shortages and poverty as Zimbabwe struggles with a collapsed economy and eye-popping inflation rates.
Mugabe denounced Western governments who have been stepping up their criticism of his regime since the cholera outbreak.
He said Zimbabwe was facing a war with Britain, supported by the United States and Europe.
“I won’t be intimidated. Even if I am threatened with beheading, I believe this and nothing will ever move me from it: Zimbabwe belongs to us, not the British.”
Washington said Mugabe had got it wrong. “Well, last time the world checked, Zimbabwe belonged to the people of Zimbabwe,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters when asked to comment on Mugabe’s claim.
“Again, it’s a statement that I think sums up in a concise way what is at the root of Zimbabwe’s problems,” McCormack said.
“He thinks that the state of Zimbabwe and the people of Zimbabwe are there only to serve his interest. It’s the other way around—or it should be the other way around,” he added.
Mugabe’s speech came after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai threatened to quit deadlocked unity government talks over the abductions of more than 42 members of his MDC party and civil society.
Zimbabwe’s opposition leader, who should become prime minister when a unity accord is finally implemented, warned of a long list of outstanding issues with the veteran president before the new government could be set up.
“I don’t foresee a situation where the coalition government will be formed until the issues are resolved,” the Movement for Democratic Change leader told AFP in the Botswanan capital, Gaborone.
While a draft constitutional amendment was officially gazetted in Zimbabwe last week, creating the prime minister post, Tsvangirai said it was one of several areas needing attention.
“The 19th amendment, the national security council, the allocations of portfolios, those are the issues that need to be resolved and completed before a government can be formed,” Tsvangirai said.
International pressure has built on Mugabe, with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urging southern African leaders Friday to distance themselves from him, describing the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe as a “tragedy.”
Also Friday, Nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden added to calls for Mugabe to step down.
Mugabe earlier accused the United States of urging African nations to topple him, state media reported Friday.
“I do not know of any African country that is brave enough to do that,” Mugabe was quoted as saying.
He warned party delegates “to be wary of the enemy who was devising new ways of destroying ZANU-PF from within” and urged them to be on high alert, according to the state-run Herald newspaper.
Tsvangirai finished ahead of Mugabe in first-round presidential elections in March, but handed the presidency to his rival when he pulled out of a second round, citing violence against his supporters.
Mugabe’s party also lost its majority in parliament in March elections for the first time since independence in 1980.
About half of Zimbabwe’s population needs food aid, UN experts said Monday, as a first consignment of supplies designed to help fight a cholera epidemic arrived in the troubled southern African nation.
As President Robert Mugabe faced fresh calls to step down from Western powers, the UN’s warning highlighted yet another crisis facing Zimbabwe as it also battles a deadly cholera epidemic and runaway inflation.
And in a further bid to tighten the screw on Mugabe, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she planned to lobby Washington’s allies to impose sanctions against the regime in Harare.
“An estimated 5.5 million people may need food assistance,” said the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutterhe, in a joint statement from four senior UN officials.
There was “just not enough food” in the country of around 12 million which was once the bread basket of Africa, he added, calling on Zimbabwe’s government and the international community for increased help.
In the same statement, the special rapporteur on health rights, Anand Grover said the country’s medical services could not control the cholera outbreak, which has killed more than 1,120.
“Zimbabwe’s health system has completely collapsed. It cannot control the cholera outbreak which is spreading throughout the country, with a daily increase in the death toll,” he said.
As the UN experts sounded the alarm bells, the children’s fund UNICEF was delivering its first consignment of aid—intravenous fluids, drip equipment, essential drugs, midwifery and obstetric kits—to boost government services in the fight against cholera.
“This is a strategic measure to address a desperate situation,” said UNICEF acting representative in Zimbabwe, Roeland Monasch.
Once seen as a post-colonial role model, Zimbabwe’s economy has been in a downward spiral since the turn of the decade when thousands of white-owned farms began being seized under a controversial land reform programme.
Food production has since plummetted and inflation has skyrocketed, hitting 231 percent when the last official data was released in August.
Zimbabwe has also been in political crisis since elections in March when the long-ruling ZANU-PF party lost control of parliament and Mugabe was pushed into second place by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in a poll for president.
Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, pulled out of a run-off after scores of his supporters were killed.
A power-sharing agreement signed by the two rivals in September was seen as an opportunity for the country to turn a corner but it has yet to be implemented amid disagreements over the control of key organs of state.
Under the terms of the power-sharing deal, Mugabe would remain president with Tsvangirai becoming prime minister.
But with Mugabe now declaring that Zimbabwe is “mine”, both the United States and former colonial power Britain have the deal will be unacceptable as unless the 84-year-old Mugabe leaves office.
“Power-sharing isn’t dead but Mugabe has become an absolute impossible obstacle to achieving it,” said Britain’s Africa minister Mark Malloch Brown.
“He’s so distrusted by all sides that I think the Americans are absolutely right, he’s going to have to step aside.”
Malloch-Brown’s comments came a day after the top US diplomat for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, said Washington would not restore aid to the cholera-wracked country unless Mugabe stood down.
In an interview with AFP, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she would consult Washington’s allies about imposing international asset freezes and other sanctions against the Mugabe regime which Washington has already put in place.
“I am going to consult with our allies, particularly with some of our African allies and with the British and we will see,” Rice said.
“But I think it high time that the international community step up the sanctions on this regime.”
Mugabe, who has ruled the southern African nation ever since independence in 1980, has made clear that he has no intention of standing down.
In a defiant weekend speech at ZANU-PF’s annual conference, he vowed that he would “never, never surrender” and that “Zimbabwe is mine.”