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Zimbabwe President Mugabe Preaches Non-Violence - But Bashes NGOs

Mr. Mugabe told thousands of supporters gathered for his 88th birthday bash in Mutare over the weekend that they should shun political violence and live peacefully with their rivals, vowing that elections are on this year

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe this week as on a number of occasions in the past few months has spoken against political violence and intimidation, much to the satisfaction of some – but many others are not convinced of his sincerity.

Mr. Mugabe told thousands of supporters gathered on the weekend for his 88th birthday bash in Mutare, Manicaland province, that they should shun violence and live peacefully with their rivals, vowing that a new round of elections will be held this year.

“We used to fight each other, but time has come for us to do our politics in a much more cultured way,” Mr. Mugabe declared. “Although our differences are political, we should not regard them as a source of hatred. No violence, no violence, no violence.”

President Mugabe has denounced violence in almost every public address since holding a joint anti-violence meeting with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the larger formation of the Movement for Democratic Change, and Welshman Ncube, leader of the smaller MDC faction, late last year.

A second such rally to be held in Bulawayo though the date has not been set, unity government sources said. Mr. Mugabe’s continuing anti-violence message has pleased some Zimbabweans - but others accuse him of merely paying lip-service.

Political analyst Psychology Maziwisa, an adviser to the Indigenization Ministry, said the president's sincerity should not be doubted, and urged Zimbabweans to heed his call.

"There is an acknowledgment by Mr. Mugabe that the political situation in Zimbabwe was a little bit concerning," he said. "But there is now a desire, a genuine desire on the part of the president to do things differently."

But analyst Effie Dlela Ncube said that to prove his commitment, Mr. Mugabe must deal with members of his ZANU-PF party known to have committed political crimes.

"This is the same message he preached in 1980. Whilst he was talking of turning swords into plowshares, he was training the 5th brigade to destroy the people of Matabebeland with Gukurahundi. Mugabe can't be trusted," Ncube commented.

Non-governmental organizations meanwhile, say despite his call for peace, Mr. Mugabe is putting pressure on civic groups, which he has accused of plotting his overthrow.

In the same speech Saturday, the president accused non-governmental organizations of financing a sustained campaign to oust him through unconstitutional means.

Mugabe’s comments came in the wake of a move by Masvingo Governor Titus Maluleke to suspend 29 NGOs in his province. Labor and Social Welfare Minister, Paurina Gwanyanya-Mpariwa has declared that Maluleke has no such authority.

Many rural communities in Masvingo and other provinces depend on NGO assistance and advocates fear Mr. Mugabe’s remarks could derail such aid.

National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations Director Cephas Zinhumwe told VOA reporter Tatenda Gumbo that Mr. Mugabe’s remarks will brace Maluleke.

"When our members talk about rights, rights of men and women in Zimbabwe, we are only wanting to have rights. If talking about rights and demanding them is equivalent to regime change, then it's something else," Zinhumwe said.

Independent political analyst Charles Mutasa opined that by painting all the non-governmental organizations with one brush, the president is putting at risk even groups that are working for human development in the rural areas.