Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday called for peace, telling the nation political violence must be “buried in the past” as the country heads towards possible elections that he wants held this year.
Addressing thousands of people who gathered in Harare to celebrate the country’s 32 years of independence, Mr. Mugabe blamed the rising violence on ambitious politicians seeking political office.
"It's very sad that we are seeing ugly fights in constituencies sponsored by sitting members of parliament and potential candidates," Mr. Mugabe told the gathering that included Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
He acknowledged that violence has in the past blighted the country’s polls, adding that all Zimbabweans should be free to engage in political activities.
Mr. Mugabe asked those vying for office to look back at how “we have done wrong to our people through violence and fighting among ourselves.”
The president’s radical loyalists have largely been blamed for much of the violence and intimidation that has plagued successive elections since 2000.
“That is why when we look back we say to ourselves we have done wrong to our people because we were violent amongst ourselves, we were fighting. You don’t have to fight in order to win a football match!”
Mr. Mugabe called on the parliamentary select committee spearheading the constitution revision process to expedite the process in keeping with his call for elections this year.
"We are now demanding that the draft constitution be delivered to us, so that we can decide that in due course we put people in a referendum which should mark the beginning definite process towards a general election we would want to see held this year," he said.
Mugabe's remarks are a clear departure from his previous statements that he may call elections even in the absence of a new constitution.
Although, he insists on elections this year, the two MDC formations want key democratic reforms implemented first.
Turning to the looming food crisis caused by poor rainfall, Mr. Mugabe said the government should do more to ensure that no one starves.
The anniversary was held under the theme: “Indigenization and Empowerment for Social and Economic Transformation”.
Political commentator Stanford Mukasa told VOA that Mr. Mugabe’s statements on peace are “meaningless”.
“Peace does not come from making a speech. Peace comes from what you do on the ground,” said Mukasa. “He should have fired the police commissioner of police because the commissioner of police has been fomenting violence.”
But analyst Livingstone Dzikira called the speech “very fatherly.”
“The issue of violence has become an eyesore in our political landscape and that coming from a head of state, shows that he is conscious of the need to end violence and that he acknowledges the politicians have been on the forefront of perpetrating violence.”