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Zimbabwe's Tsvangirai, Mugabe Clash Over Independence Theme

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Tuesday accused President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party of hijacking activities to mark the country's 32 years of independence and forcing a divisive theme he says sounds more like a political slogan for the former ruling party.

Mr. Tsvangirai told journalists he had disagreed with Mr. Mugabe at their last cabinet meeting when ZANU-PF proposed an empowerment-based theme to Wednesday's anniversary celebrations, showing fissures remain in the shaky government of national unity.

The ZANU-PF theme; Indigenization and Economic Empowerment for Economic Transformation, carried the day and Mr. Tsvangirai's suggestion based on peace was thrown out.

“I wish to state that we had a discussion in Cabinet last week about the proposed theme for this year,” Mr. Tsvangirai said.

“We rejected it because we find this a repugnant theme, which sounds more of a slogan for a political party than an inclusive, peace-building theme, which should be determined through consensus.

“There was no consensus on the current theme. While we support broad-based empowerment of the ordinary person, our colleagues have taken indigenization to mean expropriation and nationalization,” he added.

Mr. Tsvangirai said while his party supported broad-based empowerment of the ordinary people, there was no consensus on the ZANU-PF theme.

"We have disagreed in this government because there are others who want to perpetuate the old culture of expropriation, looting and self-aggrandizement clad in new and misleading nomenclature such as indigenization," Mr. Tsvangirai said.

“A more unifying theme, which captures the national sentiment at this time, would have been more appropriate,” he said.

But, he said his party will attend the independence celebrations at the national sports stadium as they do not have a problem with the day itself but the theme.

"While we reject the theme, we refuse to be chucked out of a national day which has nothing to do with ZANU-PF but has everything to do with the collective history of all Zimbabweans in their diversity," said Mr. Tsvangirai.

"So we will be there to pay tribute to the gallant sons and daughters of Zimbabwe who sacrificed everything to free this country. The only way to placate the spirit of the departed cadres of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle is to respect the dignity and freedoms of the ordinary citizen."

VOA was unable to get comment from Vice President Joice Mujuru, the chairperson of the independence celebrations organizing committee.

A breakaway faction of the MDC calling itself MDC99, and led by Job Sikhala has urged Zimbabweans to boycott the festivities citing continuing rights abuses in the country.

But Mr. Tsvangirai urged his party supporters and Zimbabweans in general to attend the celebrations saying the independence day activities were a national event.

Former freedom fighter Wilfred Mhanda told VOA that independence day is important as it marks the country's attainment of independence from white minority rule.

But, he adds, it is sad that independent Zimbabwe has become ‘a failed state that can’t even supply safe water to its people’.

Mhanda said the MDC formations in the coalition government should come up with strategies to effectively respond to ZANU-PF when it hijacks national events to its advantage.

“The Prime Minister has taken a very wise decision in avoiding to boycott. Independence was not bestowed on Zimbabwe by ZANU-PF alone," said Mhanda.

"It was the former colonial master who even chose the independence day – 18th April - when ZANU-PF would have preferred 28th April in memory of the Chinhoyi battle. It is the British who set in motion the decolonization process and who determined the independence date."

Meanwhile, in Marondera some residents have declined to give ZANU-PF officials independence celebration contributions saying such collections must be done by representatives of all the three parties in the unity government.