Tsvangirai pleads for international support

Harare -Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Sunday made an impassioned appeal to the international community to fund the country's new coalition government, calling the situation in the hunger- and disease-wracked country "dire.

"Speaking at his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party’s 10th anniversary celebrations in Gweru, about 300 kilometres south-west of Harare, Tsvangirai said Zimbabwe had to "borrow and beg" for aid to turn around the battered economy.

"Please be in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe," Tsvangirai said, appealing to international donors.

On a visit to South Africa on Friday, Tsvangirai had estimated the long-term cost of rebuilding Zimbabwe after a decade of severe misrule at up to 5 billion dollars.

Tsvangirai’s appeal followed the arrival of a top-level United Nations humanitarian delegation on Saturday. The UN team is in Zimbabwe for five days to assess the country’s cholera and food crises with a view to mobilizing funding.

Close to 4,000 people have died since last August in the cholera epidemic that was sparked by the breakdown of sewage and water supply systems, and around 7 million of an estimated 11 million Zimbabweans require food aid.

Tsvangirai agreed to take his party into government with President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s longtime leader, earlier this month to try to help steer a turnaround.

Reconciliation and forgiveness 

The Zimbabwean Prime Minister also called for national reconciliation and forgiveness on Sunday after years of political conflict in the country. Tsvangirai made the call at a rally in Gweru amid reports of fresh political clashes between supporters of his party, the MDC and Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF in Mutoko.

Tsvangirai, who entered into a unity government with President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party this month, also said the time had come to address poverty and hunger.

"This nation needs national healing. It has endured so much violence. Let’s forgive those who have transgressed against us," Tsvangirai told supporters of his Movement for Democratic Change at a rally in Gweru, 220km south-west of Harare.

"If there’s no national healing, there won’t be progress."

The new government urgently needs to find a solution to the country’s economic meltdown that has led to the world’s highest inflation and a worthless currency.

Tsvangirai said Mugabe, himself and Arthur Mutambara — leader of a breakaway MDC faction — were committed to the unity government.

"We realised that the time had come to sort out this mess. There is absolute poverty and hunger in this country. This is what prompted us to work with Zanu-PF and I am sure that is what also prompted Zanu-PF to agree to this inclusive government," he said.

The MDC has said the detention of some of its members, including that of senior party official Roy Bennett, can undermine the power-sharing government.

Bennett was arrested on February 13 before he could be sworn in as deputy agriculture minister and has been charged with terrorism. The High Court will rule on his application for bail on Tuesday.

‘The reality of the situation’
Senior United Nations officials were on Sunday preparing for a series of meetings with the country’s political leaders and UN colleagues dealing with the country’s cholera epidemic and food crisis.

The five-strong delegation will meet both Mugabe and Tsvangirai during their five-day visit, delegation spokesperson John Nyaga said.

On Sunday the team, which is led by UN assistant secretary general for humanitarian affairs Catherine Bragg, will hold an "internal meeting with UN officials working on the ground in Zimbabwe", Nyaga said.

"The aim of the mission is to understand the reality of the situation in Zimbabwe," he added.

The team, which also includes representatives from the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children’s Fund Unicef, will on Monday visit different projects, mainly in the capital Harare.

Mugabe, who turned 85 on Saturday, agreed to allow the top-level UN team to visit Zimbabwe to find ways of dealing with the country’s growing health and food crisis, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said earlier this month.

The delegation flew in late on Saturday.

According to figures released on Saturday by the World Health Organisation and Zimbabwe’s health ministry, the latest death toll from the cholera epidemic was 3 806, with more than 81 000 cases reported.

At the same time, seven million people — more than half the country’s 12-million population — need emergency food aid, according to UN figures.

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has convened the body’s finance
ministers this week to devise a plan to help them out of the crisis.

On Friday, Tsvangirai said that reconstructing Zimbabwe could cost as much as five billion US dollars, after a meeting with Motlanthe on Friday in Cape Town. – Sapa, AFP