Zimbabwe still independent
HARARE, Zimbabwe – President Robert Mugabe declared Wednesday that he had overcome British-backed efforts to topple him, leading muted independence celebrations for a country beset by recent political violence and a plummeting economy.Looking robust, the 83-year-old Zimbabwean leader described the opposition Movement for Democratic Change as “the shameless local puppets” in a conspiracy by Britain, the former colonial ruler, to remove him from power.”We have observed of late how this conspiracy has attempted to transform into a militant criminal strain … to create a state of anarchy and an orgy of violence. We will never hesitate to deal firmly with these elements,” said Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since its independence from Britain in 1980.He acknowledged that worsening economic hardships were “stirring disquiet” across the nation and said security forces were ready to defend national and economic interests from what he called “the strategy of saboteurs” in the recent unrest.The government has used security forces to violently disrupt demonstrations, including a prayer meeting last month in which dozens were assaulted, including main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The government called the meeting a political protest banned under sweeping security laws.In the capital Harare, Joram Bande, unemployed for two years, said he had no desire to listen to Mugabe on Wednesday or go to parades and celebrations at the soccer stadium where the British flag was lowered on April 18, 1980.”What independence? Independence of hunger?” he said, likening the anniversary to any other day as he scavenged for garbage to sell. “We are crying.”For the first time, no businesses or government offices were festooned with independence streamers and flags, reflecting the country’s shortages of cash and the highest estimated inflation in the world.The Zimbabwean opposition and critics abroad accuse Mugabe of economic mismanagement and political oppression. On Wednesday, Mugabe blamed unbridled greed in some quarters for massive price increases that have put many basic commodities out of the reach of ordinary Zimbabweans.Backing by other leaders in southern Africa who have opted for quiet diplomacy over confrontation appears to have given Mugabe room to stave off trouble within his ruling party and demands for him to step down.The opposition has denied government allegations of a terror campaign, claiming eight bombings in the country since early March were stage-managed by state security agents, possibly using disgruntled opposition youths.Mugabe had been credited with rapidly expanding colonial era health and education services soon after independence, making Zimbabwe the envy of the region, but the embattled nation now faces acute shortages of food, gasoline and most basic goods.Zimbabwe also has the world’s lowest life expectancy for women at 34, worsened by an official HIV/AIDS infection rate of 22 percent of adults in the 12 million population. At least 3,000 people die from AIDS and related illnesses each week.