Tsvangirai: "I don't want to demean those who have the misfortune of being over 85"

Zimbabwe PM maintains 'fire' for change

Wed Jun 10, 4:54 pm ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai called Wednesday on potential western donors to judge his fragile coalition government by what it has done and not by his country's abusive past.

Tsvangirai, a long-time opposition leader backed by the West, meets with US President Barack Obama on Friday as part of his three-week tour of Europe and the United States, seeking assistance from the international community for the unity administration alongside long-time adversary President Robert Mugabe.

"When you judge this government it must be based on what this (unity) government has done" and not on the actions of strongman Mugabe's political movement ZANU-PF, he said here at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In a decade the southern African nation's once a dynamic regional economy has been crushed by world-record hyperinflation, political instability and alleged human rights abuses.

Tsvangirai however maintained Zimbabwe is changing since he joined the government in February, saying currently "there is no one in detention" and pledging democratization to be the "first plank" of Zimbabwe's economic recovery efforts.

The prime minister said he understood frustration on the speed of political reform as he works to mend fences with former allies.

"We have not given up our fire for a democratic Zimbabwe, even when we share power with someone who we believe has never been democratic," insisted Tsvangirai, who heads the main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change.

"My assurance is that it is a process. We are going through the stages of transformation and down the line we will have a fair and free election that will give Zimbabweans an opportunity to choose their own government."

In often frank terms, Tsvangirai denounced the tragedy of his country's recent past.

The southern African nation "stands as remarkable testimony to the power of a corrupt government, in pursuit of selfish policies, to impoverish an entire nation," he said.

Acknowledging skepticism of joining Mugabe in a unity government Tsvangirai even name-checked South Africa's anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.

Like him, Tsvangirai said he agreed to "work with a non-democratic regime as a transition to full democracy."

The prime minister acknowledged he has to be hopeful, always, that change will eventually come and that Mugabe will not double-cross him.

"I have the corner in my mind that thinks 'maybe he's trying to cheat me,'" he noted, but needs to be ever upbeat like the Zimbabwean people, who he said are also "cautiously optimistic."

Speaking of his rival Mugabe, Tsvangirai chose not to criticize the president personally.

"I'm sure that I don't want to demean those who have the misfortune of being over 85," he said with a hearty chuckle.

"But what probably motivates people of that age group is legacy. I'm sure in his twilight years he has realized he has to end his life as the founding father of the nation, and not the villain of the nation."