By AFP and Staff Reporter
For the first time in over thirty years, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s former leader was absent at the country’s independence parade held in the capital, Harare. Independence anniversaries over the years have been synonymous to Mugabe’s arrival at the venue along with his wife and subsequently addressing the populace to much cheers.
The 94-year-old leader was, however, absent for proceedings, and it was not known if government extended an invitation to him. There was no official communication on the reasons but most political watchers said it was to be expected.
Zimbabwe marked its 38th independence day with new leader Emmerson Mnangagwa vowing to hold “credible” elections and turn around the southern African country’s moribund economy.
Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe from independence in 1980 until last November when he was forced to resign under pressure from his party, the military and the street.
Presiding over Wednesday’s celebrations at the national sports stadium in Harare, Mnangagwa said: “My government has put in place measures for the holding of transparent, free, fair and credible elections.”
Admitting that the country’s economic crisis was causing “great hardship”, he added: “My administration’s focus is on the pursuit of investment-led economic recovery, job creation (and) poverty reduction.”
The celebrations came as the government fired thousands of nurses who kicked off a strike demanding higher pay on Monday amid growing labour unrest.
Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former deputy and a veteran loyalist in the ruling ZANU-PF, is widely expected to retain power along with the party in the elections expected in July or August.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change party attended the independence day celebrations, ending a boycott they had observed over Mugabe’s authoritarian rule.
The ousted leader often used the occasion of independence day to harangue the West and reaffirm his total control over the former British colony.
The army briefly took power in November before Mugabe, now 94, resigned when once-loyal ZANU-PF lawmakers started impeachment proceedings against him.
His reign left Zimbabwe in dire economic decline, triggering mass emigration and a widespread collapse of public services.
Zimbabweans are set to vote in the first post-Mugabe polls in July, where Mnangagwa will face 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa, the main opposition MDC’s new leader.
He is trying to roll back some of Mugabe’s policies that investors said discouraged investment. His Zimbabwe “is open for business” policy is meant to attract foreign capital after years of isolation under Mugabe.
Independence Day celebrations in pictures:
President Mnangagwa inspects a military guard of honour. Photo: AFP
A placard reads ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’ as people cheer and dance during Zimbabwe the celebrations. Photo: AFP
Happy birthday Zimbabwe during Zimbabwe the celebrations. Photo: AFP
President Mnangagwa lights the Eternal Flame of Freedom. Photo: AFP
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