HARARE — Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe began a new five-year term in office on Thursday and immediately launched the now traditional vitriolic attack on the West, which has questioned the manner of his landslide victory in elections held last month.
His win has been lauded by fellow African leaders, but his latest hard-line outburst at his inauguration has dimmed any hopes of a thawing in frosty relations with the West, with sanctions likely to remain in place.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague called for an “independent investigation” of the elections, suggesting no let-up in western pressure on Mr Mugabe.
Mr Mugabe restated his determination to take over the mining and financial services sectors of the economy under the country’s indigenisation programme. He went further in pledging to extend the 51% black ownership plan to all key aspects of the economy.
“The mining sector is the centrepiece of recovery and must reignite the miracle that must happen,” Mr Mugabe said. “We have barely scratched the resources below the ground.”
He said the election had been a “fight of our lives” and hailed his victory as a “celebration” of the triumph of Africa over the West.
Leader of the Movement for Democratic Change Morgan Tsvangirai, who was defeated by Mr Mugabe’s Zanu (PF), boycotted the inauguration, saying it was “a robbers’ party”.
Mr Mugabe was at pains to lend much-needed legitimacy to the start of a new term. He went to great lengths in his inaugural speech to draw attention to the peace and tranquility he said had characterised the recent elections after the bloodletting of 2008.
After the 2008 elections, Mr Mugabe entered into a power-sharing deal with Mr Tsvangirai, which he said on Thursday had taught him how to tolerate his political rivals. “We have had peaceful and fair elections.
“We pledge that the peace we have will endure. Our enemies and detractors would push us towards violence, but have been confounded by the peace .”
Mr Mugabe’s inauguration on Thursday could easily have been mistaken for a Zanu (PF) rally.
The thousands of supporters clad in yellow and green regalia in attendance were reminiscent of weeks ago when Mr Mugabe’s party held its closing campaign rally at the 60,000-seater National Sports Stadium in Harare.
The many buses parked outside the stadium told the story of supporters from across Zimbabwe who had come to witness the re-enactment of 1980, as advertised by Mr Mugabe’s Zanu (PF).
The arrival of past and present African presidents, among them Joseph Kabila from the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa’s former leader Thabo Mbeki, provided the only hint that the inauguration was actually a state affair.
The South African government was represented by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, standing in for President Jacob Zuma.
Vuvuzelas blared continuously, women danced and the crowd cheered wildly at Mr Mugabe’s entry into the stadium accompanied by his wife, Grace.
“He is the man of the moment,” said Information Minister Webster Shamu as Mr Mugabe entered the stadium in an open-top military vehicle.
Basking in the moment of his victory and in a winner’s style, Mr Mugabe did what was equivalent to a victory lap and was driven slowly around the stadium as he waved his trademark fist to thousands of cheering supporters.
“It’s a historic time and we trust his leadership,” said Patrice Nyikadzino, a resident of Harare’s Mbare township. “Mr Mugabe is more, Tsvangirai is no more.”
The swearing-in ceremony conducted by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku passed without a hitch, as Mr Mugabe started his seventh term in office.
After Mr Mugabe took his oath of office, people dashed onto the open pitch, occupied by members of the Zimbabwe National Army, ululating and gyrating wildly, and temporarily halting proceedings.
A gun salute, a fly-past by the Zimbabwe Air Force and the release into the air of dozens of bunches of yellow, black, green and red balloons tied together ushered in Mr Mugabe’s new term in office.