, HARARE, Aug 22 – Zimbabwe’s veteran leader Robert Mugabe will be sworn in for a new five-year term on Thursday in a massive stadium inauguration that will be boycotted by his election rival.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai insists the July 31 vote that returned the 89-year-old to power was rigged and will shun the swearing-in.
The event will take place at the country’s largest 60,000-seater sports stadium and around 40 leaders have been invited.
“It’s going to be a grand occasion, no doubt about that,” said Simon Khaya-Moyo, chairman of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.
A constitutional court ruling confirmed Mugabe as president and declared the elections “free, fair and credible” and that the results “reflected the free will of the people of Zimbabwe.”
But Tsvangirai’s spokesman said the opposition leader “can’t attend a robber’s party.”
“Expecting Tsvangirai to attend the inauguration is like expecting a victim of robbery to attend a party hosted by the robber,” Tsvangirai’s spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka told AFP.
The inauguration had been delayed after Tsvangirai challenged the poll results in a petition to the constitutional court.
“We are excited about the inauguration ceremony,” Rugare Gumbo, spokesman for ZANU-PF, told AFP.
“Our win represents the defeat of neo-colonialism and tomorrow we are celebrating not only President Mugabe’s inauguration but the victory of Zimbabwe, Africa and progressive forces across the world.”
Unlike previous investitures which were low-key, the ceremony promises to be high-profile in what is seen as a show of power designed to confer legitimacy amid persistent questions around the vote which extended Mugabe’s 33-year grip on power.
The organisers said the event would be similar to Mugabe’s inauguration as prime minister in 1980.
But of the foreign leaders invited, only Namibia’s Hifikepunye Pohamba is so far known to have confirmed.
South Africa, which brokered a peace deal after the violence tinged 2008 vote, is sending Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Botswana and Malawi will do the same.
Former leaders from Tanzania, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia will attend.
A music concert will include artists from South Africa, Zambia and Jamaica – whose iconic Bob Marley played at Zimbabwe’s independence event.
“This inauguration is being projected as the crowning of a victory of a struggle for the past 13 years against big Western powers,” said Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist from the University of Zimbabwe.