PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has launched his re-election campaign with a fiery warning to a 15-member southern African regional bloc that Zimbabwe could pull out amid demands for a free and fair vote.
“Let it be known that we are in SADC (the Southern African Development Community) voluntarily. If SADC decides to do stupid things, let it be known that we can withdraw from SADC,” he told a 20,000-strong rally in the capital on Friday.
The regional bloc has pressed Mugabe to roll back his decision to hold elections on July 31, in order to allow time for a series of reforms that would limit the military’s role in politics and strip ghost voters from the electoral roll.
Zimbabwe’s constitutional court ruled on Thursday that the election would go ahead, despite Mugabe’s request for a two-week delay.
His longtime rival and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai had sought an even longer delay.
As he issued the threat to leave SADC, Mugabe also scolded Lindiwe Zulu, a envoy of South African President Jacob Zuma, who has been the chief mediator on the Zimbabwe crisis.
“Did such a person think that we as a country would take heed of this streetwoman’s stupid utterances,” said Mugabe, without mentioning Zulu by name.
The 89-year-old Mugabe issued a feisty rallying call to some 20,000 supporters, as he endeavours to extend his 33-year rule.
“You are our soldiers. You have a battle to fight. Go into the battle well-armed.
“Go into the battle with the full knowledge that there is a political enemy. This is a do or die struggle.”
Mugabe’s party lost its parliamentary majority to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party at the last elections for the first time since independence in 1980,
Tsvangirai won the most ballots in the first round of the the 2008 vote, but pulled out of the second round amid violence against his supporters.
Some 200 opposition activists were killed around those polls.