Zimbabwe PM meets with political prisoners

Morgan Tsvangirai speaks to supporters after he became prime minister Wednesday.
Zimbabwe’s former opposition leader spent his first full day as prime minister of the deeply troubled African nation Thursday, and called it "hectic."

Morgan Tsvangirai, of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), met with union leaders and political detainees at a maximum-security prison, and planned to talk later to donors, he told journalists. He was sworn in as head of government Wednesday under a power-sharing agreement with the country’s long-time president, Robert Mugabe who he was also scheduled to meet Thursday. Tsvangirai met the media in an office with new furniture and freshly painted walls, while painters and carpenters down the hall were still busy renovating the offices of his deputy prime ministers. His meeting with Mugabe later in the day was to finalize government appointments, he said. The Cabinet is due to be sworn in on Friday. “I’m going to hand over our list to the president for the Cabinet for tomorrow,” he said. He visited Chikurubi maximum-security prison, where a number of human rights activists and his MDC supporters have been held since December, facing charges of planning to topple Mugabe. They were taken from their homes by state agents from October to December. Asked whether the political detainees will be released soon, Tsvangirai said the legal process would take its course. “But those who are not in good health have been allowed to go to Avenues Clinic for medical attention,” he said.

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Tsvangirai sworn in

“Others are in good shape, but others, you know what happens in confinement. But their spirits are very high. … I’m happy that we managed to give them some moral support.” Tsvangirai comes into office as Zimbabwe faces an economic and humanitarian crisis. Many civil servants — including schoolteachers, doctors and nurses — have been on strike since September, demanding higher pay. After his swearing-in, he asked them to return to work in exchange for pay in foreign currency. Pressed Thursday about where the money would come from, Tsvangirai did not answer directly. “We have to find the money to pay them,” he said. “But how much, it still hasn’t been decided yet. “But we must find something to alleviate the plight of our people who have been receiving worthless currency,” he said. “They are being given worthless vouchers. … If you are going to have a productive workforce, then you must boost the morale of the workers. Our civil service morale is very low.” The unity government is the result of a power-sharing agreement reached in September between Tsvangirai and Mugabe after months of squabbling about the results of elections earlier in the year. A cholera epidemic has claimed close to 4,000 lives and infected about 65,000 people since August, aggravated by a lack of water-treatment chemicals and a problem with waste disposal in much of the country. The United Nations says more than 5 million people are in need of food aid, in a country that has shortages of all essentials, including fuel, electricity and cash.