PRESIDENT Mugabe says processes leading to the July 31 harmonised elections are moving smoothly in full view of poll observers drawn from different progressive nations, including Sadc and the African Union. Speaking at a State banquet hosted on the eve of King Letsie III's 50th birthday celebrations in Lesotho on Tuesday, Cde Mugabe said Zimbabwe remained peaceful on account of calls by political party leaders for violence -free campaigns.
The President, who delivered an address for the occasion on behalf of regional leaders, reiterated the need for Zimbabweans to maintain peaceful co-existence.
Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, Swaziland's King Mswati III, President Seretse Khama Ian Khama of Botswana, Zambian Vice President Guy Scott and his Malawian counterpart Mr Khumbo Kachali were among leaders who turned up for the festivities.
"Let me take advantage of this gathering to inform you that the processes leading to our harmonised elections on the 31st of July 2013 are moving smoothly in the full glare of Sadc and African Union observers and those from other well-meaning countries," President Mugabe said to loud applause from guests, comprised mainly of representatives of Southern African countries.
"As leaders of political parties in Zimbabwe, we have been and still call on our people to refrain from political violence and to maintain peaceful co-existence. I am happy to inform you that so far, the electoral environment has remained peaceful.
"As Zimbabweans, we remain committed to working with the region to further regional and continental unity and to advance our common cause on the broader international platform."
Regarding the celebrations, President Mugabe said Zimbabwe's attendance was ample evidence of the cordial relations between Harare and Maseru.
He highlighted the crucial assistance Lesotho extended to Zimbabwe during the liberation struggle which saw eminent political figures receiving education in that country.
Zimbabwe, President Mugabe said, reciprocated the goodwill by enrolling Basotho students at the University of Zimbabwe's School of Medicine.
"As people of the region, we are bound together by a common history, similar cultures and strong economic linkages," he said, as a good number of jubilant guests applauded; while others raised mobile phones to take his picture.
"The people of Zimbabwe remember with fond memories the assistance that the Kingdom of Lesotho rendered to them during the days of the liberation struggle despite the immense pressure exerted on your own country by the then apartheid rule in South Africa.
"I am equally aware that your country remained resolute to the cause for liberation in our region and some of those countries which got liberated with your assistance are represented here today.
President Mugabe said Zimbabwean students educated in Lesotho went on to occupy key positions in Government at independence.
"On our part, as Zimbabwe, I am delighted to note that we are training some Basotho, though in a small way," he said.
"In 2010, our two countries agreed on a co-operation framework that has seen the training of Basotho students in surgery and medicine at the University of Zimbabwe. This is only a small good turn for what we received from your country.
"It is from these strong bonds, forged over the years, that we want to develop a strong and co-operative relationship for the good of our people. As a matter of fact, our presence here bears testimony of our mutual desire to strengthen our relations.
"Areas of possible cooperation abound in various fields of endeavour, which include manufacturing, agriculture, mining, health and education. We are confident that this festive occasion will give further impetus to our cooperation and friendship."
Speaking before over 15 000 Basotho at the celebrations broadcast live on national television and radio stations yesterday, King Letsie paid tribute to President Mugabe for continuing to support his country, saying the President's presence demonstrated genuine friendship and solidarity.
He said it was important for Zimbabwe to remain peaceful during the fast-approaching elections to ensure national and regional benefits.
"We are humbled by this gesture of friendship and solidarity," said King Letsie. "We all know that to a politician, there is nothing more pressing than an election campaign and the strenuous quest to garner votes for themselves and their parties.
"Of course, we also know that in Zimbabwe, as we stand here, politicians of all parties are traversing the country, chasing those votes which they hope will deliver to them a favourable outcome in a few weeks to come.
"However, there is at least one Zimbabwean politician who has decided to leave all of that behind just for a day in order to celebrate with us. I would like to say to that veteran politician, 'Your Excellency, your presence here today is a clear demonstration of your enduring respect and love for Basotho and Lesotho. For that we wish to express our sincerest appreciation and deepest gratitude'.
"All of us hope that those elections will be peaceful for the benefit of all Zimbabweans and the region as a whole."
Digressing from his prepared speech, King Letsie thanked President Mugabe for pulling him out of the "abyss of humiliation" by motivating him to marry.
President Mugabe had on the eve of the celebrations told guests of how the King's late mother got increasingly worried about her son's prolonged run of bachelorhood.
He had also revealed how his marriage to First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe following the death of his first wife, Amai Sally Mugabe, motivated the King to seek out a bride.
"Those who were at the banquet remember that veteran of a politician recalling the days of old when I was a bachelor. I would like to say he was right. I was truly embarrassed.
I was more than embarrassed. In fact, I was also jealous," said King Letsie.
"When I expressed those sentiments of embarrassment and jealousy. . . I would just like to remind him that it was in 1996. My father had just passed away and unexpectedly,
I assumed office. Six months after that, I was thrown into the deep end by being asked to host the Sadc Heads of State summit.
"I was embarrassed because I was a bachelor. I was jealous because he had just married a young wife and I had nothing. But because of that, I was motivated to put that right. It took me three or four years to do it. I thank you for rescuing me from the abyss; for rescuing me from being humiliated and being teased by my elders and other people.
"Since then, I would really like to say thank you (my wife) because we have created a wonderful home and we have enjoyed love, stability and comfort with you and our children."
King Letsie III's birthday anniversary is a public holiday celebrated countrywide.
Yesterday's event saw more than 15 000 Basotho converge on Setsoto Stadium to witness various performances ranging from army displays and traditional dances and to enjoy the day with their leader.
President Mugabe returned home last night and was welcomed at the Harare International Airport by Vice President Joice Mujuru, State Security Minister Sydney Sekeramayi, service chiefs and other senior Government officials.