Harare — PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe, who was sworn in yesterday in Harare for another five-year term after his controversial re-election in what was initially billed to be a historic occasion, has a plan to manage his victory to ensure a grand exit from the political stage when the time to go comes, it has emerged.
Informed sources say Mugabe's grand plan, stretching to the period before the elections, entailed winning the polls at all costs, co-opting Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and other officials from the MDC parties to form a new unity government which would bring Zimbabweans together and present a national façade unity to ensure his legitimacy and help him maintain peace and stability.
"Mugabe's plan was to win the elections, form a new inclusive government on his own terms and work to ensure he leaves behind a unified, cohesive, stable and thriving Zimbabwe when his time to go comes," a source said.
"This will help him rescue his legacy and make a grand exit when during or at the end of his term."
Tsvangirai was invited to Mugabe's inauguration yesterday but he boycotted. The MDC-T leader also boycotted Heroes Day and Defence Forces, while he put a fierce resistance to Mugabe's victory by 61,09% to his 33,94% which he rejected as "null and void" before taking him to the Constitutional Court where he lost.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba confirmed Mugabe had extended an invitation to Tsvangirai to attend the inauguration, but the former premier indicated he would be away in South Africa.
Charamba last said Tsvangirai had sent signals via an African ambassador that he would want to work with Mugabe, although the MDC-T leader said it was the other way round - the president was bidding to rope him in.
These events, including Tsvangirai's public rejection of overtures for talks, are said to be spoiling Mugabe's plan also inspired by his anxiety to salvage his legacy and secure a grand exit whenever he decides to leave office or he is forced to go by circumstances.
A unity arrangement would also give him an opportunity to resolve the convoluted Zanu PF succession crisis threatening to split and disintegrate his part if he goes without resolving it as it would guarantee national reconciliation and stability.
The sources also said Mugabe is already under pressure from within Zanu PF to resolve the succession issue and indicate when he would leave given his age and frailty.
"Now that the elections have come and gone, there is renewed pressure in the party for the succession issue to be resolved. Some leaders want this sorted during the annual conference at the end of the year, since it can be transformed into a mini-congress, while others want the party to want until the scheduled congress next year."
Indications that Mugabe's succession issue has exploded again were shown by Vice-President Joice Mujuru when she said last weekend she was ready to step in rule if the veteran leaders dies.
Mujuru had earlier during the party's first post-election politburo meeting warned his rivals in faction led by outgoing Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa to avoid claiming the elections victory as theirs when it was a "Team Zanu PF" win.
Sources said Mugabe's grand exit plan is still intact even though there are challenges triggered by the blazing row over the alleged rigging of the elections.
Although Mugabe was belligerent in his speech yesterday attacking Western countries for rejecting his disputed re-election and describing Tsvangirai and the MDC parties as "bad losers" and "real spoilers", he was conciliatory at the tail-end of his address, saying "our common destiny bids us to work together, never at cross-purposes".
"Lastly, I owe nothing but praise and respect for my GPA-era partners who are also my fellow countrymen. I am referring to former Prime Minister Morgan Richard Tsvangirai, former Deputy Prime Minister Professor Arthur Mutambara and, much later, Professor Welshman Ncube," he said.
"We have worked together, initially compelled by the GPA protocols, we eventually found each other and produced the current constitution... our common destiny bids us to work together, never at cross-purposes. More important, that destiny bids us to work for the wellbeing and in defence of our people who must always come first."
Mugabe, the sources said, knows he is serving his last term and wants to leave office with the nation "united", hence the overtures of high- level unity talks which are likely to be escalated now that the court battle over results has ended and Mugabe has been inaugurated.
The sources said Mugabe had planned a big inauguration ceremony, hoping to send a message across the world that he is still popular in Zimbabwe and in the region. He wanted yesterday's swearing-in ceremony to be similar to that of 1980 when he first assumed office.
Sources said he had invited 51 heads of state and former heads to the occasion in a bid to show he still had popular support, especially in Africa. The list was cut down to 40 and then 30 leaders but only six heads of state and government attended the ceremony, while some countries sent representatives at lower levels.
Even though Mugabe lashed out at European Union (EU) and United States (US) for rejecting his re-election, he also struck a peacemaking note as his grand exit plan can only work well if he ends his international isolation and is re-admitted back to the global community of nations.
"Internationally and diplomatically we remain friendly and well-disposed towards all nations. We seek friendships. We seek partnerships. We seek to diversify our relations to encompass new, emerging regions of the world," Mugabe said yesterday. "Principally, we continue to look East, hoping all those countries which had held back on fears of our unsettled situation here can now move forward to partner with us on clearer parameters laid out in our policies."