robert Mugabe was sworn in as president of Zimbabwe for the seventh time yesterday and used the occasion – boycotted by African heads of state – to launch an attack on homosexuality.
Speaking to a crowd of dancing, ululating supporters in the National Sports Stadium in Harare, he condemned homosexuality as a “filthy, filthy disease”.
The crowd were given free fizzy drinks, T-shirts and chicken-and-chip takeaways handed out by soldiers.
However, only five serving African presidents attended, from 40 heads and former heads of state who were invited.
The inauguration was delayed for almost three weeks after losing candidate Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, lodged a court challenge to Mr Mugabe’s landslide victory in the 31 July election, citing massive fraud.
Mr Mugabe, 89, yesterday called Mr Tsvangirai a “bad loser, a real spoiler” and ignored the apparent snub from his continental counterparts, thanking Africa for “standing with us during our difficulties”.
In a rambling speech, Mr Mugabe urged young Zimbabweans to “damn” homosexuality.
“That destroys nations, apart from it being a filthy, filthy disease,” he said. Ahead of the polls the former guerrilla leader said that gays should be castrated.
Arriving at the stadium yesterday, the president and his wife Grace rode in an open-topped vehicle, both of them waving the trademark Zanu-PF clenched fist. Their son was seen during the ceremony playing with his smartphone.
Taking his oath before the judge who dismissed Mr Tsvangirai’s election petition two days earlier, Mr Mugabe – who is believed to be gravely ill with cancer – paused for a smile and then vowed to discharge his duties “true to the dictates of my conscience”.
Mr Tsvangirai said the celebrations were “a robber’s party” and did not attend. South African president Jacob Zuma, who has acted as a mediator during five years of power-sharing between Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai in Harare, was also notable by his absence.
Apart from the autocratic president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, and the leaders of Mozambique, Tanzania, DRC and Namibia, the foreign dignitaries in attendance were mainly former heads of state or special envoys.
British ambassador to Harare Deborah Bronnert sent an envoy after Foreign Secretary William Hague called for an investigation into the fraud allegations.
In a statement yesterday, Mr Hague said: “I strongly believe an independent investigation of any allegations of election irregularities would be required for the elections to be deemed credible.” America and the European Union have also refused to recognise the election.
But in his speech Mr Mugabe slammed his “dishonest” critics. “For those of the western countries who happen to hold a different negative view of our electoral processes and outcome … we dismiss them as the vile ones whose moral turpitude we must mourn,” he said.
The president vowed to step up his indigenisation programme, which compels white and foreign firms to hand over 51 per cent of shares to blacks.
“It is what the people voted for,” he said. His white land grab, launched in early 2000, plunged Zimbabwe into eight years of economic crisis.