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New Zimbabwean cabinet

Susan Houlton with Columbus Mavhunga in HarareSeptember 11, 2013

The new slimmed down Zimbabwean cabinet consists largely of old guard politicians and Mugabe allies. The number of women has been reduced. The policy of indigenization remains a major issue.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe at a microphone (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)
Image: Reuters

Zimbabwe's new slimmed down cabinet was sworn in on Wednesday (11.9.2013), six weeks after President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party won deeply contested elections. The line-up of 26 instead of the previous 33 members consists mainly of Mugabe allies and veteran hardliners.

The 89-year-old Zimbabwean leader who has now embarked on his seventh term as president said his new government would revive the country's battered economy by focusing on agriculture, manufacturing and the mining industries. Addressing journalists after the swearing in ceremony, Mugabe said he would not abandon his indigenization policy of seizing the majority stake of foreign-owned firms for black Zimbabweans. He said African nations were lagging behind as a result of white exploitation of the continent's mineral resources.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe holds the Bible during his inauguration in Harare (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Robert Mugabe takes the oath for his seventh term as presidentImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

"Your ownership of resources is given to you by God," Mugabe told the assembled ministers. "You were born here, you own the soil, you own all that grows, all that lies beneath."

Dr Sue Onslow of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in London sees the appointment of Francis Nhema as the new minister of indigenization and economic empowerment as a sign that "this will be soft pedalled a little bit. The way that the indigenization program is going to be implemented will be closely watched by members of the international business community, many of whom are very interested in investing in Zimbabwe." She added that the issue "does have to be handled with care to satisfy the domestic desire to control indigenous resources while balancing the need to attract foreign investment."

Snakes and ladders

At the ceremony Mugabe said he had chosen the best brains around to strengthen Zimbabwe's economy. DW's correspondent in Harare found a certain amount of skepticism among the general public.

"Some of these appointees have been part of the cabinet of Zimbabwe since 1980 so I am not sure what it is that they are going to do differently this time," said Lizwelethu Tswana . She said she was disappointed that this time round there are only three women in the cabinet.

Journalist Gamuchirai Masakara said she was concerned by the reappointment of Jonathan Moyo as information minister. Moyo previously held the portfolio from 2000 to 2008. During that time he crafted several controversial acts widely seen as restricting freedom of speech. His name is on the list of individuals not allowed to travel to the United States because the US government feels he has worked to undermine democracy in Zimbabwe.

A young Zimbabwean boy getting water from a river Photo: EPA/AARON UFUMELI
Many Zimbabweans still lack access to clean waterImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"In Zimbabwean politics it does seem to be a game of snakes and ladders," Sue Onslow said. "Who would have said that Jonathan Moyo would have been welcomed back into the fold, given his combustible departure and his position as a very, very vociferous critic of Mugabe in past years?" Since parting ways with Mugabe in 2008, Moyo had written some critical articles for online publications.

Old hands tackle old problems

Patrick Chinamasa takes over as finance minister, replacing Tendai Biti, a member of the defeated Movement for Democratic change (MDC) which had formed a coalition with ZANU-PF since 2009 after elections marred by violence.

Sue Onslow credits Biti with being "a very impressive minister under acutely difficult conditions." She added that "Chinimasa is facing enormous constraints in the management of the Zimbabwean economy," not least because 70 percent of government expenditure goes on civil service salaries.

In a nutshell, Zimbabwe's new cabinet can be described as a team of old hands who will largely have to tackle old problems.