HARARE Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe named a new cabinet on Tuesday after his disputed re-election in July, handing the finance ministry to a combative political lieutenant with little experience in running a treasury.
In a surprise line-up, Mugabe also appointed two inexperienced officials to head the mining and empowerment portfolios, both at the heart of a push to increase black ownership of the economy by forcing foreign firms to cede majority stakes to locals.
Mugabe, Africa's oldest leader at 89, and his ZANU-PF party were declared overwhelming winners of the July 31 vote but his main rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, dismissed the result as fraud. Western nations have questioned the credibility of the election.
In the cabinet announced at State House, Mugabe appointed justice minister Patrick Chinamasa as his finance minister to succeed Tendai Biti from former Prime Minister Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Chinamasa, a lawyer who led ZANU-PF negotiations to form a unity government with the MDC after a previous disputed election in 2008, was one of Mugabe's staunchest defenders in the immediate aftermath of this year's vote.
"When 3.95 million people go to vote in cold weather you call it a farce?" he told a news conference days after the July 31 voting, responding to opposition allegations of widespread fraud and vote-rigging.
Zimbabwe's new constitution approved in March ended the post of prime minister but also partially limited presidential powers. No MDC figures were included in the new cabinet.
In other key appointments, environment minister Francis Nhema will head the "indigenisation" ministry while the mines ministry goes to Walter Chidhakwa, a cousin of Mugabe and junior minister in a department managing state companies.
Mugabe has been in power since the former white-ruled Rhodesia gained independence from Britain in 1980.
Pointing to multiple flaws in the July 31 vote cited by domestic observers, Western governments - especially the United States - have questioned the credibility of the outcome and are considering whether to prolong sanctions against Mugabe.
But the veteran leader has drawn comfort from African observers who endorsed the vote as largely free and orderly.
Western observers were barred and Mugabe has told critics to "go hang," arguing he won fairly.
Analysts say the impact of individual personalities on policy or the pace of implementation will be limited in a government tightly controlled by Mugabe and the ZANU-PF party.
Chinamasa's biggest challenge will be to try to mobilise foreign assistance, despite the sanctions, for a government which spends 70 percent of its budget on civil servants' wages.
Mugabe has said mining will be at the centre of an economic revival programme after his re-election.
(Reporting by Cris Chinaka; Editing by Ed Cropley and Pascal Fletcher)