Robert Mugabe is a hero, a liberator and the founding father of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai, arch rival and victim of rights abuses under his regime, said on Thursday. The conciliatory words chosen by the Zimbabwean prime minister came as he challenged the world to see the president as not only part of his country's problem, but also part of the solution. Speaking at a conference in Johannesburg, Tsvangirai acknowledged the atrocities of the past decade but insisted Mugabe could rescue his legacy. "I suppose Robert Mugabe has been portrayed as a demon," he told the Guardian. "He himself made a contribution to that caricature because I cannot defend what he did over the last 10 years in terms of violence, in terms of expropriation and all these other activities. "But there is also a positive contribution to our country that he has made. Remember that he was the national liberation hero, and so those are positive years. I suppose there is the personality conflict between a hero and a villain, of which you have to make an assessment. History will have to judge him." Tsvangirai entered a unity government after disputed elections in 2008 which left more than 200 people dead. The Movement for Democratic Change leader claims that Mugabe accepts the power-sharing agreement and the need for free and fair elections, probably next year. "He's committed to this transition, once that is transition is done, he is committed to ensure we have a peaceful election," Tsvangirai said. "That will restore his legacy as the founding father of the nation as well as the liberator, rather than the villain he has come to be associated with." Tsvangirai, who was beaten by Mugabe loyalists in 2007, effectively ruled out any criminal prosecution of the president or his allies after they leave office. He argued that Zimbabwe had gone through two negotiations: the power-sharing deal and a new constitution, which could go to a referendum next year.