|October 24, 2008
Summit over unity government in Harare / MDC protests against Mbeki's SADC report
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will attend a summit in Harare this week aimed at saving an agreement to form a unity government with President Robert Mugabe. "It is our hope that this meeting will bring closure and finality to this issue of power-sharing and enable Zimbabwe to respond to the dire situation which the people are facing," he said. Tsvangirai had refused to go to Swaziland for the meeting with Mugabe and four other regional leaders on October 20, in protest that he was only given emergency travel documents at the last minute. After Tsvangirai had failed to show up, the regional leaders (including South Africa's President Kgalema Motlanthe) agreed to hold a new summit on Monday, the 27th, in Harare.
In the meantime, Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC has written a letter to former South African president Thabo Mbeki raising concerns over what it believes is his latest example of backing for President Robert Mugabe. Nelson Chamisa, the MDC spokesperson, confirmed to the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday that the party had written to Mbeki complaining about a document he authored and presented to the Sadc troika in Swaziland defending Mugabe's unilateral allocation of ministries a fortnight ago under the unity government deal. Chamisa, however, declined to reveal the contents of his party's letter to Mbeki.
"It is true the letter was written to Mbeki expressing our utter disgust at the report attributed to him and we were expressing our position in response to the document," Chamisa said. "I will not give you details of what was contained in the letter as this will be against the spirit of the negotiations which we are still committed to."
Sources within the party said the MDC asked Mbeki to step down as the facilitator of the negotiations between Mugabe's Zanu PF and the two formations of the MDC because of perceived bias. The sources said the MDC accused Mbeki of ignoring the concerns raised by the party on the allocation of "key" ministries and simply endorsed what Mugabe gazetted.
An outraged opposition has in the meantime threatened to walk away from the fragile power-sharing agreement with Mr. Mugabe, after he unilaterally awarded all the key ministries to his own party. A government notice carried in the state-run newspaper The Herald said the veteran leader had given his ZANU-PF party 14 ministries, including the defence, home, foreign affairs, justice, local government and media portfolios. Furthermore Mr Mugabe would retain control of the army, police and other state security apparatus, the notice said.
The move was condemned by the prime minister designate, Morgan Tsvangirai, whose Movement for Democratic Change branded it "a giant act of madness". The MDC said the cabinet line-up was the "product of unilateral, contemptuous and outrageous machinations", stressing that only informal talks had been held a day before on the allocation of posts but no decision had been taken. "In fact, it is a giant act of madness which puts the whole deal into jeopardy," the opposition said on Friday, underscoring that the ruling party "wanted to take the ministries of finance, home affairs, local government and foreign affairs from the MDC".
According to the government report, Mr Tsvangirai's MDC gets 13 portfolios, including constitutional and parliamentary affairs, economic planning and investment promotion, labour and social welfare, sport and arts and culture. The splinter opposition grouping led by Arthur Mutambara would get three ministries, giving the combined opposition 16 ministries in the 31-member proposed cabinet.
Besides, Tsvangirai was due to meet the executive members of the MDC that week, in a meeting which a spokesperson said could see his withdrawal from the power-sharing agreement and a call for new elections. If this happens, Zimbabwe could be holding its eighth poll in as many years. MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said: "Our national executive committee will meet to decide on the way forward, although I must hasten to say there is growing consensus for us to withdraw from the September 15 deal. Our structures are now calling for a fresh presidential election. They are of the opinion that a fresh election is the way forward."
Besides, the government of Botswana also called for new elections. And Jabulani Sibanda, leader of the radical war veterans' movement, has called for Robert Mugabe to stop talking to the MDC and form a government. "The nation will take action to defend itself from Tsvangirai," he said. Sibanda is a fervent Mugabe ally and headed a violent campaign last year to purge internal Zanu PF opposition to Mugabe's re-election as party leader.
As editorials in state media became more strident in their calls for Mugabe to ditch the deal and form a government, senior Tsvangirai supporters were also ratcheting up pressure on their leader to boycott next Monday's summit, withdraw from the deal and seek a new election. The power-sharing agreement is unravelling over which party gets control over the home affairs ministry - under which the police fall - despite Mugabe making an important concession by yielding the finance ministry. Tsvangirai refused to attend this week's summit in Mbabane, Swaziland, angry at the Zimbabwean government's refusal to issue him with a passport.
But others have reported anger within the MDC over a report, said to have been prepared by South African mediator Thabo Mbeki, which backs Mugabe's allocation of ministries. "To the extent possible, all the parties have been allocated portfolios, which allow them to have a presence in each of the priority sectors," said a report, which was circulating among MDC officials ahead of the Mbabane summit. The "priority sectors" are listed as the restoration of economic stability, delivery of social services, the rule of law, adoption of a new Constitution, the land question, restructuring state organs and institutions and national healing, cohesion and unity. There has been no comment from Mbeki on the document.
While the pressure mounts on both Mugabe and Tsvangirai to withdraw from the deal, political analysts are split over which of the two men would suffer the most damage from such a decision. Many believe Mugabe has little left to lose, while Tsvangirai is still seeking to build relations with African leaders who are still wary of him. "It would be a dangerous mistake for [Tsvangirai] to be labelled a spoiler by both the SADC [Southern African Development Community] and the AU [African Union]," said Eldred Masunungure, a political analyst. There is also debate over whether either of the two main parties is prepared for a new round of elections, or if Zimbabweans themselves want to be put through another round of what could well be even more violent campaigning.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, discredited for a month-long delay in releasing results in March, stoked the fires this week by announcing it was preparing to hold by-elections in five constituencies, against a clause in the September 15 power-sharing agreement that stays such elections for a year.
(Zimbabwe Independent, Harare)