New Zimbabwe deal in sight

Khanyi Magubane

A landmark deal signalling the end of political instability in Zimbabwe is now a probability after MDC opposition party leader Morgan Tsvangirai asked for time to think about a power-sharing deal proposed during the talks.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is mediating the talks, arrived in Zimbabwe on 11 August 2008 to help unite the Southern African country. He left after three days to give Tsvangirai time to consider the outcomes of the discussions with party members before making a final decision.

President Mbeki on 15 August 2008 to brief the Southern African Development Community’s chairperson of defence and security, Angolan President Jose (Eduardo) dos Santos, on progress made.

Speaking after the talks adjourned on 13 August, Mbeki dispelled reports that Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and breakaway opposition leader Arthur Mutambara had agreed to form a unity government, leaving only Tsvangirai to agree to the move.

Mbeki did, however, admit there was one point the leaders failed to agree on.

Although he did not reveal what the issue was, those close to the talks say the most contentious issue has been the amount of control 84-year-old Mugabe is prepared to relinquish.

It is reported that Mugabe wants to keep his position as president, while Tsvangirai wants executive powers as prime minister, including the right to chair Cabinet meetings.

Currently, the MDC has 100 seats in parliament, while the ruling Zanu-PF has 99. Mutambara, whose party holds 10 seats, agreed to form a parliamentary alliance with Tsvangirai after the March elections.

If the power-sharing talks collapse and Mutambara switches allegiance, it would give the majority to Mugabe’s party.

But Mutambara insists that he has not cut a separate deal with Mugabe to sideline Tsvangirai, saying, “There is no way you can extract a bilateral agreement from a tripartite process.”

Despite reports by foreign news agencies that Tsvangirai walked out after Mugabe and Mutambara reached an agreement in the latest round of negotiations, Mbeki has made it clear the talks have not collapsed. He says he is hoping that by the time the Summit of African Leaders takes place on the weekend of the 16 August in South Africa, a deal may have been brokered.

Stemming the crisis

Speaking to the press on his decision not to rush into the power-sharing deal, Tsvangirai said it was important that the agreement between the leaders reflected the will of the people. “We need a government that transfers power to the elected representatives of the people to carry out the people’s mandate for change,” he said. But he also gave the assurance that negotiations would continue.

He said that for the discussions to have a positive outcome, Mugabe had to make a decision of good faith and end his ban on the intervention of international aid agencies imposed earlier this year. The president asserted that these humanitarian organisations were the tools of distrustful Western governments.

“Our people continue to face a profound humanitarian crisis. This destructive policy of banning humanitarian assistance can be reversed with one letter,” Tsvangirai said. “Tragically, Zimbabwe has become one of the worst humanitarian disasters of a new and hopeful century.”

He added that at least two-million Zimbabweans had fled the country and about half a million others had died of starvation and preventable disease. This, he said, was a direct cause of lack concern by the government. “Because of the failed policies of Zanu-PF, five-million Zimbabweans now face starvation and famine. We cannot allow this to happen.”

One-man sham

The current negotiations follow Mugabe’s victory in a “one-man election” in June 2008. These run-off elections were meant to decide the new leader of Zimbabwe, following a marginal win by the Tsvangirai in March, which did not give him the outright majority he needed to be elected as president.

Following widespread violence and intimidation of MDC supporters in the weeks leading up to the June election, Tsvangirai boycotted the run-off and Mugabe went ahead alone. His victory was denounced across the world, even by usually sympathetic African countries.

Breaking the deadlock

The power-sharing talks kicked off on 21 July in South Africa at an undisclosed location, where Mugabe and Tsvangirai met for the first time in a decade to try and foster a way forward. But the talks were unsuccessful. Negotiators eventually flew home after a deadlock, however, two weeks later they resumed in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.

Zimbabwe’s state-controlled newspaper, The Herald, reports on its website that part of what was discussed during the talks was Britain’s funding of Zimbabwean land reform. All parties have agreed that Britain must honour its Lancaster House obligation – an agreement signed on 21 December 1979 to facilitate the country’s move away from colonial rule to independence.

Economic meltdown

If the power sharing-deal in Zimbabwe is successful, it will mark a new beginning for the embattled Southern African country, which in recent years has suffered debilitating economic instability.

According to the website, which gives daily updates on the state of affairs in that country, even after the deal has been brokered, much will have to be done to strengthen the country economically. “For Zimbabwe to recover from its desperate economic situation, he [Mugabe] will have to cede enough power to secure the lifting of sanctions and a massive infusion of international aid,” the website reports.

Zimbabwe’s official inflation rate is 2.2-million percent, but the unofficial rate is far higher. Currently, the regime is struggling to pay the security forces on which it depends for its survival. It no longer has the hard currency to import fuel or food – let alone paper and ink required to print enough new money. It is also reported that Zimbabwe’s most basic services have all but collapsed and a third of the population, including most of the best-educated and productive citizens, have fled for greener pastures.

According to the Financial Times, the world is waiting with baited breath for the outcome of the talks. The publication reports that international donors will only release a multi-billion-pound aid package if Tsvangirai holds sway in the new government.

To tighten pressure, South Africa’s trade union federation Cosatu has threatened a week-long boycott of goods bound for Zimbabwe should Mugabe refuse to step down.

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