Zim leaders in crisis talks
Harare – Rival Zimbabwean leaders on Thursday headed into make or break talks, under renewed regional mediation, to pull back the country’s fragile coalition government from the brink. The latest crisis was sparked by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s partial pullout two weeks ago from the nine month old coalition government, over alleged violations of a power-sharing agreement by President Robert Mugabe.
The two leaders, and Aurther Mutambara who leads a break-away faction from Tsvangirai’s party, signed a power-sharing deal in September 2008 to end months of wrangling over last year’s inconclusive elections. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki brokered the deal on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which later guranteed the agreement together with the African Union (AU). But despite the inception of the coalition administration in February, Mugabe and Tsvangirai’s parties have remained deeply suspicious of each other, intermittently trading a variety of accusations.
The premier accuses Mugabe, in particular, of making unilateral appointments to key government positions, arresting top leaders of his party and in general refusing to fullfill all provisions of the powersharing deal. The arrest two weeks ago of Roy Bennett, treasurer of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democ rat i c Change (MDC) party, on security-related charges, was the last straw which prompted the premier’s partial walk-out from the coalition government. In their partial boycott, MDC government ministers have refused to attend cabinet, and peform selected government functions.
On the other hand, Mugabe’s party wants Tsvangirai to prod his Western backers, in particular the European Union and the United States, to lift economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe which the MDC campaigned for while in opposition. Thursday’s crisis talks, mediated by a team from the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, centred on how to resolve all intricate issues surrounding the power-sharing agreement, to draw the sides back from the brink.
“The mission is to review the implementation of the Global Political Agreement (power-shaing deal),” said Tomaz Salomao, executive secretary of SADC, who was among regional diplomats in Harare for the crunch talks. “Obviously, we have to take into consideration what is going on,” he added, referring to Tsvangirai’s partial pull out from government. The SADC diplomats, drawn from Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia, Thursday met officials from the three sides separately, ahead of a joint meeting on Friday expected to be attended by Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara.
Details of the envoys’ Thursday meetings, including with SADC diplomats accredited to Zimbabwe, were kept under wraps. But observers said they saw little prospect of narrowing the differences between Mugabe and Tsvangirai in the latest regional shuttle diplomacy. Ahead of Thursday’s talks, both sides appeared to entrench their hardline positions.
Mugabe said at the weekend he was unmoved by Tsvangirai’s partial withdrawal from government, and vowed not to yield to pressure from the MDC or anywhere, on matters pertaining to the power-sharing agreement. Information Minister Webster Shamu, a Mugabe ally, upped the tempo on Wednesday, saying acting cabinet ministers could be appointed to replace those from the MDC to ensure government is not hamstrung.
The suggestion was immediately shot down by Tendai Biti, finance minister and secretary general of the MDC, who said the move would not only be unconstitutional, but also hasten the collapse of the coalition government. Observers said the the public posturing ahead of the talks had not only widened the gulf between the two sides, but also entrenched their differences, making a compromise difficult to broker.