ZIMBABWE: Power-sharing deal looking precarious

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Zimbabwe power-sharing deal brokered by South Africa's former president, Thabo Mbeki, appears to be unravelling.

On 15 September, Mbeki oversaw the signing of a deal between President Robert Mugabe, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambura, leader of a smaller MDC faction, in what became his last foreign policy act as president. He was ousted from South Africa's top job a few days after returning from Zimbabwe.

Mbeki's axing meant the South African president had to cancel his trip to a UN annual General Assembly meeting in New York, while Mugabe departed for the US and is only expected to return to Zimbabwe in early October, as it is the custom of the 84-year-old president to have his annual medical check-ups abroad.

The deal was expected to signal the beginning of Zimbabwe's reconstruction, but reports of political violence are still commonplace, the inflation rate of more than 11 million percent remains unchecked, an outbreak of cholera in the capital, Harare, and Mashonaland West Province has claimed 20 lives in the past week, and reports that children have begun to succumb to starvation indicate that the country's humanitarian situation is worsening.

Earlier this year the UN estimated that more than five million people, out of a population of 12 million, would require food assistance in the first quarter of 2009. November is the planting period for the main agricultural season, but cash shortages, a paucity of agricultural inputs and renewed disruptions on farms do not bode well for the coming harvest.

Mbeki's power-sharing deal became deadlocked last week after ZANU-PF reportedly refused to concede any of the portfolios covering security, home affairs, justice, local government, finance, information and foreign affairs to the MDC.

Parliament has convened once since the disputed presidential election on 27 June, but was immediately adjourned and is not expected to reconvene until mid-October. It is yet to pass the constitutional amendments needed to create the posts of prime minister and deputy prime minister - allocated to Tsvangirai and Mutambura, respectively - under the agreement. 

Mugabe feels ZANU-PF pressure 

A member of ZANU-PF's politburo, the party's top decision-making body, told IRIN that before leaving for New York, Mugabe was accused by senior party members of ceding too much power to the opposition parties. "It looks like Mugabe used the UN conference as an excuse to flee from the gathering storm in his party," the party insider said.
"Because of his lengthy absence from the country, there is a lot of uncertainty within the country and ZANU-PF. In addition, when ... [apportioning] cabinet posts, Mugabe has to deal with the delicate issue of mollifying two camps in his party which are jostling to succeed him."

The constitutional amendments need a two-thirds majority to pass, which could potentially hand disgruntled ZANU-PF MPs a way to stall the deal.

The changing of the guard in neighbouring South Africa, in which Mbeki was deposed ahead of next year's scheduled elections, left Mugabe "devastated", according to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

The MDC often accused Mbeki of being partisan towards Mugabe after the Southern African Development Community (SADC) appointed him as the regional body's lead negotiator in 2007, while Mugabe recently lauded Mbeki's style of negotiations.

Such praise has not been reciprocated in South Africa, where the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the country's largest union federation and an alliance partner of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), played a pivotal role in ousting Mbeki and remain unhappy with his power-sharing deal.

COSATU spokesman Patrick Craven told IRIN the federation was "profoundly unhappy with the negotiations on the table" and termed it an "elite deal negotiated between a few individuals, with no attempt to involve civil society." The power-sharing government has a five-year term.

Union pressure on Tsvangirai

SADC spokesperson Charles Mubita told Zimbabwe's official The Herald newspaper that Mbeki would continue to lead the SADC's mediation talks, because "It does not need someone to be a sitting president to facilitate in a dispute."

COSATU's Craven said the union federation has so far not taken a position on Mbeki's continued role as the lead negotiator in Zimbabwe.

Tsvangirai will attend a meeting of the ZCTU's general council on 27 September to explain the details of the power-sharing agreement. The labour federation, which was a launch pad of the MDC, is against the negotiated deal and prefers the formation of a transitional authority, followed by free and fair elections.

Tsvangirai and the MDC achieved a parliamentary majority in the 29 March general elections but was a couple of percentage points shy of the 50 percent plus one vote required to win the presidency outright.

Tsvangirai withdrew from the run-off ballot in protest against the high levels of political violence, which Mugabe subsequently won as a sole candidate - a result not recognised by the international community.