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Zim faces crunch week as Mugabe draws battle line

Zimbabwe faces an uncertain political future, but its economic crisis is only likely to get worse while power-sharing talks between President Robert Mugabe and the opposition remain deadlocked, analysts believe.

Mugabe intends to open parliament on Tuesday despite protests by Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that this would scuttle negotiations on forming a unity government to end the current political impasse.

Political analysts say that although the political talks — which have stalled over how to share power between the two bitter rivals — look doomed for now, they are likely to resume in the coming weeks because both Mugabe and Tsvangirai are under intense pressure to reach a settlement.

”Nothing is clear on the political side, but unfortunately this also means the economy is condemned to suffer some more,” said Eldred Masunungure, a political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe.

”I think in the coming days we are going to see a hardening of positions again as a matter of political pride, but because both parties need some kind of settlement for their political future, they will also resume the talks very soon,” he said.

”There is a lot of political and economic pressure on these guys … but I think there is now more pressure on Tsvangirai especially from SADC,” he added.

Crucial week
Political analysts say a majority of Zimbabwe’s fellow SADC [Southern African Development Community] countries appear to have accepted Mugabe’s line that Tsvangirai is stubbornly rejecting a fair power-sharing deal brokered by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

”It’s a very crucial week in many respects. Both men [Mugabe and Tsvangirai] will have to stand firm or concede some ground and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be Mugabe,” said a senior Western diplomat.

”I think, yes, they will talk but I don’t see a quick or internationally acceptable agreement coming out soon,” he said.

Without a power-sharing deal accepted as credible by major Western countries, Zimbabwe’s economy — which critics say has been destroyed by Mugabe’s attack on the agriculture sector, where he seized and distributed white-owned commercial farms to inexperienced black farmers — will get worse, analysts say.

Tsvangirai’s absence from a new government would do nothing to dispel investors’ concerns about a country facing economic ruin, with the world’s highest inflation of 11-million percent, huge food and fuel shortages, and 80% unemployment.

Many families are surviving on one meal a day and can barely find the staple maize meal. Basics like milk and meat have become luxuries in what was once Southern Africa’s bread basket.

Tsvangirai maintains that a power-sharing agreement is being held up by Mugabe’s refusal to give up executive powers. Mugabe says Tsvangirai wants to strip him of all authority.

In elections last March, Zanu-PF lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980, but Tsvangirai’s MDC did not win an overall majority either. The balance of power rests in the hands of a breakaway opposition faction led by Arthur Mutambara.

Negotiations began last month after Mugabe’s unopposed re-election in June in a poll condemned around the world and boycotted by Tsvangirai because of attacks on his supporters.

Mugabe defiant
Veteran political commentator and Mugabe critic John Makumbe said the 84-year-old leader appears set on sealing an immediate power-sharing deal with the Mutambara group and on isolating Tsvangirai.

Mutambara has become a strident critic of what he sees as Western interference in Zimbabwean politics, which Zanu-PF has welcomed as a sign of patriotism.

A defiant Mugabe is drawing the battle lines.

The former guerrilla leader is in the coming week expected to name a Cabinet of both hardline political combatants and technocrats to help him fight a crisis, which analysts say remains a threat to his 28-year-old rule.

A columnist in the Herald newspaper — whose views normally reflect government thinking — suggested this weekend that Mugabe had to assemble ”structures of a war” because London and Washington are expecting Zanu-PF rule to collapse in 60 days.

”We need a strong government which will take bold decisions without flinching,” the columnist said.

Besides working with Mutambara’s MDC faction, analysts say Mugabe also appears to be banking on possible splits in Tsvangirai’s camp over issues of political strategy.

Two weeks ago Tsvangirai’s MDC condemned what it called ”corrosive” attempts by ministers and intelligence agents to recruit some of its members to join Mugabe’s government.

”It’s not very clear yet, but we are hearing of tension, of officials who think that Morgan [Tsvangirai] is wrong in not signing what is on the table,” a Western diplomat said.

”Their [MDC] challenge will be to keep their ranks tight because the agreement on the table basically keeps Mugabe and Zanu-PF firmly in power,” he added.

The support of major Western powers, especially the United States and Britain, will end an aid freeze and sanctions imposed on Mugabe’s government over charges of human rights abuses, vote-rigging and economic mismanagement.

Makumbe believes this will not happen while Mugabe tries to hang onto power by fanning splits in the opposition.

”To his admirers Mugabe is a skilful and shrewd political player, but I think he is just a devious man playing games with a nation’s life,” he said. – Reuters

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