'You don't negotiate with a gun'

President Thabo Mbeki was due to jet into Harare on Thursday in a fresh bid to break the Zimbabwe talks deadlock, as Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe warned that he will not “wait forever” before forming a new Cabinet.

The signs were not propitious: Mugabe this week gave Morgan Tsvangirai until Thursday to sign the proposed power-sharing agreement, while the MDC leader said he would not bend to Mugabe’s “bullying”.

The MDC has rejected the proposed deal, which will reinstate Mugabe as head of state with supreme executive powers for the next five years.

A source close to the process confirmed that Mbeki asked the parties to free up Thursday for a meeting with him, but Mbeki’s spokesperson, Mukoni Ratshitanga, denied this.

He would also not comment on Mugabe’s threats to form a Cabinet. This week South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Aziz Pahad, told the media the Zanu-PF leader had no mandate to do this.

Mugabe told reporters on Wednesday: “We will not allow a situation where we will not have a Cabinet forever. If after [Thursday] Tsvangirai does not want to sign, we will certainly put together a Cabinet. We feel frozen at the moment.”

It is understood that Mbeki dissuaded Mugabe from forming a Cabinet last week to allow for a new round of talks. But negotiators returned to Zimbabwe after a weekend of parleying in South Africa without reaching agreement.

Tsvangirai would not be forced to sign “on the basis of threats and ultimatums”, MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said. The MDC leader would resort to “diplomatic efforts” in a bid to rally African leaders round a push for Mugabe to stand down.

“This is a dialogue and dialogue does not operate on the basis of ultimatum. You don’t come to the negotiation table with a gun; we will not be stampeded.”

The MDC wants Tsvangirai to chair Cabinet meetings and have the upper hand in the power-sharing arrangement. It also refuses to have the Cabinet split between ministers reporting to Tsvangirai as prime minister and Mugabe as president.

Chamisa has said no MDC member is willing to serve in the new Cabinet if Mugabe unilaterally appoint Cabinet ministers.

Tanzania, the African Union chair, has proposed a 50-50 power-sharing arrangement, but neither side wants equal power.

Zanu-PF is planning to narrow the MDC’s slender parliamentary majority in two upcoming by-elections. Matobo North in the south, which under the law became vacant when its MDC MP, Lovemore Moyo, became parliamentary speaker, could be the scene of a bitter campaign.

This week Mugabe, Mbeki and Tsvangirai all attended the funeral of Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa. The Mail & Guardian was told that Mbeki’s efforts to use the occasion to bring the parties together came to nought.

According to the Times of Zambia Mwanawasa was praised at the funeral for being the first SADC member to highlight Zimbabwe’s failures and criticise Mugabe’s government.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange broke its own record this week by rising by 125% a day, as investors rushed to hedge their assets from what will be a steeper economic decline in the absence of a political deal.

Big bucks for MPs’ vehicles
Zimbabwe’s Parliament is to splash out more than US$9-million on new vehicles for MPs elected on March 29, according to the Mail & Guardian‘s sister newspaper, the Zimbabwe Independent.

Parliamentary sources revealed that each of the 303 lawmakers will be entitled a vehicle worth more than US$30 000, to be bought on their behalf by government.

There are 210 members of the House of Assembly and 93 senators. This excludes the speaker of the House and the president of Senate, who would also be entitled to vehicles and other benefits.

Parliament intended to acquire all-terrain vehicles through the Member of Parliament Vehicle Revolving Fund—a scheme where MPs repay the House through deductions from their salaries.

Austin Zvoma, the clerk of Parliament, said on Wednesday that the House was still gathering information on the model and cost of vehicles for the lawmakers.

The legislators were expected to choose between Isuzu, Mitsubishi and Toyota Vigo all-terrain models.

An impeccable parliamentary source said it was likely that the House and treasury would accept the US$30 000 per vehicle figure.

Given Zimbabwe’s foreign currency constraints Parliament has had to approach the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to release the money.

According to AA Zimbabwe rates, pegged at Z$48,34 per kilometre, a legislator from Bulawayo who travels more than 440km to Harare will receive Z$21 269 for a single trip.

Zvoma said Parliament would soon gazette the salaries and sitting allowances of the MPs.—Nkululeko Sibanda

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