Mbeki launches bid to save Zim power deal

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki prepared to hold talks on Tuesday with Zimbabwe’s political rivals in a bid to save a flagging power-sharing deal.

The talks were set to begin as Zimbabwe’s Parliament resumed sitting on Tuesday afternoon, with President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF in the minority for the first time since independence in 1980.

Parliament will have to consider a constitutional amendment to implement the power-sharing agreement, which allows Mugabe (84) to remain as president while opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai takes the new post of prime minister.

But the entire deal has hit the rocks over disputes about how to split key Cabinet posts in a unity government, with Tsvangirai threatening to pull out of the agreement after Mugabe on Saturday claimed the most important ministries for his own party.

The move would leave Mugabe in control of the army, police and other security agencies, and drew sharp condemnation from the European Union, which threatened to impose new sanctions on the regime.

Mbeki, who brokered the deal last month, flew to Harare late on Monday in a last-ditch effort to save the agreement that had been hailed as an end to months of deadly political turmoil and a step toward rescuing Zimbabwe from economic ruin.

But hopes for a compromise dimmed on Monday as Mugabe swore in his two vice-presidents without consulting Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, the lead negotiator for Zanu-PF, said in the state-run Herald newspaper that Mugabe remained committed to the talks, but insisted that the only post up for discussion was the Finance Ministry.

“As far as we are concerned, the only contention is the Ministry of Finance. We hope the facilitator will come up with fresh ideas,” he said. “The country has been drifting for the past six months.
We cannot continue drifting.”

Tsvangirai’s MDC declined to comment ahead of the talks, but a splinter group led by Arthur Mutambara said it still believed a deal could be reached.

“We are very hopeful that something positive will happen, so we are keeping our fingers crossed,” spokesperson Edwin Mushoriwa said.

The MDC argues that Mugabe’s arrangement violates the spirit of the power-sharing deal, after the opposition party won control of Parliament in legislative elections earlier this year.

Tsvangirai also finished ahead of Mugabe in a first-round presidential vote in March, but pulled out of a June run-off because of violence against his supporters that the MDC says left at least 100 dead.

So far, the two parties have shown little ability to work together.

Parliament opened on August 26 with lawmakers from the MDC booing and jeering Mugabe, who had previously kept a firm grip on the legislature during his 28 years in power.

While the rival parties are bickering, Zimbabwe’s people face a daily struggle to survive against desperate food shortages and the highest inflation in the world, estimated at 231-million percent in July.

Once a regional breadbasket, the United Nations estimates that more than five million people—nearly half the population—need emergency food aid this year. About 80% of the population is unemployed and living under the poverty line of $2 per day.—Sapa-AFP

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