Tsvangirai seeks deadline for Zim deal

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai asked a summit of Southern African leaders on Sunday to set a deadline for an agreement on forming a Cabinet to end a deadlock threatening a power-sharing deal.

In a speech to regional heads of state, Tsvangirai suggested his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would only accept a comprehensive agreement that gives his party a fair share of powerful ministries.

“Only a genuine power-sharing arrangement will allow the MDC to join a new government because that is our mandate from the people of Zimbabwe and we cannot and will not betray their hopes and dreams for a better future,” he said in the speech.

One of Tsvangirai’s demands to the summit was “imposing a deadline on the agreement” for formation of a new Cabinet.

Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe have been deadlocked over allocation of important Cabinet positions since the September 15 deal, which Zimbabweans hoped would produce a united leadership to revive the ruined economy in the country where inflation is the world’s highest and malnutrition widespread.

The 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), meeting in Johannesburg, is trying to end the impasse.

Highlighting growing regional impatience, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe said the deal offered the only hope for Zimbabwe to ease the economic crisis.

Past SADC meetings have failed to produce a breakthrough.

Although some leaders have taken a tough line on Mugabe, political analysts say the SADC did not have the resolve to impose tough measures, such as sanctions, to force an agreement.

“The people of Zimbabwe are suffering and they need immediate salvation. Frustration and anger is setting in and I hope and trust that the leadership in this room will be equal to the task that history has imposed on you,” Tsvangirai said in the speech.

Tsvangirai was grim-faced and refused to talk to reporters.

Asked if he expected a deal at the summit, with Mugabe and Tsvangirai in attendance, opposition MDC secretary general Tendai Biti shook his head in disappointment and told Reuters: “Does someone do this if he agrees?”

Zimbabwean state media reported earlier that Mugabe’s government would not change its stance on key cabinet positions and the opposition should accept joint control of the interior ministry.

“We hope the parties will show political maturity by putting the interest of the people of Zimbabwe first,” Motlanthe, whose country is the current SADC chair, said in his opening remarks.

Biti dismissed a media report that said Mugabe had agreed to give the Home Affairs Ministry, which controls the police, to the MDC. “It’s absolute rubbish,” he said.

Talks adjourned and the SADC was considering presentations made by each party, he said.

Tsvangirai’s MDC said last week that Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party had put a “full stop” to negotiations on forming a government by engaging in what it said was widespread violence.

Tsvangirai, who would become prime minister under the power-sharing deal, has accused Zanu-PF of trying to seize the lion’s share of important ministries and relegating the MDC to the role of junior partner.

South Africa’s government has said it will take a tough stand at the summit—a sharp change from the style of former president Thabo Mbeki, the official mediator whose policy of quiet diplomacy was criticised as ineffective.

Zimbabwe’s economic crisis has forced millions of its citizens to flee the country, an estimated three million of them moving to neighbouring South Africa alone.
- Reuters

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