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17 Jan 2009 13:45
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Saturday returned to Zimbabwe for the first time in more than two months, ahead of a new meeting with Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe on a power-sharing deal.
Tsvangirai left Zimbabwe in November for a summit in Johannesburg, where regional leaders tried and failed to push the rivals into a compromise on forming a unity government.
Since then, he has travelled across Africa and Europe to build international support, while his country plunged deeper into crisis with a cholera epidemic raging unchecked and the economy disintegrating at a breathtaking pace.
South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, along with his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, and Mozambican leader Armando Emilio Guebuza, is now set to mediate new talks aimed at ending the political stalemate that followed last year’s disputed elections.
“I hope the meeting will find a lasting solution to the crisis,” Tsvangirai told reporters as he arrived in Harare on a flight from Johannesburg.
“The MDC will not be bulldozed into an agreement that does not meet the aspirations of the people of Zimbabwe,” he added.
Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing deal with 84-year-old Mugabe more than four months ago, but the pact quickly stalled over disputes on how to form a unity government.
The deal envisages Mugabe remaining as president while Tsvangirai would take the new post of prime minister, but few details have been settled on how the two would share decision-making or control of key ministries.
Tsvangirai argues that he should hold more influence, after the MDC won a majority in Parliament and he defeated Mugabe during a first-round presidential vote in March.
The result unleashed a brutal wave of political violence that has left more than 180 people dead, mostly MDC supporters, according to Amnesty International.
Citing the violence, Tsvangirai pulled out of a run-off vote, leaving Mugabe to declare a one-sided victory in June.
With the government in limbo, Zimbabwe’s already shattered economy has plunged to new depths, exacerbating a humanitarian crisis that has left half the population dependent on food aid as a cholera epidemic sweeps the nation.
In July, Zimbabwe’s already dizzying inflation was estimated at 231-million percent. The government has stopped releasing estimates, but outside experts say the figure has reached astronomical heights many multiples higher.
The most concrete measure of collapse came on Friday, when the central bank unveiled a Z$100-trillion note, just one week after releasing a series billion-dollar denominations that already have lost their value.
The United Nations warned on Friday that prevention measures have not yet slowed the cholera epidemic, which has claimed more than 2 200 lives.
The opening of school has been delayed for two weeks after the government failed to find enough people willing accept paltry wages to grade last year’s exams.
Most teachers left their classrooms months ago to find new ways of eking out a living.
‘Worsening cholera epidemic’
Meanwhile, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) will give $5-million to Zimbabwe’s ailing health sector to help bring striking doctors back to work to fight a worsening cholera epidemic, the agency’s chief said on Saturday.
Doctors and nurses at public hospitals have been on strike for months, demanding better wages after hyperinflation turned their salaries into pittances.
Aside from the strike, Zimbabwe’s public hospitals have little medicine or equipment, while also struggling with the power and water cuts that afflict much of the country.
Ann Veneman, head of Unicef, told reporters on a visit to Harare that the money would be used to pay health workers “incentives to be able to come to work”.
“The United Nations will make available $5-million for the health sector in Zimbabwe as the country is battling an ongoing cholera outbreak and the effects of collapsing social services,” she said.
Veneman said the cholera epidemic that began in August was not yet under control, and urged aid workers to put “children on the forefront of their collective agenda”.
Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic has been aggravated by erratic water supplies, shortages of water purification chemicals, burst water and sewer pipes and uncollected refuse in most residential suburbs.—AFP
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