Zimbabwe’s power-sharing talks are close to collapse after Robert Mugabe refused to relinquish control over the key security ministries that played a leading role in rigging the last election and suppressing political opposition.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, described the failure of 12 hours of talks brokered by regional leaders as “probably the darkest day of our lives” for his Movement for Democratic Change and for the nation, which is hit by mass hunger, cholera and hyperinflation.
Tsvangirai, who won the last broadly free election in March before being robbed of victory by a bloody campaign and vote rigging in a second round of balloting weeks later, stuck by his insistence that power-sharing had to mean his party also controlled key ministries, particularly home affairs, which is responsible for the police and finance.
The MDC proposed Mugabe took defence, national security, justice and foreign affairs.
Tsvangirai said: “For us, as the MDC, this is probably the darkest day of our lives, for the whole nation is waiting.”
Regional leaders have called a summit for next Monday to try to break the deadlock but after months of wrangling there is no immediate prospect of a breakthrough. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has been reluctant to pressure the Zimbwean president to fulfil his commitments under a power-sharing agreement signed in September.
The MDC’s secretary general, Tendai Biti, said he was “not hopeful” the SADC summit would change anything. “You can have a million extraordinary summits but as long as no one [in the SADC leadership] has the courage to look at Mugabe in the face and tell him … logic has to prevail, it will be meaningless.”
Biti said that if the SADC summit failed to deliver a solution he expected the African Union would take over.
Zimbabwe’s new Parliament opened on Tuesday in preparation for a constitutional amendment that would establish a prime minister’s post for Tsvangirai under the power-sharing deal.
But after the failure of the talks, Parliament’s agenda was limited to a debate on the collapse of Zimbabwe’s health and education systems amid cholera that has killed more than 2 200 people. Large numbers of teachers have fled to South Africa in search of a living wage.
Although the power-sharing agreement has been criticised for permitting Mugabe to remain as president, it marked an unusual admission of defeat by a man who said he would not talk to Tsvangirai, let alone share power with him.
Since then, Mugabe’s principal power has been to obstruct rather than govern. He has produced no solutions to reverse the economic implosion that has seen a devaluation so rapid that the central bank last week introduced a 100-trillion Zimbabwe dollar bill that had approximately the same value as Z$100 000 did just six weeks ago.
The US dollar and South African rand are now legal tender and it is almost impossible to buy food in Zimbabwe dollars.
About five million people, nearly half the population, rely on food aid and many eat a meal only every other day. Children weakened by hunger are falling prey to disease in their thousands.
Britain, the EU and US have said power must shift to Tsvangirai before a £1bn rescue fund can be unlocked. – guardian.co.uk