/ 23 January 2009

Mugabe party rejects MDC demands

Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF party on Friday refused to budge on opposition demands for a unity government, whose fate hinges on the outcome of a regional summit next week.

”Our position is that we sill not meet any new demands made by the Movement for Democratic Change [MDC],” Zanu-PF chief Robert Mugabe’s lead negotiator, Patrick Chinamasa, said in the state-run agency New-Ziana.

Chinamasa ruled out any negotiations on Cabinet posts and said the issue of governor and ambassador positions would be addressed by an inclusive government if vacancies arose.

”We are not going to agree to a reopening of the subject on allocation of ministers,” he said, adding that the contentious home affairs portfolio would be co-shared as proposed by regional leaders at their last summit in November.

The issues sank talks in Harare on Monday, with an emergency summit arranged in South Africa on Monday to rescue the country’s floundering power-sharing pact, signed last September.

But the MDC insisted on ironing out the unresolved issues before entering a unity government with Mugabe.

”We remain committed to the cause of change in Zimbabwe as we remain committed to the [deal], subject to the resolution of our demands,” MDC secretary general Tendai Biti said in a statement, calling the talks a ”dying dialogue”.

The MDC wants an equitable share of ministerial portfolios and other key public posts, including governors, and for the make-up of the country’s security council to be defined before a new government can be formed.

The party also wants all executive appointments unilaterally gazetted by Mugabe after July last year reversed, and for detained activists to be released.

”The demands are a logical platform, if not precondition, for any viable government of national unity,” Biti said.

Zimbabwe’s economy has been in freefall for years, but a humanitarian crisis has exploded since disputed elections last March, when MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in a first-round presidential vote.

Political violence blamed on Mugabe’s party then erupted, leading to a stalemate that mediation efforts by neighbouring countries have failed to break.

City workers go on strike
Meanwhile, city workers in Harare began an indefinite strike on Friday, demanding to be paid in foreign currency.

The strikers — including mortuary attendants and trash collectors — were reporting for work but would not perform their duties, said Cosmas Bungu, head of the municipal workers’ union in Harare.

”We can’t afford to continue to receive our salaries in Zimbabwe currency, which is not buying anything,” Bungu said.

Zimbabwe faces the world’s highest official inflation. The city workers join teachers, doctors, nurses and even bus drivers in demanding to be paid in United States dollars or South African rands. State newspapers this week started charging in US dollars and even the Zimbabwe soccer federation has asked to be able to charge in hard currency.

The impact of the municipal workers’ strike may be muted because so many city services have already collapsed owing to a lack of materials or funds. Trash has been piling up and water treatment plants are crippled, contributing to a spreading cholera epidemic.

The United Nations said on Friday the number of cholera cases recorded since August reached 50 003 on Thursday. The death toll through to Thursday was 2 773.

The UN said that despite a huge international campaign by aid agencies and donors, supplies of clean water are erratic, many cholera treatment centres lack food and medicine and Zimbabwean doctors and nurses struggle to get to work, in some cases because their salaries don’t cover bus fare.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, meanwhile, said its response was being hampered by lack of funds. — AFP, Sapa-AP