MDC takes the plunge

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said on Friday he will join a unity government with Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe, almost a year after disputed polls that plunged the country into crisis.

Heeding a call by Southern African leaders, Tsvangirai told reporters after a meeting of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that he will be sworn in as prime minister on February 11.

”We are unequivocal, we will go into this government,” Tsvangirai said after his party agreed it would go ahead with the unity government.

”The SADC (Southern African Development Community) has decided and we are bound by that decision,” he said. ”February 11 is the swearing in of the prime minister and the deputy prime minister.”

Regional leaders, who have long been trying to persuade the MDC to enter government with Zanu-PF, held a crisis summit in South Africa at the start of the week when they urged the feuding parties to implement a stalled power-sharing agreement by mid-February.

The 15-nation bloc maintains that the accord signed last September is the best chance to pull Zimbabwe out of a political and economic crisis since disputed polls in March but it has been held up by disputes over key posts.

Negotiators from Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and the MDC met on Friday to try to iron out details of the plan, before MDC leaders met to decide whether to accept the deal.

”We decided to join this agreement because we were given concessions by SADC that our concerns would be addressed, and we have since seen that some of the issues are already now being addressed,” a senior party official told AFP before Tsvangirai’s announcement.

Mugabe’s party has already said it accepts the SADC timeframe, and has previously threatened to set up a unity government with or without Tsvangirai.

”Zanu-PF is fully behind this resolution and the politburo has endorsed it,” party spokesperson Nathan Shamuyarira told the state-run Herald newspaper this week.

”President Mugabe is now expected to start rolling out the process to implement the agreement according to recommendations of the regional bloc,” he said after the 84-year-old’s return from the emergency regional meeting.

On Friday the MDC and Zanu-PF set up a joint body to monitor the implementation of the stalled deal on a unity government.

”It is the first structure to be formed … and demonstrates the commitment of the parties to ensure that what they agreed to does come to pass,” said Sydney Mufamadi, a member of the South African mediation team.

”This signals the commitment of the parties since the signing of the global political agreement, it is indeed a watershed development that this committee has been established,” he said.

The joint committee will monitor the implementation of a stalled unity deal between Zanu-PF and the MDC, which was signed in September last year but has since floundered over the division of power between the two rivals.

”The parties have undertaken to channel all compliance, grievances, concerns and issues relating to compliance [to the body] … refrain from any conduct which might undermine the spirit of cooperation necessary for the fulfilment” of the accord, said another mediator Frank Chikane.

The 12-member body, to be co-chaired by the parties, will receive reports and complaints of any issue related to the implementaion of the deal and consider steps to ensure the speedy and full implementation of the agreement, Chikane added.

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe said on Friday his country was ready to help rebuild Zimbabwe once the unity government was in place.

”This stage is really critical in terms of achieving political stability and the first step towards the economic recovery of that country,” Motlanthe told Reuters at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos.

Zimbabwe has been in meltdown since elections last March when Tsvangirai pushed Mugabe into second place but fell short of an overall majority.

A cholera outbreak has claimed more than 3 000 lives, more than half the population is in need of food aid and the last official estimate put the rate of inflation at 231-million percent.

Forex trading formalised
The extent of the economic breakdown was highlighted on Thursday in a new budget that for the first time allows Zimbabweans to conduct their daily business in United States dollars or South African rands.

The decision formalised the forex trading that has become the only way for Zimbabweans to buy even basic goods, in a country where trillions of dollars in local currency are needed to buy a loaf of bread.

The economic crisis has worsened the already extreme hunger in Zimbabwe, with the World Food Programme announcing on Thursday that about seven million people — about 60% of the population — need emergency food aid.

To cope with the surging demand, the agency said it was halving its cereal rations to being able to feed more people.

Cholera cases pass 60 000 mark
The World Health Organisation on Friday called for drastic national and international action to tackle Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak, after the number of victims soared past the worst case threshold of 60  000.

The death toll in the outbreak since August 2008 reached 3 161, out of 60  401 recorded cases, according to the WHO’s most recent update released in Geneva on Friday.

Eric Laroche, a WHO assistant director-general, said the WHO and other international and local partners were supporting Zimbabwe’s Health Ministry in tackling the disease.

”But unless drastic action is taken by all players in this crisis, more Zimbabweans will succumb to the outbreak, and other countries in the Southern African region will face the continued threat of spill over epidemics,” he added in a statement.

Laroche said the outbreak could easily run into spring unless ”political differences are put aside”, impoverished Zimbabwean health workers are paid adequately and the country’s health system is bolstered.

”We are dealing with an extraordinary public health crisis that requires from us all an extraordinary public health emergency response, and this must happen now before the outbreak causes more needless suffering and death,” Laroche said.

Impoverished Zimbabwe’s rainy season is expected to help nurture the waterborne disease, which is already thriving on the country’s poor sanitation and broken sewage and water systems, according to health officials.

The UN’s health agency estimates that about half of Zimbabwe’s population of 12-million are at risk from cholera because of poor living conditions.

When one percent of that vulnerable population is infected, the outbreak reaches the WHO’s ”worst case scenario”.

Another fear has been the growing proportion of people falling ill and dying out of reach of health care in rural areas.

Three times more deaths are being recorded in their communities rather than within health facilities, according to the WHO.

Meanwhile, the overall fatality rate is about five percent instead of the one percent the agency regards as ”acceptable”.

Mugabe ‘offered asylum in Senegal’
Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader, has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980 and the country was seen as a post-colonial success story in the first two decades after independence.

His first election round defeat in March was followed by a brutal wave of political violence. Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off, citing violence against his supporters, leaving Mugabe to declare a one-sided victory in June.

Few African leaders have publicly criticised Mugabe but Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade evoked the idea of him standing down on Friday, by saying he had offered him asylum.

”If he leaves power he will not go to Europe,” Wade said in a debate on Africa at the World Economic Forum in Davos, ”so I told him: ‘Come to Senegal’.”

”My friend Mugabe does not want to make concessions, we are at a dead end, he can no longer govern the country alone,” added the Senegal leader. — Sapa-AFP and Reuters

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