Mbeki cancels trip as Tsvangirai spurns ‘hopeless’ meeting

HARARE – PRESIDENT Thabo Mbeki was forced to cancel his trip to Zimbabwe to try to break the power-sharing talks deadlock after opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangiari told him he would not attend.

Sources said yesterday Tsvangiari wrote a letter to Mbeki on Tuesday telling him he would not be in Harare to attend the talks , compelling Mbeki to cancel his visit scheduled for yesterday. “Tsvangirai did not want to attend what he thought would be a hopeless meeting that would not result in any progress,” the source said.

Mbeki’s office confirmed the trip was off. Tsvangirai is said to have confirmed his position to Mbeki in Zambia on Wednesday at the late president Levy Mwanawasa’s funeral.

Sources said Tsvangirai’s communication to Mbeki on Tuesday explained his remarks on Radio 702 on Wednesday when he said he was not aware of plans to resume talks soon. Tsvangirai told Radio 702 that the power-sharing negotiations had broken down and were unlikely to resume soon.

Tsvangirai has rejected the post of prime minister, saying it would not give him enough executive powers in government.

He said President Robert Mugabe wanted to retain control of the security ministries, and thus the army, police and intelligence, to protect his position. Mugabe also had contact with Mbeki in Lusaka where he reportedly told him he would be proceeding with his plans to announce a new cabinet and form a government. Mugabe is said to be planning to appoint his cabinet today or over the weekend.

Initially, Mugabe wanted to announce his cabinet in July before the African Union (AU) summit in Egypt but was stopped by Mbeki. Last week, Mugabe threatened to name his cabinet and was supposed to do so last Sunday but was again blocked by Mbeki who wanted to make a last-ditch bid to secure a deal. Meetings were held in Pretoria over the weekend, but no deal could be concluded.

Sources said Tsvangirai snubbed Mbeki due to a growing realisation in the MDC that the negotiations would not produce anything. The MDC claims Mbeki is effectively protecting Mugabe in the talks by insisting Tsvangirai should sign a “raw deal”.

Part of the problem, sources said, was that Mbeki recently refused to meet Tsvangirai and the MDC leader was “merely hitting back” over that issue.

Mbeki’s abortive trip to Harare gives Mugabe the pretext to go ahead and appoint his cabinet without MDC involvement. Mugabe, under growing pressure from hardliners near to him to go it alone, said on Wednesday if Tsvangirai did not sign the agreement by yesterday he would proceed unilaterally to appoint his cabinet.

“We feel frozen at the moment,” Mugabe said in Zambia on Wednesday. “ We are a government that is empowered by elections. So we should form a cabinet. We will not allow a situation where we will not have a cabinet forever.”

Mugabe was defeated by Tsvangirai in the first round of the presidential election in March but the MDC leader pulled out of a cutthroat runoff in June, citing political violence . Mugabe claimed victory, but this was rejected by Southern African Development Community and African Union observers. A number of African and world leaders refused to recognise his win.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Chief Ojo Maduekwe on Tuesday said Abuja did not recognise Mugabe, adding Zimbabweans deserve “a lot better”.

“We are also concerned that there should be no meltdown in Zimbabwe. The economy is already in tatters , and the inflation rate is over 1-million percent . The people of Zimbabwe deserve a lot better than they are going through,” he said.

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said yesterday: “Negotiations don’t work on the basis of political threats and ultimatums. We are equal partners in the talks and we want to make it very clear that we won’t be intimidated or stampeded into signing a raw deal.”