Zimbabwe: A war on two fronts

HARARE – Zanu-PF's Robert Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai have little in common. But both are now fighting hard-line rebels opposed to Zimbabwe's power-sharing agreement.

Mugabe signed the deal as temperatures in Zanu-PF were beginning to rise, with the party facing a crucial conference in December.

Mugabe’s position as party leader will not be up for grabs, but old divisions always open up ahead of party conferences. Tensions will be higher this year as he is forced to cast aside allies to keep the power-sharing deal alive.

He has publicly pleaded with his central committee to support the deal, saying it became inevitable once "our divisions" cost the party the March general election.

Tsvangirai also had to face dissenters at a meeting of his top executive last Friday. He also fielded tough questions from foreign diplomats wanting to know how he thought the deal would work, given Mugabe’s record. Western governments have refused to give immediate aid to Zimbabwe.

As the two leaders fought internal battles Zimbabweans received mixed messages about whether a new government is still a possibility.

First came Mugabe’s announcement that a new government would be in place by the end of the week. Tsvangirai’s top mediator, Tendai Biti, denied this, saying that perhaps Mugabe "knew something" he didn’t.

After an hour-long meeting between Mugabe and Tsvangirai it was reported that the two sides remained "poles apart".

A key hawk, police commissioner Augustine Chihuri, added to the confusion by backing the deal. "We need to work together and forego our minor differences, as Zimbabwe has now moved on with its politics," he said.

While Nelson Chamisa, the MDC spokesperson, said his party was "not desperate to be in the government", Tsvangirai himself was rolling up his sleeves and getting down to "work".

With Mugabe away at the United Nations, Tsvangirai launched a campaign to raise his own profile, casting himself as the more committed to solving the crisis but laying bare the enormity of the task he faces.

He met business leaders, frustrated supporters waiting in swelling bank queues, farmers who told him they fear Zimbabwe’s worst harvest and aid groups, which said up to five million people might need aid by next month.

At one meeting with mine executives Tsvangirai heard that three-quarters of Zimbabwe’s mines have shut down. The remaining operations are running at below 20% of capacity and are not being paid for gold delivered to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, the sole legal purchaser.

Tsvangirai also met bank managers who fear for their staff as mobs of desperate customers swamp the tills. He heard from councils about the increased risk to public health in urban centres as water treatment chemicals run out.

The Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association told him the country could fail to run national examinations this month because teachers can no longer afford to commute to schools.

At the same time opposition is growing among Tsvangirai’s allies. This week the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, from which the MDC draws much of its support, said it would not support the deal. The arrangement was "unacceptable" as it meant Zimbabwe would be led by an unelected government for five years, the unions said. The Mail & Guardian (SA)