Tsvangirai was travelling to Rabat where he was due to receive an award yesterday for his work in promoting democracy and human rights in Africa.
Our sources said that after he was blocked from boarding his plane at Oliver Tambo (OR) International airport, Tsvangirai and his small entourage eventually drove to Gaborone, Botswana, from where they proceeded to Morocco.
Tsvangirai’s spokesman George Sibotshiwe confirmed that South African Immigration officials had blocked his leader from travelling because his emergency travel document (ETD) has expired.
“We managed to find a way around the problem and Mr Tsvangirai has since arrived in Morocco,” Sibotshiwe said from Morocco. But he declined to say how Tsvangirai was able to slip through South African border control authorities into Botswana or how he had travelled to Morocco.
Tsvangirai – who would be Zimbabwe’s new prime minister under a September 15 power-sharing agreement with President Robert Mugabe that was brokered by Mbeki – has not been granted a normal passport for months after his old one was used up.
The government has issued Tsvangirai short duration ETDs every time he leaves the country. The opposition chief says Mugabe’s refusal to issue him with a passport is symbolic of the veteran leader’s insincerity and lack of commitment to genuinely sharing power with the opposition.
Tsvangirai on Wednesday blasted Mbeki for allegedly failing to pressure Mugabe to agree to equitable sharing of power, labelling the former South African president incompetent and calling for his recusal as the regional SADC grouping’s mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis.
This was after Mbeki had accused Tsvangirai of taking orders from the West and of being a spoiler obsessed with criticising Mugabe, in an ugly spat that brought to the fore the bad blood known to exist between the two.
Sources within Tsvangirai’s MDC party believe that his rather embarrassing ordeal at OR airport may have its genesis in the row with Mbeki especially because South Africa’s immigration department had all along allowed the opposition leader to remain in the country despite expiry of his ETD.
Tsvangirai has remained in South Africa since attending a regional summit of SADC leaders on November 9. During this time immigration officials have allowed Tsvangirai to travel in and out of South Africa to France, Germany and some African countries, ironically using the same expired ETD.
But immigration officials were singing a different tune on Wednesday night, telling the firebrand Zimbabwean opposition chief they could not allow him to depart OR airport without a valid travel document.
The officers, who eyewitnesses described as having been in clearly no mood for compromise, allegedly even claimed they could have long deported Tsvangirai but had not done so because he was attending talks this week to discuss Zimbabwe’s draft constitutional Bill.
However Tsvangirai did not attend the constitutional talks that were called by Mbeki and ended on Thursday. The talks were attended by representatives of Tsvangirai’s MDC party, Mugabe’s ZANU PF and a breakaway faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara. Party leaders did not attend.
Some of our sources suggested that Tsvangirai even tried unsuccessfully to seek the intervention of South African ruling ANC party president Jacob Zuma during his ordeal at the airport.
Zuma has appeared more friendly to Tsvangirai and has spoken out against the failure by the Mugabe’s government to issue the MDC leader with a passport.
According to sources, it was highly unlikely that Tsvangirai would after his experience at OR airport return to South Africa at the end of his visit to north Africa and Tanzania on Sunday.
The sources said he might instead go to Botswana whose government has said it is prepared to give the Zimbabwean opposition leader sanctuary while he pursues democratic resistance against Mugabe.
Tsvangirai has been under pressure from Mbeki and other regional leaders to return to Zimbabwe to join a unity government with Mugabe under terms the MDC leader argues are unfair and inequitable.
But the opposition leader is not eager to immediately return to Zimbabwe where 15 of his party’s officials have been missing since being arrested by Zimbabwe police last month.
The MDC claims that Mugabe has established a hit squad to eliminate targeted MDC officials.
Zimbabwe’s power-sharing agreement remains in limbo despite negotiators from the country’s rival parties reaching agreement on Thursday on details of a constitutional amendment required to give legal force to the unity agreement of September 15.
This is because several issues raised by the Tsvangirai-led MDC formation have yet to be addressed.
Tsvangirai’s party, which holds the most seats in Parliament and could very easily block passage of Amendment 19, wants further discussions on the various issues including equitable sharing of key ministerial posts, distribution of gubernatorial posts, ambassadorships and other top government posts.
Analysts say a unity government would be best placed to tackle a severe economic crisis ravaging Zimbabwe and seen in the world’s highest inflation rate of 231 million percent, acute shortages of food and basic commodities. – ZimOnline