Political deal will not stem cholera deaths – MDC

JOHANNESBURG, – Nelson Chamisa, national spokesman of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has played down the ability of his party to quickly stem the number of cholera deaths, if it were to join the government immediately.

Chamisa said if the party signed the power-sharing deal on the table it would still not "have any real power" to help address the humanitarian crisis.

As the cholera death toll crept near the 1,600 mark, clocking more than 40 deaths in two days, according to the World Health Organisation, aid agencies underlined the need to end the months-long political uncertainty which has made raising funds to help the country back on its feet difficult.

At least 5.5 million people – over half the population – will need food aid in the first quarter of 2009, according to the World Food Programme.

The food security situation, cholera and political problems are exacerbated by hyperinflation and widespread infrastructural collapse.

''If we become part of the government now we will have no muscle. We are not yet empowered''

A power-sharing deal brokered by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) between the ruling ZANU-PF and the MDC in September 2008 is deadlocked.

“The humanitarian situation is seriously affected by the political situation,” said Georges Tadonki, head of the UN Office for the Coordination Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Zimbabwe. “The UN is working hard at all levels to reach a political settlement, which has now become very urgent because of the cholera outbreak.”

Power-sharing deal

SADC said the MDC must sign the power-sharing pact. “Then the MDC will be in a position to get the ball rolling to help the country out of the humanitarian crisis which now needs urgent attention,” said Thabo Masebe, spokesman for South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, who is also the SADC chairman.

Chamisa explained that an amendment to the constitution which will bring into law the power-sharing deal signed between President Robert Mugabe, leader of the ZANU-PF party; Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader; and Arthur Mutambara, an MDC breakaway party, in September 2008 will only become effective after it has been endorsed by parliament, which does not sit until 20 January.

“If we become part of the government now we will have no muscle. We are not yet empowered,” said Chamisa. “We do not want to become an accessory to a government which has not shown any genuine willingness to share power.”

Abductions

The recent abduction of MDC activists apparently by the state security apparatus has also fuelled tensions.

“Tsvangirai has said that he would ask his national council to vote to walk away from the deal if the abductions of our party members and activists do not cease and if all those seized by state agents have not been released by 1 January,” said Chamisa.

Jestina Mukoko, head of local rights group Zimbabwe Peace Project, who had been reported missing since the beginning of December, and eight other activists, were charged last week with recruiting Zimbabweans to undergo military training to overthrow the Mugabe government. Despite a High Court ruling to release the activists, they remained in custody.

Reacting to the failure to follow the ruling, Motlanthe’s spokesman Masebe said: “We are saying the MDC must become part of the inclusive government.”

But at the heart of the MDC’s reluctance to sign the deal is also the allocation of governors’ posts and key ministries.

“All these issues can be resolved within minutes if there is political willingness,” said Chamisa. “We want to be able to provide a real change in governance and not become part of a symbolic act.”