New Zimbabwe government starts work today

HARARE – Zimbabwe’s unity government begins work today to rebuild the shattered country, but the arrest of a top ally of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and continued imprisonment of scores of activists from his MDC party have cast fresh doubt on the durability of the new administration.\r\n

Mugabe’s decision to appoint old guard allies and hardliners from his ZANU PF party to work with the MDC in the new power-sharing Cabinet was as much a sign he was yet to fully embrace change as it was a recipe for friction between his ageing team and the young new comers from the MDC, according to analysts.   

"Mugabe’s actions show that he is still insincere. The MDC will try to fuse in new ideas but Mugabe has picked an old guard that will try to safeguard its territory,” said Gabriel Shumba, a lawyer and political commentator, who fled Zimbabwe to South Africa after he was severely tortured by state security agents.

“It is certainly not the new era that Tsvangirai has been talking about," said Shumba, referring to both Mugabe’s selection for Cabinet and the move by police to arrest Roy Bennett who is treasurer in Tsvangirai’s MDC party.

Bennett, who fled Zimbabwe three years ago fearing arrest by the police and only returned to Harare a few days ahead of Tsvangirai’s inauguration, was arrested as Mugabe swore in the new unity Cabinet. A top farmer, Bennett is his party’s choice for deputy agriculture minister in the new unity government.

Under the power-sharing agreement brokered by the Southern African Development Community last December, Mugabe remains an executive President while Tsvangirai also enjoys executive powers as Prime Minister.

The unity government deal that was clinched after several months of tense and sometimes acrimonious negotiations says that Tsvangirai will be in charge of the day-to-day running of government business. But the former trade unionist is required to keep Mugabe, who still chairs the Cabinet, "fully informed".

There will be a National Security Council to oversee the military and security agents but Mugabe will still retain total control over these important institutions that are also staffed with hardliners several who have vowed never to salute Tsvangirai. 

Top army generals did not attend Tsvangirai’s swearing in ceremony on Wednesday, a sign analysts said showed that security agents were yet to warm up to the former trade unionist’s ascendancy to power.

University of Zimbabwe political scientist and a long time Mugabe critic, John Makumbe said it was not only military generals keen to wreck the unity government but there were several influential people in ZANU PF who wanted to see the administration fail.

He said: "There is still a key component of ZANU PF that is against this unity government, obviously because they stand to lose after years of patronage. Security chiefs are part of the component.

“Mugabe is not keen to retire them so they will be around and they are taking every opportunity to wreck the new government’s chances of survival. Mugabe himself has also acted in ways that show he is not sincere."

Some of Mugabe’s behaviour that have led many to question his commitment to genuine power sharing was on display the same day the new Cabinet was sworn in.

Instead of sticking to the number of ministers allocated his ZANU PF under the power-sharing agreement, Mugabe attempted to appoint an additional five people from his party into the new government without consulting his Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara of the smaller MDC formation.

The swearing in ceremony had to be delayed by several hours as the parties bickered over the attempt by Mugabe to unilaterally give his party additional ministerial posts before he later relented.

Shumba said Mugabe appeared determined to show Tsvangirai that he was the junior in the partnership, adding the MDC leader – who insists there is no viable option to power-sharing – is going to struggle to make the unity government work.

He said: "Tsvangirai will have a tough time making this work. Mugabe is already showing that he is in charge and Tsvangirai is the junior partner. Mugabe has refused to meet Tsvangirai’s demands for the release of imprisoned activists, and now he has even gone further to arrest Bennett." – ZimOnline