Zimbabwe leaders in talks as unity government hangs in the balance

HARARE – Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai held talks on Thursday and they will continue of Friday discusing critical issues that threaten to derail their unity government, including Mugabe's snatch of the telecommunications portfolio from his rival's party.

Zimbabwe’s Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, leader of a breakaway faction of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the third signatory to September’s power-sharing agreement, confirmed the meeting, which he is also attending.

The meeting would address "political hygiene matters", Mutambara said on Wednesday.

Since its inauguration in February, the new government has been accused of failing to break with the repressive policies of the past.

On Wednesday, MDC ministers threatened to boycott a weekly Cabinet meeting chaired by Mugabe after he unilaterally stripped an MDC minister of key powers.

Mugabe last week took telecommunications off Nelson Chamisa and gave the dossier to Transport Minister Nicholas Goche from his Zanu-PF party.

The move outraged the MDC, particularly given that telecommunications covers spying.

The ongoing invasion of white-owned farms by Zanu-PF loyalists and Mugabe’s refusal to review his unilateral appointments of the Reserve Bank governor and Attorney General are other issues threatening to scupper the deal and put the skids on foreign aid and investment.

Since the formation of the coalition government the MDC has been running around trying to put out fires created by ZANU PF, but Robert Mugabe has been consistent from the very beginning in making unilateral decisions such as the appointment of permanent secretaries and governors. He has also refused to budge on the issue of the appointments of the Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and Attorney General Johannes Tomana, despite the two MDC formations insisting that the appointments were irregular.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai had resolved to discuss the outstanding issues of the Global Political Agreement in March, but suffered a tragic setback when he was involved in a car accident which killed his wife, Susan. When he returned to work at the beginning of April a meeting had been scheduled, but again had to be postponed over yet another tragedy – the death of his 3 year old grandson who drowned in the swimming pool at his Harare home.

It was reported that the principals would finally meet on Thursday, to thrash out the outstanding issues. According to James Maridadi, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson, Thursday did see a closed door meeting of the top six executive members, but apparently no substantive issues were discussed.

Maridadi said this was just the inaugural meeting of the Government Executive Committee, comprising Mugabe and his two Deputies (Joice Mujuru and Joseph Msika), plus Tsvangirai and his Deputies (Thokozani Khupe and Arthur Mutambara). Maridadi said the meeting was aimed at setting the ‘ground rules’ of how the top six should operate and allocate responsibilities. He gave no other information as to how responsibilities were actually allocated.

It is understood the three principals – Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara – are expected to finally meet on Friday to discuss the outstanding issues of the GPA. The main items on the agenda are the freeing of the media; the catastrophic land invasions; the controversial appointments of governors, permanent secretaries and ambassadors; the swearing in of Roy Bennett, the MDC Deputy Minister of Agriculture designate and also the controversy over Nelson Chamisa’s Ministry, which had the department of communications stripped from it’s mandate by Mugabe last week.

MDC sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the Prime Minister is expected to put his foot down and demand that all outstanding issues must be resolved by the end of April. It is not clear what will happen if Mugabe fails to meet that deadline and he has a long history of not responding well to ultimatums. Tsvangirai has also a long history of not following up on his own deadlines.

Observers widely believe that the behaviour of ZANU PF since the inclusive government clearly shows that the Mugabe regime is still not interested in the welfare of the country, but is only interested in securing its own interests. The only issues they seem to want to focus on are the end to the targeted sanctions against Mugabe and the ruling party chefs and trying to pressure the international community to provide billions of dollars, with no accountability.

Many frustrated Zimbabweans are wondering why the MDC did not put its foot down at the beginning and demand immediate action over the more important key crises which are crippling the country. Murders are still taking place on farms, but there appears to be no real move to deal with this.

After months of violent farm invasions, the Prime Minister has appointed a ministerial taskforce to probe disruptions on farms. Maridadi said the team, which will be led by Arthur Mutambara, comprises Ministers Kembo Mohadi and Giles Mutsekwa of Home Affairs, Joseph Made the Agriculture Minister, Herbert Murerwa, Minister of Lands and Gorden Moyo, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office.

“This probe has been necessitated by recent reports of fresh farm invasions just days before the start of the winter wheat season. The team will, tomorrow Friday 17 April 2009, make unannounced appearances on three affected farms. Findings will be presented to the Prime Minister on Monday 20 April 2009.”

ZANU PF has insisted there is no such thing as farm invasions taking place, and it is just the problem of white commercial farmers refusing to leave farms ‘acquired’ for resettlement by the government.

Mutambara has in the past been quoted as saying, ‘the land reform is irreversible, there is no going back on our revolution.’ Meanwhile, the Ministers of Lands and Agriculture have been completely supportive of what have been extremely violent invasions and wide scale theft, so it is unlikely this committee can be genuinely effective.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti has appealed for $10-billion to rebuild the tattered economy but Western donors are waiting for proof of real reforms before committing to anything more than emergency relief for the millions of Zimbabweans, who cannot feed themselves.

The secretary for finance of Zimbabwe’s neighbour Botswana, whose President Ian Khama is a vocal critic of Mugabe, said on Thursday his country had pledged lines of credit to the steel, manufacturing and leather industries.

Taufila Nyamadzabo refused to put a figure on the credit.

South Africa also said last week it was looking at providing aid for health and education and opening credit lines but has yet to announce a figure. — Sapa-dpa