Coalition government rift widens as leaders raise the stakes

HARARE – A CRUCIAL meeting of Zimbabwe’s political leaders over a number of divisive issues threatening to wreck the inclusive government failed to take place yesterday amid a growing rift within the ruling coalition.

The failure of the meeting in Harare to sort out contentious issues would raise the stakes in President Jacob Zuma ’s expected visit to the Zimbabwean capital at month-end in a bid to knock heads together before he steps down as the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) chairman early next month.

Zuma is expected to visit Zimbabwe on August 27 to open the annual Harare Agricultural Show, although his main mission will be resolving political problems buffeting the inclusive government.

President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara were expected to meet yesterday to tackle a series of issues unresolved since the power-sharing government was set up after bitter, protracted talks. The meeting failed due to Mutambara’s absence.

Tsvangirai’s spokesman James Maridadi said only Mugabe and Tsvangirai met but they did not discuss the “outstanding political issues” as expected.

“The president and the prime minister met, but they could not discuss the outstanding issues because the full compliment of political principals was not there,” Maridadi said. “Instead, they discussed administrative issues and other matters pertaining to the day-to-day running of government.”

Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara were expected to deal with matters that have kept them at loggerheads since the formation of the unity government in February.

Tsvangirai recently held talks in Johannesburg with Zuma about the issues in dispute. Zuma said he would contact Mugabe and Sadc leaders about the matters.

The issues still in dispute concern the appointment of provincial governors, positions of the Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono and Attorney- General Johannes Tomana, the swearing-in and prosecution of Deputy Agriculture Minister Roy Bennett, the arrests and jailing of a number of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) MPs and a series of policy issues.

However, the decision-making Zanu (PF) politburo said after a meeting last week Mugabe should not give in to MDC demands because “we already compromised on many issues”.

“The constant reference by the MDC to outstanding matters therefore baffles us,” Zanu (PF) spokesman Ephraim Masawi said. “It is now six months since the formation of the inclusive government and Zanu (PF) leaders, as well as their families are still inhibited from visiting Europe and the US.” Masawi said Tsvangirai and his party must first remove “sanctions” instead of complaining about “trivial issues”.

Addressing a rally in Mutare at the weekend, he said continued failure to address the controversial issues was a clear sign some people were trying to undermine the coalition.

“The agreement is a workable concept to move the country forward. However, there are some people who are working against the spirit of the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.

“If we are all serious about this government, why is it that we still have outstanding issues six months after the consummation of the inclusive government? It means someone, somewhere is not committed.”

Tsvangirai said the issues had to be resolved because “no sane person would like Zimbabwe to slide back to the period of last year — even those in Zanu (PF)”.

Tsvangirai warned Mugabe to stop taking him for granted because his party had won elections last year. He said the MDC was forced in to talks due to political violence.

“We won the election. We want to build credible, professional and non- partisan state institutions. We should democratise the country and create conditions conducive for a free and fair election,” he said.

“This country needs healing but those who committed political crimes must ask for forgiveness from their victims,” he said.

“The only way forward is this route. The greatest beneficiaries are the people of Zimbabwe.

“We want to create an atmosphere where those who have been defeated in elections humbly hand over power to winners,” Tsvangirai said.

Tsvangirai warns Mugabe to stop taking him granted because his Movement for Democratic Change did win the elections last year