Analysis: Zimbabwe coalition in tug of war

HARARE – Zimbabwe’s minister responsible for parastatals has invited applications for new board members of state entities, including the national broadcaster and news agency, in a sign of widening rifts and battle for control of key state firms in the country’s coalition government.\r\n

Joel Gabuza, Minister of State Enterprises and Parastatals ran advertisements in state-owned newspapers this week seeking applications for candidates to sit on the boards of 75 government-controlled enterprises.

Gabuza, a minister from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, said his ministry had a mandate to maintain a database of potential candidates for appointments to the various boards.

But his move is at odds with Media and Information Minister, Webster Shamu, who recently named new faces to serve on the boards of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH), New Ziana, Kingstons among several other government-owned media and information companies.

Political analysts say ministers are fighting for influence in the new government, with some in open conflict while others were conducting “low intensity warfare”.

“This was bound to happen where you have two political parties fighting for influence, it will probably go on for some time to come,” John Makumbe, a University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer said.

Need to sit down

“Some of the battles are not obvious to the public but what is also clear now is that the three principals need to sit down and carefully define the mandates of the different ministries to avoid such things.”

Clashes over the mandate of ministries is not new after Mugabe sought to take away from Nelson Chamisa some of the functions from his Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology and hand them over to his ally Nicholas Goche, Minister Transport, Infrastructure Development and Communication.

Shamu’s appointment of media boards last week, which was packed with ZANU PF sympathisers and retired army men loyal to Mugabe, was heavily criticised as “unilateral” while the MDC called them illegal, again exposing the fragile relations and discord in the unity government.

The unity government was formed last February and was seen as offering the best hope of plucking Zimbabwe from a deep recession and a political crisis that had fanned electoral violence since 2000.

Gabuza’s ministry is in overall charge of state parastatals and sets policy direction for the entities but parent ministries are responsible for appointing board members. After the formation of the new government, all senior appointments that need to be approved by Mugabe can only be made after consultations with Tsvangirai.

Political appointments

Gabuza said the advertisements by his ministry were intended to reduce incidents of political appointments to boards of parastatals.

“We are trying to eliminate arbitrary appointments as has been the case with alleged appointments at ZBH, Zimpapers and BAZ. What we want is a situation where every qualified Zimbabwean has a chance to serve on these bodies irrespective of their political affiliations,” said Gabuza.

“There have been allegations of partisan appointments but as the responsible minister and with the concurrence of the principals to the GPA, we have had to come up with a new way of doing things so that we create transparency in the appointment of people to sit on state enterprises and parastatals,” he said.

Shamu could not immediately comment yesterday but he told ZimOnline last week that he acted within the law when he appointed the new boards to oversee the government’s media empire.

He argued that the law did not require him to consult Tsvangirai who has said the appointments were irregular and should be revised.

Tsvangirai hinted at a press conference on Sunday that he and Mugabe had agreed that the Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust, majority shareholder in Zimpapers, and New Ziana should be reconstituted and that the appointments at Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe should be revisited.

Nature of coalitions

Analysts however said the tussle for influence within the government would continue but would not threaten its existence.

“It is only natural that the parties to the inclusive government seek to assert their control but at the moment it does not seem that this presents a threat to the well being of the unity government,” said Eldred Masunungure, chairman of Political Science department at the University of Zimbabwe.

“That is the nature of coalitions although things can be managed better,” he said. – ZimOnline