Zimbabwe Deal rocked by Mbeki’s Resignation

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of Zimbabwe’s opposition and the prime minister-designate, said Monday that the fall of Mr. Mbeki, the region’s most influential politician, was a blow to Zimbabwe.

But he also said it was now incumbent on the African leaders who named Mr. Mbeki the mediator for Zimbabwe to ensure that the promise of the deal was fulfilled, despite the uncertainty about whether Mr. Mbeki would continue in the role.

“I think they’re aware of their responsibility to complete the negotiations,” said Mr. Tsvangirai, who spoke with serious understatement during an interview in the private study of his home here in the capital. The interview was Mr. Tsvangirai’s first since Mr. Mbeki was effectively fired by his own party just days after triumphantly concluding the Zimbabwe agreement.

Mr. Tsvangirai, 56, and Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, 84, are at an impasse in the first crucial test of Mr. Mugabe’s willingness to relinquish some of the complete control he has exercised during 28 years in power. Mr. Mugabe did not enter negotiations until July, after African election monitors concluded that a June runoff was not free or fair and African leaders insisted on talks. He said at the signing ceremony for the agreement that he was committed to it.

When Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai met on Thursday, Mr. Tsvangirai said, he proposed that their parties, the governing ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, equally divide the most critical ministries, with, for example, Mr. Mugabe’s party retaining the army and the opposition taking the police. Given the broken economy, Mr. Tsvangirai said he believed that the opposition should pick the head of the Finance Ministry, but Mr. Mugabe did not agree.

“They wanted everything, all the key ministries,” Mr. Tsvangirai said.

There are signs that Mr. Mugabe, known as a canny, ruthless survivor of challenges to his authority, may be resisting genuine power-sharing. The question is whether he is still guided by the slogan he used during this year’s disputed election, still visible on posters: “This is the final battle for total control.”

Mr. Mugabe left Harare on Friday to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York with an entourage that included his wife and son, but not Mr. Tsvangirai, who is supposed to become his partner in governing. Mr. Tsvangirai acknowledged that the authorities had yet to provide him with a passport some three months after he ran out of pages for new visa stamps, though he hopes they will soon.

When informed that the American ambassador, James D. McGee, had said the United States had issued visas for 54 people in Mr. Mugabe’s entourage, Mr. Tsvangirai let out a long whistle of amazement.

In a country where about a third of the people will be hungry and in need of food aid by next month, Eddie Cross, an official in the opposition party, was less circumspect. In a letter posted on a Zimbabwe blog, Mr. Cross wrote that Mr. Mugabe, oblivious to his people’s suffering, had simply packed his bags and departed with his entourage, “taking with them a pile of U.S. dollars to spend on 10 days of luxury and completely unproductive personal extravagance.”

More worrisome to analysts here was a vituperative column on Saturday in the state-owned newspaper, The Herald. Journalists and politicians here widely assume that the author, who used the pen name Nathaniel Manheru, was George Charamba, Mr. Mugabe’s spokesman.

The column said the power-sharing agreement had no legal force and might “collapse any day.” It said the deal gave the president the power to appoint ministers after consulting the prime minister and others. “He does not have to adopt their views,” the columnist wrote.

But Mr. Tsvangirai said that what most disturbed him was language in the column that he said promoted hatred. It described his celebratory supporters gathering as their leaders “were further swelling their already distended stomachs.” The writer mocked the opposition for its euphoria over the prospect that Mr. Tsvangirai might become prime minister as the agreement itself specified.

After an election season in which thousands of opposition supporters were beaten in state-sponsored attacks and more than 100 killed, opposition officials said they found another comment chilling. The columnist wrote that the deal’s provision for an independent audit of farms given out in an often violent land reform program “is sure to draw blood redder than the setting sun.”

Mr. Tsvangirai was careful to say that he did not believe that the author spoke for Mr. Mugabe.

Nonetheless, he added: “If what he has printed in the paper is the attitude of ZANU-PF, we might as well review our position. If that is the spirit in which we go into this marriage, it has finished before it has started.”

Mr. Tsvangirai said he regretted that ministries were not divided between the parties before he and Mr. Mugabe signed their deal, but he said he had Mr. Mbeki’s assurances that the matter would be quickly resolved.

Mr. Mbeki, however, may not be around to finish the job. Tomaz A. Salomao, executive secretary of the Southern African Development Community, which named Mr. Mbeki mediator, said Monday that the organization would not know if he would continue in that role until it was formally informed by South Africa.

The opposition has long mistrusted Mr. Mbeki, believing he was an ally of Mr. Mugabe’s and hoping his likely successor, Jacob Zuma, backed by trade unions that have rallied behind Mr. Tsvangirai, might be more effective in pushing its cause.

But in the end it was Mr. Mbeki who fashioned the deal that Mr. Tsvangirai signed. And it was Mr. Mbeki, attacked at home for a flawed legacy, who had much to gain by bringing Zimbabwe’s crisis to a peaceful end. But now with the political turmoil in South Africa, the question is whether it will be too distracted to attend to Zimbabwe’s problems.

“There is no one within S.A.D.C. of Mbeki’s stature to engage the issues and knock heads together,” said Iden Wetherell, senior editor at The Independent, a newspaper in Harare. “I can’t see Zuma, with his complete absence of diplomatic experience and lack of familiarity with Zimbabwe’s crisis, playing the same role.”

Mr. Tsvangirai said he believed that Mr. Mugabe would ultimately agree to a fair division of ministries and that regional leaders would help make that happen. “I’m very hopeful that the deal will come through and that we can start the process of rebuilding the country,” he said.

A large card displayed in Mr. Tsvangirai’s study said, “I wish a long life to my enemies so they may see all my successes.” Mr. Mugabe has certainly had a long life, but whether he will live to see Mr. Tsvangirai wield real power has yet to be settled.