"We hope Mbeki can unlock the impasse" – Chamisa

HARARE – Former South African president Thabo Mbeki was set to fly to Zimbabwe on Monday in a last-ditch bid to save a power-sharing deal, after the opposition was denied key cabinet posts.

The government announced at the weekend that President Robert Mugabe had awarded his own party all the most important ministries, ensuring his grip over the military, police, and other security agencies.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has threatened to pull out of the deal brokered four weeks ago by Mbeki, but a spokesman said his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) still hoped to find a solution.

"Our hope is that the mediator will unlock the deadlock for us to move forward," MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said.

Mbeki was expected to arrive in Harare in the afternoon Monday, his spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga said.

Under the deal, 84-year-old Mugabe would remain as president while Tsvangirai would take the new post of prime minister. Their two parties are supposed to split the cabinet posts along with a small MDC splinter group.

But Mugabe has left the MDC holding 13 mostly minor posts, while the MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara would receive three.

Edwin Mushoriwa, spokesperson for the Mutambara group, said that Mbeki would be asked to find a way to break through the impasse.

"Each party is going to give its position on the negotiations and the mediator, Mr Mbeki, will help to try to resolve all the outstanding issues," Mushoriwa said.

The MDC argues that Mugabe’s arrangement violates the spirit of the power-sharing deal, after their party won control of parliament in legislative elections earlier this year.

Tsvangirai also defeated Mugabe in a first round presidential vote in March, but pulled out of a June run-off because of violence against his supporters that the MDC says left at least 100 dead.

The power-sharing deal had been praised as an historic breakthrough that could end the political unrest and rescue the country from economic ruin.

But negotiations hit the rocks over disputes between Mugabe and Tsvangirai about who should control critical ministries including defence, home affairs and finance.

The political deadlock has dimmed hopes for restoring Zimbabwe’s economic fortunes, which have plummeted since 2000, when Mugabe began giving white-owned farms to blacks who often lacked training for commercial agriculture.

Once a regional breadbasket, the United Nations estimates that more than five million people – nearly half the population – need emergency food aid this year.

Inflation soared to 231 million percent in July, while 80% of the population is unemployed.

Even cash is in short supply, as the central bank struggles to print new money fast enough to keep pace with the soaring cost of living.

A new 50 000-dollar banknote is set to be released on Monday. The bill is worth only $5 on the black market, enough to buy three loaves of bread. – AFP