Political deadlock prolongs Zimbabwe misery

OPINION – Six months on from Zimbabwe's elections and the picture looks increasingly bleak. The promised power-sharing deal has stalled, the education system is in freefall, inflation is skyrocketing, and food is increasingly scarce.

What, the African and International press alike are asking, can be done to save the country from further crisis?

Zimbabwe is on the verge of a major humanitarian catastrophe, says Alex Duval Smith in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper. Time is of the essence.

Wheat, sugar and maize supplies are all close to running out, and there have already been reports of child deaths from hunger, the paper writes.

Many are blaming delays in finalising the power-sharing deal signed by President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Sept. 15 for the country’s spiralling woes.

Both sides remain divided about sharing key ministries like finance, home affairs, defence and state security.

"The signing of the agreement was regarded by many Zimbabweans as the beginning of better things. But the politicians have failed to form a government because of disputes over the assignment of key cabinet posts," according to the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency in Johannesburg.

Meanwhile, most people’s suffering seems to be increasing.

"I really don’t see anything coming out of this deal, in fact it is bringing us more suffering because more people are now dying of cholera and water and electricity shortages are continuing, education is collapsing and yet we thought things were going to be solved," Ruth Chishava, a hairdresser in Harare, is quoted as saying in the IPS article.

But there’s more at work here than poor deal-making, according to TIME magazine. "Since they agreed to share power, the world around Tsvangirai and Mugabe has changed," it says.

With Mbeki no longer president of South Africa, and international attention diverted by the global credit crisis, Mugabe may have been emboldened to push back on the deal which would inevitably dilute his power, TIME writes.

This deliberate stalling is critical because without a deal, no one will step-up with international aid and assistance, the magazine says. In turn, this will perpetuate suffering because outside intervention is the only thing able to help the country out of its disastrous economic meltdown.

"Given the global financial turmoil and the political infighting in South Africa, Zimbabweans may have to bear the yoke of Mugabe and his regime for some time yet," TIME adds.

For other commentators, this wrangling poses serious questions about the country’s future.

There is still no common ground from the party leaders and one is left to wonder how the government of national unity is going to function. There are serious ideological differences between the two parties which makes it practically impossible to believe in the capacity of the GNU (government of national unity) to deliver people of Zimbabwe from the mire that they are in," according to a comment on Kubatana.net, a blogging site for Zimbabwean activists.

"All the expectations and hope will be replaced by disillusionment, misery and pain and the people of Zimbabwe will continue to live in dire straits," the blog adds.

According to Ray Hartley, editor of South African newspaper The Times, international pressure is the only thing that will help the negotiations along.

"The world needs to short-circuit this right now. Mugabe must be condemned, isolated and given the pariah status he deserves," Hartley writes.

The Zimbabwean Times newspaper, meanwhile, finds fault with Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party.

"The MDC has brought this on itself. It was folly of the highest order to shift from their critical principled position of a transitional inclusive government. Once they made that crucial blunder they were on a slippery slope to surrender.

"Mugabe’s callous selfishness and Tsvangirai’s naivety combine to deny the people of Zimbabwe the leadership they so desperately need. It is a catastrophic failure of leadership," the paper adds.

For the Zimbabwean Independent, the deal will only make a serious impact on the country’s suffering population if it involves serious economic and democratic reform.

"If the deal holds Mugabe and Tsvangirai need to develop a serious and common reconstruction agenda to rescue the troubled country and move it forward," the paper says. So far, this hasn’t been forthcoming.