‘Upbeat’ Tsvangirai returns to office as Mugabe's health speculation mount

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Tuesday officially returned to office after his annual leave, with analysts cautiously predicting a positive year for the MDC-T leader.\r\n

According to his MDC-T party, Tsvangirai is ‘upbeat’ about the year and he has urged Zimbabweans to ‘stay the course’ for democratic change.

“As we prepare for our historic congress, after two years in government, may I call on the people to ready themselves for far-reaching changes? The congress shall mark the beginning of the MDC’s renewal as the party gears itself for the total control of the government after the elections,” Tsvangirai said on his return. “Our congress shall reaffirm our determination, our values and principles as a democratic movement. We shall use it as a first step in asserting our signature as a party of the people, a party of the future and the only discernible hope for all Zimbabweans.”

The Prime Minister’s return to office has coincided with the latest round of talks about the political stalemate with ZANU PF, with a team of envoys from the regional mediator, South African President Jacob Zuma, jetting into Zimbabwe on Monday. The facilitation team, made up of Charles Nqakula, Mac Maharaj and Lindiwe Zulu, kicked off these most recent discussions with the three chairmen of the parliamentary committee in charge of constitutional revision (COPAC), to press them to complete their task. The team made it clear that a new constitution must be in place before new elections are held.

Douglas Mwonzora, the COPAC co-chair representing the MDC led by the Prime Minister, told SW Radio Africa on Tuesday that the facilitation team wanted to be updated on the process. Asked if Zuma’s team had set any timelines for them to complete the exercise, Mwonzora said the team was more interested in seeing the completion of the program.

Zuma’s envoys on Monday also met with negotiators from the MDC-T: Finance Minister Tendai Biti and Energy Minister Elton Mangoma. The team then met with the negotiators from the MDC faction now led by Welshman Ncube on Tuesday. The South Africans were then set to meet with ZANU PF negotiators on Wednesday.

Political analyst Professor John Makumbe told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday that the Prime Minister has reason to be hopeful about the year, explaining that “the year might have some fundamental developments in store.” Makumbe paid particular notice to the position taken by the mediator, Zuma, that the constitutional reform process be completed before elections are called.

This has all but scuppered efforts by ZANU PF to have the poll in the first half of this year, with Robert Mugabe last year voicing the need for an early election. But according to COPAC, the constitutional revision will take until at least September.

Makumbe said that it would appear that Zuma is learning lessons from leaders in the West African bloc, ECOWAS, who have strongly condemned the stolen election in the Ivory Coast. In a situation all too similar to Zimbabwe, decade long ruler Laurent Gbagbo has refused to hand over power to his opposition, who won the election last year. Instead of caving to Gbagbo, like Southern African leaders did to Mugabe, ECOWAS has made moves to isolate the dictator as much as possible.

“How ECOWAS has been dealing with the Ivorian situation could actually be helping us here in Zimbabwe, because it shows what should be done” Makumbe said.