"Mutambara remains our Deputy Prime Minister" – Mugabe

Robert Mugabe says Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara can stay on in government as long as he chooses not to resign – even as his MDC party insists it only can decide on cabinet appointments

Mutambara lost leadership of the MDC to Welshman Ncube earlier this month. A meeting of the party’s national standing committee last week decided to reassign Mutambara to the portfolio of Regional Integration Minister, while naming Ncube as Deputy Prime Minister in the coalition government.

The MDC move has sparked debate among legal experts, some of whom – including constitutional expert Lovemore Madhuku – say only Mugabe can force Mutambara to move, if he chooses to stay.

But Ncube, a constitutional law professor, insists the party can recall and reassign its officers in government. Ncube points to a reshuffle by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of his cabinet team in June last year which saw him drop National Housing Minister Fidelis Mhashu and Energy Minister Elias Mudzuri.

Speaking for the first time on the MDC leadership change, Mugabe said Ncube’s declaration that he was now Deputy Prime Minister “complicates issues”, while taking the view that only two options existed: either Mutambara resigns, or he fires him.

He told a luncheon hosted for him by the country’s ambassador to Ethiopia: “It creates legal matters, it complicates issues. They were able to remove him politically, but legally he was sworn in as a Member of Parliament. I swore him in as Deputy Prime Minister.

“It’s up to him if he wants to resign, but if he refuses, well, we are stuck, but the Global Political Agreement will go ahead.”

Mugabe, who said he had been briefed by Mutambara on the changing dynamics in his party, appeared to be sympathetic to the former NASA rocket scientist’s political pickle.

"Ah, poor Mutambara, the people who invited you say you have overstayed," Mugabe said to laughter from the 100 guests of Ambassador Andrew Mtetwa.

Mutambara is expected to announce his next move this week when he returns from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The Ncube-led MDC controls three ministries, the Tsvangirai-led MDC 13 and Mugabe’s Zanu PF 15 under a September 15, 2008, power sharing agreement – a political compromise brokered by regional leaders following disputed elections.

Meanwhile, Welshman Ncube-led MDC described as “curious” claims by President Robert Mugabe that Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara cannot be recalled from office by his party. 

The MDC wants Ncube to take over as deputy premier after he replaced Mutambara as leader during a recent party congress. Mutambara – who has not publicly commented on the changes — has since been assigned the post of Regional Integration Minister.

But in a statement released on Sunday, the MDC said Mugabe’s reading of the power sharing pact was inaccurate.

“President has no power or right to appoint any person into the cabinet without the approval of (their) party through (its) leadership,” said Nhlanhla Dube, the party’s spokesman.

“Equally clear,” he added, “is the right of each party to reshuffle, reassign or recall any of its representatives,  the President  being required  only  to formally make the appointments as requested by the parties.”

The party drew comparisons with a mini-reshuffle by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of a rival MDC faction, in June last year when he dropped Energy Minister Elias Mudzuri and National Housing Minister Fidelis Mhashu. His party only communicated the changes to Mugabe, who accepted.

Dube added: “It was never suggested that the MDC-T required the consent or resignation  of  those that  it had  reassigned or removed from cabinet  position.

“It is curious that it is now suggested that there is one rule for the MDC-T and Zanu PF, and another for MDC. We are left with no doubt that this is not a legal question but a political one where some parties are more equal than others.

“We have no doubt that the public can’t be fooled and will definitely understand what is happening.”

Mutambara returns this week from Davos, Switzerland, where he attended the World Economic Forum with a crucial decision to make over his political career.