In a position paper prepared for the summit, Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party said that ceding the ministry of home affairs to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would be a risk to the party’s internal unity.
"Each political party has its own internal political dynamics and it would be difficult to try to arrive at an outcome that reconciles the difficult internal political dynamics of the three political parties," Zanu-PF said.
Sharing Cabinet posts between three different parties was a "difficult, sensitive and complicated balancing act". All three parties, Zanu-PF argued, have been "pushing their individual self interests".
At the centre of Mugabe’s entrenched position on home affairs is the 1987 unity accord with former rival Joshua Nkomo. That deal ended years of civil conflict by making Nkomo one of two vice-presidents and handing his party perpetual control of home affairs.
This week, a small group of former Nkomo loyalists announced that they planned to split from the main war veterans’ association, a group traditionally loyal to Mugabe, which combines ex-fighters from both Mugabe’s Zanla and Nkomo’s Zipra guerrilla groups.
Zanu-PF had argued that "just as they had understood that the issue of the two vice-presidents emanated from the unity accord, the Tsvangirai faction of the MDC should have understood this historical obligation regarding the Ministry of Home Affairs".
Mugabe sees it as a major concession that he was prepared to agree to a proposal to "co-minister" home affairs with the MDC. Mugabe has already yielded the finance ministry to Tsvangirai.
"Co-sharing the ministry of home affairs will also ensure that there is continuity and that there are checks and balances," said Zanu-PF.
As the meeting began on Monday, 50 opposition activists staged a protest close to the venue. Their action was useful to Tsvangirai as police immediately moved in to beat and arrest them, giving the MDC leader the evidence he needed to drive home the point that civil liberties continue to be disregarded by a Mugabe-controlled police force.
There are many who stand to lose if a recognised government is finally formed.
Mugabe will now appoint only 15 ministers, half the number in his previous Cabinet. Just over a month ahead of a party conference, he knows that leaving out heavyweight loyalists will once again expose the divisions within Zanu-PF.
But he would have to dismantle part of his elaborate patronage system to allow the deal to work.
The start of the farming season always shows how Mugabe has used state resources to buy loyalty. This week, reserve bank Governor Gideon Gono was handing out lucrative contracts and scarce foreign currency to companies owned by Zanu-PF loyalists, purportedly for the import of fertiliser, seed and other farm inputs.
A new farming programme run by serving senior military officers was also launched and tasked with distributing farm equipment. Mail & Guardian (SA)