MAIN opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has rejected President Robert Mugabe’s ultimatum – whose deadline was yesterday – for him to sign a power-sharing agreement or risk being left out of his cabinet.
The move paved way for Mugabe to announce a new cabinet, delayed since early July due to ongoing talks. Mugabe is now expected to announce his cabinet any day from today.
A last ditch attempt to save the deal failed yesterday after Tsvangirai refused to attend meetings in Harare where he would have been under pressure to sign. Tsvangirai was in South Africa yesterday and was expected to return last night or today.
South African president Thabo Mbeki was yesterday forced to cancel a trip to Harare to try to make a breakthrough after Tsvangirai said he would not be around.
The MDC said Mugabe’s ultimatum on talks was “ill-advised and unnecessary”. It said the demand showed his contempt for Sadc and AU leaders who are behind the negotiations. The party said the threat would sabotage negotiations and provided further evidence that Mugabe – “author of the current crisis” – was negotiating in bad faith.
MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa yesterday said Mugabe’s ultimatum to Tsvangirai was “misguided”.
“Negotiations don’t work on the basis on political threats and ultimatums. We don’t understand all these outbursts. We are equal partners in the talks and we want to make it clear we won’t be intimidated or stampeded into signing a raw deal,” Chamisa said.
“We don’t want to swallow a poisonous offer. Why should we accept an agreement giving us the position of ceremonial or titular prime minister? Why on earth should we accept this proposal? The people don’t want it. We won’t be commandeered by anyone to sign the agreement.”
Chamisa said the talks had stalled because of Zanu PF’s “inflexibility and rigidity”. He said it would be “political suicide” for Mugabe to appoint a cabinet and go it alone as the economic crisis would worsen.
“First, if Mugabe goes ahead unilaterally and intransigently, that would be a further confirmation of his dictatorship and autocracy. Second, if he goes it alone it would be tantamount to political suicide,” Chamisa said. “That would be his choice and we won’t stop him. He seems determined to self-destruct.”
Informed sources said yesterday Tsvangiari wrote a letter to Mbeki on Tuesday telling him he would not be in Harare to attend the meetings on the talks.
“Mbeki was supposed to come to Harare yesterday but was forced to cancel the trip because Tsvangirai wrote to him saying he would not be around,” a source said. “Tsvangirai did not want to attend what he thinks would be hopeless meetings that would not make a difference.”
Mbeki’s office yesterday said he was not coming to Harare. It did not say why, but sources said Tsvangirai had refused to take part in the meetings.
Tsvangirai is said to have confirmed his position to Mbeki in Zambia on Wednesday at the late president Levy Mwanawasa’s funeral.
Sources said Tsvangirai’s communication to Mbeki on Tuesday explained his remarks on South Africa’s Radio 702 on Wednesday when he said he was not aware of plans to resume talks soon.
Tsvangirai told Radio 702 that the power-sharing negotiations had broken down. Tsvangirai rejected the post of prime minister, saying it would not give him enough executive powers in government.
Tanzania, which is the AU chair, said there should be an equitable power-sharing arrangement in Zimbabwe.
“There is a problem and we still hope the mediation will continue and we still hope wisdom will prevail,” Tanzanian Foreign minister Bernard Membe said this week.
“We would prefer a solution be arrived at immediately because of the escalating economic crisis. We still pray that a solution will be found towards a 50% power-sharing solution.”
Tsvangirai said Mugabe wants to retain control of the security ministries and thus control of the army, police and intelligence services to protect his power-base and position.
“There was an attempt to fragment the cabinet. With some ministries reporting to the president and some ministries reporting to the prime minister,” he told Talk Radio 702. “In this case the economic and social ministries will go to the prime minister. The security ministries will go to the president.”
Mugabe also had contact with Mbeki in Lusaka where he reportedly told him he would be proceeding with plans to announce a new cabinet. Mugabe is said to be planning to appoint his cabinet today or during the weekend.
Initially Mugabe wanted to announce his cabinet in early July before the African Union summit in Egypt but was stopped by Mbeki. Last week Mugabe threatened to announce his cabinet and he reportedly wanted to do it on Sunday but he was again blocked by Mbeki who wanted to make a last ditch bid to secure an agreement.
Negotiations were held in Pretoria last weekend, but no deal could be clinched.
The MDC claims Mbeki is protecting Mugabe in the talks by insisting Tsvangirai should sign a “raw deal”.
Part of the problem, sources said, was that Mbeki recently refused to meet Tsvangirai two weeks ago and the MDC leader was “merely hitting back”.
Mbeki’s failed trip to Harare handed Mugabe a pretext to go ahead and appoint a cabinet without MDC involvement. Mugabe, under growing pressure from hardliners to go it alone, said in Zambia on Wednesday if Tsvangirai did not sign the agreement by yesterday he would proceed to appoint his cabinet.
“If after tomorrow (meaning yesterday) Tsvangirai does not want to sign, we will certainly put together a cabinet. We feel frozen at the moment,” Mugabe told journalists in Zambia on Wednesday.
“We are a government and we are government that is empowered by elections. So we should form a cabinet. We will not allow a situation where we will not have a cabinet forever.”
Mugabe was defeated by Tsvangirai in the first round of the presidential election in March but the MDC leader pulled out of a cutthroat runoff in June, citing political violence and killings. Mugabe claimed victory, but this was rejected by Sadc and AU observers. A number of African and world leaders refused to recognise his dubious win.
Nigerian Foreign minister Chief Ojo Maduekwe on Tuesday said Abuja did not recognise Mugabe, adding Zimbabweans deserve “a lot better”.
“We are also concerned that there should be no meltdown in Zimbabwe, the economy is already in tatters, and inflation rate is over a million per cent. The people of Zimbabwe deserve a lot better than they are going through,” he said.
By Dumisani Muleya