Under intense pressure from its Southern African neighbours, Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change on Friday voted to join a government of national unity with President Robert Mugabe.
By Tony Hawkins in Harare and Richard Lapper in Johannesburg
In spite of deep misgivings on the part of some party leaders and trade unionists, the MDC decided that it had no choice but to accept the terms of a deal negotiated by regional leaders earlier this week, even though its key demand – control of policing through the home affairs ministry – was not met.
”We are going into this government. That is what the party has decided”, said Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC’s candidate in last year’s elections and the prime minister designate.
Mr Tsvangirai will be sworn in as prime minister on February 11, while MDC politicians will occupy 11 of the 31 cabinet posts, including finance, education and health.
The MDC’s decision puts an end to a long political impasse. The party won elections last year but withdrew from a second round after violence against its supporters. A proposal to form a coalition government was originally agreed in outline in mid-September, but Mr Mugabe’s refusal to cede control of the home affairs and provincial governorships had blocked its implementation.
One party insider said that it had become clear at Monday’s emergency summit of the Southern African Development Community – whose members have been brokering an agreement – that Mr Mugabe enjoyed regional backing. Mr Tsvangirai had reluctantly concluded that by staying on the sidelines the MDC risked ”becoming irrelevant”.
”We had to recognise the political reality on the ground,” said one insider.
The decision by the leader of Botswana, who has been one of Mr Mugabe’s most outspoken critics, to fall in line with fellow SADC members and press the MDC to agree was also important, said the same party member.
An MDC official also claimed that the party had secured some additional concessions in this week’s talks. It will enjoy – along with the MDC’s minority wing, led by Arthur Mutambara – control of a committee set up to monitor implementation of the deal; Mr Mugabe has agreed to cede control of some provincial governorships to the opposition; and the MDC is to enjoy a role in shaping security policy.
Even so, political analysts suggested that the new administration would be hamstrung by the mutual distrust and fierce hostility between its partners. ”This is a huge gamble, particularly if Mugabe doesn’t deliver on the other issues that the MDC has been demanding”, said John Makumbe, of the University of Zimbabwe.
The sheer scale of the country’s humanitarian crisis that the new administration will face was underlined on Friday by the World Health Organization, which warned that ”the deadliest cholera outbreak in Africa for 15 years is gaining momentum, with 1,493 new cases including 69 deaths reported in the last 24 hours alone”.
In all, 60,000 people have contracted the disease and more than 3,000 people have died. The World Food Programme has estimated that some 70 per cent of the population will require food aid over the next six months, while economists estimate that GDP has fallen more than 40 percent in the last decade.