Page last updated at 00:39 GMT, Monday, 27 October 2008

Mood sours over Zimbabwe deal

By Jonah Fisher
BBC News, Johannesburg

King Mswati III of Swaziland, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and DR Congo President Joseph Kabila in Mbabane, Swaziland, 20 October 2008
The opposition refused to attend a regional summit in Swaziland

In the six weeks since the signing of a power-sharing agreement in Harare, the poisonous relationship between Zimbabwe's political parties has continued to sour.

What some hailed as a "miracle" has stalled over the allocation of cabinet portfolios between Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Power sharing for President Mugabe so far does not extend to giving the prime minister designate - MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai - freedom of movement.

Having spent the last few years canvassing support abroad, Mr Tsvangirai's passport ran out of pages earlier this year and the Zimbabwean immigration authorities are refusing to give him a new one.

If the MDC do walk away they risk being seen as a weak party and not understanding the African context
Immanuel Hlabangana
Zimbabwean analyst

Such is the toxic atmosphere that an issue that had previously just been an irritant to the MDC has become a major obstacle to further talks.

The MDC refused to attend a regional meeting in Swaziland last week unless this was resolved.

"The denial of that passport is a symptom of the real problem in Zimbabwe," said MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti.

"Despite the Global Political Agreement on 15 September there is no readiness on the part of Zanu-PF to enter into co-operative government with Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC."

'Go to hell'

In the week that followed the breakdown of former South African President Thabo Mbeki's latest negotiations in Harare, a copy of the facilitation document was leaked to the press.

It contains Mr Mbeki's proposals to the parties and is a revealing insight into what the mediator regards as a fair deal.

Morgan Tsvangirai at a rally in Masvingo, 19 October 2008
Morgan Tsvangirai's party is talking openly about new elections

When Mr Mugabe unilaterally announced his cabinet the opposition condemned it as "a power grab, not power sharing".

Those words were echoed by EU foreign ministers, but Mr Mbeki's proposals only differ slightly from Mr Mugabe's list.

Just two ministerial allocations have been changed. The finance ministry was awarded to the MDC, while home affairs - and control of the police - was to be shared.

Twenty-seven ministries were listed in the paper with each party given a stake in so-called "priority sectors".

It may have looked fair on first reading but Mr Mbeki made no mention of four ministries that Zanu-PF have also claimed for themselves.

They are not insignificant: defence (and with it control of the army), justice, information and foreign affairs.

We have had a big quarrel over the meaning of the word consultation
MDC's Tendai Biti

The MDC has never had much confidence in Mr Mbeki as mediator and one source said that following these proposals they had informed the former South African president that he could "go to hell".

In that light, it is of little surprise that those four days of talks failed to move the process forward.

"It says a lot about Thabo Mbeki's own ideology and the way he sees democracy in the African context," Zimbabwean analyst Immanuel Hlabangana says.

"You can see a man who struggles with Western ideologies and is trying to champion something different for Africa."

The MDC now talk about Mr Mbeki in the past tense, but his spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, dismissed queries about whether his mediation would continue.

While stressing that they remain committed to the 15 September agreement, the MDC now say both the spirit and wording of the deal have changed since they were first initialled.

Hot debate

Three full days passed between the announcement of a deal and the signing ceremony.

During that time the MDC say a number of small but significant changes were made to the publically released text.

These included an increase in the number of non-constituent senators given to the smaller MDC faction and the removal of a promise that MDC and Zanu-PF would have to agree on ambassadorial appointments.

Zanu-PF: 15 ministries including:
Foreign affairs
Local government
Main MDC: 13 ministries including:
Constitutional and parliamentary affairs
Economic planning and investment promotion
Arts and culture
Science and technology development
MDC (Mutambara): Three including:
Industry and commerce
Source: Government gazette

The meaning of the word "consultation" in the document is also being hotly debated.

Under the terms of the agreement President Mugabe is entitled to allocate cabinet portfolios after "consultation" with other parties.

Much to the MDC's annoyance, Zanu-PF are interpreting that to mean that after discussions, Mr Mugabe decides.

"We have had a big quarrel over the meaning of the word consultation," Mr Biti said.

"As far as us negotiators are concerned, whenever the word consultation appears in the agreement it means in agreement with the prime minister."

For different reasons neither Zanu-PF nor the MDC want to be the one to walk away from this agreement.

"If the MDC do walk away they risk being seen as a weak party and not understanding the African context," Mr Hlabangana says.

"For Zanu-PF this deal provides an opportunity for them to stay in power and keeps them from prosecution."

But with prospects appearing bleak, thoughts are beginning to turn to what will happen next.

The MDC has called for an extraordinary summit of all southern African leaders but is now openly talking about new elections.

Last week Botswana, Mr Mugabe's sternest critic in the region, called for a re-run of the 27 June presidential election.

If that was to happen the big question would be whether the violence that forced Mr Tsvangirai to pull out in June could be avoided.

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