Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Sunday, 14 September 2008 12:39 UK

Zimbabwe on edge ahead of deal

By a BBC correspondent
in Zimbabwe

Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe, file images
Mr Tsvangirai (l) and Mr Mugabe are set to try to share power

Details have started to emerge of a power sharing deal in Zimbabwe.

Leaks suggest President Robert Mugabe will still remain head of state and head of government with curtailed powers, but he escapes being consigned to the role of ceremonial president.

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition MDC, gains substantial influence, but not "absolute control".

So Zimbabweans are holding their breath. The country is in a state of suspended animation as the world looks on.

Until they have see the small print of what the African Union has hailed a turning point for Zimbabwe, many of its people are saying nothing. Waiting and watching.

Robert Mugabe:
Heads armed forces
Chairs cabinet
Zanu-PF has 15 ministers
Morgan Tsvangirai:
Prime minister
Chairs council of ministers
Controls police force
MDC has 16 ministers - 3 from smaller faction

For many, the daily chore of trying to find affordable food is a more pressing concern.

Zimbabweans who have bank accounts are now only permitted to withdraw $1 a day. Inflation is running at more than 11,000,000%.

The black economy is thriving. A woman I spoke to who bought a modest clutch of vegetables, found she had shelled out $50 by the end of the transaction, for a lemon, some potatoes and a pack of French beans.

And for the poorest Zimbabweans, for whom the staple maize meal is now a luxury, they are finding themselves going without.

First step

It comes as little surprise then that there has been an absence of jubilation on the streets and in the rural areas where the MDC has won over support from former loyalists of Mr Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF.

But many Zimbabweans are quietly optimistic.

Those looking for change have said that they would rather no deal than a bad deal. So the fact that Morgan Tsvangirai has declared himself "satisfied" gives them some hope.

Many Zimbabweans expect a coalition deal to mark the first step towards salvaging a shattered economy.

"I think the future of the economy is going to be better and I think this deal is going to shed new light on the economy," said one young woman, hours after South African President Thabo Mbeki announced a settlement had been signed.

A deal "made in Zimbabwe, owned by Zimbawean people" - but under wraps until Monday.

Certainly the hope is that the compact between Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai will be endorsed by the international community, which has promised billions of dollars in aid to revive an economy on the brink of collapse.

Plucked chicken

But so far, the the diplomatic community has given a lukewarm response to the settlement, making it clear the devil will be in the detail.

Although control of the police and military is expected to be shared, the fate of the much-feared intelligence services remains far from clear
"A good positive first step," as one man described it, is perhaps how many pragmatists will respond to this deal.

One MDC supporter described it like plucking the feathers off a cockerel (the cockerel is the symbol of Zanu-PF).

And optimists say the MDC may be able to gain influence by stealth - by operating inside a coalition government - and exerting influence from within.

But there are other voices who feel the MDC has "sold out", leaving too much control in the hands of one of Africa's last surviving liberation leaders, who has clearly demonstrated an unwillingness to go.

A reading of an opinion column in the state-owned Herald Newspaper on Saturday helps to illustrate why sceptics still have fears about what could emerge in the coming days.

Some are anxious that powerful allies of Mr Mugabe, threatened by the deal, may revive their campaign of violence against opposition supporters.

It suggests the settlement was reached under duress by an MDC clearly frightened about the alternatives.

It describes how the opposition had "overplayed its hand" during the negotiations. Zanu-PF felt they were asking for too much. Three days into negotiations they became deadlocked, drifting back to what the paper describes as "hard knuckles".

But the MDC "backed down" and in a matter of minutes a deal was done.

It is not the kind of language that suggests compromise.

Although control of the police and military is expected to be shared between the two leaders, the fate of the much-feared intelligence services remains far from clear.

Drive through the areas where farms lie derelict after their occupants were evicted, and the deafening silence is a symbol of the damage which could still be done.

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