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Relief and trepidation in Harare

As Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) agrees to join a unity government with President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF, Brian Hungwe in Harare describes a sense of relief tinged with trepidation.

Curious human faces were peeping out of busy Harare skyscrapers, as crowds swelled around the MDC headquarters in central Harare.

Morgan Tsvangirai (centre) addresses crowd outside party offices (photo 30 January)
Mr Tsvangirai said it was time to end the violence
It was a moment of truth.

Anxious to know the outcome of a crucial meeting taking place six floors up, those gathered outside moved forward, then blocked traffic along Nelson Mandela Avenue, and camped there.

A rally, unsanctioned by police, was unavoidable but the police did not intrude. Perhaps they were as curious as everyone else to know the decision of the MDC national council.

The big question was whether or not to participate in an all-inclusive government, led by President Mugabe.

In this tense, murky political situation, there are plenty of questions and few answers. The hard reality is MDC and Zanu-PF are miles apart.

'Sore hearts'

After Mr Mugabe lost to Mr Tsvangirai in the first round of the presidential election last March, a campaign of terror began.

Justice one day has to be meted to whoever organised this and executed this horrendous project
Emmanuel Chiroto
MDC official

Over 200 people died. Some were abducted, tortured and killed in cold blood, and villages were torched.

The run-up to the June run-off election was bloody and remains etched on people's minds.

State machinery was mobilised to assist local Zanu-PF party organs in attacking MDC structures.

"We won't forget this. I have problems forgiving. Justice one day has to be meted to whoever organised this and executed this horrendous project," says Emmanuel Chiroto, an MDC official in Harare.

Early one morning in mid-June, hit squads came in two unmarked pick-ups, abducted Mr Chiroto's 21-year old wife Abigail, and torched their house with petrol bombs.

"Nothing will ever bring my wife back, but the perpetrators of this are still there roaming around," he said.

However, perceived state-sanctioned violence is always difficult to probe.

"Inside an all-inclusive government, there has to be way to securing justice. Our hearts are sore," he said.

Against this hideous background, Mr Tsvangirai had a hard time convincing his party that it was time to climb down and allow for the formation of an all-inclusive government in which he will play an inferior role to Mr Mugabe.

Mr Tsvangirai's supporters believe Mr Mugabe lost the first round of elections and resorted to inappropriate means to retain power.

Tense debate

During the animated two-hour meeting at the party headquarters, insiders say the MDC leader's body language said it all.

Relatives cover grave of cholera victim - photo 29 January
Cholera has claimed more than 3,000 people in recent months
He intended to force through the SADC mandate of taking part in a new government, getting sworn in, and addressing all outstanding issues from within, regardless of the distrust everyone had of Zanu-PF.

Insiders say there was a long, often tense, debate with the party leadership "expressing its worries that some of the main issues had not been addressed", and that "Mugabe was sinking and would take advantage of the MDC's goodwill to revive his party".

There was also a feeling that in spite of the biting economic crisis, and deepening humanitarian situation, Mr Mugabe was prepared to bring Zimbabwe down with him.

That he was going nowhere was the stark reality the MDC had to face, insiders said.

Besides, Mr Mugabe had begun a campaign of terror, which involved abductions of party activists, who are now facing accusations of banditry.

This was not going to stop, and more, perhaps, was coming, if the MDC failed to play ball.

The political agreement, signed 10 months ago between the political parties, guarantees new elections in 18 months, and a constitutional reform programme through parliament that will involve civic groups and citizens.

'Limited options'

Fighting from within to achieve its political objectives became the only MDC option.

It is debatable whether the MDC leader capitulated because of growing internal terror, SADC pressure, or the need to address the domestic political and economic crisis.

Robert Mugabe at Pretoria talks - photo 26 January
Mr Mugabe wants the MDC to tackle the financial and humanitarian crises

"He had very limited options," says Simon Badza, political analyst with the University of Zimbabwe.

"He was increasingly perceived as having no respect for African solutions to African problems.

"He couldn't continue defying SADC, a regional institution. Joining in was simply a strategic move to plan for elections ahead from within, rather than operating outside the political framework."

Outside the party headquarters, supporters were growing anxious.

Mr Tsvangirai, took the lift down around 1500 (1300 GMT), and walked into a waiting pick-up stuck in the middle of Nelson Mandela Avenue, then began addressing the swelling crowds that had blocked the traffic.

The street was virtually brought to a standstill.

Standing at the back of a white pick-up with a loudhailer, Mr Tsvangirai said it was time to end violence and work together in a new government.

There was excitement, as drivers blew their horns.

This was a nation pleased to be able to breathe again, after choking on shortages of basic food, power and water, a weak currency, sky-high inflation, a deepening humanitarian crisis and a 90% unemployment rate.

Under Mr Mugabe's new power-sharing arrangement, Mr Tsvangirai's MDC will control the Health, Education and Finance ministry portfolios among others.

Wait-and-see

Once inside the new government, Mr Tsvangirai will have to deal with the cholera that has infected over 60,000 people, killing more than 3,000.

He will find a dysfunctional education system, where teachers have stopped work, demanding hard currency salaries averaging $2,000 per month instead of the current $2.

Mr Mugabe wants Mr Tsvangirai to bring down inflation, stabilise the currency and win international support to finance key government programmes.

Mr Tsvangirai may be banking on international support, but the West will adopt a wait-and-see attitude and may not even bless the new arrangement.

If he fails to deliver, he risks becoming irrelevant and alienating himself from his support base. He has taken a risk, and stuck his head on the block.

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