Confusion and consternation reigned at the end of three days of power-sharing talks for Zimbabwe amid reports that President Robert Mugabe and a breakaway opposition leader had agreed on a power-sharing deal.
If confirmed, the agreement would exclude Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the main Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). He won the first round of presidential elections in March but boycotted the run-off to protest against widespread violence targeting opposition supporters.
It would also likely prompt protests from the West — and some African governments — for allowing Mugabe (84) to cling to his increasingly autocratic 28-year reign that has driven his once-thriving nation to economic ruin.
Welshman Ncube, spokesperson for the splinter faction of the MDC, denied reports that his boss, Arthur Mutambara, had signed an accord with Mugabe. “It’s a lie,” he said.
Earlier, officials from the ruling party and the main opposition movement led by Tsvangirai said that Mugabe and Mutambara had reached an agreement. They spoke on condition of anonymity because mediator South African President Thabo Mbeki has insisted on confidentiality.
Mutambara himself would not comment before Mbeki issued a statement, but his body language exuded confidence as he left three days of negotiations — in contrast to Tsvangirai, who looked bleak.
Mbeki denied that the talks had collapsed after they ended on Tuesday.
“The talks have not collapsed,” he told a press conference in Harare. “The process is on course and a lot of ground has been covered.”
“There was disagreement on one element of the negotiations by Morgan Tsvangirai,” Mbeki added, saying the talks had been adjourned to give Tsvangirai time to consider the issues.
Asked about unconfirmed reports that Mugabe had struck a deal with Mutambara, Mbeki said: “Whatever happened between the two parties, we’ve no knowledge of it.”
He did say, however, that Mugabe and Mutambara had “agreed” on the make-up of a deal.
Tendai Biti, Tsvangirai’s chief negotiator, also said the talks had not “collapsed”.
The BBC quoted sources within Zanu-PF as saying the party had struck a deal with Mutambara’s faction to share power but also quoted sources in the Mutambara camp as rejecting the report.
Tsvangirai’s faction has 100 seats in Parliament, ahead of the ruling Zanu-PF’s 99. Mutambara’s faction holds 10. He agreed to form a parliamentary alliance with Tsvangirai after the March elections, but if he now switches allegiances, it will give the majority to Mugabe’s party. However, it is uncertain whether all his lawmakers will follow him into the Zanu-PF fold.
Mugabe brushed off questions as he left the hotel in the capital, Harare, after three days of gruelling talks, saying: “I’m sleepy.” But he denied that the negotiations had failed. “Talks will never collapse as long as we have tongues,” he said.
The key stumbling block has been how much power Mugabe is willing to cede to the opposition movement.
Tsvangirai has said he could work with moderates from Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, but not with Mugabe.
Zanu-PF and powerful police and army generals of the joint operational command insist Mugabe must remain president. His security and police chiefs reportedly were worried that he would make too many concessions at the power-sharing negotiations and strip them of their privileges — and potentially their protection from prosecution.
One of the contentious issues was whether Zanu-PF would retain control over the police and army in any power-sharing formula.
Mugabe and Zanu-PF have ruled Zimbabwe since the country gained independence in 1980. But his land-reform policies have laid waste to the country’s once-thriving agricultural sector and he has resorted to repression to hold on to power.
Zimbabwe now has the world’s highest rate of inflation, the majority of the population is unemployed and basic goods and food are hard to find.
Mutambara said he would give a news conference on Wednesday. There have been rumours that Mutambara might break ranks with Tsvangirai in return for a government post. He was welcomed as a “guest” at a ceremony held by Mugabe on Monday.
He was briefly arrested earlier this year for criticising Mugabe but since then seems to have made amends.
At a ceremony marking Armed Forces Day on Tuesday, Mugabe praised the military and distributed medals to retired and serving military officers.
“It is a result of the alert, vigilant and patriotic manner they have conducted their day-to-day duties,” he said, promising more pay hikes and housing for soldiers.
Independent monitors and human rights activists accuse the military of being implicated in violence and intimidation targeting opposition supporters.
Human Rights Watch accused the ruling party and its allies of involvement in the killings of at least 163 people, and the beatings and torture of more than 5 000 others since the March elections.
The group said 32 opposition supporters have been killed since the June 27 run-off, and two since Zanu-PF and the opposition signed the memorandum of understanding that paved the way for negotiations on a power-sharing government. — Sapa-AP, Sapa-dpa,Angus Shaw,Mail & Guardian