HomeOpinionStalemate Over Cabinet Sign Of Headaches Ahead

Stalemate Over Cabinet Sign Of Headaches Ahead

THE haggling over the distribution of cabinet posts between President Robert Mugabe and the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC under the unity government deal is a precursor to more clashes as the parties’ differences come into play.

Mugabe, Tsvangirai and the leader of the smaller formation of the MDC — Arthur Mutambara — have been deadlocked on the allocation of “key” ministries since the agreement was inked on September 15.


Political analysts this week said even if the issue of cabinet was to be settled, the road to implement the agreement would be bumpy because the deal was built on shaky foundations.

The analysts said there were several areas of potential conflict in the pact, especially between Mugabe’s Zanu PF and the Tsvangirai-led MDC.

University of Zimbabwe political science professor Eldred Masunungure said although he was optimistic the pact would stick, the key problem was that it was “like a fragile flower, it needs very careful handling otherwise it will break”.  

He said the issues of sanctions, land and external interference were very sensitive, if not sovereign areas for Zanu PF, while matters related to freedoms and liberties, political violence and security of persons and the media were the major focus of the MDC.

“Attempts by the MDC to rationalise or streamline things related to the first set of issues are likely to rock the boat,” Masunungure said. “Similarly, lack of progress with regard to the latter set of matters will frustrate the MDC and lead to tension and even a break-up of the fragile marriage.”

Senior law lecturer at the University of Kent at Canterbury, Alex Magaisa, was of the opinion that the main point of conflict between Zanu PF and the MDC would be on the various policies that the new government would pursue.

“The ideologies of the two parties are different and they will have to work extremely hard to pull together otherwise there will be clashes at every turn,” Magaisa told the Zimbabwe Independent. “If Mugabe insists on non-bookish economics, and the MDC seeks to return to the ‘books’, there will be collisions.”

He said Zanu PF wanted to maintain its grip on power and monopoly over the state, but this would not work when there is another party which also has a legitimate claim to space in government.

Magaisa said the battles over power, especially control of state institutions like the police, army, central bank, public media and parastatals, would continue.

“A key area of conflict will also be foreign policy — Mugabe will not change his hostile stance towards the West and the West is unlikely to change its hostile stance towards Mugabe,” he argued. “Meanwhile, Tsvangirai will try to build on his cordial relations with the West, which Mugabe will see as a direct insult and threat. So, unless they find common ground and thaw the relations, this conflict will blight the government.”

Masunungure and another political scientist Michael Mhike agreed that the West, which backs the MDC, was not happy with the land clause in the pact that states that Britain is responsible for compensating former white commercial farmers who lost their properties during the chaotic 2000 land reform programme.

“There is little doubt that the Western axis is unhappy with the land clause, but they also realise (or should realise) that going back to the pre-2000 period is both untenable and dangerous,” Masunungure argued.

“Rationalisation of the land question is the best they can hope for under the circumstances. It is all a question of give-and-take and the Western nations have to accept this bitter reality and I think they will in the long run.”

Mhike said the land question has been at the heart of the dispute between Mugabe and the West and the unity government pact seemed to have endorsed the line that Mugabe has maintained over the years — placing obligation at the door of Britain, the former colonial power.

“That the MDC is party to this part of the agreement must have come as a bit of surprise, especially when you consider that some of the prominent backers of the MDC were farmers whose property was forcibly taken during the land reform exercise,” Mhike said. “But I also think that the Western countries realise that, realistically, things can no longer return to the pre-2000 position.”

Mhike added that overall, the unity government agreement to Western powers does not represent the “regime change” position they are pushing for in Zimbabwe.

“They have to appreciate that unlike other states where regime change has been swift the version obtaining in Zimbabwe may be slow and more painful,” he said.

The political analysts said how to implement national healing would also be a source of problems between Mugabe and Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai reportedly wants perpetrators of political violence to be prosecuted while Mugabe insists on a blanket amnesty. Mutambara’s party recently said the three parties have to decide on national healing, but insisted it must not be retributive and on the other hand government should not be seen to be encouraging impunity.

Masunungure said national healing needed a collective effort by both political and non-political actors, especially the church.

“Transitional justice is an unavoidable facet in this matrix, but this cannot be undertaken in the short-term,” he said. “Transitional justice is a medium and long-term project.”

Magaisa agreed that national healing was a process, rather than an event.

“Zimbabwe has not healed nationally from the days of colonialism and the liberation war,” he argued.

“National healing has to encompass a broad spectrum of issues and should not be restricted to dealing with problems that occurred between 1999 and 2008.”

He said there were other chapters in the history of the country — the war of liberation and the Gukurahundi atrocities of the 1980s — which needed to be acknowledged. And issues arising, such as public apology, justice, compensation, truth and reconciliation needed to be dealt with more comprehensively.

“A piecemeal or biased approach focusing on a single set of wrongdoers simply recreates the boundaries of dispute, which does not help matters,” Magaisa warned.

But while the all-inclusive government deal seems fragile, the analysts were agreed that since its signing on September 15, the country has moved forward.

Mhike said: “The nation has clearly moved forward at the realm of intention though not yet in practice. But even in practice, tensions have dramatically subsided and the nation is no longer enveloped in fear as was the case prior to September 15. The agreement has opened new opportunities for engagement though the current impasse needs to be unblocked before the momentum is lost.”

Magaisa concurred with Mhike arguing that while the economic situation may be getting worse, from a political standpoint the fact that Mugabe sat down to negotiate and still shows that there is no other option other than accommodation with the MDC was indicative of the changing times.

“This would not have been foreseen in March, let alone last year this time. This is about change-management, which students of business will know very well,” he said.

By Constantine Chimakure 

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