A local journalist at the press conference called to announce the disengagement last Friday asked Tsvangirai to “explain to me as if you were doing it to a four year old, what the MDC has done”, but the premier brushed him off and asked for the next question.
The journalist was right in seeking clarification and Tsvangirai should have tried to make clear what disengaging from Zanu PF meant. He said his party would not attend cabinet chaired by President Mugabe and the council of ministers, which he chairs.
“It is our right to disengage from a dishonest and unreliable partner. In this regard, whilst being government, we shall forthwith disengage from Zanu PF and in particular from cabinet and the council of ministers until such time as confidence and respect is restored amongst us,” said Tsvangirai.
Political analysts interviewed by the Zimbabwe Independent have raised a pertinent question. They have asked how MDC could disengage from “itself” since it is the government, together with Zanu PF and the other MDC formation led by Professor Arthur Mutambara.
Clarifying that position, MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa pointed out that it would be “foolish and stupid” for anyone to claim that they had disengaged from government when they were the government.
“But we can’t say business is as usual with all these outstanding issues,” said Chamisa adding that: “If Zanu PF is ever claiming that this is a non-event – certainly we are not there, and when we are not there, there is a missing link and they can’t say it’s business as usual.”
But what exactly does this mean? Does it mean that MDC ministers will attend to daily government business? Will Finance minister Tendai Biti authorise disbursement of funds to, for example, the Ministry of Health if need arises during the period of disengagement? Will the budget be announced if the crisis continues to November when Biti is supposed to present the 2010 budget after consulting his Zanu PF counterparts?
Investigations by the Zimbabwe Independent revealed that some ministers have cancelled meetings in and outside the country and were only going to their offices for a few hours and not attending to their ministerial obligations.
Political analyst Takura Zhangazha said although there is no quorum required for cabinet meetings, politically, the disengagement put Zanu PF in a quandary.
Technically speaking, he said, Zanu PF ministers can meet without their MDC colleagues but decisions as stated by the global political agreement (GPA) should be done collectively.
“We wait to see if Mugabe will wait or whether he will make major decisions without MDC. If such decisions are made, will MDC have the capacity to reverse those decisions? What this means is that the inclusive government is under threat and whoever backs down will be humiliated,” said Zhangazha.
While Zhangazha says Zanu PF might concede to issues relating to the appointment of provincial governors and deployment of ambassadors without giving in on Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and Attorney-General Johannes Tomana, University of Zimbabwe lecturer Professor Joseph Kurebwa does not see Zanu PF compromising on any of the issues the MDC is raising.
The MDC wants all outstanding issues resolved before re-engaging Zanu PF.
Kurebwa said Zanu PF might want to see all issues dealt with, including the removal of sanctions and stopping the beaming of anti-Zimbabwe messages by pirate radio stations.
The outstanding issues which the MDC is raising have been said by the politburo to be non-issues because the appointments of the governor of the Reserve Bank and Attorney-General were done in accordance with the constitution and so was the appointments of provincial governors, which they said was a prerogative of the president.
But for an ordinary Zimbabwean, does this mean the possibility of going back to last year’s levels which brought tremendous suffering? People also want to know if it means that the unity government is on the verge of collapse, if Zanu PF refuses to budge.
Academic and former newspaper publisher Ibbo Mandaza feels that it was more of a threat than a real disengagement.
“He (Tsvangirai) can’t say he has disengaged but remains prime minister. It is a threat rather than a real disengagement,” Mandaza said. “Neither can do without the other and they both have to agree on policy. Zanu PF might be playing up but they are worried.”
He said Zanu PF, despite appearing indifferent, could not afford to return to the pre-January 26 period when Mugabe did not have legitimacy and when he faced both local and international threats. On January 27 Sadc issued a communiqué that enabled the formation of the inclusive government.
“The implications are that GPA is now threatened and Mugabe is the main beneficiary of the agreement and he cannot afford going back to the period before January 26,” Mandaza said.
Zhangazha said the disengagement created a functional problem and could only become a constitutional crisis if Mugabe decides to fire Tsvangirai or appoint acting ministers for the posts held by the MDC.
He said the MDC had three options — firstly to backtrack and secondly to lobby the guarantors of GPA, the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and the African Union (AU) to intervene. The third option, Zhangazha said, would be to insist on fresh elections, but it would have to be clear which elections they want — just presidential or harmonised.
Chamisa said it was now up to Sadc and the AU to try and resolve the crisis by putting pressure on Mugabe to fulfill all outstanding issues, including the swearing-in of Roy Bennett as deputy Agriculture minister and an end to harassment and persecution of MDC officials.
He said if intervention by the region fails, the MDC would be left with no option but to call for internationally-supervised elections.
While the MDC might have some faith in Sadc and the AU, which Tsvangirai has been lobbying this week in his 10-day tour of the region, Mandaza said the MDC leaders was better off returning and fighting it out with his Zanu PF counterpart at home.
“Sadc is a toothless talking shop. It’s a club of heads of state and therefore almost completely precluded from taking any decisive positions on such matters. Tsvangirai must come home and fight it here and discuss the problems. If you are part of the state, it’s better to fight it from within,” pointed out Mandaza.
Kurebwa said Tsvangirai would not get much joy from Sadc.
Mutambara, whose party attended Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, concurred with Mandaza saying Mugabe and Tsvangirai should sit down and iron out the issues at home.
“The inclusive government is the best arrangement that this country can have for the moment. It is the best way we can move forward to creating conditions for free and fair elections,” he said. “If we were to pull out now without a new constitution, without political reforms, without media reforms then we cannot have free and fair elections and we will be back to square one. We need to use the inclusive government to create conditions of free and fair elections.”
While Mutambara describes MDC’s disengagement as grandstanding, Kurebwa believes that the party overreacted because the main reason for the disengagement was Bennett’s detention and he has since been released on bail and his trial postponed to November.
“After raising all the dust, two to three days later, there was no need. He overreacted and the decision was not based on principles. When he does not get what he wants he is quick to boycott. In Zimbabwe, the political culture does not have respect for boycotting as a political strategy,” Kurebwa said. “Tsvangirai was under pressure to be seen to be recognising Bennett internationally. That action is offending, it gives a very nasty picture and I don’t think MDC wants the race factor hanging over their head. He wants to uphold the rule of law and at the same time he wants it ruptured.”