PRIME MINISTER Morgan Tsvangirai and his deputy Thokozani Khupe this week boycotted cabinet, as South African President Jacob Zuma’s mediation team arrived in Harare to intervene in renewed clashes between President Robert Mugabe and the premier.
Tsvangirai’s move, which came against a backdrop of resurging political tensions in the shaky inclusive government over outstanding Global Political Agreement (GPA) issues, has intensified the power struggle between Mugabe and himself.
Informed sources said Tsvangirai is still seething over Mugabe’s unilateral decision to appoint new governors recently and that this had influenced his decision not to go to cabinet on Wednesday. Tsvangirai is also angry over Mugabe’s other arbitrary appointments, which he says have triggered a constitutional crisis. Cabinet met on Wednesday as Mugabe was away attending an African-Arab summit in Libya.
Tsvangirai and Khupe stayed away from the cabinet meeting and chose to attend a social cluster gathering in Nyanga, although MDC-T ministers attended cabinet.
Luke Tamborinyoka, Tsvangirai’s spokesman, confirmed his boss did not attend cabinet.
“The prime minister did not attend cabinet on Wednesday because he was attending a social cluster meeting in Nyanga,” Tamborinyoka said.
Sources insisted Tsvangirai and Khupe, who heads the social cluster, boycotted cabinet because of the current wrangling in government.
Although the premier and his deputy had planned to attend the Nyanga meeting earlier as they thought cabinet would be on Tuesday as usual, official sources said their action was a rebuff to Mugabe because they could have changed plans if they really wanted to attend cabinet.
MDC-T ministers last year boycotted cabinet after a stand-off on GPA issues, particularly the dispute over the swearing-in of Roy Bennett as deputy Agriculture minister, which led Tsvangirai and his ministers to withdraw from government.
Tsvangirai wrote to Zuma last Thursday, saying he was “disappointed” by Mugabe’s actions. His letter covered “outstanding GPA issues, GPA implementation matrix, GPA periodic review mechanism, constitution-making process, roadmap to the next elections and security sector re-alignment”.
Apart from governors, Mugabe has also of late made arbitrary appointments of ambassadors, judges and the Police Service Commission, a move which the prime minister said was “unconstitutional and unlawful” as he was not consulted as required by the constitution.
Sources said Tsvangirai and his party were now fed-up with Mugabe’s actions and were prepared to fight back, setting the stage for a bruising political battle ahead.
Tsvangirai’s series of letters to Mugabe, Zuma, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, European Union Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, Swedish Prime Minister Frederick Reinfedt and Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku revealed his anger over the issue.
In his letter to Mugabe, Tsvangirai told the president his appointments were “unconstitutional, null and void”. In a separate letter to Zuma, Tsvangirai said he was “extremely concerned” about Mugabe’s actions and urged Sadc to intervene.
Tsvangirai told Senate President Edna Madzongwe that Mugabe’s extension of governors’ terms of office was “illegal and unconstitutional”. To Barroso, Tsvangirai said Mugabe’s appointment of ambassadors, was “unconstitutional, null and void.”
Sources said the run-ins between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, which reached a fever pitch last week, were behind the premier’s boycott of cabinet.
“Tsvangirai and Khupe boycotted cabinet because they were furious over Mugabe’s unilateral appointments. That was a sign of anger and protest,” a senior government official said. “The situation in government is very tense and it’s difficult for them to even talk to Mugabe about anything since their heated meeting last week on Monday.”
Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara held a tense meeting last week on Monday at which the president said he had extended the terms of office for governors. Tsvangirai reportedly reacted furiously, while Mutambara was gutted.
That sparked off a chain of events, starting with Tsvangirai summoning his MDC-T national executive for an emergency meeting on Thursday last week.
Soon after that meeting he held a press conference, rejecting Mugabe’s appointments which he described as “rank madness and utterly nonsensical”.
The following day after the press conference, Tsvangirai escalated his fight with Mugabe with a hard-hitting letter to the president in which he told him his appointments were “unconstitutional, null and void”.
Tsvangirai’s letter was copied to Zuma, Mutambara and Madzongwe. In a bid to intensify pressure on Mugabe, Tsvangirai also wrote separately to Zuma, Ban Ki-Moon, Barroso, Reinfedt and Berlusconi, mainly over the issue of ambassadors. The premier also wrote to Chidyausiku over judges.
This has created a political crisis, which this week forced Zuma, the mediator in Zimbabwe’s stalemate, to dispatch his mediation team, comprising Charles Nqakula, Mac Maharaj and Lindiwe Zulu, to Harare to intervene.
Zuma’s team met Mugabe and Tsvangirai on Wednesday night. It was also expected to meet Mutambara over the current wrangling in government.
Mugabe reportedly told Zuma’s team there was nothing wrong with what he was doing because the constitution overrode the GPA.
He insisted, according to informed official sources, he had not breached the constitution in making all the appointments, claiming he had only redeployed ambassadors, extended terms of sitting governors and appointed judges in terms of the constitution.
It is said Mugabe argued he is not supposed to consult Tsvangirai on governors and judges. Zanu PF’s position is that the GPA is not the constitution, although the constitution was amended to incorporate the GPA.
Tsvangirai told the Zuma team that Mugabe was violating the constitution willy-nilly and tearing apart the GPA. Sources said Mugabe’s actions were unconstitutional because he had made “key appointments” without consultation. Tsvangirai considers the appointment of ambassadors, governors and judges as key appointments.
It is said he complained that since the Sadc summit in Windhoek in August which gave the GPA parties a 30-day deadline to wrap outstanding issues, nothing had moved due to Mugabe’s resistance. The premier indicated Zuma and other Sadc leaders, as well as stakeholders, must intervene to rein-in Mugabe and restore constitutional order in the country.