Mugabe rebuffs Tsvangirai

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is resolutely snubbing former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai who is keen to talk to him, firstly over his exit package and lately over the welfare of his office staff laid off from government service without any benefits after the July 31 general elections.

Owen Gagare

Mugabe and Tsvangirai, once bitter enemies, found their relationship “evolving” with time while ostensibly working together to revive the country’s socio-economic fortunes in the ended inclusive government, but fell out again ahead of the polls when Mugabe unilaterally declared election dates without implementing agreed reforms.

The two have not met since the elections despite public overtures by Tsvangirai who is keen to discuss his package and iron out several issues with the veteran leader. Mugabe is however miffed that Tsvangirai has refused to accept his election victory and will not engage him unless he publicly accepts defeat.

Tsvangirai’s MDC-T party insists Mugabe and Zanu PF’s poll triumph was anchored in widespread vote-rigging and voter disenfranchisement and has thus refused to accept the results.

However, attempts by Tsvangirai and his party to challenge the outcome have proved abortive.

Mugabe has gone ahead to dismiss all civil servants who were working in the premier’s office, an action deemed by the Tsvangirai camp to be futile.

MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora told the Zimbabwe Independent this week Tsvangirai wanted to engage Mugabe over the plight of those previously employed by government in the former Prime Minister’s office but have since been dismissed.

He said the new government laid off workers without giving them any remuneration, resulting in many of them falling on hard times.

“Most of the employees who were in the Prime Minister’s office received letters from government informing them that their employment contracts were being terminated.

“The government has abandoned them; they have been left jobless and they have not been paid,” said Mwonzora.

Under Zimbabwe’s labour laws, an employer cannot lay off workers willy nilly and without any compensation but must seek approval of the Ministry of Labour before taking this route. While there’s no formula that is cast in dye, a retrenched employee should, as a bare minimum be paid should four months’ salary. They can’t go empty-handed.

“The Prime Minister has been seeking audience with Mugabe on how the government should address the plight and welfare of these people, but the meeting has not yet been held. From what we are hearing, some officials want the former Prime Minister to declare Mugabe won the election fairly.”

Sadc and the African Union described the July and 31 elections as free and peaceful, but did not declare them as free and fair. Major international players such as the United States, the UK and the European acknowledge that while there was no violence before, during and after the elections as in previous ones, the worst being in 2008, this year’s polls were neither credible nor fair.

Mugabe’s hardliners, through the exit package issue and the former government workers, is therefore armtwisting Tsvangirai into pronouncing the election free and fair, which the former Prime Minister called a farce.

Mwonzora said the MDC-T, which also recently laid off some of its staff due to cash constraints, was trying to raise funds to assist the 31 civil servants laid off by government.

Tsvangirai’s spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka said although he could not speak on behalf of the Civil Service Commission, it was “curious” that all civil servants in the former Prime Minister’s office had been laid off.

“This includes staff seconded to the Prime Minister’s office from other government departments,” he said.

He however said his boss would not give in to Mugabe’s demands.
“He (Tsvangirai) has made it clear that he will not endorse the electoral theft for any reason. He will not sanitise theft,” said Tamborinyoka.

In September Tamborinyoka said Tsvangirai would discuss his package directly with Mugabe, but yesterday he confirmed the meeting was still to take place.

Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba could not be reached for comment as he was not answering his mobile phone. His secretary said he was attending meetings and later said he was travelling to Masvingo.

But Herald columnist Nathaniel Manheru, believed to be Charamba, a fortnight ago said Tsvangirai had nothing to gain by refusing to recognise Zanu PF’s victory. He suggested that Tsvangirai stood to benefit personally if he accepted defeat.

“Here is one about-turn which levies not an iota of a cost on him personally, on his party or his white benefactors. Yet it will restore him dignity, open new possibilities of engaging the winner in national spirit, for national gain. Yes, for personal gain. Even his supporters will gain too,” wrote Manheru.

“His former ministers, including his deputy, want assistance from the Zanu-PF government, as indeed does he too. But the bind is a simple one: how do you engage a government you don’t recognise? Once he recognises the obvious victory of Zanu PF, he leads his defeated supporters into becoming strong MDCs who are good, loyal citizens of the country.”

The fallout between Mugabe and Tsvangirai deepened when Tsvangirai took the elections dispute to Sadc leaders at their Lilongwe summit in Malawi, supplying them with a dossier detailing how Mugabe allegedly stole the elections, but his pleas fell on deaf ears as Mugabe was instead appointed Sadc deputy chair.

Tsvangirai also made a Constitutional Court (ConCourt) application seeking nullification of the results and the holding of fresh polls, but the case collapsed after the court refused him access to voting material to build a body of evidence. Although Tsvangirai decided to withdraw the case, the Concourt pressed ahead with the case and dismissed it, confirming Mugabe’s fresh term as the country’s president.

After the fallout, some hardliners in Zanu PF pushed for Tsvangirai’s eviction from the upmarket home he is staying in. The Highlands house was bought and renovated by the state for his official use. It was not included in his exit package, although there was an agreement that he could purchase it if he wanted.

Charamba told the Independent in August Tsvangirai deserved respect as a former premier and should be given an opportunity to buy the house.

Sources say Mugabe wants Tsvangirai to be afforded enough time to raise money to purchase the house, but has kept him in deep suspense by refusing to meet him.