HARARE, Zimbabwe — A make or break meeting between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to decide the fate of Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government will be held in Harare on January 19.
South Africa’s interim president Kgaleme Motlanthe and former president Thabo Mbeki will attend the Harare meeting to try to get the two Zimbabwean leaders to agree to form a joint government.
Zimbabwe is gripped by a humanitarian crisis with a deadly cholera epidemic sweeping the country as well as widespread hunger and inflation estimated at more than 1 billion percent. It is hoped the power-sharing government will reduce Zimbabwe’s myriad problems.
Although an agreement to form a power-sharing government was signed on September 15, little progress has been made because of the significant differences between the two sides. In recent days Mugabe has shown an uncompromising attitude.
“This is the occasion when it’s either they accept or it’s a break,” said Mugabe in the state-owned Sunday Mail newspaper, of Tsvangirai’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
For his party, Tsvangirai said his party will not join a government until all arrested MDC members and civic leaders are unconditionally released and a more equitable division of cabinet posts is agreed upon. Tsvangirai said those demands were endorsed by a meeting of his party’s national executive committee on January 18.
If Mugabe and Tsvangirai stick to their public positions there is not much room for compromise.
Zimbabwe has not had a fully functional government since March last year, when presidential and parliamentary elections were held. Tsvangirai won the most votes in the presidential elections but was forced into a run-off because he did not get more than 50 percent of the vote. Tsvangirai boycotted the run-off election, charging that 180 of his supporters were murdered by state agents.
Mugabe has run the country by decree since then and had not sworn in a new cabinet. The country has not had a budget in more than a year.
Tsvangirai maintains that Mugabe has reneged on his promises to be fair by launching a campaign in which 40 opposition supporters have been abducted and many tortured by state agents.
Further, Tsvangirai charges, Mugabe has broken his pledge to form a government in which the two shared power equally. Instead Mugabe unilaterally announced that he would take the lion’s share of cabinet positions, including the military and secret service.
The only important post offered to Tsvangirai’s MDC was the ministry of finance, widely considered to be a ‘poisoned chalice’ because Tsvangirai would become responsible for Zimbabwe’s rapidly disintegrating economy without having the power to change fundamental policies.
Tsvangirai insists that his party must have control of the police in order to halt the arrests and mistreatment of opposition supporters. South African mediators have offered a compromise that the ministry of Home Affairs, which runs the national police, be shared by the two rival parties.
Tsvangirai has rejected that as unworkable and on the grounds that Mugabe is not sharing the military or the secret police. “This matter has to be brought to finality, closure, conclusion, either in success or in failure,” said Nelson Chamisa, the MDC’s spokesman and a member of parliament.
Chamisa said that if the deal failed the MDC would mobilize its members across the country around the issue of Mugabe’s lack of legitimacy.
The stand-off between the two sides has gone on since September while Zimbabwe suffers a serious cholera epidemic which has killed more than 2,200 people and has infected more than 42,000, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The Physicians for Human Rights maintain that the cholera was caused by Mugabe's policies to allow the breakdown of sanitation, water and health services. The organization urges the UN to charge Mugabe with crimes against humanity for the deaths his policies have caused.
Hunger and malnutrition are rife in Zimbabwe, with more than 5.5 million of the country’s 13 million population needing international food aid, according to the World Food Program (WFP).