September 16, 2008

Zimbabwe Deal Signals End of the Mugabe Era

By Basildon Peta

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe yesterday signed away total control of Zimbabwe after nearly three decades, entering into a power-sharing deal that it is hoped will jump-start the country's collapsed economy. But despite the handshakes and smiles for the cameras at the convention centre in Harare, clear signs of the bitterness and division remained.

MPs from the Movement for Democratic Change and the former ruling party, Zanu PF jeered at each other during the signing ceremony, while their supporters clashed outside the venue.

Thousands of Zimbabweans from both camps threw stones at each other, forcing the police to fire warning shots and set guard dogs on them. The crowd eventually succeeded in storming the barrier but were contained by a heavy police presence. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.

Mr Mugabe was heckled as he read a long speech and made angry off- the-cuff remarks, sometimes in the vernacular Shona language.

The deal, reached after a lengthy mediation effort by South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, ushers in an unwieldy government, with two deputies each for the prime minister and president. The allocation of the 31 ministries has still to be decided before a cabinet is announced this week.

The twin cabinet compromise, proposed by Mr Mbeki, left the power- sharing administration with explaining to do. The ministers will sit in a "council" chaired by new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, as well as a "cabinet" overseen by his rival Mr Mugabe.

Mr Tsvangirai spoke first, saying: "I have signed this agreement because my belief in Zimbabwe and its peoples runs deeper than the scars I bear from the struggle ... Because my hope for the future is stronger than the grief I feel for the needless suffering of the past years."

The leader of a smaller faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), professor Arthur Mutambara, joins the government as deputy prime minister.

The addresses by the three leaders reflected their differing philosophies and approaches on how to put Zimbabwe back on the road to recovery.

While both Mr Tsvangirai and Mr Mutambara were forward-looking in and focused on the reconstruction and humanitarian tasks that lie ahead, Mr Mugabe's address largely comprised of his favourite subject - lampooning and blaming Zimbabwe's former colonial ruler for the chaos in the country.

He criticised Britain for "seeking regime change" and imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe.

"For this agreement to last there are salient principles that we must all uphold," he said, in reference to his refusal to reverse his controversial land reforms by recalling evicted white farmers.

The European Union said it was ready to bring aid to Zimbabwe if the new government took measures to restore democracy and the rule of law.

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