September 21, 2008

Mbeki’s Ouster Reportedly Threatens Zimbabwe Power-Sharing Deal

Text of report by privately-owned Zimbabwean weekly newspaper The Standard website on 20 September

[Report by Walter Marwizi: "Deal in Danger as Mbeki is Recalled"]

Concern mounted yesterday that the power-sharing agreement, hamstrung by a deadlock over the allocation of cabinet ministries, faced another threat after the African National Congress (ANC) asked the mediator Thabo Mbeki to resign as President of South Africa.

The decision, described in South Africa as a political "earthquake", came as negotiators for Zanu PF [Zimbabwe African National Union -Patriotic Front] and the MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] prepared to seek Mbeki's help in resolving a deadlock reached over the allocation of ministries last week.

Their principals - President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister- designate Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister-designate, Professor Arthur Mutambara - failed to agree on how to share the ministries on Thursday, dampening hopes that the politicians would start working together to resolve the country's political and economic crisis.

Among the contentious ministries were those of Defence, Home Affairs, Information, and Finance.

Haile Menkerios, the UN Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs said in New York on Friday the parties would turn to Mbeki for help to solve the issue which he described as a "snag" and a "hiccup".

Menkerios made the comments shortly after he briefed members of the Security Council on the deal seen as the best way to solve Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis.

He said the deal was a "delicate compromise" and admitted it would not be easy to implement it.

He was, however, optimistic that a breakthrough would be found with Mbeki's assistance.

Reports from South Africa yesterday appeared to dampen such hopes. Officials from the negotiating parties, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of jeopardising the talks, feared yesterday that Mbeki might not have time this week to attend to Harare matters when he was facing the biggest crisis of his political career.

They also doubted whether Mbeki, who has brought together the warring parties after promising to mobilise resources needed to rescue the Zimbabwe economy, could remain an effective mediator if he was no longer in charge of the powerful Southern African country.

Mbeki last week set up a special team led by the departments of Agriculture, Foreign Affairs and National Treasury which had started working with other SADC [Southern African Development Community] nations an emergency farm rescue plan. At the signing ceremony, Mbeki said it was imperative that Zimbabwe was assisted with inputs before the rainy season, which is only weeks away.

But these plans would be difficult to implement if Mbeki is no longer a Sadc leader.

Officials in the MDC-T [Movement for Democratic Change- Tsvangirai], however, downplayed the impact of Mbeki's removal from office yesterday. In their view Mbeki's departure would only be bad news for Mugabe.

ANC President Jacob Zuma, who is expected to succeed Mbeki, has been openly critical of Mugabe, and is unlikely to follow a "softly softly" approach that Mbeki pursued in dealing with the Zimbabwean leader.

Sources said that Zuma had assured Tsvangirai that he supported the "cause for democracy". This was after Tsvangirai embarked on a diplomatic offensive after the March 29 elections. At one point Zuma is understood to have advised Tsvangirai not to rush into a Government of National Unity with Mugabe, preferring to put pressure on Mugabe to hold fresh free and fair elections.

Unlike Mbeki, who has pursued quiet diplomacy, Zuma heavily criticised Mugabe when results of the March elections were delayed.

At the time of going to press, it remained unclear whether Mbeki would resign or not, but recently he had said he would follow the wishes of the ruling ANC.

Originally published by The Standard website, Harare, in English 20 Sep 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Africa. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.