Date set for Tsvangirai to become Zimbabwe’s PM


Opposition leader will join government in two weeks as humanitarian crisis grows
After months of wrangling, Zimbabwe's opposition has agreed to join Robert Mugabe in a power-sharing government in the crisis-hit country. Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), w

"We are unequivocal," he said yesterday after a party congress agreed to back his decision to join the unity government with the ruling Zanu-PF. "We will go into this government."

The unity government faces an immediate battery of crises as the UN confirmed that cholera infections had hit 60,000 yesterday, just as the World Food Programme (WFP) said that food shortages would see it halve rations to millions of people in need of nutritional handouts.

Serious splits remain in the MDC despite Mr Tsvangirai’s assurances. Some senior party figures considered forming a breakaway group rather than join Zanu-PF, said one MDC source. Attempts by Mr Mugabe to demote the opposition to junior partner has left many in the MDC believing the new administration will be "unworkable".

The political breakthrough is unlikely to release the huge flows of foreign aid the country needs to check an economic implosion which saw it formally abandon its currency this week. Western diplomats are unwilling to hand significant funds to a government still overseen by Mr Mugabe. It would not be possible to "work with a government containing Mugabe", said one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

There appears to be a strong division between the Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc of regional leaders and much of the rest of the international community in how to deal with the crisis. All past attempts to use the UN to put pressure on Harare have been rebuffed by South Africa. However, the new Obama administration is expected to try to use its influence to persuade South Africa’s President Kgalema Motlanthe to take a harder line on Mr Mugabe.

One of the Zimbabwean leader’s toughest critics, the Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, also questioned the deal. "It is the time for Mr Mugabe to be shown the door. If he is to be given a safe exit … so be it," he told a meeting at the World Economic Forum.

Earlier this week a SADC summit ended with "an agreement by all parties" to enter a new government. While the MDC denied this claim at the time it appears that Mr Tsvangirai had decided to go ahead but was unsure if his party would come with him. It is not clear how much remains of the 15 September power-sharing agreement from last year, but the ruling party has retained much of the security apparatus it has used so freely to crush dissent.

Meanwhile the cholera epidemic is "mushrooming" according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), with numbers of infections passing what had previously been a "worst-case scenario" number of 60,000. The outbreak has spilled into South Africa and Mozambique. A combination of strong seasonal rains, crumbling infrastructure and the practice of rural burials has seen the disease spread to all areas.

"The epidemic is really present in the provinces, it’s jumping from one area to another. It’s mushrooming," Claire-Lise Chaignat, WHO global cholera co-ordinator, said from Geneva.

Many of the 3,161 deaths from cholera since August last year have been caused in part by malnutrition. The WFP said that seven million Zimbabweans are now in need of food aid, up from 5.1 million in June. WFP’s regional spokesman Richard Lee told AFP: "The agency is being forced to halve the cereal rations given to hungry Zimbabweans so that all the people in need can receive aid."

The Independent

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