Those privy to aborted talks between Mugabe and Tsvangirai again blame differences over the allocation of ten key government ministries.

 South African president Kgalema Motlanthe, the current chairperson of SADC, chaired the meeting, requested by Tsvangirai in December last year ostensibly to iron out serious outstanding issues, especially the long-standing dispute over the allocation of ministerial posts and the appointment of provisional governors. Tsvangirai returned to Harare on Saturday, January 17, from self-imposed exile in Botswana where he sought refuge in November.

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki, the SADC-appointed facilitator of the talks, attended the fresh round together with Mozambican president Armando Guebuza, despite the fact that Tsvangirai has questioned Mbeki’s impartiality, accusing him of being biased in favour of Mugabe.

Those privy to the aborted talks blamed their failure once again on differences over the allocation of ten key ministries.

Analysts who spoke to IWPR believe SADC does not have the power to end the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe. They also expressed fears that the continuing stalemate, which has derailed the formation of a coalition government – seen as the only viable way to avert the total collapse of the country – might further compound Zimbabwe’s political and socio-economic woes.

The impasse does not augur well for the country, which is reeling under the burden of hyperinflation, massive unemployment, the collapse of the health and education systems and a population driven to the brink of starvation by shortages of most staple foods.

"It’s another major blow that certainly compounds Zimbabwe’s problems, but a bad deal is worse than no deal," said John Makumbe, a fiery Mugabe critic, who teaches political science at the University of Zimbabwe. If Tsvangirai had agreed to Mugabe’s demands, said Makumbe, Mugabe would have gained huge advantages despite the fact that he and his ZANU-PF party had, in fact, lost the election.

"It’s good that this deal has failed," said Makumbe, who believes that yet another SADC extraordinary summit on the topic, scheduled for January 25, should refer the Zimbabwe crisis to the African Union, one of the guarantors of the power-sharing talks. That way, he said, the AU could use its combined wisdom to decide on the next course of action, which might include taking the matter to the United Nations Security Council.

"There is no need for this Global Political Agreement if its guarantors are not serious. The MDC did the right thing; change must be real, fair and substantial. SADC has proved that it is not able to push Mugabe to do the right thing. The SADC meeting next week should just be to report that the regional leaders have failed," said Makumbe.

Ernest Mudzengi, a Harare-based political commentator, concurred. Mudzengi, national director of the National Constitutional Assembly, a non-governmental organisation, called the failed process a "dialogue of the elitist". The talks should, he maintained, be extended to encompass civil society and all the country’s political stakeholders.

The failure to reach an agreement, he said, was "compounding problems for the country, which urgently needs an end to this circus of a crisis in which people are starving, people are dying from curable diseases and there is no clean running water".

He forecast that the extraordinary summit, which will be held either in Botswana or South Africa, would be yet another damp squib. It was unlikely that regional leaders will disagree with Mugabe, who "they regard as their godfather".

"I firmly believe the way forward is to seek a people-driven solution. The three political parties presently represented in the talks (the third is Arthur Mutambara, leader of a breakaway faction of the MDC) cannot resolve the stalemate or the entire Zimbabwe solution. What the country needs is a national solution to this national crisis, which is founded on democratic principles," said Mudzengi.

ZANU-PF and MDC officials privy to the latest talks said that while Mugabe insisted that the issue of the allocation of ministries had been dealt with after he unilaterally allocated portfolios last year, Tsvangirai was adamant that the ten ministries he identifies as key should be shared equally between the two parties.

These ministries are: home affairs; finance; defence; national security; media, information and publicity; foreign affairs; local government; rural and urban development; justice and legal affairs; agriculture; and lands and land resettlement. The list Mugabe gazetted last year, supported by SADC, has ZANU-PF and the MDC sharing the home affairs portfolio. The only other concession he made was in relation to the finance ministry.

Mugabe blamed the breakdown in Tuesday’s talks on Tsvangirai, who allegedly blocked proposals put forward by the SADC, while Tsvangirai insisted that he was committed to the power-sharing deal but only if Mugabe agreed to cede home affairs, finance and information and publicity, the latter a ministry the opposition leader is adamant Mugabe has used as a propaganda tool.

"For us in the MDC, this is probably the darkest day of our lives," said Tsvangirai, as he emerged from the negotiating room in the early hours of Tuesday. "We hope the next SADC meeting will look at our demands favourably."

ZANU-PF’s chief negotiator, Patrick Chinamasa, who doubles as justice minister, told reporters Tsvangirai’s demands were unreasonable and that Mugabe was not happy that Tsvangirai had introduced a new set of demands.
"The language used in the demands by Tsvangirai to refer to President Mugabe as president-designate is aimed at creating a power vacuum. We hope SADC will not make any changes to resolutions agreed on 9 November 2008 in Sandton, South Africa," he said, referring to a resolution that the three parties to the power-sharing agreement should form a coalition government.

SADC executive secretary Tomaz Salamao told reporters after the stalled meeting that all the Zimbabwean leaders involved in the talks have agreed to attend the extraordinary summit at which regional leaders will discuss Tsvangirai’s demands.

Analysts don’t hold out much hope, though. "As long as we are going to have this elitist pact, Zimbabwe is not going to find a lasting solution to this crisis," said Mudzengi, while Makumbe believes that the "SADC should swallow the little pride it has, admit it has failed and take the matter further".

Jabu Shoko is the pseudonym of an IWPR-trained journalist.

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