Politics versus People: After Many Stops and Starts, a Unity Government of Sorts Has Been Created, but It Will Be a While before the Two Bitterly Divided Parties Can Begin to Function Together as a Government. but Time Is Not on the Side of the Suffering People of Zimbabwe and the Two Parties Will Have to Choose between the Welfare of the Nation and Political One-Upmanship

Article excerpt

Zimbabwe's hard-fought-for political settlement was in danger of running into a wall of intransigence at the inaugural meeting convened of the opposing government officials of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) parties.

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In a shaky start to the unity government's assumption of control over the country's affairs, a series of violations of the agreement erupted before the new leaders sat down for their first assembly on mid-February.

In the most serious, an MDC nominated deputy minister was arrested and jailed, and later charged with terrorism, and farming land was seized by President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party in defiance of the accord.

The unity cabinet of 33 ministers has 14 from Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change and three from a breakaway opposition faction led by Arthur Mutambara. Mugabe has 15 ministers. The highly contentious issue of who was going to be in charge of the security forces and which had been a major bone of contention, was finally resolved by placing the Home Ministry, which controls the police directly under both Mugabe and Tsvangirai.

Leaders of the new multi-party government confronted one another stony-faced as the first meeting of the almost-complete cabinet assembled for a photo opportunity for the world media. Missing was the MDM's treasurer and deputy agricultural minister nominee, former Zimbabwe farm owner Roy Bennett. He had been bundled off on a private plane that had landed at his home city of Mutare, near the Mozambique border in eastern Zimbabwe. Bennett was charged with treason and carted off to the Mutare Central Prison cells. The charges were changed five times before he finally came before a magistrate four days later. He was remanded in police custody for two weeks before a High Court hearing on charges of "a reasonable assumption of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism". The MDC promptly labelled the accusations as 'trumped-up' and an attempt by Mugabe hardliners to disrupt the implementation of the unity administration. Tsvangirai appeared surprised at Bennett's arrest and incarceration. He apparently had not been informed of the arrest despite sharing responsibility for the Home Affairs portfolio. If he took any action it was done behind the scenes and no statement on the matter was released by the MDM.

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Mugabe and Tsvangirai met after the cabinet assembly to try and resolve what was termed by party sources as 'a number of huge obstacles' standing in the way of smooth functioning of the new joint structure. These apparently concerned the continued detention of 30 MDC members, issues of accountability, the rule of law and human rights.

Tsvangirai also avoided comment on the seizure of Yarrowdale Farm, a highly-productive 480ha commercial agricultural enterprise growing soya and seed maize. The farm confiscation directly defies the land acquirement aspects of the agreement. The company said in a statement that a group arrived at the farm harassing employees and demanding that the farm houses be vacated for them to occupy.

Under the power-sharing agreement Zanu-PF has control of agriculture, although the arrested Roy Bennett is the MDC's choice of deputy minister (See box). Neither Zanu-PF nor the MDC had commented on the farm seizure by the time we went to press.

Coinciding with the uneasy cabinet meeting was an announcement by Medecins San Frontieres (MSF), a French-based international healthcare NGO, that the outbreak of cholera on Zimbabwe's southern border was infecting one Zimbabwean every minute and that by mid-February the infection incidence had probably exceeded 300,000 people, with the death rate at over 4,000.

MSF said the cholera epidemic was just the most visible evidence of the collapse of Zimbabwe's health system. It called on both international donors and the Zimbabwean government to do more, saying other epidemic disease outbreaks were possible. …