Mugabe vows new Zim govt as 'soon as possible'

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe looked set on Tuesday to push ahead with a new government, sidelining opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai after the latest failed regional mediation effort.

Mugabe said in the state-run Herald newspaper that a new government would be put in place “maybe this week, maybe next week, but as soon as possible”.

The comments came after Tsvangirai rejected a proposal by regional leaders to immediately form a unity government and share the disputed Home Affairs Ministry with Mugabe, dashing hopes of a breakthrough.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai agreed to share power in September but have failed to break a deadlock on key Cabinet posts which has sent Zimbabwe into further economic free-fall and stopped foreign donors from stepping in.

The Herald accused Tsvangirai of delaying the power-sharing agreement, which leaves the veteran as president and himself as prime minister.

“We call on President Mugabe to say enough is enough, as there is a limit to the indulgence Tsvangirai can be afforded,” the government mouthpiece said. “The time to form that government is now.”

“Put simply, this man is wasting everyone’s time,” the paper said, calling the former trade union leader a Western stooge.

Mugabe said he hoped his rival’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which blames the stand-off on the president’s refusal to relax his grip on power, would come on board but laid the ball in its court.

“SADC has been very persuasive this time around,” the 84-year-old president told the paper.

“Of course they cannot force any decision on any country and at the end of the day it is up to us as Zimbabweans to implement the recommendations. All [SADC] can do is make recommendations and I hope [the MDC] will come on board.”

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) held more than 12 hours of closed-door talks on Sunday but failed to find common ground between Tsvangirai and Mugabe, who unilaterally awarded Cabinet posts last month.

Students and pro-democracy activists marched in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare on Tuesday to demand a caretaker government but their protest was interrupted when dozens were beaten by riot police, according to an Agence France-Presse correspondent.

The group wanted “a transitional arrangement that will urgently work towards addressing the desperate humanitarian catastrophe in the country”, said a statement from Clever Bere, president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions said it was not surprised by SADC’s failure to unlock the impasse between the leaders.

“This was inevitable because the two will never mix, like water and oil as the two parties have a totally different agenda,” said secretary general Wellington Chibebe.

‘Old Boys association’
“The SADC bloc leaders have shown to be an Old Boys association that stands by any leader in office and ignore the opposition.”

The political feuding has dashed hopes of ordinary Zimbabweans that their daily struggle for survival could ease.

The World Food Programme warned on Tuesday it would have to cut rations in Zimbabwe, where more than five million people are expected to need food aid by January, due to a lack of funds from donors.

“We have so far received zero” for a $140-million appeal launched in October, WFP spokesperson Emilia Casella told reporters.

And she warned that there was currently no food at all in the pipeline for Zimbabwe in January and February.

With inflation running at more than 231-million percent, half of the population requires emergency food aid while a breakdown in basic services has led to deadly outbreaks of cholera in Harare.

Western nations have said they are ready to release hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, but not while Mugabe retains his grip on power.

While Botswana and Zambia have taken a tough line on Mugabe, others still respect him as a former African liberation hero.

“You have this mythological figure. Robert Mugabe is like George Washington, he can’t be touched,” said one Western diplomat. - Reuters

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