Zimbabwe's Tsvangirai asks region to rein in Mugabe

Days after he 'disengaged' from his country's unity government, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai flew to Mozambique today as part of a regional tour for support.

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

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    Zimbabwean Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, conducts business as usual in his government offices in Harare, Monday.
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Now that he's "disengaged" with Zimbabwe's coalition government, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has embarked on a tour of the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc's member states, aimed at persuading them to rescue his country's seemingly ill-fated national unity government.

After eight shaky months in a coalition, Mr. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) announced that it was pulling back from a grudging partnership with President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. The announcement followed last week's arrest of Deputy Minister of Agriculture Roy Bennett on what the MDC claims are trumped up, political charges of possessing arms for the purposes of banditry, terrorism, and inciting acts of insurgency.

Mr. Mugabe has shrugged off the MDC boycott and today chaired a weekly cabinet session without the MDC. But Tsvangirai maintains that if the SADC fails to rein in Mugabe, the MDC will completely pull out of the unity government, a situation that could see Zimbabwe plunge back to political and economic crisis.

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"It remains to be seen whether the SADC will be able to rescue this government, which has lacked harmony since it was formed," said Takura Zhangazha, a Harare-based political commentator.

First stop: South Africa

Tsvangirai began his tour yesterday in regional giant South Africa.

"South Africa is not only an influential neighbor and member of SADC, but also the appointed mediator in the inclusive government, so it is logical that it should be the first port of call in this regard," said James Maridadi, Tsvangirai's spokesman.

It was unclear, however, whether Tsvangirai had met President Jacob Zuma before flying off to Mozambique Tuesday for a meeting with President Armando Guebuza, chair of the SADC's special organ on politics, defense, and security.

SADC brokered the powersharing agreement between Tsvangirai and Mugabe, and, alongside the African Union, is a guarantor of the pact.

"[Tsvangirai's] tour is meant to update SADC leaders on the problems affecting government operations, and it is entirely up to SADC to rescue the situation," said Mr. Maridadi.

A litany of grievances

Tsvangirai is also set to travel to Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (the current SADC chair) this week, to brief the leaders of those countries on Mugabe's alleged disregard for the requirements of the power-sharing agreement, including Mugabe's refusal to swear in Bennett.

Besides the Bennett saga, Tsvangirai accuses Mugabe of harassing several other top MDC officials in violation of the Global Political Agreement, in which Mugabe promised to halt all politically motivated prosecutions.

Mugabe also stands accused of breaching the powersharing agreement by appointing his allies to head the central bank and the attorney general's office without consulting his coalition partners.

The MDC complains that the intransigence of some senior ZANU-PF officials, along with continued human rights abuses and land and company seizures, all stand in the way of the much-needed foreign aid that MDC had hoped to usher in.

A regional SADC tribunal has already ordered Zimbabwe to stop seizing lands from the few hundred remaining white commercial farmers in Zimbabwe, an order that Mugabe's officials have steadfastly ignored. Instead, Mugabe has announced that Zimbabwe would pull out of the regional court.

Mugabe shrugs off boycott

Mugabe has shown his defiance in the face of the MDC withdrawal, saying that Zimbabweans must learn a lesson from this, and stop voting for Tsvangirai's party.

Over the weekend, his spokesman, George Charamba, described the MDC pullout as a nonevent.

Many Zimbabweans originally applauded the involvement of SADC in resolving the Zimbabwe issue, an effort that was led by then-South African President Thabo Mbeki. But much of that hope faded, and most don't expect this week's meetings yield any breakthroughs.

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