Zimbabwe's prolonged Cabinet crisis has been resolved by a compromise designed to keep this country's coalition leadership intact. Patriotic Front (ZAPU) leader Joshua Nkomo agreed this week to a formula put forward by Prime Minister Robert Mugabe which will enable Mr. Nkomo to remain in the Cabinet despite a change in his assignment.
Early in January, Mr. Mugabe reshuffled his Cabinet, dropping the controversial manpower planning minister, Edgar Tekere, but also demoting Mr. Nkomo from home affairs minister with responsibility for the police to the relatively unimportant public service portfolio.
Mr. Nkomo angrily rejected his demotion, threatening to pull his party out of the coalition Cabinet -- not because of his demotion but because his ZAPU party would no longer have any say in the control of the security forces.
He argued that when Mr. Mugabe established the coalition last March it was agreed that ZAPU would have at least one Cabinet minister with responsibility for the security forces.
Mr. Mugabe, whose ZANU-PF party holds 57 of the 100 seats in Parliament does not need to Nkomo votes to maintain his government. But because of the danger of violent clashes between Zimbabwe's two guerrilla forces -- Mr. Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) and Mr. Nkomo's Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) -- the prime minister is anxious to keep the coalition together.
Accordingly, despite some strong opposition from within his own party from the younger radical element which believes Mr. Nkomo should be pensioned off, the premier met secretly with Mr. Nkomo to try to hammer out a compromise formula. This was reached on Jan. 27.
Under the terms of the new agreement, Mr. Nkomo will remain in the Cabinet as minister without portfolio but will assist the prime minister in administering both the defense and the public service portfolios. In addition, Mr. Nkomo will retain his seat on the Cabinet subcommittee on public security, thereby keeping a ZAPU finger on the security pulse.
The compromise formula is something of a face-saver for Mr. Nkomo but does not hide the fact that as junior partner in the coalition he has little political power. His supporters are arguing that his opposition to the Cabinet reshuffle forced the prime minister to reconsider. Although this is true, the fact is that Mr. Nkomo has been demoted and that ZAPU has less influence over the security portfolios now than it did a month ago.
For example, Mr. Nkomo will share the defense portfolio not only with Mr. Mugabe himself but also with Emmerson Munungagwa, the minister of state in the prime minister's office with responsibility for security affairs.
Clearly, it is in the national interest that the coalition be kept together, and Mr. Nkomo on Jan. 29 described the compromise as a "satisfactory solution" that would help to maintain "real peace."
The reshuffle leaves Mr. Nkomo's party in control of transport, roads and telecommunications, public works, and natural resources in addition to Mr. Nkomo's responsibilities in the defense and public service field. Key portfolios, such as defense, finance, foreign and home affairs, and information are held by Mugabe supporters.