Is Zimbabwe's power-sharing deal coming undone?

Violence in Harare, police attacks against President Mugabe's political rivals, and whispers about Mugabe's health all are signs of trouble for Zimbabwe's power-sharing deal.

Police leave the scene after throwing teargas at a house in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe, Sunday. The party of Zimbabwe's prime minister says 22 people were injured and property was destroyed after ruling party militant youths attacked hundreds of supporters gathered at an opposition Movement for Democratic Change rally in the town south of the capital.

Zimbabwe’s relative tranquility – the result of a two year experiment in a power-sharing government – may be coming to a violent end.

Two years after a rigged election and subsequent signing of a Global Political Agreement (GPA) with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF Party seems to be moving more toward open confrontation with his own coalition partners. Opposition activists and businessmen have been harassed by Zimbabwe police, journalists detained and beaten, and this weekend a pro-MDC rally outside of Harare was stoned and broken up by pro-Mugabe supporters, as police watched.

If police continue the brutality, Zimbabwe may be in danger of kicking off its own version of the Arab Spring, veteran journalist Vincent Kahiya wrote in a column in Newsday newspaper.

“Confrontation between the police and public can start small, but escalate into unsavory scenes with damaging ramifications to national peace,” Mr. Kahiya wrote. “When you attempt to use a hammer to swat a fly, there is a good chance of missing the vexatious insect and ending up with a damaged table.”

The coalition government has never worked smoothly, but it is credited for stabilizing an economy that was in free fall, with 1 million percent inflation rates, and for halting a wave of political violence in which more than 300 people were killed in the 2008 elections.

But maintaining that government has required constant negotiations between the two main parties, ZANU-PF and MDC, along with a smaller breakaway faction of the MDC led by Welshman Ncube. It has also required periodic interventions by Zimbabwe’s neighbors in the Southern African Development Community, who brokered the talks that created the coalition government. With the two sides no longer talking, in negotiations for the next set of elections next year, even government leaders themselves are warning that Zimbabwe could slide into open conflict.

“We no longer have the energy, inclination, or willingness to maintain the team of negotiators as a forum of resolving any disagreements,” Zanu PF’s negotiator, Patrick Chinamasa, told the state-controlled Herald newspaper. “We have lost faith in this forum and we cannot continue drifting into the wilderness.”

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, warned that Zimbabwe would slide back to the violent 2008 era and that the country was no longer under civilian rule.

“The state security agents have instituted a coup over civilian authority and they are now above the law to the extent of disrupting government programs and assaulting civilians with impunity,” he told a press conference on Nov. 2.

Missing in all the political disarray is President Robert Mugabe, who last week went off on yet another trip to Singapore for medical treatment. Last week, Mr. Tsvangirai told reporters that Mr. Mugabe should step down because of his ailing health.

In the city of Harare, there are signs that Mr. Mugabe’s control of public discontent is beginning to wane. On Tuesday, Nov. 1, an ordinary roundup of unregistered street vendors turned into a street battle, with police firing teargas canisters into a crowd. Youth members of Tsvangirai’s MDC at the party’s headquarters put up resistance, after a music vendor took refuge in the building, and the security forces laid siege.

MDC organizing Secretary Nelson Chamisa chided the police for “unprofessionalism.”

“They (police) think we are the enemy of the state,” Mr. Chamisa told the Monitor. “This perception has to change because the police are for the people, for the country and for the law. They are there to defend people but unfortunately it the opposite that is happening.”

Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo refused to comment when contacted for comment.

Eldred Masunungure, a political analyst and University of Zimbabwe lecturer, says the current violence are a sign of deep rooted divisions in Zanu PF and the security sector.

“The police actions last Tuesday were not as a result of cohesive approach by ZANU PF and the security sector,” he says. “In fact there are multiple centers of power in ZANU PF and the security people to the extent that no one takes any directive from anyone.

“The current scenario where people act in suspicious ways is as a result of the mysterious death of former army general Solomon Mujuru, WikiLeaks and the succession power struggle in Zanu PF,” Mr. Masununugure says. “They are paranoid and confused and as a result there are pockets of power emerging.”

The name of the Monitor’s correspondent in Harare is withheld for security reasons.

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