Zimbabwe cabinet meets without MDC ministers after boycott

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe led a cabinet meeting on Tuesday without the presence of unity partner Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who was out of the country on a regional tour to appeal for help with mediation. This comes after Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party pulled out of the unity government several days ago, protesting what they called "dishonest and unreliable" behaviour by Mugabe.

Robert Mugabe
Morgan Tsvangirai

Zimbabwe state media reported on Tuesday that President Mugabe will not recognise Tsvangirai's suspension of ties with the government until he is formally informed. The state-owned daily newspaper, The Herald, quoted Mugabe's spokesman, George Charamba, as saying Tsvangirai is still prime minister and is expected to attend cabinet meetings.

“Government is not run through media statements. In the same way that President Mugabe formally appointed him to the post of Prime Minister he must also communicate any decision to disengage or whatever it is they are calling it, in a formal manner," Charamba said.

"This can be done orally or in writing but in a formal manner. From that point of view nothing has happened. Until the communication is done formally the president has no reason or any grounds to think or know otherwise,” he said.

Tsvangirai, who "disengaged" from the country's unity government last week, was accused by the newspaper of traveling without cabinet approval. The leader of the MDC party is on a ten-day trip of Southern African Development Community countries, who helped to negotiate the troubled power sharing agreement in Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai is not due to return to Zimbabwe until sometime next week.

According to The Herald, government officials said that Tsvangirai had attempted to obtain cabinet authority for his trip while en route to the airport, but was told that it was too late to receive it.

However, University of Zimbabwe political science professor John Makumbe said he believed Tsvangirai's partial withdrawal from the national unity government was long overdue and ZANU-PF's reaction is mere posturing. "Morgan Tsvangirai has done the right thing, he must light fires and make ZANU-PF run around putting the fires out. What he has been doing to date is agreeing to be treated like a tea-boy, he has been told what to do and he has done it without asking questions," Makumbe said.

He said that Mugabe's ZANU-PF party couldn't risk going it alone, as Tsvangirai has a stronger claim to legitimacy as his party won the elections in March 2008.

Ministers from a splinter faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara attended the cabinet meeting. Mutambara, who is one of two deputy prime ministers, said at a news conference on Monday that he was talking to both Mugabe and Tsvangirai. He said the national unity government is Zimbabwe's only hope of moving forward. "We are determined to give this government a fighting chance because in our mind there is no plan B," Mutambara said.

Tsvangirai announced last week that his party would not withdraw from the unity government altogether, but would boycott the executive branch whose ministries it shares with the ZANU-PF party. He cited the reluctance of Mugabe to implement matters that had been agreed to in the so-called Global Political Agreement, which brought the national unity government to power.

Among the outstanding issues is the appointment of governors and the alleged harassment of his party members and Members of Parliament. His announcement came two days after agriculture deputy minister designate Roy Bennett was arrested and re-detained on charges of insurgency and terror. Bennett has since been released on bail, but Tsvangirai has said his party will not participate in government until all the issues he raised have been resolved.