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Mugabe reneges on deal, grabs key ministry posts

Zimbabwe's leader defies the terms of a power-sharing accord by denying Cabinet seats to the opposition.

October 12, 2008|Robyn Dixon | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has defied a fragile power-sharing deal with the opposition, giving all key Cabinet posts, including the crucial security ministries, to his own party.

The power grab took Zimbabwe by surprise Saturday, less than a month after the deal was signed. Opposition spokesman Nelson Chamisa, whose Movement for Democratic Change has said ruling party control of the police would be a deal-breaker, called it "a giant act of madness which puts the whole deal into jeopardy."

Only the Finance Ministry, and the difficult task of cleaning up Zimbabwe's economic chaos, remained undecided, according to the pro-Mugabe Herald newspaper, which published the details Saturday.

The move meant that the 84-year-old Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party would retain their iron grip on the country after 28 years in power. It follows reports that top security chiefs told Mugabe in a recent meeting not to give control of the army, intelligence or police to the opposition.

"The Herald-published list of ministries is a product of unilateral, contemptuous and outrageous machinations by ZANU-PF," Chamisa said.

The power-sharing deal has been in trouble almost since the ink dried Sept. 15, underscoring the opposition's tactical error in failing to insist that control of the security ministries be part of the accord.

ZANU-PF took 14 ministries, including defense, justice, information, foreign affairs and the powerful local government ministry. It also took mines -- the key to the remaining sources of wealth in Zimbabwe, mainly diamonds and platinum -- and land. Two opposition parties were given 16 minor posts, such as parliamentary and constitutional affairs, sport, labor, arts and culture and education.

The deal followed disputed elections in March and June. After a poor performance in the first round, ZANU-PF set up hundreds of militia bases across the country, beating and displacing opposition activists and supporters, and killing more than 120 people.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off election for the presidency because of the violence, but Mugabe went ahead and was declared winner of the one-man race in a vote condemned by international observers.

Regional leaders and the African Union had pressed Mugabe to negotiate a power-sharing deal. But the fate of the deal was complicated by the ouster last month of South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been mediating the deal.

Mbeki remains the mediator, but his authority is much reduced as a president toppled by his own party. He plans to fly to Zimbabwe on Monday to try to salvage the deal.

The setback comes as millions of Zimbabweans face severe hunger and inflation topping a mind-boggling 200 million percent.

Zimbabwe used to be one of Africa's richest and most successful economies, with a powerful agricultural sector producing corn, tobacco and beef. After Mugabe's controversial program to seize the land of white farmers without compensation, agricultural production slumped, tilting the entire economy into a catastrophic slide.

"The elite in ZANU-PF is not interested in addressing the current challenges in the country," Chamisa said. "Instead, they are obsessed with power retention at all costs."

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robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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