The Plan Comes Unstuck

When Tsvangirai refused to sign the agreement already approved by both Mugabe and Mutambara two weeks ago, it is sure that the one person who was not surprised was Mugabe. He knew from the beginning that Tsvangirai would never agree to the post of Prime Minister with responsibility but no power. In fact the wily old devil had been negotiating for a long time knowing that when the final crunch came, Tsvangirai would walk away.

But the plan started to unravel before he had any opportunity to gloat. The MDC did not just refuse to sign but put in an alternative that in their view was practical, consistent with the outcome of the March 29th elections and workable. The second development was that Mr. Mbeki did not automatically endorse the idea of a unity government between Zanu and the Mutambara faction of the MDC. Instead he said that the problem would go to the SADC summit that weekend for arbitration and that he would go on from there.

Even so Mugabe was still confident - he knew how to handle his detractors in the SADC and was a past master at subterfuge. At the summit Tsvangirai ran into a situation where he faced not just a recalcitrant Mugabe, but also Mutambara and Welshman Ncube who made it clear, in both the plenary and the closed sessions that they were backing Mugabe in this situation. They argued that we were being unreasonable in not signing the deal as they had already done and that if Tsvangirai continued to refuse to sign up, they would go into a unity government with Zanu PF.

Mutambara played the role of 'power broker' claiming that he held the balance of power between Zanu and the MDC and would use that influence to ensure that a unity government under Mugabe would have a majority in Parliament. As you can imagine this created severe difficulties for Tsvangirai and his team as well as for our many friends in the region.

So the SADC summit decided to test the Mugabe/Mutambara hypothesis and get them to convene Parliament and see who ended up controlling the House of Assembly. Mbeki called for the formal opening of Parliament and in 10 days this was put into effect. After a delay of 5 months Parliament was called and on Monday the new Members of Parliament and the Senate were sworn into office.

The issue at stake was quite simple - who controlled a majority in the lower House and therefore the third arm of the State? Behind the scenes activity was intense. Both Zanu and the MDC Mutambara held caucuses with their representatives and tried to whip them into line. Threats were made against those expected to rebel against the Party line and the regime pulled out all the stops to try and whittle down the MDC majority. They attempted to bribe MP's they issued warrants of arrest against others and there were blatant attempts to threaten and intimidate.

The MDC went to great lengths to protect their legislators - people in hiding were given security and moved to safe houses, MP's were ordered to switch accommodation at the last minute to ensure their safety overnight. On the day, those MP's who were under threat (15 of them) were transported to the Parliament and then smuggled into the building via a back door. Those using the front door, even with diplomats watching, were arrested - one escaping and making it into the building and the other two being hauled off to the Central Police Station. We managed to get one out of police custody in time for him to be sworn and to vote, but we were one short when we convened at 10.00 hrs.

After the swearing in, we were asked to elect a Speaker by secret ballot. The atmosphere was electric - the tensions between the MDC, many of whom were new, and the Zanu PF benches were palpable. Zanu PF were supremely confident. I voted and then walked out of the building with a Zanu PF legislator. He said to me 'you know what is happening in there?' he said pointing back into the House? 'You are going to lose this vote, we have bought many of your people and you cannot win against a disciplined Zanu PF!' I grunted in reply 'wait and see'.

At 13.30 hrs the place erupted - MDC had won the vote for Speaker by 110 votes to 98. We then went on to elect his deputy and this was also MDC. We now controlled the lower House and the Parliamentary Committees. Under our constitution the Speaker is the third most important post in the country. When the President is incapacitated he acts as the President until a new President is elected. Zanu PF was completely stunned - it was their first defeat in the House for 28 years.

The majority of the Mutambara MP's and 4 Zanu PF legislators voted for our candidate. The first major defection by Zanu PF legislators since we entered the fray in 2000. It gave the MDC control of the House and a clear response to the question raised by the SADC leadership. It also meant that Mutambara is probably finished politically and that Mugabe's plan to form a unity government with him and to then move on without Tsvangirai, controlling a majority in the House that Zanu PF could gradually increase by eliminating MDC legislators, in tatters.

Mbeki was not long in responding and called for the talks to resume to deal with the remaining issues. There is not a great deal to talk about - 98 per cent of the agreement has been wrapped up and it's just the central aspect of the power and authority of the Prime Minister and the issue of the governors and the special Senate seats (5) that are outstanding. Mugabe must now face his regional mentors against the background that he has lost an election, held a run off election that was not recognised by the region and is in limbo politically. He has also now lost control of the Lower House and faces grave difficulties in securing support for his legislative programme, including budgets.

It would appear that the plan for a unity government has more or less collapsed. Mugabe was holding back two Senate seats and two governor positions, I suspect as rewards for Mutambara and Ncube. I also hear that Munangagwa was set to be appointed to the watered down position of PM and that they would then implement the deal and claim legitimacy from the SADC process. Instead they are again thrown into the lion's den with a hungry, angry lion and no defence.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 28th August 2008