African summit planned to break Zimbabwe power deadlock

Zimbabwe’s neighbours will hold a summit to try to resolve the southern African nation’s power-sharing impasse.

A deal signed on September 15 has stalled over how to share government ministries among President Robert Mugabe’s party, Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change and a smaller opposition group.

Mr Tsvangirai accuses Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, of trying to hold on to too many of the most powerful posts.

Tomas Salomao, executive secretary of the 14-member Southern African Development Community, said at a news conference in Harare that control of the ministry in charge of police – accused in widespread attacks on the opposition - was the main sticking point.

Mr Salomao said the planned extraordinary summit would consider a recommendation that the ministry be rotated, with the two main parties - Mugabe’s and Mr Tsvangirai’s – holding it for six months or a year.

The opposition has resisted such an arrangement, which could further complicate an already cumbersome power-sharing proposal. But Mr Tsvangirai gained at least a small victory in getting the members of a key SADC committee that met in Harare yesterday to accept his call for all 14 SADC leaders to meet. The opposition says only a full SADC summit has the authority to pressure Mugabe.

Zimbabwe has been on the agenda of repeated SADC mini and full summits, and the leaders have slowly, but surely, pushed long-time, increasingly autocratic leader Mugabe to accept more and more compromises.

Several SADC leaders have shown growing impatience with Mugabe, and may press him hard behind closed doors at a summit.

The meeting was attended by Mugabe, Mr Tsvangirai, opposition faction leader Arthur Mutambara and leaders from South Africa, Angola, Mozambique and Swaziland - the last three make up SADC’s troika, a special committee on politics, defense and security. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki attended as the mediator who brokered the deal.

Mr Salamao said the troika recommended “the holding of a full SADC summit to further review the current political situation in Zimbabwe as a matter of urgency”. A date and place were not immediately set.

An agreement in Zimbabwe would allow politicians to turn their attention to the nation’s economic meltdown, which has led to chronic shortages of food, gasoline and most basic goods; daily outages of power and water; and the collapse of health and education services.

Zimbabweans are struggling with the world’s highest official inflation rate of 231 million percent. The United Nations predicts half the population will need food aid by next year.

On Sunday the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights called for urgent action to repair water and sewage systems to avert a cholera epidemic in upcoming seasonal rains.

It reported at least 120 preventable deaths across the county this year from cholera. At least 27 people have died in the past month.

In a reflection of inflation, the main state daily newspaper cost 10 Zimbabwe dollars shortly before the power-sharing deal was signed. Yesterday’s edition cost 20,000 Zimbabwe dollars, (39c) at the dominant black market exchange rate.

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