One million will starve, says Tsvangirai

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai issued a stark warning to regional heads of government yesterday, telling them that one million of his countrymen would “starve to death” unless a new government was formed immediately.

The man who won March's presidential election, told regional leaders at an emergency summit in Johannesburg that president Robert Mugabe's refusal to honour the power sharing deal signed up to two months ago was killing the southern African country. The former union leader who was forced out of the second round of voting by a murderous campaign targeting his supporters, told the five heads of that they must set a deadline for a real power-sharing government.

"Only a genuine power-sharing arrangement will allow the MDC to join a new government because that is our mandate from the people of Zimbabwe and we cannot and will not betray their hopes and dreams for a better future," he said in the speech, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

Mr Tsvangirai, who would be prime minister under the mooted deal, cited inflation running at more than 200 trillion percent and mounting malnutrition, blaming the ruling party's stubborn determination to hold on to power at all costs.

"The people of Zimbabwe are suffering and they need immediate salvation. Frustration and anger is setting in and I hope and trust that the leadership in this room will be equal to the task that history has imposed on you," he said.

The stalemate has been cast by the ruling party as a petty squabble over ministerial positions but analysts point out that Zanu-PF lost both the parliamentary and presidential vote in March, and has opted to let their people starve rather than share power with the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

There is growing regional impatience over the stalemate and South Africa's new President Kgalema Motlanthe – who took over from Mugabe sympathiser Thabo Mbeki -- said the power-sharing deal offered the only hope for Zimbabwe to rescue its collapsed economy. However, the regional grouping, SADC, has a disappointing record on taking tough measures, such as sanctions, to force an agreement over cabinet posts.

After the historic photo opportunity where he shook hands with Mr Tsavangirai on 15 September, Mr Mugabe has returned to his traditional, intransigent tactics behind closed doors and attempted to deny his new governmental partners any meaningful authority. The ruling party continues to insist that it holds onto executive power and total control over the security apparatus that is has used ruthlessly on its own population in months of serious political intimidation.

The MDC general secretary and lead negotiator Tendai Biti said that prospects for a workable deal were remote but could not be abandoned.

“We have to keep the faith. We have people dying of cholera in tents. The hospitals are empty and closing down. There is no clean water and no food on the shelves.”

Mr Biti also rubbished claims from Zanu's Patrick Chinamasa that the MDC had been offered joint control over the interior ministry.

Diplomats warned that the ruling party – concerned at possible indictments and loss of plundered assets -- would stall for up to three months rather than give away any authority.

At independence Zimbabwe had the second largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa and produced enough food to feed the region. After 28 years of Mugabe rule it has the lowest life expectancy in the world and its population is fed by a combination of remittances from the millions who have fled the country, and the World Food Programme.

The meeting adjourned last night to consider both parties' presentations.

South Africa had promised before the meeting to take a new tough stance in sharp contrast to the “quiet diplomacy” of former president Mr Mbeki. Botswana has risked a breakdown in its relations with Mr Mugabe's administration by openly calling for fresh elections in Zimbabwe. Both countries have been overwhelmed with refugees fleeing the meltdown in Zimbabwe, with South Africa thought to be sheltering as many as 3 million people from its northern neighbour.