Optimism as Zimbabwe talks resume

Click to follow

Talks aimed at forming a government of national unity to end Zimbabwe's long political crisis resumed today amid mounting optimism.

Both President Robert Mugabe and the main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai were relatively upbeat when they emerged late yesterday from negotiations mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

The official Herald newspaper reported today that there was optimism about reaching a solution to the key stumbling bloc — who should have the top position in government.

Tsvangirai has insisted on being head of government and chairing Cabinet meetings, with Mugabe in the largely ceremonial position of head of state. But Mugabe is unwilling to surrender much of the power he has wielded since independence from Britain in 1980.

"We are still going to talk. There is progress and lack of it. There are principally one or two areas that need to be finalized," Mugabe was quoted as saying by the Herald as he left a Harare hotel yesterday after four hours of negotiations.

Tsvangirai said, "There's been a positive development."

The Herald, a government mouthpiece, said Mugabe had told Tsvangirai that he would go ahead and form a new government by the end of the week regardless of the outcome in the talks.

Tsvangirai's party won the most votes in legislative and presidential elections in March. Mugabe subsequently was the only candidate in a presidential run-off that followed an onslaught of state-sponsored violence against Tsvangirai's supporters and was widely denounced as a sham.

Since then Mugabe, 84, has faced pressure to reach a deal with the opposition as the only way of breaking the political deadlock.

A political settlement will free leaders to address an economic crisis defined by the world's highest inflation rate and chronic food and fuel shortages. Foreign investors have been wary because of the political uncertainty. Western governments are poised to help with grants and loans, but they will not deal with Mugabe, denounced as a dictator who has trampled on his people's human rights.

That has left Mugabe's economic advisers scrambling. Today, the central bank announced 1,000 retailers, 200 wholesalers and fuel distributors would be able to accept foreign currency as an experiment for at least 18 days.

Already, many Zimbabweans have been fighting inflation by dealing in US dollars and South African rand. Inflation is so volatile that some tradesmen say their estimates of the price of work and materials in Zimbabwean dollars are good for only a few hours.