Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Growing Tensions Over Control of Ministries

Opposition accusing Mugabe of trying to give them insignificant ministries.
By Mike Nyoni
The power-sharing deal between Zimbabwe’s political leaders looked in trouble again this week as confusion and disagreement deepened over the allocation of government ministries.

Indeed, representatives of the country’s political rivals said they may need the help of the facilitator of the deal, Thabo Mbeki, who resigned as South African president earlier this week, to sort out the matter.

Mbeki had been mandated by the Southern African Development Community, SADC last year to facilitate negotiations between President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and the two branches of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC. As a result of the talks, the parties signed an historic power-sharing deal on September 15.

Under the deal, Mugabe remains president of the republic and commander in chief of the army, while Tsvangirai becomes prime minister, in charge of a new council of ministers which will execute government policy. The president remains chairman of the cabinet with the prime minister as his deputy.

The deal, however, did not spell out how key ministries would be divided up, creating room for further tension between the rival parties.

There have already been strong disagreements reported over who will take control of the key ministries of finance, foreign affairs, home affairs and defence, with the MDC – especially the main faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai – accusing Mugabe of trying to give the opposition insignificant ministries.

The deal, signed at a glittering ceremony attended by several SADC leaders at Harare’s five-star Rainbow Towers hotel, gives ZANU-PF 15 ministries, the Tsvangirai’s MDC faction 13 ministries, and the breakaway MDC grouping led by Arthur Mutambara three ministries. There were no details on portfolios.

Before leaving for the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York this week, Mugabe delegated the task of dividing up the ministries to party negotiators. Yet there was no indication that he was in any hurry to name a cabinet to replace the previous one which was dissolved ahead of the harmonised March 29 elections.

A day after Mugabe left for New York, the secretary to the president and cabinet, Dr Misheck Sibanda, announced that ministers should continue to execute their duties as normal until a new cabinet had been constituted.

Mutambara is said to be on a trip to China, while there is no information on Tsvangirai’s whereabouts.

Chief negotiator for ZANU-PF Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said party leaders found the task of deciding the allocation of ministries “too laborious” and said this should be left to negotiators.

Last week, Chinamasa said he was still trying to locate fellow negotiators – his colleague, Labour Minister Nicholas Goche, the Tsvangirai MDC’s Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma and the Mutambara MDC’s Welshman Ncube and Priscilla Mushonga.

He said his fellow negotiators would not have expected that their services would be required so soon after the signing of the power-sharing agreement.

But an analyst, who declined to be named, said this week that the job of dividing up ministries to the parties should be down to Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara.

He said that the agreement should have specified how the ministries would be shared.

The fact that this had not been done has exposed a gross oversight on the part of those involved, including the party leaders who signed the deal, he said.

According to the analyst, two things were clear. The first is that those officials conducting negotiations would also be hoping for jobs in the new government, and would therefore face a conflict of interests.

“It is therefore grossly unfair to expect them to do a fair job of allocating ministries in which they may not have a role once the inclusive government is constituted,” he said.

“Secondly, it is normally the prerogative of the prime minister or the president to allocate ministries. Constitutionally, that is a task which cannot be delegated to mere negotiators.”

However, he said he found it hard to imagine Mugabe and Tsvangirai sitting around the table, haggling over ministries.

University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said the situation had been made worse following Mbeki’s resignation as president of South Africa.

Mbeki returned to South Africa from the triumphal signing ceremony in Harare to find his own job on the line.

This came following a ruling by Judge Chris Nicholson that there had been “political meddling” in the decision to press corruption charges against Mbeki’s political nemesis and likely South African president Jacob Zuma.

In his ruling, the judge implied that Mbeki had influenced the decision by the National Prosecuting Authority to charge Zuma as a way of frustrating his rival’s presidential ambitions after he beat Mbeki for the presidency of the governing African National Congress, ANC, last December.

Mbeki formally resigned on September 21, after the ANC called on him to quit.

The ANC said Mbeki would remain the facilitator in the Zimbabwe talks if his services were required.

Yet Masunungure said that Mbeki’s changed circumstances rendered him an unsuitable candidate to continue the facilitation process.

Nor would it be appropriate for the negotiators to hammer out which ministries would go to which parties, he said.

“The normal thing is for the president and prime minister to allocate the ministries in a balanced fashion,” said Masunungure.

“I doubt that this is a task which can be delegated to ordinary negotiators. I think it is irresponsible.”

Another analyst, who asked not to be identified, said the dispute over the allocation of ministries not only exposed the lack of trust between the parties, but also showed their ignorance of the law.

“For instance, there is a feeling that whoever controls finances can influence decisions by refusing to loosen the purse-strings. This becomes a bargaining tool in negotiations in the future,” he said.

“Similarly, there is a feeling that if you control home affairs – hence the police – you can order them to arrest your opponents. But an arrest cannot be made outside the [terms of the] Police Act. Not even the police commissioner-general can make such an order.”

Mike Nyoni is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.