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Vol 43 No 6

Published 22nd March 2002


On the knife-edge

Neither side wants a power-sharing government but at least it might stop the violence

Quietly, within days of the disputed 10-12 March presidential election, the outline of a deal between Zimbabwe's warring political parties emerged. After two years of rising tension, with one of Africa's most hopeful economies heading for the abyss, it looked like the last chance for political peace. Brokered by South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki and Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, the deal proposes: a coalition government with ministers from all parties and some non-partisan figures; a review of recent oppressive laws on public assembly and the media; full implementation of the Abuja agreement stipulating orderly land redistribution, to be financed by Britain and international financial institutions. Also under discussion is the dropping of treason charges against Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, and its Secretary General, Welshman Ncube. Tsvangirai was formally charged on 20 March in a move that will make negotiations even more problematic Time is pressing. The mood in the streets of Harare and Bulawayo is angry and mainly backs the MDC; almost everyone believes Tsvangirai was cheated of victory. The anger is not just political. The United Nations World Food Programme says over 500,000 people are malnourished and three times as many have registered for food aid. Usually cautious commentators forecast maize-meal riots within weeks, unless the government organises emergency distribution ­ not just to the ruling party's supporters.

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