Key aspects of Zimbabwe's power-sharing deal will not go in effect until next month, a government-controlled newspaper said Wednesday, adding to concerns that President Robert Mugabe's agreement to cede some power for the first time in 28 years will founder.
Zimbabwe's constitution needs to be changed to create the post of prime minister, which is to be filled by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Under the power-sharing deal signed Monday, Mugabe remains president.
"These amendments would be tabled before parliament when it opens next month," Mugabe aide Patrick Chinamasa told the government-controlled Herald newspaper, saying there will be no move to open parliament before Oct. 14 as originally planned.
Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, leader of a faction that broke away from Tsvangirai's party, have pledged to make the deal work. But long-simmering and bitter differences as well as the nation's economic collapse have put the deal under intense pressure.
Mugabe, 84, has been in power since independence in 1980 and went from being praised as a liberator who freed the former British colony from minority white rule to being vilified as an autocrat. He and Tsvangirai, 56, have been enemies for a decade, and Tsvangirai has been jailed, beaten, tortured and tried for treason — charges that were dismissed in court.
The power-sharing deal already has been criticized privately by some members of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, who are unhappy that it leaves Mugabe as president and head of the government. They fear Mugabe will exploit that, especially by playing on tensions between the two opposition groups.
On Tuesday, the parties of Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara were to have met to discuss how to share Cabinet posts, but the talks were indefinitely postponed without explanation. It was unclear when the new government would be sworn in.
The agreement provides for 31 ministers — 15 from Mugabe's party, 13 from Tsvangirai's and three from Mutambara's. Allotting those posts will mean pushing out Mugabe loyalists who now hold Cabinet posts.
The Herald said the decision-making politburo of Mugabe's party met Tuesday in Harare to discuss the power-sharing agreement, and that the party's central committee was to meet Wednesday. Ruling party officials would not comment on the politburo meeting, the Herald said.
Neither Nelson Chamisa, Tsvangirai's spokesman, nor George Charamba, Mugabe's spokesman, would speculate Wednesday on when the new government would be sworn in and get to work. Chamisa, though, said leaders would find a way to swear in Tsvangirai even if the post of prime minister did not yet technically exist.
Continued political delay means only more time before dire economic problems can be addressed. A resurgence of violence, though, seemed unlikely. The country has been largely calm since June, and both Mugabe and his rivals say they want the agreement to work.
Chamisa said the delays were worrying in the tense country.
"Clearly there is anxiety in the country," Chamisa said. "People would want to see movement in terms of the realization of the actual deal. As the MDC, we want to urgently respond to the desperate and dire situation Zimbabweans find themselves in."
Charamba, though, said he was confident talks would soon be on track. He said he was spending Wednesday at his farm outside Harare while Mugabe addressed a meeting of top party officials in Harare in preparation for further talks with the other parties.
"If I was worried, I would have been in Harare," Charamba said.
Zimbabwe has the world's highest inflation rate even by the official figure of at 11 million percent, and independent economists put it much higher. Food and other basics are scare, and aid agencies say more and more Zimbabweans are going hungry.
The international Red Cross said Wednesday its trucks would leave warehouses in the main Zimbabwe cities of Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare, carrying maize, beans and cooking oil for some 24,000 needy Zimbabweans. More shipments will follow in coming months.
The nation's central bank put a new 1,000 Zimbabwe dollar note into circulation Wednesday, an acknowledgment of inflation's effect on the buying power of the 500 Zimbabwe note that had been the largest denomination.
Central bank governor Gideon Gono, who has been struggling to address the financial crisis, told The Herald the political settlement gave him hope.
Mugabe's critics say his policies — including his orders in 2000 that white-owned farms be seized and given to blacks — led to the economic collapse. Mugabe blames Western sanctions imposed because of his poor human rights record, saying they have led investors and aid agencies to avoid Zimbabwe.