HARARE, August 27 – Zimbabwe’s opposition said Wednesday it will not join any new government with President Robert Mugabe until power-sharing talks are concluded, after the 84-year-old declared he would name his own cabinet.,
The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change described Mugabe’s intention to form a government regardless of the opposition as "a declaration of war against the people".
Mugabe’s move is a blow to power-sharing negotiations which have been stalled for the past two weeks and outlines the scale of the task facing mediator Thabo Mbeki, the South African president, to get them back on track.
Mugabe spoke at a lunch Tuesday after the opening of parliament when opposition jeers drowned out parts of his ceremonial opening speech.
"We shall soon be setting up a government. The MDC does not want to come in apparently," the government newspaper, The Herald, quoted him as saying.
"This time they have been promised by the British that sanctions would be more devastating, that in six months’ time the government will collapse," Mugabe told the lunch.
"I do not know when that day will come. I wish (MDC leader Morgan) Tsvangirai well on that day," Mugabe added.
The comments drew an angry response from the both factions of the opposition.
"It’s very clear that if he announces the new cabinet it’s a declaration of war against the people. You can’t just have a cabinet without a mandate," MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told AFP.
Chamisa accused Mugabe of trying to "hijack the leadership" of Zimbabwe and said the veteran leader was trying to ride roughshod over his political opponents.
"He should wait for the conclusion of the dialogue together with the MDC, and Mr Tsvangirai, on the way forward. Otherwise what he is doing is a recipe for disaster."
Chamisa said the talks remained stalled and appealed to Mbeki and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which appointed him mediator to urgently intervene as Zimbabwe was "sliding and gliding into anarchy".
"The talks have not been formally terminated so the natural conclusion is that the talks are on," Chamisa said.
"But there hasn’t been any formal communication from SADC, from President Mbeki, to say this is the way forward."
Edwin Mushoriwa, spokesman for the smaller MDC faction with whom Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party could conceivably form a majority in parliament, said it would not join a Mugabe government.
"We are actually looking forward to the conclusion of the dialogue when Mugabe and (MDC leader Morgan) Tsvangirai form a transitional government," Mushoriwa said.
South African Race Relations deputy chief executive Frans Cronje said Mugabe’s announcement was a last resort of intimidation and defiance by the veteran leader.
"He is now left with limited options and is faced with signs of disunity within his ZANU PF members," said Cronje.
"Mugabe is a skilled political warhorse who has done so much to buy time for his term in power. He can only lose through talks," he said.
On Wednesday, police were still holding five MDC deputies in custody following their arrest this week, and a bid by the opposition’s number two Tendai Biti to dismiss treason charges brought ahead of the presidential run-off vote in June, was adjourned to November.
Mugabe had on Tuesday faced a hostile parliament for the first time in his 28-year rule, as the opposition majority booed, heckled and sung through his speech.
"ZANU is rotten" chanted MDC deputies, who hold 100 seats to the once all-powerful ZANU-PFs 99 following the March general election. A breakaway opposition faction holds 10 seats with one independent making up the 210-seat assembly.
The opposition denounced the opening of parliament as meaningless, saying it violated a deal signed in July ahead of the power-sharing talks.