HARARE, September 15 – Zimbabwe’s leaders signed a historic deal on Monday that will see President Robert Mugabe share power with his bitter arch-rival in a bid to end a ruinous political crisis.
Mugabe, 84, was greeted with some jeers as he entered the Rainbow Towers hotel in Harare for the signing. Tsvangirai was applauded by the audience, made up mostly of members of the opposition-dominated parliament.
While questions remain over whether the power-sharing deal can work in practice, South African President Thabo Mbeki, who brokered the agreement, has expressed confidence it will allow to address an economic meltdown that has caused major food shortages.
Regional leaders attended the ceremony in the Zimbabwean capital, with some having earlier raised deep concern over the crisis that they feared could have effects throughout southern Africa.
The new government is the result of protracted talks mediated by Mbeki between Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Morgan Tsvangirai.
Both men have been bitter rivals for years, and the 84-year-old Mugabe had pledged in the past that the opposition would never rule in his lifetime.
The veteran leader, a hero in the country’s liberation war who has since been accused of trampling on human rights, has ruled since independence from in 1980.
While details of the accord reached on Thursday were to be formally unveiled later Monday, a source close to the talks told AFP that both Mugabe and Tsvangirai would co-lead the economically battered nation.
"Mugabe will chair cabinet, while Tsvangirai takes charge of a national security council which consists of 31 cabinet ministers," said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"Power will be shared, no one will get more power than the other party, even (in) the hiring and firing of cabinet members," the source explained.
"All decisions are made by the council, but the council will have to report back to Mugabe."
Mugabe would remain president, while Tsvangirai, who has survived treason charges and a severe beating by security forces in his long effort to topple his rival, is to be prime minister.
The president is to remain in control of the armed forces, sources have said, while Tsvangirai’s powers would include authority over the police and secret services.
A number of Western nations, including the and , have cautiously welcomed the accord saying they would wait to study its full details.
The deal has raised hopes that the country’s economic freefall can now be effectively addressed.
Over the past decade ‘s economy has collapsed with the world’s highest inflation rate, chronic shortages of foreign currency and food, skyrocketing unemployment and widespread hunger.
The political crisis intensified after Mugabe’s re-election in a widely condemned June run-off poll.
Tsvangirai boycotted the vote despite finishing ahead of Mugabe in the March first round, citing a campaign of violence and intimidation against his supporters that had killed dozens and injured thousands.
Mugabe’s ruling party also lost its majority in parliament in the March elections for the first time since independence.