HARARE, Jan 30 – Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said Friday he will join a unity government with President Robert Mugabe, almost a year after disputed polls that plunged the country into crisis.,
Heeding a call by Southern African leaders, Tsvangirai told reporters after a meeting of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that he will be sworn in as prime minister on February 11.
"We are unequivocal, we will go into this government," Tsvangirai said after his party agreed it would go ahead with the unity government.
"The SADC (Southern African Development Community) has decided and we are bound by that decision," he said. "February 11 is the swearing in of the prime minister and the deputy prime minister."
Regional leaders, who have long been trying to persuade the MDC to enter government with Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, held a crisis summit in South Africa at the start of the week when they urged the feuding parties to implement a stalled power-sharing agreement by mid-February.
The 15-nation bloc maintains that the accord signed last September is the best chance to pull Zimbabwe out of a political and economic crisis since disputed polls in March but it has been held up by disputes over key posts.
Negotiators from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the MDC met Friday to try to iron out details of the plan, before MDC leaders met to decide whether to accept the deal.
"We decided to join this agreement because we were given concessions by SADC that our concerns would be addressed, and we have since seen that some of the issues are already now being addressed," a senior party official told AFP before Tsvangirai’s announcement.
Mugabe’s party has already said it accepts the SADC timeframe, and has previously threatened to set up a unity government with or without Tsvangirai.
"ZANU-PF is fully behind this resolution and the politburo has endorsed it," party spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira told the state-run Herald newspaper this week.
"President Mugabe is now expected to start rolling out the process to implement the agreement according to recommendations of the regional bloc," he said after the 84-year-old’s return from the emergency regional meeting.
Zimbabwe has been in meltdown since elections last March when Tsvangirai pushed Mugabe into second place but fell short of an overall majority.
A cholera outbreak has claimed more than 3,000 lives, more than half the population is in need of food aid and the last official estimate put the rate of inflation at 231 million percent.
The extent of the economic breakdown was highlighted Thursday in a new budget that for the first time allows Zimbabweans to conduct their daily business in US dollars or South African rands.
The decision formalised the forex trading that has become the only way for Zimbabweans to buy even basic goods, in a country where trillions of dollars in local currency are needed to buy a loaf of bread.
The extent of the cholera crisis was further underlined Friday when the World Health Organization said the number of deaths had reached 3,161, out of 60,401 recorded cases.
Eric Laroche, a WHO assistant director-general, warned the outbreak would continue unabated unless "political differences are put aside," impoverished Zimbabwean health workers are paid, and the country’s health system is bolstered.
Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader, has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980 and the country was seen as a post-colonial sucess story in the first two decades after independence.
His first election round defeat in March was followed by a brutal wave of political violence. Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off, citing violence against his supporters, leaving Mugabe to declare a one-sided victory in June.
Few African leaders have publicly criticised Mugabe but Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade evoked the idea of him standing down on Friday, by saying he had offered him asylum.
"If he leaves power he will not go to Europe," Wade said in a debate on Africa at the World Economic Forum in Davos, "so I told him: ‘Come to Senegal’."
"My friend Mugabe does not want to make concessions, we are at a dead end, he can no longer govern the country alone," added the Senegal leader.