HARARE Jan 13 – Zimbabwe’s new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was set to swear in a new cabinet on Friday, bringing his party into a fragile union with long-time adversary, President Robert Mugabe.
Mugabe has yet to name the ministers that he will bring to the 15 portfolios reserved for his ZANU-PF party under the unity accord, which is hoped will end nearly a year of political turmoil.
Tsvangirai , who took office on Wednesday, faces the monumental task of forging ties with a man he long derided as a dictator, while pulling the country from an economic collapse driven by world-record inflation.
"This process has to involve a democratisation process, national healing and respecting the rights of citizens," said Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
"There is also need to address the urgent humanitarian crisis in the country," he added.
Zimbabwe’s crisis almost defies comprehension: nearly seven million people need food aid; up to three million have fled the country; unemployment is at 94 percent; and only 20 percent of children are going to school.
Public hospitals are closed, even though 1.3 million people have HIV. A cholera epidemic is ravaging the country, hitting about 70,000 people and killing 3,400 since August.
On his first full day in office on Thursday, Tsvangirai did succeed in winning hospital treatment for three of an estimated 30 activists who were abducted by security forces and held in secret last year.
But analysts say the new cabinet will have to quickly find ways of working together to pull the country from catastrophe.
"It’s really critical that this government comes together and delivers together," said Isabella Matambanadzo, Zimbabwe programme director for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.
"We want to know that we can live in a Zimbabwe where we will not be tortured by our own security forces. We also want to live in a Zimbabwe where we have predictability in our economy."
For his part, Tsvangirai has appointed 14 cabinet ministers, including a co-minister of home affairs who will jointly oversee a portfolio that controls the police with a minister named by Mugabe.
An MDC splinter group also has three cabinet posts.
Mugabe has held for himself the powerful ministries of defence, justice and foreign affairs.
But Tsvangirai has appointed his top aide Tendai Biti to the crucial post of finance minister, handing him the massive challenges of the economy.
He will have to work around Mugabe’s central bank chief Gideon Gono, who deals with inflation by periodically lobbing zeroes off worthless banknotes to keep them out of the trillions.
Biti, like several other of Tsvangirai’s picks, has been the target of treason cases or violent intimidation by Mugabe’s supporters in the decade since the MDC first challenged him.
To rebuild the country, they will need massive foreign investment, but western countries so far say they want to see real improvements from the government first.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he told Tsvangirai that repressive legislation needed to be lifted and new elections held before Zimbabwe would be seen as "an ordinary country."
"I said to him that we would want to see humanitarian aid getting to people who are in a distressed position," Brown said.
"Until the government of Zimbabwe could convince us that there were going to be free and fair elections, and at the same time that there was going to be the removal of repressive legislation … until these things happened, we could not treat Zimbabwe as if it was an ordinary country."