Zimbabweans 'Tired' Of Political Bigotry
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
We want to turn now to another story we've been following closely in Africa, the ongoing political crisis in Zimbabwe. Six weeks after a power-sharing agreement between the ruling government leaders and a leading opposition party was announced, the two sides still have not come to a resolution on how the agreement will actually be implemented. A U.S. State Department spokesman issued a statement yesterday expressing regret over the impasse and condemning the government of Robert Mugabe for refusing to implement the accord. The statement also expressed concern about the growing humanitarian needs of the country. NPR's West Africa correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, joins us now from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. Welcome back, Ofeibea. Thanks for speaking with us.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Great. Good to be back.
MARTIN: Let's just - if you would you just bring us up to date. Mr. Mugabe - longtime president Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai agreed to this power-sharing deal back in September. This was kind of a long and tortuous process just to get to that point after a disputed election where there was a great deal of violence and chaos and so forth. What did the agreement say and where does the impasse seem to be now? What's the source of the impasse now?
QUIST-ARCTON: Michel, it's fairly and squarely on the last remaining ministry to be allocated. And it's the Ministry of Home Affairs, and here in Zimbabwe, that ministry is in charge of the police and therefore security. You've just mentioned the weeks of violence and turbulence after the disputed presidential election. And the opposition and Western governments and others have said it was mainly the police that was responsible for these attacks on opposition supporters. So the main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, is holding out to have that ministry. On the other hand, President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party also wanted to control the ministry, and that's what's holding up this power-sharing deal, a power-sharing government. Apparently all the other portfolios have been agreed.
MARTIN: The original September agreement was brokered by South African President Thabo Mbeki, who played a very important role in those discussions. He's since been ousted from his post. Do you think that's contributed to the impasse?
QUIST-ARCTON: Well, he's been ousted as president of South Africa, but he is still the regionally mandated mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis. But the fact that - and Monday, I have to tell you, Michel, I got in late on Sunday and spent the whole of Monday plus Monday night at one of the posh hotels here because there was a regional summit. The defense political and security Troika of the Southern African Development Community, the heads of state got together to try to resolve this crisis. They failed. So they have decided that they are going to have a full, extraordinary Southern African summit to try and resolve it. They said it's of matter of urgency, but it's Thursday now and we still don't know where the meeting will be and when. So they're certainly broadening the mediation but whether the region will be able to end this impasse is a big question at the moment.
MARTIN: Now, as you just mentioned, you've only been there a little while and just getting your feet on the ground there. But can you talk about what the conditions are there now? Earlier when you visited you talked about some fairly dire conditions. What are things like now? How are people getting food, gasoline, things of that sort?
QUIST-ARCTON: Michel, if I look out of my hotel window, Harare is a very neat and organized city. You wouldn't really know that there was a crisis until you go downstairs onto the street. This is line city. Zimbabweans have to queue up, make long lines for everything. They have to line up to get money out of the bank, but the money they get out of the bank will only buy - what? Maybe a loaf of bread, maybe a little bit of millie-meal(ph) cornmeal, the main staple, or I'm told, you know, two and a half bananas.
Zimbabweans are suffering, and they're still neatly dressed. But Michel, if you look closely at the frayed colors of the men, if you look at the schoolchildren who are still wearing uniform, but everybody's shoes are worn down, completely worn down. They're still having trouble getting fuel. There are food shortages. Now they have what they call foreign exchange shops, but if anything, that's creating division among Zimbabweans because those who have a job are earning local currency. How are they going to get South African rand or U.S. dollars in this economy where inflation is running at 230 million percent? So people are saying this might cause trouble. People who don't have anything anyway, seeing some shops that do have stuff, but of course, they can't afford to buy and don't have the foreign exchange to buy it. So things are pretty - still pretty bad.
MARTIN: Are basic services still functioning? Are the schools still open, transportation, such as it is?
QUIST-ARCTON: Everything has become tougher than what I witnessed six months ago. You know, when you talk to people about school, they say, yes, sometimes their kids do go to school, but instead of school fees now, you know, Michel - you know what some parents are trying to do? They're trying to pay - barter school fees. So they'll give like a cow to the school or a goat to the school, or if they have managed to grow some sort of crop they'll exchange that for school fees. Schoolteachers are, of course, passive. The economic meltdown here - so they are being very poorly paid. So there's a knock-on(ph) effect all the way around this country.
Zimbabweans are tired of the political bickering. They want their leaders to get together and agree to a power-sharing government that's - so that whoever is in control of the country, President Mugabe's people, Morgan Tsvangirai's people, the lesser opposition leaders, a group, that they're going to propel this country forward. And until there is some sort of agreement, anyone who's prepared to give real aid to Zimbabwe is holding back.
MARTIN: As I mentioned earlier, the U.S. has called for immediate resolution of the impasse. So has the United Nations. Do these entities have any leverage in calling for a resolution of this crisis? And if they don't, who does?
QUIST-ARCTON: At the moment, the ball is in the court of the region, Southern Africa. And as I've said, we're awaiting this emergency summit that they're meant to be having on the Zimbabwe crisis. But I think the opposition - the main opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai, is seeing this as a last chance. If the region doesn't manage to resolve the conflict - the political conflict, doesn't manage to help them towards a power-sharing government - and it's meant to be a national unity Cabinet involving all the parties here in Zimbabwe - then I think he's going to call for more international mediation.
QUIST-ARCTON: Just here in Africa. But as you say, the United Nations, possibly the U.S. and others, under former colonial power (unintelligible).
MARTIN: And finally, Ofeibea, just briefly, if you would, we mentioned earlier that opposition supporters - supported by outside observers - were believed to be the targets of violence directed by government forces. Has that stopped or do they still feel that they are being harassed?
QUIST-ARCTON: The brutalities that we saw April, May into June, that has calmed down. But we're still seeing peaceful demonstrators, women, Michel, who are being taken into custody. So there is still a feeling, if not a fear. Certainly Zimbabweans are being careful, and they're certainly not prepared to go onto the streets to demonstrate.
MARTIN: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is NPR's West Africa correspondent. She joined us on the phone from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. Ofeibea, thank you so much for speaking with us. and take care of yourself.
QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you.
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