The vexed question of Morgan Tsvangirai’s passport – or his lack of one for reasons that are disputed – could top the agenda on Monday when Southern African Development Community leaders will try break the deadlock in Zimbabwe's troubled power-sharing process.
A government spokesman told VOA on Friday that Tsvangirai would be entitled to a diplomatic passport if he signs off on an allocation of ministries in the proposed national unity government - but added that barring such a deal he must wait in line like any other Zimbabwean.
Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of Tsvangirai’s formation of the Movement for Democratic Change said the government’s failure to provide Tsvangirai with a passport despite his status as prime minister-designate is evidence of bad faith on the part of the long-ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe, against whom Tsvangirai is pitted in the deadlock.
MDC and government officials differ over the reason why Tsvangirai failed to make it Monday to a meeting of the SADC troika or committee on politics in Mbabane, Swaziland, Harare saying it issued the necessary emergency travel document, the MDC saying that was insufficient.
SADC officials subsequently shifted the venue to Harare, making a passport unnecessary, but Tsvangirai's lack of one has come to symbolize his situation as prime minister-in-waiting with no real powers in a national unity government that some doubt will ever come into being.
Government officials say Harare lacks special paper for passports - but ordinary Zimbabweans can get a passport in 24 hours if they pay Z$5 million – or for even faster service, US$250.
But VOA sources say there is also a list of people who will be refused a passport at any price.
ZANU-PF insiders told VOA that party hardliners have given the bureaucracy instructions not to issue a passport from Tsvangirai so as to frustrate him. The MDC says this makes Tsvangirai a
prisoner in effect, unable to travel freely to lobby for support in the Southern African region and beyond, as he did extensively and effectively in the turbulent period following March elections.
Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Tsvangirai cannot receive special treatment as he is still an ordinary citizen.
But political analyst Peter Kagwanja, head of the Africa Policy Institute in Pretoria, said Harare's denial of a passport to Tsvangirai is an inexcusable breach of civil rights.