A make-or-break meeting looms on Monday between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and prime minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai following the opposition leader's Thursday announcement that he is heading back to Zimbabwe after six weeks in South Africa and Botswana for crucial discussions on the future of the power sharing process.
Though Tsvangirai told reporters in Johannesburg that he is committed to power-sharing and forming a government of national unity to address the multi-faceted humanitarian disaster in Zimbabwe where economic collapse and hunger have been compounded by a devastating cholera epidemic, he insisted he will only join such a government on equal terms.
His comments did not convey optimism at this stage of the process four months after the Sept. 15 signature of a "global political agreement" by ZANU-PF and both MDC formations.
Tsvangirai told a news conference that "the ZANU-PF regime has frustrated every effort to make the deal work" and that "Mr. Mugabe and his party have, on numerous occasions, violated [political agreements] with impunity," citing "arbitrary abduction and arrest of opposition, civic society leaders and known democratic activists."
However, he said, "I still believe that a political agreement offers the best means of preventing Zimbabwe from becoming a failed state. I am committed to forming a new inclusive government in Zimbabwe and all I lack is a willing partner."
He listed five items or issues that needed to be resolved for the proposed unity government to be formed with his participation: legislation creating a national security council that would govern national security forces; the equitable allocation of ministries; appointments of top officials such as ministerial permanent secretaries, provincial governors and ambassadors; ending what he alleged to be ZANU-PF breaches of political agreements; and the passage and signing into law of a constitutional amendment enabling the new government.
Motlanthe's office confirmed later Thursday that the Tsvangirai-Mugabe meeting will include rival MDC formation leader Arthur Mutambara, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe - currently chairman of the Southern African Development Community which has a huge stake in keeping Zimbabwean power-sharing alive - former South African President Thabo Mbeki, long mediator in the crisis, and Mozambican President Armando Emilio Guebuza.
Tsvangirai was also scheduled to meet on the weekend with his party's national executive council to examine whether his MDC formation should remain engaged in the power-sharing process. However, Tsvangirai declared his commitment to the process so long as his political conditions are met and the government releases MDC and civil society activists abducted last year and in some cases charged with plotting to overthrow Mr. Mugabe.
Tsvangirai demanded the unconditional release of all those opposition activists who number more than 40 with 11 still missing and the rest in various stages of prosecution.
From Johannesburg, Benedict Nhlapho of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported that the MDC leader said he is committed but has no willing partner in Mr. Mugabe.
Responding to Tsvangirai’s announcement, Chief Parliamentary Whip Joram Gumbo of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party welcomed the MDC leader's decision to return, saying he hoped this would lead to the formation of a government able to tackle critical problems.