By CELIA W. DUGGER and CAIPHAS CHIMHETE
Published: October 16, 2009
JOHANNESBURG — Eight months after entering a power-sharing deal with President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai announced Friday that he and his party would boycott cabinet meetings and withdraw from dealing with Mr. Mugabe’s party, in the biggest breach yet in the transitional government.
“It is our right to disengage from a dishonest and unreliable partner,” Mr. Tsvangirai said at a news conference in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital.
The catalyst for this step was the jailing Wednesday of Roy Bennett, Mr. Tsvangirai’s deputy agriculture minister-designate, a white farmer who is scheduled to stand trial Monday on three-year-old terrorism charges that his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, says are fabricated. But even after Mr. Bennett was granted bail on Friday after the news conference, officials in his party said their decision to disengage had not changed.
“This is the time for us to say enough is enough,” said Thabitha Khumalo, a spokeswoman for the M.D.C.
Mr. Tsvangirai laid out a broad array of grievances. He accused Mr. Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, of selectively using the law to punish his legislators, putting 16,000 members of its youth militia on the government payroll and remilitarizing the countryside on bases used in last year’s discredited election to organize a campaign of terror against his supporters.
Although he stopped short of quitting the government, Mr. Tsvangirai warned that if the crisis was not resolved and a working relationship restored, he would call for elections supervised by the United Nations.
A former ZANU-PF information minister, Jonathan Moyo, who recently rejoined Mr. Mugabe’s party, said Friday that the M.D.C.’s decision to disengage would reduce the party and the prime minister to political irrelevance.
He said the M.D.C. had decided to act because of pressure from what he called “the Roy Bennett constituency, a Rhodie constituency, the former white Rhodesians in the army and farming community.” Before it gained independence from white minority rule in 1980, Zimbabwe was called Rhodesia.
“You say you’ve disengaged, but are not pulling out,” Mr. Moyo said. “That’s nonsensical. You’re either in or out.”
Mr. Tsvangirai’s strategy appears to be in part an effort to get senior political leaders in the African Union and the Southern African Development Community — guarantors of the power-sharing deal — to put pressure on Mr. Mugabe to act in a more conciliatory manner. But the move also reflects rising anger in the ranks of the Movement for Democratic Change. Mr. Tsvangirai, who outpolled Mr. Mugabe in elections last year but withdrew from the runoff after an onslaught of attacks on his supporters, has sought to put a good face on the deal in recent months. He had argued that the country and its devastated economy had stabilized.
But Mr. Bennett’s jailing after uneventfully spending seven months on bail seemed to have been the breaking point for the M.D.C. Mr. Tsvangirai said it “brought home the fiction of the credibility and integrity of the transitional government.”
Although no one has been prosecuted for the murders of about 200 people before last year’s presidential runoff, or the abduction and torture of the human right activist Jestina Mukoko in December by state agents, seven M.D.C. members of Parliament have been convicted on what Mr. Tsvangirai called “shadowy charges,” and others still face prosecution.
The state’s pursuit of Mr. Bennett, a senator from Manicaland Province, has aggravated animosities. One of Mr. Tsvangirai’s demands has been that Attorney General Johannes Tomana, a Mugabe loyalist, be replaced.
After months of relative quiet, civic leaders and human rights workers said this week that tensions were mounting.
Requesting anonymity because of the risk of retribution, they distributed a memorandum on Thursday reporting that ZANU-PF members had been rounding up people in Mashonaland East Province and insisting that they chant ZANU-PF slogans or sign up for training.
In one case, the memo says, villagers were told that their heads would be chopped off if they opposed the version of a new constitution that ZANU-PF favors, which retains Mr. Mugabe’s extensive powers.
Harsh criticism of M.D.C. officials in the state-run Herald, the sole daily newspaper, and on television, a state-controlled monopoly, has also created frustration.
The education minister, David Coltart, who belongs to a splinter faction of the M.D.C., said the regional development group should have a permanent representative in Zimbabwe. Tomas A. Salamao, executive secretary of the development group, could not be reached for comment on Friday.
“They just assume the protagonists can manage on their own,” Mr. Coltart said. “But this has been a long and bloody struggle. It’s simply unreasonable to think we can muddle through.”
Celia W. Dugger reported from Johannesburg, and Caiphas Chimhete from Harare, Zimbabwe.
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