Zimbabwe’s political rivals signed a historic power-sharing deal on Monday that many hope will be the first step to end the country’s decade old political and economic crisis.
The deal, brokered by Southern President Thabo Mbeki will see President Robert Mugabe ceding some of his executive powers for the first time in his 28 year-old rule.
Mr Mugabe, main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai and Professor Arthur Mutambara who leads the small faction of the MDC, officially signed the agreement before a cheering crowd and leaders from neighbouring countries.
African leaders including, Tanzania’s Jikaya Kikwete, who is also the current African Union chairman, and King Mswati of Swaziland witnessed the signing.
The former warring parties immediately pledged to work together to halt Zimbabwe’s further slide into economic destruction.
“We have people who are going to work together who used to be enemies,” Prof Mutambara said. “This government has to make some very painful decisions to drive the country forward.
“Painful decisions, courageous decisions have to be taken. Leadership is about making unpopular decisions popular. We must deliver the promise of the agreement.”
Mr Tsvangirai also admitted it would be a challenge for them to work together when they have been enemies for a long time.
“People may ask, how we, who have been enemies for so long, will work together … Let us turn our fighting swords into ploughing shears,” he said quoting from Mr Mugabe’s inaugural speech as the first Prime Minister of independent Zimbabwe.
“I have signed this agreement because I believe it presents the best opportunity for us … The road ahead is long and will not be easy, it will need patience and virtue. I call on supporters of Zanu PF and the MDC to unite as Zimbabweans for the national good.”
Mr Mugabe, who was retained as the Head of State but had his powers to control government clipped extensively, said the agreement would only succeed if the leaders “walk the same route”.
“There are a lot of things in the agreement which I didn’t, and which I still don’t like. There are also a number of things in the agreement which he (Tsvangirai) didn’t like, and still does not like,” he said.
“We have to walk, and walk the same route. We have been walking the same route without knowing it, or not recognising each other. We may disagree on that route … but now there are areas we find ourselves in agreement”.
Under the deal, Mr Mugabe will retain his role as the head of state, while Mr Tsvangirai will take the newly created role of Prime Minister. Prof Mutambara will be one of Tsvangirai’s two deputies.
Meanwhile, Police had to fire warning shots to disperse thousands of supporters of the rival political parties who tried to enter the venue of the signing ceremony.
The clashes did not last long, as riot police who were on standby quickly moved in and separated the clashing groups.
This, noted analysts, was an indication that although there was agreement among political leaders on the deal, “there is still a lot of sensitisation they need to do to their supporters.
“This is one of the biggest challenges that will face the implementation stage: getting the supporters of the respective parties to implement the agreement,” said Bishop Ancelimo Magaya, a leader of the Christian Alliance, a grouping of churches and Christian civil society organisations.
“There is a culture of political intolerance among the structures of the respective political parties. There are still a number of rough issues to be dealt with, this is just the beginning. The challenge is now on the respective parties to instil that understanding and tolerance among their supporters.”
While the parties were celebrating the signing of the deal, a note of caution was sounded for them to commit themselves to the implementation of the deal.
And the parties also admitted implementation would be a challenge. Mr Kikwete said “appending signatures on the agreement is one thing, implementing it is another”.
Kenya based Zimbabwean human rights lawyer, Mr Brian Kagoro said the deal was “one of those unique cases, where either side was doomed if they signed the deal and they were equally doomed if they didn’t”.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Professor Eldred Masunungure, said the violence that erupted outside the Rainbow Towers Hotel – the venue of the signing ceremony – was one of the first indications of the “big challenge the parties will have to convince their supporters that this was indeed a worthwhile compromise”.
“These are some of the issues that now need to be addressed. But the fact that we have the leaders agreeing shows that we have something,” he said.
Civil rights activist, Mr Daniel Molokele said the deal could be used “as a good starting point for all of us as we try to take Zimbabwe forward”.
“In spite of its compromised nature, this kind of change could be the best we could have had in the circumstances,” he said.
Dr John Makumbe, a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe and well known critic of President Mugabe said given the dire economic situation in the country the political leaders must be prepared to make a lot of sacrifices for the deal to work.
“It’s a fragile agreement, it’s like you are holding eggs, where the stuff inside is rich and good but the shell is very thin and very fragile,” he said. “If you break it everything falls and goes tow waste. Both Zanu PF and the MDC will have to put the country ahead of their partisan interests.”
In the streets of Harare, crowds gathered at shops that had television sets to witness the ceremony broadcast live.
The ruling Zanu PF’s lost its parliamentary majority for the first time to the MDC and President Mugabe also came second in a field of four candidates behind Mr Tsvangirai in presidential race.
However, the opposition leader was forced to withdraw from the presidential run-off following systematic violence against his supporters, leaving Mr Mugabe to run alone.
Despite claiming a landslide, the 84 year-old leader’s victory was rejected by the majority of African leaders who backed Mr Mbeki’s mediation.
The talks that began in July and were originally slated for two weeks dragged on because of a disagreement between Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai on how to share executive powers.