Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Mugabe Silent Over MDC Talks

President’s independence anniversary speech sidesteps negotiations with the opposition.
By Norman Chitapi
Those hoping for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to shed light on the burning issue of talks between the ruling ZANU-PF and opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, during his independence anniversary address this week were left disappointed.

Local observers and diplomats were looking for clarity from the Zimbabwean leader following dismissive comments in The Voice, the ZANU-PF mouthpiece, earlier this week, where the paper said no talks would take place until the MDC stopped acting like “puppets of the West”.

During his address to 40,000 people at the Rufaro stadium in Harare on April 20 to mark 27 years of independence, Mugabe made no mention of negotiations.

Nevertheless, he made clear his line of attack in any future talks, accusing MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai of being under the influence of western leaders and describing the MDC protests last month as indicative of a new “militant criminal strain” in local politics, which he said would be dealt with firmly by the police.

Mugabe said although the whole of Africa had declared him duly elected in 2002, Tsvangirai had chosen to go along with the verdict of western leaders who said the election had been rigged, therefore challenging his legitimacy. This had led to the imposition of so-called targeted sanctions on Mugabe and senior members of his party and government.

“President Mugabe lives in a fool’s paradise,” quipped a western diplomat after the address, which saw Mugabe laying the blame for Zimbabwe’s economic woes at many doors save that of his government.

The diplomat said Mugabe was misinformed if he believed that targeted sanctions were the source of the country’s economic meltdown, “This is an economy that has been badly managed for a long time. The economic crisis in Zimbabwe began well before the MDC was formed. How then can he blame sanctions over his disputed re-election, when they were only imposed in 2002 and are directed at a few individuals?”

In vague acknowledgement of the failure of his land reform policy, which saw white farmers removed from their farms and replaced with ZANU-PF supporters, Mugabe did however warn that people resettled in the past seven years who did not become productive farmers would be kicked off the land.

To placate a restless civil service, Mugabe said government was providing subsidised transport and had set up a fund to build houses for government workers.

But he attributed the decline in the country’s once buoyant tourism industry to veld fires last year. And against widespread evidence that declining mineral production was caused by price distortions and a skewed exchange rate, Mugabe blamed the slump on smuggling of precious minerals “by some of our greedy people”.

“Very soon we will catch up with you,” he warned. “How can you have a Benz for yourself, for your wife, for your child and for your nephew? Where did you get the money?”

In the past, these have remained empty threats. Critics blame the smuggling mainly on people in Mugabe’s inner circle and therefore expect no action.

Mugabe reiterated his desire for government to take a 51 per cent shareholding in foreign companies operating in Zimbabwe, a threat, which has stalled further investment in the mining sector in the past two years.

He blamed the country’s inflationary scourge on government opponents seeking to turn the people against the state. He said that retail and manufacturing sectors were hiking prices without any regard to cost factors “to cause disquiet across sectors of our society”.

Whether Mugabe’s ongoing discourse of blame will scupper any chances for talks between the ruling ZANU-PF and the MDC remains to be seen.

Commented a Harare-based analyst, “Mugabe wants Tsvangirai to recognise him as the legitimate president of the country. Once that happens there would be no need for western governments to maintain so-called targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe.”

The analyst believed that such a concession, though not inconceivable, would be hard to extract from the MDC as it was the “very foundation of its international lobby”.

He said the only way the MDC would make such a climb-down would be to extract reforms in the electoral system in readiness for next year’s election. “Time is not on their side and the MDC needs all the time it can get to prepare for the joint elections in 2008,” said the analyst. “They wouldn’t want to be bogged down in negotiations at the expense of a new constitution, voter registration and a level playing field.”

The diplomat said that mediation between ZANU-PF and the MDC by South African president Thabo Mbeki needed everybody’s support to succeed. “This is the best chance Zimbabwe has to get out of this quagmire. The leaders will need to approach the whole process with a positive attitude, otherwise it is doomed,” he said.

Norman Chitapi is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.

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