SADC Push for New Talks Between Harare Rivals

Analysts say a face-to-face meeting could salvage the stalled power-sharing deal.

SADC Push for New Talks Between Harare Rivals

Analysts say a face-to-face meeting could salvage the stalled power-sharing deal.

Wednesday, 14 January, 2009
There is renewed pressure on the Southern African Development Community, SADC, to salvage Zimbabwe’s stalled power-sharing deal by organising a confidential meeting between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

African diplomats in Harare say South Africa president Kgalema Motlanthe, the current SADC chairperson, has been working behind the scenes to set up a meeting between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. But Mugabe is currently on a month’ s leave.

Tsvangirai, leader of the main faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, has been in Botswana for three months; his passport expired several months ago and the Zimbabwe government had refused to issue a new one, finally coming through with the new document on Christmas Day. He has arranged a meeting of the MDC’s national executive council for January 18 to decide on the fate of the power-sharing deal.

Although Mugabe wrote to Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, head of a breakaway MDC faction, in mid-December informing them of his intention to form an inclusive government, there are fears he might act unilaterally, freezing Tsvangirai out. Reporting on a New Year’s Day cabinet shuffle, the state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted presidential spokesman George Charamba as indicating that Mugabe would be “going ahead with the formation of a new government”.

Zimbabwe has been technically without a government since the controversial elections in March 2008. The MDC controls parliament, while Mugabe declared himself president after a disputed one-man presidential run-off in June 2008.

African diplomats, who spoke to IWPR on condition they would not be named, said the pressure on SADC to ensure that an all-inclusive government was in place by February was being felt around the region. They said Motlanthe had agreed to Tsvangirai’s request for a meeting with Mugabe to thrash out long-standing disputes, especially the sharing of key ministries, which they said if unresolved threatens the power-sharing deal.

But analysts fear Motlanthe will fail to broker any deal as long as SADC displays a lackadaisical attitude in dealing with the concerns of the opposition.

And MDC officials say Tsvangirai has been under immense pressure from grass-roots supporters as well as the international community, the likely sponsors of the country’s economic revival, to quit the power-sharing deal as long as Mugabe continues to ignore the opposition’s problems with the deal.

In his letter to Tsvangirai and Mutambara, Mugabe invited them to propose names of people they wanted included in the cabinet, but in his response, Tsvangirai declined, saying there were serious issues that needed to be ironed out first – hence his request to Motlanthe to set up a meeting with Mugabe.

Analysts told IWPR that the success of any meeting between Mugabe and Tsvangirai depended on how much leverage SADC leaders would exert on the veteran Zimbabwean leader who, ZANU-PF insiders insist, does not show any signs of climbing down. Tsvangirai has asked that Motlanthe chair the meeting instead of former South African president Thabo Mbeki, the SADC-appointed mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis, whom the opposition leader accuses of not being an honest broker.

“SADC is trying hard to get a deal out of both Mugabe and Tsvangirai as the regional bloc believes a power-sharing deal is the only [game] in town,” said Charles Mangongera, a political analyst who is also the chairman of a local think-tank, the Mass Public Opinion Institute.

“But it now depends on SADC and the current chair on how much leverage they exert on Mugabe this time around. SADC needs to abandon its habitual tendency of siding with Mugabe if they want this deal not to collapse.”

Mangongera said the stalemate has been compounded by the fact that neither Mugabe nor Tsvangirai wants to be blamed for the failure of the deal.

“But as long as SADC treats the issue with the current casual approach, we should forget about this whole thing. What the MDC-Tsvangirai has put on the table is unpalatable to hardliners in ZANU-PF. If hardliners carry the day, I don’t see them agreeing to MDC demands for key posts in the new government,” he said.

One ministry at issue is home affairs, which controls the police. ZANU-PF has offered to share the ministry; the MDC has refused, noting that ZANU-PF will also control the military.

Another meeting would be the most prudent way to attempt to break the political impasse, said University of Zimbabwe political science professor Eldred Masunungure. “But what we need is someone with the confidence and trust of all people involved in securing the elusive all-inclusive government. The MDC has stated it has lost confidence in Mbeki but I am not sure if Mugabe will agree on Mbeki’s replacement,” he said.

Masunungure said it would be folly for senior MDC officials to endorse a decision to pull out of the talks when they meet on January 18.

He said the MDC’s officials should, instead, work towards ensuring that Constitutional Amendment Number 19, the proposed legislation which formally recognise Tsvangirai as prime minister, sails through parliament when the house resumes sitting on January 20.

“I will be shocked if [MDC officials opt] out of the power-sharing deal because they need a viable alternative. I am not aware of their Plan B. The only other option is elections but right now this is not possible unless there are bullet-proof guarantees that the elections will be managed and supervised by the international community. But I don’t see this will happen,” he said.

Masunungure said the MDC runs the risk of provoking its lawmakers and supporters if it pulls out of efforts to form a coalition government with Mugabe. He suggested that the MDC reduce the number of conditions the party has tabled before joining the government.

“Motlanthe should be supported in his latest effort. Mugabe and Tsvangirai have no option but to work together. The region has every reason to run around and finalise the Zimbabwean crisis – otherwise very soon people will lose interest in helping poor Zimbabweans,” he said.

MDC officials indicated earlier this week that Tsvangirai would be returning to Harare shortly to prepare for the make-or-break meeting of senior party officials.

Nelson Chamisa, the spokesman for the MDC Tsvangirai faction, confirmed to IWPR that his party’s top brass would meet to deliberate on what the party says are critical issues affecting it and the people of Zimbabwe. These include the desperate humanitarian situation and the ”abductions and arbitrary arrests of party and civic activists on trumped-up charges”.

Eighteen detained activists appeared in court

at the end of 2008; nine, including Jestina Mukoko, head of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, were accused of recruiting or inciting people to undergo military training to topple the regime; an additional seven were charged with bombing and banditry and two others with complicity. The government refused to accede to a high court ruling that the activists be transferred to hospital. The Zimbabwe Independent estimates dozens of opposition members and activists are facing treason charges.

“The executive will also discuss the state and status of the SADC-brokered negotiated political settlement,” said Chamisa.

He said the meeting comes at a time when all social services, especially education and health, have virtually collapsed, adding that over seven million people were surviving on food aid while virtually every Zimbabwean was struggling to make ends meet in a dollarised economy.

Jabu Shoko is the pseudonym of an IWPR-trained reporter in Zimbabwe.

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