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

SADC Strategy “Backfired”

Allowing president to reconvene parliament before leadership negotiations conclude seen by some as mistake.
By Joseph Sithole
Southern African Development Community, SADC, leaders’ decision to allow President Robert Mugabe to convene parliament in breach of the terms of power-sharing negotiations was a miscalculation, say analysts.

They point out that Mugabe now looks likely to appoint a cabinet before the talks being held between the president and the opposition to reach a political settlement conclude.

A source close to the talks, who refused to be named, said the SADC, and South African president Thabo Mbeki who is mediating the negotiations, had hoped that allowing Mugabe to convene parliament would “put pressure on [opposition leader Morgan] Tsvangirai to sign the deal”

“This move has, however, backfired badly. Mugabe is now using it to claim that he was given the mandate to constitute cabinet.

“The SADC has put itself in an invidious position in which it must break what should otherwise be a seamless process. Once you convene parliament, the next step is to constitute a cabinet. The SADC has authorised the first step, but wants to block the second inevitable step.”

The president reportedly claimed that the SADC has allowed him to form a new government after a two-day summit, held in South Africa in mid August, at which Mbeki took over the chairmanship of the organisation.

However, the SADC issued a communique on August 27, saying it only allowed Mugabe to convene parliament, not to form a new government.

MPs and senators were sworn in on August 18 in violation of the memorandum of understanding, MoU, between ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC.

The understanding prohibited either side during negotiations to “take any decisions or measures that have a bearing on the agenda of the dialogue” such as “convening parliament or forming a new government”.

Tsvangirai denounced the decision and the MDC majority in the House of Assembly heckled and jeered Mugabe’s opening speech and issued a statement challenging the legitimacy of his presidency.

Talks between ZANU-PF and the two MDC groups – the smaller faction of which is led by Arthur Mutambara – began in late July. However, they faltered last month because the parties could not agree on who should wield executive power.

Tsvangirai refused to sign the final draft of the power-sharing agreement presented by Mbeki at the SADC summit in Johannesburg two weeks ago, saying he wanted to “consult and reflect” on it.

He later condemned the terms of the proposed agreement, saying they made him no more than a “ceremonial prime minister” in the proposed unity government, which has been endorsed by the SADC, the African Union and the United Nations, UN, as a solution to the political stalemate in Zimbabwe.

In a post-summit communiqué, the SADC endorsed the draft, saying it “formed the basis for a global agreement” for a government of national unity. The communique also provided for Mugabe to convene parliament to “give full expression to the will of the people as demonstrated in the elections on March 29”.

Tsvangirai won the March presidential poll, but without the majority he needed to avoid a second round of elections.

Mugabe argues that the basis for the negotiations should be the result of the presidential run-off of June 27, which the opposition leader boycotted citing the widespread pre-election violence waged against his supporters.

The MDC claims at least 100 of its supporters were killed between March and June, while 200,000 were displaced from their constituencies, which meant that they would not have been able to vote in the run-off election.

Mugabe’s 85.5 per cent victory in the run-off has been widely condemned as a sham.

Mugabe reportedly stated last week that if the leader of the larger MDC faction led by Tsvangirai refused to sign the power-sharing agreement in its current format, he would appoint a cabinet without an agreement.

According to reports, Mugabe issued the ultimatum believing that talks would resume on September 4. However, the resumed negotiations were canceled after Tsvangirai said he would not be able to take part.

Mbeki arrived in Harare on September 8 following weekend reports indicating that the MDC was ready to sign the power-sharing deal, after Mugabe “agreed” to have Tsvangirai as prime minister in charge of the cabinet while he remains head of state.

Speaking last week at the funeral of Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa – who had been a vocal opponent of Mugabe’s claim to the presidency in the aftermath of the one-horse “run-off” – Mugabe told journalists he would constitute a cabinet if Tsvangirai refused to sign the power-sharing pact by September 4.

“If…Tsvangirai does not want to sign, we will certainly put together a cabinet. We feel frozen at the moment,” he said.

“We are a government and we are a government that is empowered by elections. So we should form a cabinet. We will not allow a situation where we will not have a cabinet forever.”

The MDC said last week that any move to constitute a cabinet before a formal agreement was signed would cause problems for the SADC, and particularly for Mbeki.

“First, if Mugabe goes ahead unilaterally that would be a further confirmation of his dictatorship and autocracy. Second, if he goes it alone it would be tantamount to political suicide,” said MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa.

“That would be his choice and we won’t stop him. He seems determined to self-destruct.”

It has been reported that twice in as many weeks Mbeki has blocked Mugabe’s plans to select a cabinet.

The IWPR source anticipated problems if Mugabe attempted to form a cabinet, “If Tsvangirai has not signed the power-sharing agreement, it will be hard for Mugabe to go it alone unless he can persuade some MDC MPs to accept cabinet posts. Anything short of that means further isolation of Zimbabwe and a deepening of the political and economic crisis.”

Political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe Eldred Masunungure said more was being made of the MoU than it was worth. While it paved the way for negotiations it was not a legally binding document, he maintained.

“The MoU is just a gentlemen’s agreement and it doesn’t stop Mugabe from forming a cabinet,” said Masunungure.

He said that it was hard to comment further on the proposed power-sharing deal as so little is known of its contents, “ The problem is that we don’t have details of the power-sharing deal consented to by the SADC. The little we know is what each party says in support of its position.”

Joseph Sithole is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.