Zim flashpoint glints as Sadc leaders meet

President Robert Mugabe’s controversial rule and the country’s political and economic crisis have strongly resurfaced on the domestic and regional agenda as pressure mounts on him to embrace far-reaching reforms or quit.

Bernard Mpofu/Wongai Zhangazha

A series of events, including developments this week and the recent spate of protests against the 92-year-old leader’s rule, have intensified pressure on government to deal with a number of multi-faceted problems facing the country, while drawing the attention of the region and political actors to join the fray.

Today, a coalition of 18 opposition parties are expected to join forces to stage a “massive demonstration” calling for electoral reforms ahead of the 2018 elections.

This comes a few days after senior global statesmen known as The Elders and civic groups called for an inclusive transition in Zimbabwe to restore stability and economic recovery in the midst of the country’s worst crisis since dollarisation in 2009. The call came ahead of the 36th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Sadc in Mbabane, Swaziland, next week on August 30-31 where there is a push for Zimbabwe to be on the agenda.

The Elders, a group launched by the late former South African president Nelson Mandela, this week ratcheted pressure on Sadc cornering Mugabe to form a transitional government.

Ahead of the summit, to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday, former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, respected cleric Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Graça Machel — all key members of The Elders — called on Sadc leaders to support a successful and inclusive transition in Zimbabwe.

Writing to Sadc member states ahead of the regional group’s summit, The Elders noted that Zimbabwe is “on the verge of an important transition” which, if handled well, could lead to a peaceful and democratic change of leadership and a renewed focus on social and economic development.

“We firmly believe that a successful transition is vital not only for Zimbabwe, but also for the region … we are also convinced that, if the transition process is to succeed, it must be inclusive, transparent and framed in the national interest,” the three Elders wrote.

“The Elders believe the upcoming summit is an important opportunity to reflect on how best Sadc can help Zimbabwe manage the complex challenges ahead.”

In 2007, The Elders launched a campaign to highlight “continuing human rights abuses” in Zimbabwe as well as Sudan’s Darfur region, Chad and Burma. This initiative led to negotiations between Zanu PF and the opposition MDC formations after the ruling party embarked on a brutal crackdown in dissent and a violent presidential election run-off in June 2008.

Human rights groups and non-governmental organisations are also mobilising support to push Sadc to intervene again in Zimbabwe.

ZimRights director Okay Machisa told the Zimbabwe Independent this week they would pile more pressure on government ahead of the summit whose main agenda is industrialisation and regional integration.

Zimbabwe has been experiencing demonstrations practically every week since the July 1 protests which rocked Beitbridge following government’s decision to ban the import of some basic commodities through Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016.

Meeting under the auspices of the National Election Reform Agenda (Nera) and the Coalition of Democrats (Code), leaders of the country’s opposition parties, who include former vice-president Joice Mujuru (Zimbabwe People First), Morgan Komichi (MDC-T national chairman representing Morgan Tsvangirai), Welshman Ncube (MDC), former finance minister Tendai Biti (People’s Democratic Party), Simba Makoni (Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn) and Elton Mangoma (Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe) and other smaller parties, are today expected to stage a demonstration calling for an overhaul of the country’s electoral processes. Biti’s party welcomed the elders’ proposals.

“After this demonstration, we shall get together, come together again as political groups and work out the modus operandi in future. We are quite agreeable in wanting to meet as a group, one single force which will control opposition activities in this country,” Zimbabwe People First founding member and former Zanu PF politburo member Didymus Mutasa said.

“We also want to petition Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) on the voters’ roll and how it would be conducted; whether Zec feels it is as independent as the constitution requires it to be. Some of us think that it isn’t that independent. They are still under the Ministry of Justice and what they do is effectively ordered by the minister through Justice (Rita) Makarau (Zec chairperson) who holds two positions.”

Asked if the opposition parties want Justice Makarau — who is currently Zec chairperson and secretary of the Judicial Service Commission — to relinquish one of her positions, Mutasa said: “That is what we hope she would do without being coerced.”

In view of the growing protests and economic hardships in the country, political analysts at home, led by prominent academic Ibbo Mandaza and researcher Tony Reeler, have also weighed in with a call for National Transitional Authority (NTA) to manage the country in the interim. Biti has been calling for the same arrangement.

According to Mandaza and Reeler, the process towards the establishment of the NTA requires consultations across the nation and abroad, with a regional and global “buy-in”, or external scaffolding, to ensure a peaceful and smooth transition, as happened at Lancaster House Agreement of 1979 and the Global Political Agreement of September 2008.

“A primary purpose for the NTA is to heal the nation and embark on a limited political and economic reform agenda.

The NTA cannot solve all the problems that afflict the country, but will provide the necessary first steps to move the country to international legitimacy and deeper democracy.The debate has already begun,” they said.

“The political parties have responded, broadly accepting the idea. Civil society is engaged in serious consultation … the general consensus that this could be a ‘soft landing’ that could save Zimbabwe; and the assertion by (opposition leader) Dumiso Dabengwa that the alternative could be tantamount to ‘continue folding our arms’ and watch the situation develop into the inevitable chaos that is quickly enveloping the country.”

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