AS the ruling Zanu PF and opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MD
C) struggle with talks behind the scenes to resuscitate formal dialogue to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis, experiences from elsewhere could provide instructive lessons for local political actors.
The South African case during the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) between 1991/93 stands out as one of the most edifying political experiences that Zimbabweans can learn something from.
Codesa ushered in a democratic dispensation in South Africa in 1994 with the first popular elections that marked the fall of apartheid.
The negotiated settlement followed a long and rugged route to democracy. The African National Congress (ANC), which eventually took over power, had struggled for over 80 years to dismantle minority rule that had been built over a period of more than three centuries.
But belligerent political parties and interest groups engaged in the Kempton Park talks had to ultimately agree to hold democratic elections and institute a new political and socio-economic order.
The key objective of Codesa was to establish “a modern, transparent, plural, diverse, and effective democratic state based on an adherence to the rule of law”.
A declaration of intent was adopted by all parties — except Inkatha Freedom Party and Bophuthatswana bantustan government that wanted self-determination for their regions — to ensure the process was binding. Decisions were taken on a general or sufficient consensus basis.
After steering the dialogue process through turbulent waters, South African parties managed to set up transitional executive committees made up of technical experts to ensure ideal conditions were created for majority elections.
The committees established control mechanisms to ensure fairness in the decision-making process so that no one could influence the poll outcome.
The South Africans also established an interim constitution under which the new government was elected.
After this a final constitution emerged through a certification process by the newly created constitutional court, which was a major development in South Africa’s jurisprudence.
In 1994 South African MPs were elected under the transitional constitution, which had been agreed upon at a meeting attended by all parties, the Multi-Party Negotiating Process.
The interim constitution was replaced two years later by the final one agreed upon by a democratically elected 400-member national assembly.
But the ANC and the ruling National Party (NP) had major differences on the constitution issue. The former wanted elections after an interim constitution while the latter wanted polls before.
Prior to the new order, there were certain issues that the ANC, the biggest opposition party then, felt should not be left to the NP government as they directly related to running of elections.
The ANC sought influence over the electoral process and attendant issues of law and order, media and finance that had a bearing on election results.
There were poignant risks and pitfalls during the South African negotiations. Right wing elements among the Afrikaner extremists who feared change always wanted to disrupt the talks and escalate hostilities. At one time the violent reactionaries had the temerity to drive their car into the venue of the dialogue, Ceasars Gauteng Hotel, in a desperate bid to beak up the talks.
The dialogue was always fraught with dangers. In 1993 ANC military wing commander Chris Hani was short dead by a political zealot and this was a huge test of leadership for all parties involved.
As the situation threatened to explode, former South African president Nelson Mandela had to come out to calm down angry nationalists who wanted to react with fury and rise against the regime.
FW De Klerk, who was then president after he succeeded PW Botha in 1989, even gave Mandela a platform on state television to calm down emotions.
Prior to that, the talks had broken down for three months in mid 1992 because there was no consensus on objectives. When dialogue resumed the parties came back with a paradigm shift necessary for progress.
The sum total of the South African experience could be enlightening for Zimbabwean political players as they battle to find a solution to the country’s crisis in circumstances similar in many respects.
The MDC seems to have already realised this and is trying to draw lessons from the South African process that was characterised by more ominous hazards than the local one. Opposition officials in June met Codesa veterans to sharpen their bargaining skills as they prepare for the resumption of talks with Zanu PF.
An MDC technical task team chaired by the party’s national executive committee member Yvonne Mahlunge met seasoned Codesa political brokers in Pretoria from May 30 to June 1 to gather “lessons, experiences, perspectives, and ideas around the issues of talks, negotiation and transition”.
The Codesa group comprised former ANC key negotiator, Cyril Ramaphosa and ex-NP chief broker Rolf Meyer, among others.
The key points that emerged from the Pretoria meeting that could be useful to both the MDC and Zanu PF include that the first rule of talks is that there are no rules.
It was observed dialogue is governed by circumstances and no-one should dictate what has to be done to the negotiating parties. Unilateralism has to be avoided at all costs.
The international community, which was not directly involved in South Africa, can only play a supporting role. Its role is necessary insofar as at times negotiating parties cannot agree on basic issues, at times even on tea break or lunchtime.
Codesa veterans told the MDC that third party intervention was needed especially when the balance of forces was such that the parties could not meet as equals.
This is particularly important when there is a brutal regime that does not hesitate to unleash the instruments of repression to crush defiance or resistance by the people.
The other challenge for mediators is always to balance quick-fix and slow consolidated solutions in trying to secure a political deal.
Judging by the South African case, there is an absolute need for both the MDC and Zanu PF to sufficiently understand the terrain, challenges and complexities of talks to be able to develop their own road maps or framework of negotiations and transition.
South Africans say they learnt during their own talks that there is always need to “establish mechanisms to secure the irreversibility of the negotiation and transition.”
“Zimbabweans must think through the process of how to secure their own transition,” Codesa negotiators told the MDC in Pretoria.
“There is need to strengthen the resolve for the internal process and make sure you accord legitimacy to the exercise. Zimbabweans themselves must control and have full say in the negotiations.”
South Africans managed their settlement without foreign involvement. This was possible because there was an unbreakable stalemate that was becoming mutually damaging.
The apartheid regime had lost legitimacy at home and abroad. Although it still controlled the state machinery, it had lost the moral authority to lead. Global events were also shifting and bringing pressure to bear on it.
However, the ANC was equally not in a position to impose itself on power. PW Botha’s regime dug in heels and clung to power by force. But the ANC and the international community applied on Pretoria pressure incessantly. The situation is almost similar in Zimbabwe today although the characters, objective conditions on the ground and dynamics may be different.
But whatever the qualitative differences, it is clear that the South African experience holds profoundly important lessons for Zimbabwe.