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Dialogue will meet many hurdles

Vincent Kahiya


THE road to a negotiated settlemen

t is long and littered with many dangers. Envisaged negotiations between Zanu PF and the Movement for Democratic change (MDC) have brought to the fore major handicaps in the quest for dialogue.


Pundits of negotiated settlements believe the major players in the Zimbabwean crisis can tap into the experience of South Africa in its road map to freedom to get over the major hurdles.


Immediately after Robert Mugabe was sworn in as president after his re-election in March last year, there have been attempts by the church and African leaders to bring the two parties to the negotiating table. Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Bakili Muluzi of Malawi and Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo came to Zimbabwe in May to initiate dialogue between Zanu PF and the MDC.


Ahead of that initiative, Njongonkulu Ndungane, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, came to Zimbabwe leading a clerical/civic delegation to try to tackle the political stalemate.


But the political logjam is far from being cleared. Perhaps Zimbabweans have underestimated the magnitude of the problem and expected a quick-fix solution to the impasse. The reality is there are still big steps to take before any tangible results can be achieved.


The first step for South Africa in its march to democracy was the establishment of dialogue. Talks were held between Afrikaner academics and the ANC in Dakar and subsequently between the imprisoned Nelson Mandela and South African president FW de Klerk’s emissaries. The talks were held in private and set the foundation for future negotiations. Mandela’s conditions of incarceration were made more comfortable as he was removed from Robben Island. His status was thereby recognised.


After the release of Mandela formal talks with the government began. The miracle did not happen overnight. There was a series of protracted talks under the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) formed in December 1991.


The starting point for Codesa was the need to establish a common, albeit broad, vision of what needed to be achieved. The Declaration of Intent, which was adopted by all parties at Codesa (except Inkatha Freedom Party and the Bophuthatswana homeland government) laid the basis for an inclusive and binding negotiations process.


First there were talks about talks codenamed Codesa 1 and Codesa 2. The purpose of the talks was to level the playing field by securing agreement on transitional arrangements, establishing agencies of independent electoral regulation, and providing elements of international supervision.


The lessons that players in Zimbabwe politics can derive from this are that thorough preparation and consensus on the procedures and issues to be discussed are essential ingredients in any dialogue, especially if the parties involved differ on what dialogue should achieve.


Failure to agree on these fundamentals will result in costly delays, parties walking out of talks, shifting goal posts and ultimately failure to reach a consensus. In the meantime problems which necessitated calls for dialogue will continue to fester and push the feuding parties further apart.


Central to the success of negotiations is trust and this takes time to build between arch-enemies who find it difficult to compromise on their entrenched positions, which in most instances form the hallmark of their identity.


In the Zimbabwean situation this appears to be a major impediment.


The opposition maintains it does not recognise Mugabe as the duly elected president of Zimbabwe. On the other hand Zanu PF is reluctant to hold meaningful dialogue with the MDC — a party which it has branded an extension of British imperialism — the source of Zimbabwe’s long inventory of problems.


While in South Africa negotiators to the settlement were clear that the ultimate goal was to do away with apartheid and have majority rule, the Zimbabwean situation poses a different problem. The MDC would like Mugabe to go at all costs while Zanu PF has not clearly spelt out a plan for the post-Mugabe era.


Mugabe in April invited open discourse on his succession but during his current whirlwind tours of the country, he has reaffirmed the position that he would like to stay on — another hurdle.


Even in the face of such sharp differences, especially if the parties involved do not want to give in easily, they have to initiate contact. There is the general misconception that the party who initiates the contact is the weaker. In this light Zanu PF and the MDC would be required to make compromises. There will still be problems and obstacles. But compromise to achieve a negotiated settlement is the best option available at the moment.


Rajah Naidoo, a regional director with International Mediation Services in South Africa and a former minister in the Government of National Unity under Nelson Mandela, in 1996 said negotiated settlement was always the best option.


“The advantage of this option is that there is control over the process and if correctly approached, it can achieve a win-win situation,” he said.


The alternative to a negotiated settlement has been the testosterone-induced hardline positions like the MDC’s final push earlier this month and the government’s military crackdown on civil disobedience.


This, together with the arrest of Morgan Tsvangirai, should create new challenges for the parties to negotiations. Can negotiations occur when there is physical conflict on the streets?


Tsvangirai, prior to his arrest on June 6, said mass action would continue.


“From now onwards we will embark on rolling mass action at strategic times of our choice and without any warning to the dictatorship,” said Tsvangirai.


MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi however said his party would still pursue dialogue with the ruling Zanu PF.


“We are still committed to talks because this is the only way to resolve this matter,” he said last week.


The ANC in South Africa refused to cease mass action prior to engaging in talks. Palestinian suicide bombings have continued against the Israelis who have retaliated by firing on Palestinian targets. But parallel to this, talks have continued — albeit with difficulty. Ireland’s Sinn Fein leaders have been to South Africa to learn from its experience as they try to restart their Good Friday dialogue.


On numerous occasions the South African talks appeared to be in trouble as parties would walk out and openly attack each other. This was the case, for instance, after the Boipatong massacre.


Fortunately, the chief negotia-tors of the ANC and the government had developed a deep bond and commitment to the success of the talks. Cyril Ramaphosa for the ANC and Roelf Meyer of the National Party continued to negotiate behind the scenes one-on-one and eventually persuaded their parties to return to the talks. These behind-the-scenes talks moderated the aggression displayed by the parties in public.


Such behind-the-scenes talks are part of a confidence-building process which could help solve the impasse between the MDC and Zanu PF. The talks can take various forms and bring into play key figures in Zimbabwe such as churchmen and academics.


Last week the Zimbabwe Independent reported the initiative by local church leaders to muster dialogue between the two parties. Nobody doubts that Zimbabwe’s road to democracy will be long and hard. But the first steps need to be taken now if there is to be any recovery in the nation’s fortunes.

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