Chance to pluck Zimbabwe from mess

IS the fate of the nation now in the hands of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change? This might sound absurd as the MDC is not the party in office, nor does it have any influence in governance. Zanu PF on the other hand has a f

irm majority in parliament but does not appear to have what it takes to extricate the country from a rapidly deepening crisis.

Last week, Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa told parliament that fuel problems would not go away as long as Western sanctions against Zimbabwe remained in place. Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono, responding to a damning statement by the IMF last month, said the country had been forced to take desperate measures in dealing with the economy because of sanctions.

Does this mean sanctions are working despite government efforts to make us believe they were a non-event?

The MDC is now being called upon to talk to “its Western masters” to lift sanctions imposed on the country. Since 2000 Britain and the United States have not moved an inch on the sanctions position despite calls from African heads of state for the punitive action to be lifted. South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki and Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo can testify to that.

But this week events took a new turn. The likelihood of talks between the two political parties has increased after Obasanjo and Mbeki met President Mugabe in Sirte on the sidelines of the AU summit last week. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s diplomatic shuttles to Abuja and Pretoria over the past two weeks are also linked to rekindling dialogue between the two parties.

As expected, Information permanent secretary George Charamba poured cold water on the subject this week. It is without doubt that he speaks for the highest office in the land in opposing talks. Even in the midst of the current crisis which is now obvious to all but the most obtuse of his followers, Mugabe refuses to acknowledge that there is anything wrong.

In such an environment, the diplomacy by Mbeki and Obasanjo is rendered extremely difficult. But this week there has been some movement.

Following hard on the heels of Charamba’s statement that there would be no talks, South African deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka arrived to make clear Pretoria’s position. While Zimbabwe’s official media attempted to dress up her meetings here as a women’s affair, it was her talks with Mugabe that were significant.

Reports in South Africa make it clear that Mbeki is expecting to see national dialogue get underway as soon as possible even if it means dragging Mugabe to the negotiating table kicking and screaming.

This is the culmination of an international effort that has been underway since before the election but culminated in Libya and Scotland.

It comes at precisely the moment when Zanu PF is fragmenting. Pearson Mbalekwa’s resignation, while not the harbinger of a mass exodus, is at least suggestive of growing disaffection. And there is certainly more to Philip Chiyangwa’s departure than the reasons given in the official press.

Further, relieved of Jonathan Moyo’s whip, senior Zanu PF bigwigs are no longer singing from the same hymn sheet as Mugabe on the issue of dialogue. Gono understands more than most the importance of balance-of-payments support if the country is to be rescued from its current morass.

The last serious attempt at dialogue took place two years ago when Chinamasa held unofficial talks with the MDC’s Welshman Ncube to sketch the outline of a constitutional settlement.

The process was blocked by the usual obstacle who appears to think that by procuring electoral victory he can sidestep the country’s mounting problems.

Unfortunately for the hardliners in Zanu PF the opposition is not dead. It is still around and will be for a long time to come so long as the conditions that spawned it continue to exist. Mugabe’s government remains synonymous with inefficiency and failure. The biggest threat to Zanu PF today is its failure to deliver.

This brings to the fore the importance of pressure from within the party to usher Mugabe and his last-ditchers to the negotiating table with the opposition. He is a difficult man to pluck from the rails of his entrenchments but failure to do so is increasingly becoming suicidal for the party which has become rudderless after the election.

If Zanu PF truly endorses Mugabe as the best man to lead the party and ultimately the country, it must ensure that his every move benefits the nation. Can that be said of his current performance?

There is a huge challenge ahead for the party. It is one thing to keep Mugabe in office but quite another to allow him to run the country down. Leadership in Zanu PF is not Mugabe’s sole responsibility.

The opposition which now occupies an important place in finding a solution to what even Mbeki calls the Zimbabwean crisis also has to demonstrate the qualities of leadership. There has been a preoccupation with trying to get Mugabe out of the way but the task to hand is much larger.What does the party have to offer at the negotiating table if Mugabe agrees to dialogue today, as the South African media is reporting?

In the past this issue has resulted in serious ructions within the upper ranks of the party which has reflected badly on Tsvangirai’s leadership. A divided party is its own enemy in negotiations. Both sides need to understand that.

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