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Editor’s Memo

Business as usual

By Vincent Kahiya

WHEN negotiations between the MDC and Zanu PF commenced in April we warned at the time that the opposition was giving away too many concessions. We also advise

d the MDC that this could in the end come back to haunt the opposition in the event that talks fail to move the quest for political settlement forward.

Dialogue between the two parties has not collapsed (yet). But word coming out of the MDC leadership is pointing to the possibility of the dialogue breaking down or at least Zanu PF refusing to honour pledges it has made to date.

This week MDC information secretary Nelson Chamisa released a statement in which he accused Zanu PF of “working hard to shrink the democratic space of ordinary Zimbabweans which Sadc, through the South Africa-brokered talks, is working hard to expand”.

Nothing has changed. “The MDC is dismayed by Zanu PF’s disdain of the Sadc-initiated talks that are aimed at finding common ground between the regime and the opposition,” said Chamisa.

“While the MDC and Zanu PF are engaged in dialogue in Pretoria, the regime has continued to hound our supporters; brutally assaulting and attacking them against the spirit of the dialogue process. We continue to receive disturbing reports from across the country of violence against our supporters as well as Zanu PF’s continued abuse of food as a political weapon.”

Chamisa’s office last week circulated on the Internet pictures of badly scalded buttocks of an MDC official allegedly beaten by soldiers in Masvingo.

The picture evoked memories of the run-up to the 2002 presidential poll when Zanu PF supporters used torture to cow opposition supporters.

Chamisa this week implored Zanu PF “to revise (really!) its behaviour to show its sincerity in the talks”.

Fat chance! What can the MDC do to the obdurate Zanu PF if government backtracks on its promises to amend the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) which is key to allowing the opposition to canvass support without the current raft of inhibitions in place? Or perhaps Zanu PF can agree with the opposition to tipex the offending clauses in the Act but then Zanu PF being the party it is can still elect to completely disregard the letter of the law and continue to unleash the police on demonstrators or simply deny the opposition the opportunity to campaign freely. In this case, what can the opposition do to make the Zanu PF government “revise its behaviour”?

Here is the demure MDC pleading with the devil to cut his horns and probably lose his identity altogether. Not so fast.

The opposition could have agreed with Zanu PF negotiators to amend Posa but creating the level playing field before the election as envisaged by talks broker Thabo Mbeki requires political commitment which the ruling party is not willing to practise at the moment.

Welcoming the appointment of Mbeki as broker in April Morgan Tsvangirai told a press conference in Harare that the South African leader should begin the process by asking Mugabe to stop all hostilities against opposition activists before outlining a time framework for the talks.

Levelling the political playing field is a major task that not only involves amending legislation but more importantly changing the psyche of the police, the army and the intelligence who have all been ground in the dogma designed to fight the opposition’s supposed regime change agenda. It involves dismantling heavily politicised institutions such as the police Law and Order section, riot police and youth militias who are ready to pounce on the opposition at the behest of politicians.

All this requires a statement from President Mugabe decriminalising the opposition and refraining from making inflammatory comments akin to those he uttered after the assault on Tsvangirai and other senior party officials in March. Zanu PF in other words needs a cultural change.

The MDC agreed with Zanu PF on a timeframe and outline of the talks without securing a commitment that violence would cease.

But it is business as usual for Zanu PF which has already started limbering up for greater violent activity.

The government — by allowing the war veterans to march freely in all provincial capitals while at the same time denying the opposition the opportunity to hold rallies — has already set the tenor for the 2008 election campaign. Coupled with this, there has of late been a fresh crackdown on opposition supporters, civic groups and students who have been arrested at the slightest hint of dissent.

In the face of this latest form of adversity, Chamisa offered words of comfort and encouragement. “The people are resilient against violence and repression,” he said.

“They want to start afresh. They have seen enough violence in the past seven years and they do not want to walk the same road again. The people of Zimbabwe are prepared to make a bold statement against a regime that thrives on violence, thuggery and intimidation.”

What bold statement in the absence of prudent leadership?

As things stand today, the opposition is trapped. It cannot walk out of the talks it endorsed and placed so much faith in.

Any walk-out should be accompanied by bold action to move the process of change forward. At the moment there is no Plan B known to the party’s supporters in the event of talks collapsing.

What dialogue can the MDC say it’s engaged in if there is no end to violence and repression? An end to state-sponsored violence should be the MDC’s line in the sand. But they seem unable to say so.

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