There’s only one way out for Zanu PF

ZIMBABWEANS can be forgiven for any confusion they may feel following last week’s talks between the three visiting African presidents — Thabo Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo and Bakili Muluzi — an

d President Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Was there any progress? If so, it appears glacial.

In fact the talks at State House (with Mugabe) and the Sheraton (with Tsvangirai) did see some movement. Firstly, the pretence that the visit of the three leaders was about improving relations between Harare and London was dropped. Nobody is buying that anymore, least of all the three presidents. And Mugabe’s demands for MDC recognition of his legitimacy will be subsumed in forthcoming negotiations between the two parties.

Those negotiations will be aimed at establishing a climate conducive to political peace, constitutional reform, a transitional government, and, once parliament has given its approval, fresh elections.

But there are enormous obstacles along that path. First, the MDC will be sending a delegation to Malawi to exchange views on the way forward. They will emphasise the need to demobilise militias, repeal repressive laws, and create independent institutions to run and monitor elections.

These, the MDC will argue, are standard democratic norms without which there can be no political peace or economic recovery. The first roadblock will be the South African view that any talks should be aimed initially at economic recovery. They want to see a blueprint for national revival supported by both parties. Pretoria stands ready with a package of measures that are aimed at restoring economic normality north of the border. This includes opening doors abroad.

But the plan is flawed. There can be no normality so long as President Mugabe remains in a position to sabotage the economy. So economic remedies are contingent on regime reform.

Then there is the composition of the Zanu PF negotiating team. As presently constituted it comprises, apart from Emmerson Mnangagwa, lightweights who have a vested interest in clinging to Mugabe’s coat-tails. They are the beneficiaries of his patronage, repeat his mantras, and support his repression. They cannot be expected to assist in finding a way forward. By fielding such a team Zanu PF is indicating a lack of seriousness. Jonathan Moyo, for instance, has said his party will not contemplate internationally supervised elections.

The ruling party’s insistence on adoption of its favourite shibboleths provides another obstacle. The party wants the MDC to accede to its sterile notions of sovereignty, heritage and the suchlike. No democrat in a plural society could agree to these positions which arguably invite a different definition from every adult Zimbabwean. Zanu PF’s attempt to coerce the MDC into rallying around these subjective and self-serving slogans is a recipe for failure and demonstrate a lack of political maturity.

But at least the visit of the three African leaders has seen the abandonment of their efforts to get the MDC to agree to the dropping of its court petition. After an initial attempt by Obasanjo to portray the party as spoilers over this issue, there is now, after some debate among the three leaders themselves, a consensus that any such legal challenge is a legitimate move that should not block progress.

Meanwhile, if Zanu PF is to abandon its repressive legislation and depoliticise its law enforcement agencies once serious negotiations get underway, the MDC will be expected to abandon plans for mass action.

That the ruling party is ill-prepared for the path opened up by the visit of the three leaders was shown by the state media’s coverage of the visit. There is a denial that regime change is contemplated. This is reminiscent of the Muzorewa government’s position at Lancaster House in 1979 and the South African National Party’s stance at Codesa in the early 1990s. Incumbent regimes need to communicate to their followers a sense of permanence and even obduracy. But things do change and what we have now is a process that will be difficult to derail.

As Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis deepens, and the expectations of the international community grow, so the pressure will mount on Harare from its friends to reform. There will be no economic recovery until a national political consensus has been established. Nerp is an illusion with no prospects whatsoever, as Herbert Murerwa has discovered in Washington.

While neighbouring leaders may feel compelled to deny it, they will nevertheless ratchet up their “assistance” as our crisis impacts on them. The only path open for Zanu PF is that charted last week.

The prospect of talks with “the enemy” may not be as dire as its leaders think. The ANC felt the same way about the Nats ahead of Codesa. There were 45 years of distrust there, not four. Yet firm friendships emerged among negotiators across the political divide. Once some confidence is established in the process we will hear less about the MDC being a British-sponsored party and other official falsehoods. After all, if the electorate doesn’t buy that, why should anybody else?

Now, as never before, is the time for the more thoughtful ruling-party stalwarts to find a way out of the morass Mugabe has dug for them. That means talking to the other side — the sooner the better.

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