AS relations between the ruling Zanu PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) deteriorated further this week, churches in Zimbabwe have been hosting inter-party tal
ks in a bid to bring the two feuding sides back to the negotiating table.
The Zimbabwe Independent this week heard that church leaders under the auspices of the Heads of Christian Denominations held meetings last month with the representatives of the two parties to try to remove impediments which have prevented dialogue over the past two years.
The Zanu PF delegation included the party’s secretary for Information and Publicity Nathan Shamuyarira, Foreign Affairs senior secretary Willard Chiwewe, and an officer from the Office of the President and Cabinet. The MDC delegation included the party’s top three, president Morgan Tsvangirai, vice-president Gibson Sibanda and secretary-general Welshman Ncube, sources said.
The sources said the clerical delegation met the two parties separately on May 22 and there were plans to have a second round of talks soon. If this made progress it would be followed by a third round where representatives of the two political parties would come face to face.
The delegation from the church leaders included Rev Murombedzi Kuchera, Rev Sebastian Bakare, and Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) secretary-general Densen Mafinyane. The Heads of Denominations group includes the ZCC, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe.
These are thought to be the talks President Thabo Mbeki was referring to when he told parliament in Cape Town last week that the two sides were negotiating.
Details of what transpired at the meetings were not readily available as church leaders have tried to keep their encounters as secret as possible. All sides agreed not to comment on the negotiations in the press.
Shamuyarira did not return calls yesterday.
Contacted this week Rev Kuchera said he did not have “details on the meetings”. Asked if the meetings took place as described, he repeated that he had “no details”.
The second round of talks now hangs in the balance after the MDC civil disobedience last week and the subsequent arrest of Tsvangirai on fresh treason charges. Observers close to the talks see Tsvangirai’s arrest as a bid by hardliners close to Mugabe to scupper the dialogue before it gets underway.
“It is being strangled in its cradle,” a source close to the talks said. “But with the current stalemate in the balance of political power the talks are seen as the only way forward for both sides.”
The latest initiative by the churches in Zimbabwe to mediate in the political impasse follows attempts by African leaders Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo, and Bakili Muluzi in May to bring the two parties to the negotiating table.
The three heads of state met the two party leaders separately during a day’s trip to Harare but there has not been anything to show for their efforts apart from the church initiative.
In March Njongonkulu Ndungane, the Anglican Archbishop ofCape Town, came to Zimbabwe leading a clerical/civic delegation to try to tackle the political logjam. It is not clear if the latest initiative was inspired by his visit.
But it is understood he had the support of Mbeki’s office where former church activist Frank Chikane is a key official.
The archbishop met civil society organisations and church leaders during the trip, and he also paid a courtesy call on Tsvangirai.
Meanwhile, South African Defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota told MPs in Cape Town yesterday that the MDC should not walk away from dialogue.
“I said last week it is not helpful for the MDC to leave the talks and go on to the streets and create an atmosphere as if there was unwillingness to negotiate a settlement in Zimbabwe,” he said.
The churches in Zimbabwe, the Independent has been told by some of those involved in the current talks, played a hitherto undisclosed but pivotal role in formulating dialogue between Zanu PF and PF Zapu resulting in the Unity Accord of December 1987.