Mbeki steps up pressure on Zim

Dumisani Muleya / Mthulisi Mathuthu

SOUTH African President Thabo Mbeki is applying more pressure on President Robert Mugabe and opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai to re

sume talks to end the Zimbabwean crisis.


High-level diplomatic sources said Mbeki was pushing Mugabe and Tsvangirai to the negotiating table to find an amicable political settlement.


Despite criticism of his “quiet diplomacy” as ineffective, Mbeki has become a decisive influence in Zimbabwe’s political impasse after convincing US President George Bush early this month that his approach was working.


His current push for dialogue through Zanu PF head of the delegation to the talks that broke down last year, Patrick Chinamasa and MDC team leader Welshman Ncube, is said to be gaining momentum.


Ncube said yesterday “the South Africans have been in touch with us from time to time”. Chinamasa could not be reached for comment.


A senior South African official close to the issue said there was glacial progress towards dialogue.


“There is progress with regard to the talks and an announcement will be made soon,” the source said.


Mbeki has of late been insisting that there are talks going on between Zanu PF and the MDC. The two parties have, however, denied this.


Sources said the drive by Mbeki – described by one source this week as a “sophisticated and savvy political deal-maker” – has forced Mugabe and Tsvangirai to take steps to break the ice.


In an unprecedented move, Mugabe and Tsvangirai this week extended an olive branch to each other. Opening parliament on Tuesday, Mugabe urged the MDC to work with him, while Tsvangirai and his MPs made a conciliatory gesture by going to the House to listen to the presidential address. The MDC has in the past boycotted Mugabe’s parliamentary addresses.


Mbeki is understood to have engineered the reconciliation through contacts with Mugabe and the MDC, which discussed the talks issue during its national executive meeting on Saturday and at an emergency meeting on Monday night.


In response to pressure, Mugabe and Tsvangirai now appear to have broken the mould as far as the resumption of talks is concerned. The balance of power in their parties seems to be shifting in favour of reformers as opposed to the diehards who would be the first casualties of a negotiated settlement.


Mbeki is said to have decided to bring the moderates on both sides together to kick-start the talks. The hardliners risk being left out of the loop.

But sources said Mbeki, who machinated Mugabe’s recent appointment as one of the five African Union deputy chairs, was using a “carrot-and-stick approach” to force the Zimbabweans leaders to talk.


“Pretoria apparently now thinks that both Mugabe and Tsvangirai have become stumbling blocks to dialogue,” a source said. “However, Mbeki is using different tactics to ensure his broad strategy is not derailed.”


Due to the pressure, Tsvangirai is said to be struggling to ensure that he is not overtaken by political dynamics and remains relevant after he recently attacked Mbeki’s claims that talks were on as “patently false and mischievous”.


The attack angered the South Africans who are now trying to exclude him from the dialogue formula – based on their experience during the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) between 1991/3 – which they are trying to apply in Zimbabwe as they have done in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.


Although the opposition is understood to have already apologised to Pretoria for Tsvangirai’s diplomatic gaffe, which caused a row in the party, the MDC leader is contemplating writing a personal letter of apology to Mbeki before the talks start.