Mugabe ready to quit Zanu PF leadership

Dumisani Muleya

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is ready to relinquish the Zanu PF leadership in December or to hand over power to a transitional authority if a deal is reached with the opposition Movement for Democ

ratic Change (MDC), it was heard this week.

Sources said Mugabe assured South African President Thabo Mbeki that he could quit the Zanu PF leadership in December during the party’s annual conference or formally announce to his party to start looking for a successor ahead of the congress next year.

Mugabe gave Mbeki these assurances ahead of United States President George Bush’s first visit to Africa early this month. Mugabe also gave the same promises to Mbeki’s deputy Jacob Zuma during an Aids conference in Lesotho a few days before Bush arrived in South Africa.

Zuma has been working on the Zimbabwe issue of late. On June 4 he met with Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon and his delegation at Tuynhuys in Cape Town to discuss Zimbabwe. Zuma and Leon agreed the situation could only be resolved through dialogue between the MDC and Zanu PF.

Zuma emphasised that Pretoria wants the two parties to meet soon.

Sources said Mugabe met with Zuma in Lesotho to reaffirm the position he had already given to Mbeki. Mugabe apparently spoke to Mbeki before and after the Bush visit and during the African Union meeting in Mozambique.

Mbeki met with Bush in Pretoria on July 9 where he reportedly told his counterpart that Mugabe had indicated his willingness to retire.

However, Mbeki, who recently said Zanu PF was engaged in “leadership renewal” and that talks between Zanu PF and MDC were on, last week denied this.

“There is no such thing,” he said. “I don’t know where that comes from. There was no discussion at all about anybody stepping down.”

But American diplomatic sources insist Mbeki conveyed Mugabe’s promises to leave to Bush. After the Bush/Mbeki meeting, the US delegation hosted a dinner in Pretoria where the substance of the private talks was leaked.

Sources said Mbeki gave Bush two assurances: Mugabe is prepared to quit in December if a transitional authority deal is struck with the MDC, but if no deal is in place he is prepared to hand over power to his own successor in March before elections in June. Either way, sources say, Mugabe is going and this is what Bush was told.

Sources said MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was also briefed about the issue by US Assistant Secretary of State Walter Kansteiner by telephone.