PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s embracing of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in his speech at the burial of Vice-President Simon Muzenda on Wednesday comes aga
inst a background of progress made towards the resumption of dialogue between the two parties, the Zimbabwe Independent has established.
Informal talks between the two parties are reported to be making progress on constitutional issues – despite spirited denials of an accord in the South African media this week – and there has also been progress in the parallel church-brokered talks.
The ruling Zanu PF party, after at first rejecting the church troika working towards a negotiated settlement, has reconsidered its position and gone back to the church leaders, the Independent gathers. It has committed itself to cooperating with the church initiative and has submitted proposals for the talks agenda.
“Zanu PF has since submitted its proposals for the agenda to the church leaders, who we understand have forwarded them to the MDC,” said a source close to the exchanges.
“The next step is to combine the two parties’ proposals to come up with a framework under which dialogue can resume. There is consensus from both parties and the ground is laid for talks to begin.”
The church troika comprises Bishop Trevor Manhanga of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, Bishop Patrick Mutume of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, and Bishop Sebastian Bakare of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches.
Meetings have been held over the past couple of weeks by the church troika and the two parties. The church leaders are expected to issue a statement in the coming weeks, which is likely to announce the resumption of formal dialogue.
The MDC submitted its agenda proposals last month and agreed to enter talks without raising the issue of Mugabe’s legitimacy.
Emissaries from Mugabe to the MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai are understood to have succeeded in securing an assurance from him that the opposition would withdraw its court challenge to Mugabe’s reelection last year if dialogue showed tangible progress. The opposition has also, upon the insistence of the ruling party, agreed to cooperate with Zanu PF in the search for a negotiated settlement. It has agreed not to approach the international community to seek Zimbabwe’s further isolation.
Mugabe said in a rambling and often contradictory speech at Heroes Acre on Wednesday that the opposition had to work with the ruling party by, among other things, pointing out where it might have erred.
However, the 79-year-old Zanu PF leader added that the opposition needed to seek solutions to the country’s crises together with the ruling party at home instead of going to Western countries. He described himself as the MDC’s “big brother”.
MDC spokesman, Paul Themba Nyathi welcomed Mugabe’s call for unity and said that the opposition was committed to working towards a negotiated settlement.
But Nyathi told the Telegraph that: “Mugabe is leading a country where 70% are unemployed, 80% live below the poverty line and more than five million people require food aid. If he was serious about rectifying the situation he would take practical steps.”