A SOUTH African analyst says President Thabo Mbeki’s government and those of his Nigerian and Malawian counterparts trying to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis must adopt
an all-inclusive approach to the issue.
In an article in Business Day comparing Zimbabwe and South Africa before 1994, Steven Friedman, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies, said an all-encompassing approach was the most effective.
“The governments (of South Africa, Nigeria and Malawi) need to understand there can be no settlement without the opposition; moves to secure a transfer from (President Robert) Mugabe to another Zanu PF leader without Movement for Democratic (MDC) consent will commit the same error as the apartheid government’s bid to bypass the African National Congress (ANC), to talk with ‘moderates’,” he said.
“Nor can there be a settlement if the power holder places humiliating preconditions on talking. Just as negotiation here was impossible as long as the apartheid government refused to talk until the ANC renounced violence, so Mugabe’s insistence that the MDC leader (Morgan Tsvangirai) recognise him as the elected president is an insistence that the other side capitulate.”
Friedman said dialogue would break most of the current barriers to talks.
“Once talking begins, the MDC might make concessions such as dropping its legal challenge to the election if it does not have to endorse the result,” he said.
“But we may know Zimbabwe’s government wants to talk only when preconditions to talking are lifted or drastically softened. Until then, the most that may be possible is a pretence to negotiate in the hope of winning the moral high ground, as seen in stages of our talks.”
He said confidence-building measures before the talks were necessary.
“Just as our negotiations had to be preceded by freeing of political prisoners and the unbanning of organisations, so in Zimbabwe an opposition which has suffered a sustained assault will need concrete steps towards free political activity before it can trust the government enough to compromise with it.”
The regional governments trying to broker a settlement should, he said, show they were serious about demanding that the Zimbabwe government shift its position.
“Just as Western governments who were seen to condone apartheid had to show they could secure concessions from the government,” he said, “so will our government and its partners need to do that in Zimbabwe.”
Friedman said for progress to occur, there was need for “significant concessions by Zimbabwe’s government which will send a clear signal that the MDC is an indispensable part of the process”.
“If ours and the other governments cannot do this, the ‘quiet diplomacy’ said to have brought us this far will not achieve a free, stable Zimbabwe,” Friedman noted.
“The stalemate also poses challenges for Zimbabwe’s opposition: Zanu PF and key elements of the establishment – the military and public service – will have to be part of a new order just as, here, the ANC’s ‘sunset clauses’ ensured that elements of the old order played a role in the new.”
He said urgent action was needed because Zimbabwe’s economic crisis might be severe and the costs of the crackdown grow.
“All this means that only a settlement in which Zanu PF, presumably led by its reformists, and much of the current hierarchy will continue to play a significant role, is possible,” he said. “Even that will call for opposition strategy which bolsters ruling party moderates at the expense of hardliners.”