PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe and the ruling Zanu PF have managed to take the main opposition Movement for Democratic Chan
ge (MDC) into their survival strategy by making piecemeal concessions that do not substantially weaken their grip on power, it became evident this week.
The MDC buy-in has left Mugabe’s grand political plan to cling onto power and manage his succession battle intact and paved the way for him to face next year’s elections in a relatively stronger position, sources inside the ruling party say.
Mugabe will no longer face the polls alone after the harmonisation of the elections and he will now be assisted by Zanu PF MPs during his campaign for re-election despite simmering discontent in the party about his leadership.
His political fate and that of MPs are now tied together. This was an integral part of Mugabe’s survival plan.
Evidence of this was revealed during a Zanu PF central committee meeting held on March 30 when the issue of elections was discussed. Zanu PF bigwig Emmerson Mnangagwa said during the meeting holding elections jointly would help Mugabe to secure the support of his MPs in his campaign for re-election.
The decision to hold joint elections in 2008 was Mugabe’s unilateral decision because his party structures wanted the polls in 2010. Mugabe chose 2008 after he was blocked in his bid to extend his term to 2010 by party heavyweights.
The new plan supported by the MDC will also allow Mugabe to resolve his succession dilemma through parliament. This is apparently calculated to block Vice-President Joice Mujuru who has fallen out with Mugabe.
The sources said Mugabe’s tactic to secure the MDC purchase into his plan involved making insignificant concessions during talks facilitated by President Thabo Mbeki. They said he pledged to concede more ground after elections to induce the opposition into backing his self-serving design embodied in Constitutional Amendment (Number 18) Bill.
The MDC supported the Bill this week after its leaders met with Mbeki during the weekend. Mbeki is said to have piled pressure on the MDC leaders to back the Bill which is now part and parcel of the talks.
Zanu PF’s position on the talks and the constitutional amendments, it was heard, is to manage the negotiation process through minor concessions which do not shake their foundations of power and open the way for a new constitutional dispensation.
Mugabe’s unwillingness to concede ground to end Zimbabwe’s political and economic problems came to light during Zanu PF’s critical politburo meeting held in Harare on September 5.
The politburo meeting, chaired by Mugabe, defined the rules of engagement and the parameters for the talks for the first time. Zanu PF officials who had been largely kept in the dark about the talks were told that whatever agreement comes out of the process would not change anything.
Inside sources said Zanu PF agreed at its politburo meeting after a briefing on the talks by its main negotiator, Patrick Chinamasa, that the party would not make major concessions during negotiations.
Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche form Zanu PF’s negotiating team, while Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti represent the MDC. Ncube and Biti are assisted by Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga and Lovemore Moyo respectively.
The talks are chaired by South African Local Government minister Sydney Mufamadi, assisted by Director-General in the Presidency, Reverend Frank Chikane, and Mbeki’s legal advisor, Mujanku Gumbi. Chinamasa, Mugabe’s pointman on the talks, revealed during the politburo meeting that issues to which Zanu PF has so far agreed were inconsequential in the broad scheme of things because they would not affect Mugabe’s grip on power and his bid for re-election next year.
It is understood that Chinamasa said Zanu PF should support Mbeki during the talks because he has been very helpful to the party in several respects. Zanu PF has up to date agreed to abolish appointed MPs in the lower house of parliament, hold the presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections concurrently on one day and have the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission delineating constituencies.
It is understood Mugabe also told his party that whatever has been agreed upon “does not hurt us at all”. Mugabe and Chinamasa’s remarks are said to have shown party officials that the idea of the talks to Zanu PF is at best to buy time or at worst to make concessions that are negligible.