TALKS between the ruling Zanu PF and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to resolve the current crisis through free and fair electio
ns collapsed yesterday after President Robert Mugabe rejected South African President Thabo Mbeki’s last-ditch bid to crack the deadlock.
A transitional constitution and the election date have been the main sticking points.
The breakdown comes after Mbeki on Tuesday told the visiting Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern that a breakthrough in the negotiations was almost in the bag.
After a meeting with Mbeki, Ahern said he had been told by his host that a final agreement could be wrapped up within days.
South African Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad had also said on Wednesday “real movement” had been made in the talks.
However, sources close to yesterday’s critical meetings in Harare which involved Mbeki, Mugabe and MDC faction leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, said the talks all but cillapsed after the South African leader failed to break the stalemate.
“Mugabe refused to accept a new constitution before the elections and to delay the polls in order to implement the final agreement,” a source who was in the meeting said. “Practically, this means the talks have collapsed.”
Mbeki, who flew into the capital yesterday morning on a rescue mission, left in the evening “empty-handed and frustrated”, the sources said.
As reported in the Zimbabwe Independent, Zanu PF on September 5 took a decision at its politburo meeting not to accept serious reforms, especially a new constitution, before the elections. The sources said Mugabe told Mbeki yesterday that the elections would go ahead in March and his regime could only introduce a new constitution after the polls.
They said the MDC was now likely to boycott the polls unless a broad coalition with a real chance of winning is formed to challenge Zanu PF.
However, Mbeki as usual claimed yesterday at a press briefing that there was progress in the talks. “We came to give a report to President Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai as well as Arthur Mutambara on how far we have gone (with the talks). We have listened to the leaders. We are going back to continue that process. It’s work in progress and very good progress.”
Mbeki said he did not doubt the “commitment on the part of the Zimbabwe government to solve problems the country is facing”.
The South African leader is soon expected to present a report to the Sadc troika on politics, defence and security on the state of the talks. Mbeki and the current troika chair Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos do not see eye-to-eye over South Africa’s botched mediation in the Angola civil war in which Pretoria tried to accommodate rebel leader Jonas Savimbi in their diplomacy when Luanda thought he should be militarily crushed.
Mbeki last visited Zimbabwe on November 22 to pressure Mugabe and MDC leaders to speed up the talks after several deadlines for the final agreement were missed.
Then he said he was “very confident” a solution to the country’s political stalemate would be found soon.
The sources said Mbeki had a tough four-hour meeting with Mugabe at State House where he tried hard to press his counterpart to make concessions on a new transitional constitution and a date for elections beyond March, but failed. The meeting was held in a “tense and disturbing atmosphere”, it was said. Mugabe, the sources confirmed, had promised Mbeki in September he would accept a new constitution before the elections if the MDC supported his party’s constitutional amendments.
Mbeki told the MDC leaders then that they should support the Zanu PF constitutional amendments because Mugabe had agreed to introduce a new constitution before the polls. Mbeki as the Sadc mediator underwrote the deal.
Mbeki also met with Tsvangirai and Mutambara yesterday at the South African ambassador’s residence. Mbeki had brought with him his three facilitators, South African Local Government minister Sydney Mufamadi, Director-General in the Presidency Reverend Frank Chikane, and his legal advisor Mujanku Gumbi.
Zanu PF negotiators are Patrick Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche, while the MDC delegates are Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti assisted by Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga and Lovemore Moyo. The facilitators and negotiators were present yesterday, although they did not attend their principals’ meetings.
The sources said Mbeki, whose mediation was significantly weakened by his recent defeat by Jacob Zuma at the ANC conference, tried hard to crack the deadlock but failed after Mugabe refused to adopt a new constitution or postpone elections to allow for the implementation of issues already agreed upon in the talks. These issues are at the heart of the deadlock.
As revealed in the Independent in a series of reports from September to December, Zanu PF and the MDC have already agreed on all the agenda items which included a constitution, electoral reforms, security laws, media legislation and the political climate. However, they hit a serious roadblock on transitional mechanisms and the implementation of the agreement, particularly a new constitution before elections.
Since Mbeki started his involvement in the Zimbabwe crisis in 2000, it has become increasingly clear that he has no diplomatic clout to influence Mugabe. As revealed in a recent biography by Mark Gevisser, Thabo Mbeki: A Dream Deferred, Mbeki actually regards Mugabe as a father-figure and has been in very close contact with him since he came to power in 1980. Mbeki’s long comradeship with Mugabe apparently rendered him ineffective in his ill-fated mediation.
Yesterday’s crucial visit to Harare was probably Mbeki’s last chance before he leaves office early next year to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis — which he has been grappling with for nearly eight years. Mbeki’s failure on the Zimbabwe situation further blights his legacy already blemished by his disastrous intervention in the Ivory Coast civil war and recent defeat in the ANC.