Sadc dialogue has collapsed: MDC

IN March 2007 Sadc Heads of State mandated President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa to facilitate Zimbabwe crisis talks between the ruling Zanu PF and the two factions of the opposition MDC.

The MDC now says the inter-party talks have collapsed following the unilateral announcement of election dates by President Robert Mugabe. In a joint press statement reproduced below, MDC secretary generals Tendai Biti (MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai) and Welshman Ncube (MDC led by Arthur Mutambara), pronounce the official position of the opposition on the failed crisis talks.

SADLY and regrettably, the dialogue between the MDC and Zanu PF/the government of Zimbabwe which President Mbeki was mandated to facilitate by the Sadc Heads of State and Government on 29 March 2007 ended in failure when Zanu PF/government of Zimbabwe repudiated the principles and the spirit of the dialogue by unilaterally proclaiming 29 March 2008 as the date of the election, when that very issue was a subject of deadlock at the talks.

At the core of the deadlock were the issues of the date of the election, the timeframe for the implementation of the agreed reforms and the process and manner of the making and enactment of a new constitution.

Prior to the deadlock, the parties had negotiated and agreed on key aspects of the agenda items including agreement on amendments to electoral laws, security laws,  media laws and a draft constitution which was to form the basis of public consultations.

In addition, significant but not full consensus had been reached on elements of an umbrella political agreement covering the issues of violence, sanctions, land, abuse of tradition leaders and food aid.
 
Key outstanding issues included the transitional issues which would have gone into the draft constitution as the 6th Schedule covering voter registration, delimitation of constituencies, the reconstitution of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the diaspora vote and the creation of some of the agreed constitutional bodies such as the Media Commission (and) the Human Rights Commission.

Outstanding aspects of the umbrella political agreement included the role of Sadc in monitoring and enforcing the agreement, the period and manner of implementation of the legislative and political agreement.
 
With regards to the question of a new constitution, the parties had agreed as way back as June 18, 2007, that they would negotiate a holistic new constitution which was to be subjected to scrutiny and debated through parliament, where a parliamentary select committee was to gather and receive contributions from Zimbabweans with a view of coming up with a final draft which would be adopted and enacted before the next election.

The agreed procedure was in fact a compromise one with MDC having initially insisted on a people-driven process owned and guided by an all-stakeholders conference, while Zanu PF had insisted that the current constitution was adequate and any deficiencies could be addressed by way of a 19th amendment to the current constitution.

As far as the date of the election was concerned, it was always the firm view of the MDC that this date would be determined only at the time that agreement on every substantive aspect of the agreement had been reached.

That date would be agreed upon having regard to the time frames required for a full implementation of the agreement in its entirety. The date of the election was therefore a matter of substance and not a matter of procedure, for if an early date was proclaimed, that would in fact deny the actualisation and operationalisation of the agreement.

The dialogue would therefore not have resulted in the resolution of the Zimbabwe crisis or in the creation of conditions necessary for an uncontestable election.

At the meetings held during the week beginning December 3, 2007 it became apparent that Zanu PF was reneging on the agreement of June 18, 2007 not only to enact a new constitution before the elections but also to allow the full implementation of all agreed reforms before the holding of the elections.

As a result a deadlock arose on the date of the election, the timeframe for the implementation of the agreed reforms and the manner, process and timeframe for the making, adoption and implementation of a new constitution.

More disturbingly, Zanu PF made it clear that the date of the election was no longer subject to negotiation and that a March 2008 election date was now cast in stone. Consequently, they unilaterally declared that given that (the March date) was close by, the new constitution could only be implemented after the elections.

In a bid to resolve the above deadlock, the parties referred the same to the facilitator in a meeting held on December 15, 2007.  In meetings held on January 12 and 13, 2008 the facilitator put forward three options to the parties which he proposed could break the deadlock.

These options were as follows:

Option 1

That the constitution is adopted through a referendum, to be held possibly during February 2008.  This would satisfy the suggestion that the constitution be adopted by referendum before the elections, which would be held in March 2008.

Option 2

Having regard to the provisions of Amendment 18 which allow for the proclamation of an election date up to 2010, such proclamation should allow for sufficient time for the adoption of the constitution by referendum before the elections.

Option 3

That a select committee of parliament processes the agreed draft, following which parliament sits in plenary, acting as a Committee of the Whole (COW), to endorse the draft that will be referred to a referendum after the elections.

The parties were unable to agree on these options with Zanu PF insisting on its original position that the elections will be held in March 2008 and that the constitution will be dealt with after the elections and the implementation of other legislative reforms would also have to wait for the period after the elections.

 At the meeting held on January 13, 2008, and having regard to the above deadlock, the facilitator suggested that the deadlock might be broken if he engaged directly with the principals, President Robert Mugabe and the two MDC presidents.

On January 15, 2008 the facilitator travelled to Harare and held separate meetings with the principals. The deadlock remained unbroken with President Mugabe insisting that a March election date was non-negotiable. 

At the end of the Harare meetings the facilitator suggested that a face to face meeting of the principals might help break the deadlock. The MDC presidents accepted the suggestion.

Between January 17 and 29, 2008 the facilitator tried in vain to get President Mugabe to commit to a meeting of the principals.
 
On February 13, 2008 the facilitation team of Minister Sydney Mufamadi, the Director General Rev Frank Chikane and the Presidential Legal Adviser Advocate Mojanku Gumbi travelled to Harare and held separate meetings with the two negotiating teams wherein among other things the facilitator’s report to Sadc Heads of State and Government was presented as well as the communiqué issued by Sadc on February 1, 2008.

In essence the facilitator’s report to Sadc was to congratulate the parties on reaching “agreement on all substantive issues” save the question of procedure to be followed in enacting the agreed constitution.

The Sadc communiqué followed suit in congratulating the negotiating parties and urging the same to deal with the outstanding “minor procedural issue”.

The MDC strongly protested the misrepresentations in both the facilitator’s report to Sadc and the subsequent Sadc communiqué.

In particular, the MDC vehemently objected to the suggestion that the dialogue had been successfully concluded save for the “procedures to be followed in enacting the agreed draft constitution”.

The MDC reiterated that the issues of the date of election, the timeframe for the implementation of the agreed reforms andthe process and manner  of the making and enactment of a new constitution were not matters of procedure but of substance and went to the heart of the matter.

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