A CRISIS in Zimbabwe? What crisis? This question was debated by three high-ranking Zimbabwean opposition politicians at the Mail & Guardianâ€™s Critical Thinking Forum in Johannesburg on Wednesday evening.
Two weeks ago, ahead of an emergency Southern African Development Community (Sadc) meeting on Zimbabweâ€™s post-election troubles, President Thabo Mbeki met Robert Mugabe and declared there was no crisis in that country.
Later he qualified his statement by saying there was, specifically, no electoral crisis and that he had been misquoted.
Still, results of the presidential election have not been released weeks after the votes had been cast, and a controversial recount of parliamentary votes is under way.
â€œEven those who are quite careful with words should be quite comfortable with this description (of Zimbabwe in crisis),â€ said Institute for Democracy in South Africa chief executive Paul Graham in his brief opening address.
But what else can South Africa do at present? Moderator Judge Dennis Davis posed this question to panellist Ibbo Mandaza, author, former Zimbabwean MP and, in this yearâ€™s elections, a backer of independent candidate Simba Makoni.
â€œWe expect too much of South Africa,â€ said Mandaza. â€œThere is a limit to what South Africa can do.â€
Zimbabweans need to take the initiative, he added, but they need South Africaâ€™s support.
â€œIt is important that the entire international community understand that Mugabe has lost the election,â€ he said.
â€œHe should step aside and allow the new (democratic) process to take place.â€
On the same topic, Jonathan Moyo, political scientist and former Zanu PF Minister of Information, said that whatever South Africans do, â€œit will have to be through their government.
The recent election would not have been as peaceful, free and fair as it was if not for the mediation led by South Africa and mandated by Sadcâ€.
This mediation, between Zanu PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led to some legal reforms ahead of the elections, he said, but while there were positive improvements, it did not lead to a final agreement â€” meaning the opposition was not ready for an election.
â€œWe did not as a country need that election,â€ he said.
Still, South Africa has played a leadership role throughout Zimbabweâ€™s history, even when it was still Rhodesia under Ian Smith, said Heneri Dzinotyiweyi, a member of the national executive committee of the MDC under Morgan Tsvangirai.
â€œWe look to South Africa to play this role once more,â€ he said.
The situation remains tense in Zimbabwe, he said. Referring to the â€œgenocideâ€ that followed Kenyaâ€™s elections earlier this year, he said: â€œAnything of that magnitude can happen in Zimbabwe.â€
He believes South Africa should take a firmer stance. â€œIf South Africa says the (election) results must be out, that will happen.â€
But, asked Davis, wouldnâ€™t Mugabe simply refuse to do so? â€œSouth Africa canâ€™t be treated that way by Zimbabwe,â€ said Dzinotyiweyi.
Mandaza agreed. â€œLet them (South Africa and Sadc) say publicly that thereâ€™s no doubt that Mugabe lost.
There must be insistence that the results be announced … There should be no run-off (presidential election) as violence in the country is already at a high level.â€
Asked how the Mugabe-controlled military â€” currently involved in a violent crackdown on opposition supporters, according to the MDC â€” would react to an opposition victory, he said: â€œI do not believe the military will not accept change.â€
Moyo also opposed a run-off election.
â€œIt is not possible for Mugabe to win any election, crooked or not,â€ he said.
â€œWhat is possible is that if there is any rigging, it will be against him,â€ he said to laughter from the audience.
â€œThere is no rational person who wants to see Mugabe in office again in Zimbabwe.â€
After the delays in announcing election results, these will now not be accepted by anyone, he said.
Even if Tsvangirai is victorious, â€œthat would be unbelievableâ€, he said. â€œThe process has been compromised.
They (Zanu PF) have been using the time to figure out an exit strategy.â€
He added: â€œThere is no sense in resolving the election deadlock through another election … but there are some who are prepared to dig in, people around Mugabe who have the means to cause big-time trouble.â€
Said Mandaza: â€œThe MDC won. We must allow them to form the next government … Even Mugabeâ€™s people know that.
There is no doubt that Tsvangirai will extend his hand to all others (to form a government of national unity) … Everyone knows any free and fair run-off will yield disastrous results for Mugabe.â€
Looking ahead, Mandaza said he expects election results to be released next week.
There is bargaining behind the scenes, he said, but complained that opposition groups have not been able to â€œsit down togetherâ€.
Moyo backed the idea of a transitional government, as, according to him, Tsvangirai did not quite get enough votes in the election to win the presidency, even though he beat Mugabe.
A transitional government â€œwould look like a government of national unityâ€ and would facilitate Mugabeâ€™s exit.
It would operate between 24 and 36 months, with Tsvangirai as its leader, and formulate a new constitution. â€œElections would come much later down the line,â€ said Moyo.
Dzinotyiweyi disputed Moyoâ€™s figures, though, saying that Tsvangirai got 53% of votes. Davis asked him what the MDC would do if the electoral commission said Tsvangirai got less than that.
â€œWe would explain that it was defective,â€ said Dzinotyiweyi. â€œWe would not accept it.â€
He would not be drawn, however, on exactly what actions the MDC would take in that situation, also pointing out that the MDCâ€™s main staff cannot even meet at present as some members are in jail and others fear retribution from the ruling party.
Replied Mandaza: â€œThe MDC should have a provisional idea of how they will run the government … The MDC should take the initiative and there has been no initiative.â€
Moyo also criticised the MDC, saying: â€œIt is obvious that Tsvangirai won the parliamentary elections. All opposition (groups) are willing to work with them, but they are not willing.â€
Dzinotyiweyi denied this charge, simply saying: â€œHe (Moyo) is not telling the truth.â€