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Comment: No Substitute For Negotiations

ROBERT Mugabe’s holding of a one-man election has killed off any possibility of a negotiated political settlement in Zimbabwe, the MDC’s Tendai Biti said on Tuesday.


“While the MDC has pursued dialogue in a bid to establish a government of national healing before June 4, the sham election on June 27 totally and completely exterminated any prospect of a negotiated settlement,” the party’s secretary-general said in a statement.

While this pronouncement by Biti was expected given the party’s decision to boycott the presidential election run-off last week, we received it with trepidation nonetheless, especially for its categorical nature.

Many people felt the lead-up to the election resembled a war situation. This newspaper has documented some of the widespread violence attributed to Zanu PF securocrats, militias and other party functionaries.

The question on many people’s lips since that belated decision by the MDC leadership to pull out of the election race has been: “What are they going to do next?”

We had no illusions that Zanu PF would proceed with the elections and that once the result was announced, the party would return to business as usual. The MDC and many Zimbabweans believe Mugabe’s re-election was coerced. Many have since pronounced it a “sham” and Mugabe an “illegitimate” leader. This is a view shared by many African states.

But while we agree there should be no reward for Zanu PF’s policy of violence and repression, we believe that a negotiated settlement is the way to go sooner rather than later. That must include the aim of a democratic election within a specific time-frame with international supervision.

Zimbabwe failed to meet the test of the Sadc Mauritius terms. Indeed, it was in open violation of most of the region’s electoral principles.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the March election with a majority of votes. But that doesn’t prevent an all-inclusive approach to national reconstruction. Biti’s declaration that Mugabe’s re-election has “totally and completely exterminated any prospect of a negotiated settlement” is delusional, just as Mugabe’s claim to have won a democratic mandate is.

There appears to have been a gross miscalculation by the MDC that once Tsvangirai pulled out Zanu PF would stop the electoral process and pronounce its candidate the winner as provided for in the constitution.

This did not happen. The question remains unanswered, how the MDC proposes to move forward from here?

Unless it acts with wisdom and good sense — as distinct from kneejerk responses — there is the real risk of it becoming either irrelevant, moribund or a negative force in Zimbabwe’s body politic.

On the other hand, Mugabe’s swearing in and his attendance at the African Union summit in Egypt on their own don’t confer on him and his government the legitimacy he so badly needs to get the nation out of its quagmire. There is more work to be done than winning elections and Mugabe knows that very well, hence his call for a national dialogue.

Given Mugabe’s record, we doubt his sincerity in the dialogue, not its necessity. It is in this respect that we expected the MDC to adopt a circumspect yet still principled position in the national interest. If political leaders cannot resolve their differences after the people have spoken in a national vote, why should it be the poor who continue to suffer the most?

When the MDC completely rules out dialogue, how is that supposed to alleviate this suffering? Zimbabwe’s economic recovery cannot be achieved by Zanu PF working on its own or with chosen “friendly nations”. This is a task which calls for the collective effort of all Zimbabweans. That is why we insist on a negotiated settlement rather than the outcome of a wasteful and expensive post-electoral charade.

We believe that when the MDC talks about transitional mechanisms and national healing, the essence of that is negotiation and inevitable compromise. In saying so, nobody proposes that the MDC should go into the negotiations with its eyes closed. They must not suppose that Zanu PF will loosen its grip on power without a fight, even if that means taking advantage of negotiators hungry for power.

That said, our point is that the MDC must engage in processes that move the nation forward, not remain stuck in the stalemate of the past eight years. It must have a sense of proportion about the concessions it can reasonably extract from Zanu PF without holding the nation to ransom.

We know the temptation is to play to the international gallery; that there should be no dialogue with Zanu PF at all. This is based on the false belief that a few noises from the international community will sway Mugabe into retirement. The truth is that approach has not worked and there are no indications that it will this time around.

Given the limitations of both parties, we draw the conclusion that neither Zanu PF nor the MDC has the answers to our crisis. While the MDC has the legitimacy, Zanu PF has the power, however brutally retained. That is the conundrum we have to resolve.

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