AFTER recently storming back to power in a discredited one-man election, President Robert Mugabe is finding out that things are harder than he thought. He has suddenly become amenable to talks.
Mugabe is faced with fundamental questions he cannot resolve even after claiming a “landslide” victory in the poll. He has to deal with his now glaring lack of legitimacy and an economic crisis. He also has to deal with mounting pressure for him to reform or go. Besides, Mugabe needs to use his pyrrhic victory to resolve his succession crisis and a renewal of his fossilised party.
This has put him in a position in which he has no choice but to talk to the opposition, even though his motives remain how to retain the levers of power.
Terrified by his disastrous leadership failures and the looming prospect of rejection at the polls, Mugabe cited some bizarre reasons why he would never allow his bitter rival, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, to rule even if he won. Zanu PF then unleashed a campaign of terror to stop him. At least 100 people were reportedly killed, while thousands of others were displaced and injured in the brutal campaign of violence.
However, the stark realities of lack of legitimacy and economic meltdown are now haunting Mugabe, making him open to dialogue, including with Tsvangirai â€” the man he often describes as a “front” and “stooge” for Western powers bent on regime change in Harare.
Tsvangirai last Saturday actually stood up Mugabe at Zimbabwe House, showing things have changed, although the move by the MDC leader is seen in some circles as evidence of his chronic lack of strategic thinking.
Negotiations are a very useful tool in resolving conflicts and should be pursued when appropriate. In situations where no fundamentalist issues are at stake like in the case of Zimbabwe today, and therefore a compromise is plausible and acceptable, negotiations are a relatively better way out.
Tsvangiraiâ€™s supporters claim it was a good move to boycott the meeting with Mugabe at Zimbabwe House â€” the presidentâ€™s official residence â€” because he denied South African President Thabo Mbeki a propaganda coup ahead of a crucial G8 summit in Japan this week. Mbeki was grilled by sceptical G8 leaders who questioned his mediation record after he reportedly claimed the talks were proceeding well.
It was also reported he said Mugabe was not legitimate and the whole point of his push for a government of national unity was to address that problem. It was further reported that he had said that Mugabe would be leaving anyway in a “few years” and is prepared for a ceremonial role in the new set up.
While some of these claims sound far-fetched, Mbeki appears to have been put under pressure to justify his role. However, he succeeded in the end in keeping the mediation under his control as shown by the G8 leadersâ€™ support despite threats of “further steps and measures” against Harare with United Nations approval.
The African Union also backs the initiative although it wants to be involved. Mbeki has stymied attempts by some AU leaders to challenge his role.
There is growing consensus in Zimbabwe, the region, Africa and at the UN that a government of national unity is the most viable way out for this country. This is what Mbeki has been pushing for despite his failure so far. Only the United States and European Union â€” admittedly the real powers although their influence on the issue is limited â€” seem to be taking a hardline position.
Mbekiâ€™s critics say his attempt to secure a meeting between Mugabe and Tsvangirai was designed to stall international efforts to isolate Mugabeâ€™s regime. They also claim it was meant to dupe the MDC into unwittingly giving Mugabe tacit recognition.
However, this is not entirely true because Tsvangirai, as it now transpires, actually asked Mbeki in a telephone conversation on July 2 for the meeting which was confirmed on July 4. It has also now come out Tsvangirai was also very much aware the meeting would be at Zimbabwe House. This effectively scotches the widely held claim, among others, that he boycotted the meeting because did not want to enter the venue fearing he would legitimise Mugabe.
The meeting was organised by Mbeki after consultations between Zanu PF and the two MDC factions on June 30 and July 2. The point is that Tsvangirai boycotted the meeting not because of all these assumptions but for reasons best known to himself.
This has tended to cloud issues and lead to mystifying speculation, although a clear picture is emerging again.
Zanu PF and MDC negotiators resumed talks for a possible government of national unity in Pretoria yesterday amid fast growing pressure for a resolution of Zimbabweâ€™s drawn-out political impasse.
The resumption of talks in the midst of mounting pressure and a worsening economic meltdown is likely to accelerate the search for a breakthrough which has been hard to pin down.
Informed sources said Zanu PF and MDC negotiators are discussing urgent ways of a power-sharing agreement to end the countryâ€™s problems. The talks seem to be serious now because of the deteriorating situation on the ground and exhaustion of battling parties after nearly 10 years of non-stop political combat.
The Zanu PF politburo met on Wednesday reportedly to approve the talks and discuss looming international sanctions against Harare. This came a day after Mugabeâ€™s old cabinet met to tackle the same issues. The MDC factions have also been holding consultations.
Zanu PF and the MDC negotiators have been talking informally about the negotiations after the failure of last weekendâ€™s meeting organised by Mbeki between President Mugabe and Tsvangirai.
Mugabe says he would not talk unless recognised as the legitimate leader. Tsvangirai has also threatened the same, creating a potentially explosive engagement between Zanu PF and the MDC. However, the gravity of the crisis and international pressure is slowly forcing them to soften their positions.
The UN deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro told the Security Council in New York on Tuesday the creation of a government of national unity enjoys broad support in the region. The UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon strongly supports the plan and has called for the intensification of negotiations.
This has put Mbeki, despite widespread criticism of his role, in a firm position to push for a resolution of Zimbabweâ€™s crisis. The irony is that Mbeki still stands a better chance of finding a breakthrough to the deadlock than anybody else regardless of understandable anger and criticism of his approach.
Although the power relations still favour Mugabe in this conflict and it should not be surprising that the outcome of the talks would leave him with larger material power in the end, he is in a tight spot and with strategic thinking Tsvangirai could wring critical concessions and some substance of power from his embattled and weakened rival after his widely-rejected “victory”.
By Dumisani Muleya