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Comment; MDC Needs To Think More, Talk Less

MORGAN Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), on Wednesday reportedly refused to sign a draft memorandum of understanding (MoU) already agreed with the two other negotiating parties to pave way for substantive power-sharing talks.


The MoU would have paved the way for serious and focused negotiations between Zanu PF and the two MDC formations to agree on a government of national unity or whatever arrangement was considered desirable under the Sadc-initiated talks facilitated by South African President Thabo Mbeki. The talks have the backing of the African Union and the United Nations.

Tsvangirai’s faction, press reports said, had last week in Pretoria agreed with other parties to the talks on a working framework. On Monday the negotiators of the MDC and Zanu PF also agreed on the final draft of the MoU which was due to be approved by their principals the following day before Mbeki arrived on Wednesday for the signing ceremony.

However, Tsvangirai refused to approve the draft. The former trade unionist threw spanners into the works in a bid to secure demands he has been making. Tsvangirai recently said he could not attend a meeting with President Robert Mugabe on July 5 because African Union Commission chairperson Jean Ping had advised him not to attend. He is also insisting that the MDC’s preconditions, most notably those concerning violence, must be met before the negotiations can begin.

Tsvangirai, who says the March 29 result should be the benchmark for the talks, is also saying Mugabe must release over 1 500 political detainees, swear in a new parliament and resume humanitarian aid. Above all, he is demanding that a permanent AU envoy, preferably Ping, should be appointed to assist Mbeki in his mediation because the South African leader is ineffective, and even biased.

Mugabe initially demanded that he must first be recognised as the legitimate president on the basis of his victory of June 27. This came after world leaders, including African ones, rejected or refused to recognise as legitimate Mugabe’s “win” in the sham election in which at least 100 people were killed and thousands of others injured or displaced in state-driven political violence.

Tsvangirai’s demands are justified in the circumstances, except that he is proving to be increasingly inflexible in the process. It’s true that during negotiations each party would want to use to maximum advantage its leverage, but this should not be overstretched as it might end up diminishing as a source of influence, especially in a state of flux.

From a purely negotiating point of view, Tsvangirai is right — particularly on on-going violence — but he must be careful not to end up biting off more than he can chew. He should not allow himself to be seen as an impediment to progress.

Mugabe, who is desperate for talks to gain legitimacy and find a way out of the economic crisis, has climbed down on his main demand that he must first be recognised as president. Tsvangirai also climbed down last week when he sent his negotiating team to Pretoria without his conditions being met. This enabled South Africa’s Dumisani Khumalo to claim in the Security Council debate on sanctions that the two sides were talking, which strengthened Russia’s hand.

Tsvangirai must be flexible. This does not mean he should give away his advantage but he must look at the broad picture instead of exclusively and narrowly focusing on power. No doubt power is at stake here but it must not be pursued to the detriment of the national interest.

Mugabe would want to gain legitimacy and retain the levers of power during negotiations, but the best way to check him would be through a calculated and coordinated strategy. Tsvangirai has enough leverage to achieve this through a measured engagement. Throwing hands in the air and sulking as demonstrated by the “Chitongai Tione” strategy is unhelpful.

No doubt for the talks to move forward Mugabe must stop repression, violence and intimidation, but such demands should not end up being a stumbling block to progress. And Mugabe should be reminded that the ANC at Codesa did not ask its Western friends to lift sanctions until it was sure that the democratic order had been firmly entrenched.


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