THE Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) agreed on Monday between Zanu PF and MDC negotiating parties is now expected to be signed after todayâ€™s critical meeting between South African President Thabo Mbeki and the African Union (AU) Commission chair Jean Ping in Pretoria.
Top of their agenda will be the vexed issue of mediation in the Zimbabwe political crisis.
There is still deadlock over the issue as the opposition MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai met in Harare yesterday and decided to hold out on the signing of a MoU until after Mbekiâ€™s meeting with Ping to see whether the AU will appoint an envoy to beef up the Sadc-mandated mediation.
Sources said there was a heated debate in the MDCâ€™s National Executive Committee on the issue of Mbekiâ€™s mediation. Tsvangiraiâ€™s group has been complaining that Mbeki is biased in favour of President Robert Mugabe. It wants the AU to send a permanent envoy on Zimbabwe to assist Mbeki, but Pretoria has rejected the demand, saying itâ€™s a “fake issue”.
The MDC executive also resolved that its own negotiating team must be expanded to reinforce the current one of Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma. The MDC removed Lovemore Moyo from its team and replaced him with Mangoma after last yearâ€™s failed talks.
The MDC stood firm on its demands that violence has to stop, political detainees released and humanitarian aid resumed before dialogue can begin.
The partyâ€™s National Council resolved on July 4 that Tsvangiraiâ€™s victory on March 29 was the benchmark for talks. Tsvangirai withdrew from the run-off and Mugabe proceeded alone, but world leaders, including those in Africa, refused to acknowledge his legitimacy.
The MDC council also said: “The party must engage in dialogue for the purpose of ensuring that we resolve the Zimbabwean crisis and bring legitimacy and democracy to Zimbabwe.”
As a precondition of the dialogue,it said, there must be the cessation of violence, disbandment of militias, dismantlement of torture bases and repatriation of displaced persons. It said perpetrators of violence must be prosecuted expeditiously and impartially.
The sources said the party stood fast on these issues yesterday, although it remained committed to the talks.
MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa yesterday confirmed that his partyâ€™s national executive met, but could not give details on its deliberations.
However, it is understood that the MDC leadership and negotiators are waiting for the outcome of Mbekiâ€™s meeting with Ping today to decide whether to sign the MoU or not.
MDC regional spokesman Nqobizitha Mlilo said yesterday his party was waiting for the outcome of Mbekiâ€™s meeting with Ping. â€œWe want to see the outcome of the meeting between Ping and Mbeki and will take it from there,â€ he said.
Diplomatic sources said it was highly unlikely Mbeki would give in, which might force the MDC to end up signing the MoU anyway.
The MoU outlines the agenda and terms for the talks, framework of the new government, timeframe, and composition of the negotiating teams. The first draft of the MoU was drawn up in Pretoria last week by the three negotiating teams under the chairmanship of Mbekiâ€™s facilitators. It was finalised and agreed upon by negotiators on Monday in the presence of Mbekiâ€™s envoys, Sydney Mufamadi, Frank Chikane and Mujanku Gumbi.
Zanu PF is represented by Patrick Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche, while the MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara has Welshman Ncube and Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga. The MoU was supposed to be approved by parties and their leaders on Tuesday this week before being signed on Wednesday. Zanu PF and the Mutambara group endorsed it, but Tsvangiraiâ€™s faction did not, scuttling the signing ceremony.
On Wednesday the two MDC factions met in Harare in a bid to resolve the impasse, but Tsvangiraiâ€™s faction said it would not sign until it was clear whether the AU would deploy an envoy or not. Tsvangiraiâ€™s faction also sent an emissary, sources said, to try to consult Ping on the issue in Paris ahead of his meeting with Mbeki today.
It is understood Ping will tell Mbeki the AU supports his mediation and there will be no need for another mediator. However, with Tsvangiraiâ€™s camp digging in on the issue, a compromise could eventually be found, a source said.
Mbeki recently secured the support of Sadc, the AU, UN and to some extent the G8 despite fierce criticism of his role. The looming threat of sanctions by the United States and EU, including Britain, appears to be now pressuring Mbeki to move with speed.
The sources said Mbeki, who was expected to witness the signing of the MoU by Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara, cancelled his visit to Zimbabwe on Wednesday at the last minute after Tsvangiraiâ€™s group baulked at its endorsement. This stalled the bid to move on quickly to substantive negotiations that sources said would be â€œsharp, short and preciseâ€.
The failure of the signing came 10 days after Mbekiâ€™s bid to secure the first meeting between Mugabe and his bitter rival Tsvangirai flopped at the eleventh hour after the opposition chief boycotted a Zimbabwe House meeting, urging the AU to appoint a permanent envoy to shore up Mbekiâ€™s mediation efforts.
By Dumisani Muleya