A Perspective On MDC, Zanu PF Talks And Election Of Speaker

DURING the last few weeks there has been frenzied media speculation that Robert Mugabe has entered into, or is about to enter into, a deal with the MDC formation led by Arthur Mutambara (MDC -M).

 

The MDC M in honouring the terms of the MoU has steadfastly maintained a media silence which in turn has created a vacuum of information. That vacuum has been filled by media speculation, propaganda issued by Zanu PF and statements made by leaders of the MDC formation led by Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T). In addition a few belligerent statements of Mutambara and the attendance of Mutambara and other leaders at the Heroes Acre ceremony and elsewhere have reinforced the perception in the minds of the public and that there is indeed a deal. Indeed many newspapers, with some noteworthy exceptions such as the New York Times, have taken it as given that there was a deal reached. Whilst the existence of a deal has been emphatically denied, the controversy surrounding the election of Speaker in the last week has served to enhance the perception that there is some deal.

It is my belief that there is a very serious gap between the public’s perception of what is taking place and the truth. It also deeply concerns me that even colleagues in the struggle to bring democracy to Zimbabwe appear to have deliberately distorted the truth for partisan ends. I cannot see how that can advance our just cause; all it serves to do is to further divide those who oppose the Zanu PF regime. In short I believe that there needs to be a truth telling so that all those genuinely concerned with the Zimbabwean crisis can be better informed.

The Memorandum of Understanding was signed in Harare on July 21 2008. Intensive negotiations began in South Africa on July 24 2008. It should be stressed of course that these negotiations took off from where the negotiations had ended prior to the March 2008 elections and built on agreements and legislation, including a new draft constitution which was signed by all the negotiators in Kariba on September 30 2007, agreed to during that process.

Between July 24 2008 and August 6 2008 the negotiators reached agreement on a wide range of issues. Unfortunately I am not at liberty to reveal the details but suffice it to say that the agreements reached are wide ranging and deeply heartening in most respects. For example there is a commitment to creating an acceptable, inclusive process which will result in Zimbabwe having a new democratic Constitution within 18 months.

There is an agreement to set up a mechanism to achieve national healing in respect of victims of pre-and post independence political conflicts. There are signed agreements regarding land, security of persons, humanitarian and food assistance, and freedoms of assembly and association. Importantly there is an agreement that the implementation of the overall agreement is to be guaranteed and underwritten by the President of South Africa, Sadc and the AU.

On July 28 2008 the negotiators agreed to and signed a document entitled “Framework for a new government”. In terms of this document Robert Mugabe would continue in office as president. He would appoint three deputy presidents, two nominated by Zanu PF and one by MDC-T. Morgan Tsvangirai was to become prime minister and they would be three deputy prime ministers one each nominated by the parties. It was agreed that they would be a cabinet made up of 38 ministers; comprising 17 ministers from Zanu PF, 16 ministers from MDC-T and five ministers from MDC-M. This breakdown of ministers largely reflected the percentage of votes received by the three political parties in the March Parliamentary elections.

On August 6 2008 the negotiators adjourned on the understanding that certain outstanding issues including the powers and duties of the president and prime minister respectively would have to be resolved by the principals.

On August 9 2008 President Mbeki and his team arrived in Harare.

Negotiations involving the Principals commenced on 10 August 10 2008. Tsvangirai tabled a position paper, paragraph 2 of which demands that the prime minister be the head of government, formulate and carry out policies of the government, execute, direct and administer the operations of government, conduct the business of government in Parliament, chair cabinet and appoint and dismiss cabinet.

During the discussions which followed Morgan Tsvangirai also asked that the agreement regarding the framework for a new government, agreed to by the negotiators on July 28 2008, be revisited. He proposed that the 38 member cabinet be cut down to a 31 member cabinet, reducing the respective ministers to 15 Zanu PF, 14 MDC-T and 2 MDC-M. In addition he proposed that the three deputy presidents be cut down to two, both of whom were to be nominated by Zanu PF and that the three deputy prime ministers be cut down to two, one from MDC-T and one from MDC-M. As an aside the original formulation was designed to meet MDC-T demands that both MDC T vice President Thoko Khupe and MDC-T secretary-general Tendai Biti would have senior positions.

The above-mentioned changes regarding the framework were agreed to by the principals along with other issues. In the early hours of August 11 2008 president Mbeki produced a working document highlighting five areas of concern including the duration of the government, the constitution, the framework of the new government (reflecting the agreement reached following the proposed changes as set out in the paragraph above), the powers and functions of the prime minister and the National Security Council. Without reaching agreement on these issues the meeting adjourned on the early hours of August 11 2008.

It should be mentioned at this juncture that before the meeting concluded in the early hours of August 11 2008 President Mbeki urged both Tsvangirai and Mutambara to attend the Heroes Day celebrations later that day as a confidence building measure. Mutambara only attended because he agreed to President Mbeki’s request and was of the understanding that Tsvangirai was going to attend. Accordingly what was done as an act of good faith has been perceived as another sign that Mutambara was in cahoots with Mugabe.

When the negotiations resumed on the afternoon of August 11 2008 Tsvangirai tabled further notes together with an annexure responding to the five outstanding areas of concern set out in president Mbeki’s working document. From this document it is clear that there was largely common cause relating to the duration of the government, the Constitution and the framework for the new government and indeed by the end of that discussion all the principals had reached agreement regarding these issues. The only major outstanding issue related to the role of the prime minister.

Overnight further work was done by President Mbeki’s team on a document setting out the role of the prime minister. A first draft of this document was presented to the Principals when negotiations resumed on the afternoon of August 12 2008. Considerable debate followed and in the course of the afternoon and early evening the original document was amended several times. In the course of the afternoon and evening the debate had narrowed down to two critically important issues namely that the prime minister should be “Head of Government” and should chair cabinet. In the belief that all had agreed a final draft was prepared by president Mbeki’s team, and in the belief that this was acceptable to the MDC-T and Tsvangirai, Mutambara indicated that he would agree to what was set out in the final document. However Tsvangirai after consulting his colleagues advised that the final document was unsatisfactory and the meeting ended.

The point of this paper is not to debate whether the powers of the prime minister as set out in the agreement are satisfactory. The allegation has been made that the MDC-M collectively or Mutambara individually entered into a bilateral agreement with Zanu PF on the evening of August 12. The Zanu PF mouthpiece the Herald newspaper announced this as fact the following morning and many international newspapers and media organisations reported the same thing. Despite the fact that a press conference was held by Mutambara on the afternoon of August 13 2008 denying that there was or would be any bilateral agreement, the belief has stuck.

It should be clear from what has been described above that no bilateral agreement was entered into, nor was it the intention of the MDC-M or Mutambara to enter into any such pact.Three further points should be made in this regard:

* Firstly, both the agreement entitled “Framework for a new government” signed on July 28 2008 and paragraph 20.1.1 of the subsequent draft composite agreement (which incorporates all the various agreements reached prior to the meeting of the principals) makes it quite clear that the office of prime minister “shall be occupied by Tsvangirai”. In other words the allegations made by some journalists and political analysts that Mutambara would step in to that office are simply ludicrous. If there is any doubt about that it was dispelled by president Mbeki in his subsequent press statement in which he stressed that they would have to be a tripartite agreement.

* Secondly, it should be stressed that the MDC-M itself agrees that the entire agreement, including the sub agreement dealing with the role of the prime minister, does not meet our ideal aspirations for a new democratic order in Zimbabwe. However we are aware of the political reality that exists in Zimbabwe at present. Effective power, including control of the military, remains in the hands of Zanu PF.

Millions of Zimbabweans are literally starving to death. Daily we receive reports of families who have completely run out of food. If the conduct of Zanu PF over the last eight years is anything to go by, it is not unreasonable to assume that they are callous enough to not care about this ongoing suffering. There are also pitiful examples elsewhere in Africa of political leaders who are prepared to take their countries down to the depths we have witnessed in Somalia and Liberia. It is in this context that we have negotiated in good faith, in what we believe is the best interests of Zimbabwe. The deal on the table is not perfect but in our view it will take the process forward and end the intense suffering of Zimbabweans.

* Thirdly, there is the irrefutable fact that since August 12 there has been no bilateral agreement with Zanu PF since August 12 2008. The MDC-M has repeatedly said there would not be any bilateral agreement and that is borne out what has actually happened. There is no doubt that had Mugabe been able to persuade MDC-M leaders or parliamentarians to join his cabinet, he would have gone ahead with forming a cabinet that excluded the MDC-T and Tsvangirai.

But he has not been able to do so because the MDC-M and its leadership have been consistently clear that they would not accept any such arrangement. Of course Zanu PF and its mouthpieces have repeatedly put out that there is an agreement but that is simply self serving propaganda designed to promote their cause and to divide those opposed to them. The irony is that so many people, including many in the international media have swallowed their story hook, line and sinker.

If we have any difference of opinion with our colleagues in the MDC-T it is rooted in the fear that they may overreach their demands.

Habib and director for Research and Advocacy at Solidarity Peace Trust, Brian Raftopoulos argue that once in government Tsvangirai will be in a position to vigorously manage the situation to ensure that he and his party move to a position of control and authority.

Raftopoulos suggests it is about capacity. “Well, the biggest challenge will be the capacity to deal with the institutions of the state and to be able to wield the powers within the state in whatever areas they have the most authority in order to deliver policy changes,” he said.

“So it is a question of capacity, capacity of the MDC to be able to take up positions in the state and to be able to fight for the delivery of those policies which will begin to shift the balance of political power away from Zanu-PF,” he added.”

It is in this context that we are all deeply angered by the suggestion that we would enter into a bilateral agreement that is not in the best interests of all Zimbabweans. We have not entered into such an agreement and will not in future. But our belief remains that the draft agreement on the table, as imperfect as it is, is the best deal that we are going to get at this juncture. We concede that we may be wrong in this assessment because of course we do not enjoy a monopoly of wisdom; all that we ask of the Zimbabwean public is that it be acknowledged that we are at least acting in good faith.

In any democratic country the office of Speaker is crucial in establishing and maintaining the integrity of Parliament.  Throughout the Commonwealth Speakers are chosen primarily because of their actual and perceived neutrality.

One of the greatest tragedies in Zimbabwe since 2000 is that the office of Speaker has been occupied by overtly partisan individuals who have made a mockery of the principles of free, fair and open Parliamentary debate. As a result in the last two Parliaments many Parliamentary sessions have been reduced to farcical levels.

Because of all the trauma of the last eight years, and especially because of the extreme violence perpetrated mainly by Zanu PF against mainly (in  the last 18 months that is) our colleagues in the MDC T our nation remains  deeply polarised.  The hostility between Zanu PF and the MDC T is intense.

However sympathetic we may be towards our colleagues in the MDC T the fact remains that our country is in a deep crisis and we will need level heads to recover. If Parliament is to remain a battleground then it will be difficult to find a consensus on the way forward.

It was in this context that we suggested in the negotiations to Zanu PF and the MDC T that agreement should be reached that one of our nominees should be the Speaker. The suggestion was not made from any sense of entitlement but purely from a belief that a relatively neutral person might be able to bridge the huge gulf that will surely exist in the new  Parliament as it is presently constituted.

Regrettably that suggestion was rejected by both parties.  During discussions regarding who would be acceptable as a Speaker the MDC T negotiators eventually indicated that they would prefer to nominate Dumiso  Dabengwa than people nominated by the MDC M such as Gibson Sibanda or Paul Temba Nyathi.

In other words notwithstanding the joint history and the support given to Morgan Tsvangirai’s candidacy in the run off, much of the focus of the negotiations was on the intra MDC party dispute, rather than on presenting a common front against Zanu PF.

Having tried to get a consensus with our colleagues in the MDC T and failed we still were of the view that as we had the right to nominate our own Speaker and that was in our belief the best thing for the new Parliament, we should nominate our own candidate. Accordingly in the National Council meeting held on  August 20 2008 we debated the matter and chose Paul Temba Nyathi as our candidate for Speaker.

Anyone who knows Paul  Temba Nyathi will agree with me when I say that he is a man of absolute integrity; a man of great humility; a man with a wonderful sense of humour who has the ability to make even his fiercest adversary laugh; and a man who is simply a great human being. I had the honour of being in Parliament with him between 2000 and 2005 and missed his presence more than anyone else in the last Parliament. In addition Paul is a genuine war veteran and an ex detainee.

That history gave him a unique ability to argue against Zanu PF and importantly to persuade Zanu PF MPs across to his point of view. Paul also served with distinction in civic organisations prior to becoming a Parliamentarian. I am obviously biased but there are many others who share my view of him. 

Judith Todd’s book “Through the Darkness” details Paul’s superb work and delightful character during the 1980s. In short we believe that he would have been the best person to turn the Zimbabwean Parliament in to an institution we can all be proud of.
 

I have deliberately laboured my praise of Paul Temba Nyathi because some  of our colleagues in the MDC T, including some people who should know better, have stated and written that our nomination of Paul Temba Nyathi was part of an agreement with Zanu PF. Other MDC T propagandists have stated that Paul Temba Nyathi was in fact “Zanu PF’s nominee”. If this was indeed so, it must follow that Paul Temba Nyathi was aware of the agreement and either agreed with it or condoned it. Anyone who knows Paul Temba Nyathi will know just how outrageous such an allegation is.
 

The fact of the matter is that our National Council (not a few individuals) met on Wednesday  August 20 2008 and unanimously nominated Paul.  Thereafter a concerted effort was made to lobby individual MDC T and Zanu PF MPs to vote for Paul. We knew the obvious –– that without getting votes from people from other parties our objective would fail.

A sizeable number of MDC T MPs were very happy that he had been nominated and indicated that they would vote for him. Ironically the  response from Zanu PF was that they believed that the MDC T would not be able to get more than 96 of its MPs into Parliament (because of their understanding that 4 MPs were in either exile or in hiding) and because of this they would be able to elect a Zanu PF MP as Speaker.

It was only at 10 am on Monday the  August 25 2008 that we learned that Zanu PF were not going to put up a candidate (when they realised that the MDC T had  managed to get virtually all its MPs into the House) and that they would vote for Paul Temba Nyathi.

Our hope that we would get a sizeable number of MDC T MPs to vote for Paul did not materialise. On the evening of Sunday August 24 a meeting of the MDC T Parliamentary caucus was held and its members were threatened with expulsion and the loss of their Parliamentary seats if they voted for Paul.

If anyone doubts the truth of this the fact remains that when the vote for Speaker was conducted MDC T MPs were obliged to show their ballots to MDC T MP and vice president Thoko Khupe prior to voting. There is both video evidence and the testimony of MPs to support this allegation.

I understand that the allegation is not even denied by the MDC  T; one MDC MP spoke at a meeting with church leaders in Harare last week and confirmed the allegation. They were forced to disclose their vote  because of the well founded fear that many MDC T MPs would vote for Paul.

Two issues arise from this incident. Firstly, section 6 of the Standing Orders of the Parliament of Zimbabwe, Sixth Edition published in 2005  states “If more than one person is proposed as Speaker, the clerk shall conduct the election of Speaker by a secret ballot.” This is a standard provision throughout the Commonwealth, which is fiercely respected throughout the Commonwealth and indeed in most democratic nations.

All other Parliamentary votes are made in public that this provision is deliberately designed to ensure that MPs are not constrained by partisan orders or interests in selecting the Speaker. It is in fact designed to ensure as far as possible that a neutral Speaker is elected. 

Accordingly the insistence that MDC T MPs show their ballots to Thoko Khupe prior to voting is not only unlawful but also runs against one of the fundamental tenets of democratic Parliamentary practice. In short the election of  Lovemore Moyo was illegal, could be set aside by a court and establishes an unacceptable standard of behaviour for the new Parliament.

I  have heard that some have argued that only a few “suspected” MDC T MPs had their ballots checked; that is irrelevant. Even if only one MP had his or her ballot checked that alone would have been despicable and would besufficient to render the entire process invalid. It should also be pointed out that despite concerns in the MDC M caucus that some of our own MPs would not vote for our candidate we nevertheless respected the secret ballot.

Secondly, the insistence that MDC T MPs show their ballots prior to voting was successful. Our assumption was that a sizeable number of MDC T MPs would vote for Paul and that would be sufficient to secure his election.

Although some MDC T MPs were brave enough to defy the order (some refused  to show their ballots) the fact remains  that most felt constrained to vote for the MDC T candidate and that what we hoped would be a demonstration of nonpartisanship was subverted into a perception that we had entered into some unholy alliance with Zanu PF. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Subsequent allegations that MDC M MPs were induced to vote for Lovemore Moyo and that a senior former Zanu PF Cabinet minister and MP for Nkayi North, Lovemore Moyo’s mother in law Sithembiso Nyoni, campaigned for him have further besmirched the entire process. In short this election, far from being a celebration of the new order many of us have fought for, is in reality a reminder of how much further we still have to travel to achieve a new democratic order in Zimbabwe. That some of our MDC colleagues went to such great lengths to defeat the candidacy of an outstanding founder member of the MDC of impeccable standing is distressing.