A WAR of words erupted this week between MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and mediator Thabo Mbeki which prompted the opposition to demand â€“â€“ for the umpteenth time â€” that the former South African president step down.
The sources said talks on Constitutional Amendment No 19 in Pretoria, South Africa, were nearly stalled on Wednesday because of the barbs exchanged between Tsvangirai and Mbeki after the MDC leader accused the former president of biased mediation. He also labelled Sadc leaders cowards for failing to rein in Mugabe.
In a 10-page response, Mbeki claimed that Tsvangirai and his party were taking instructions from Western countries.
Mbeki accused Tsvangirai of having used offensive language when he criticised Sadc leaders, adding that the MDC should â€œtake responsibility for the future of Zimbabwe, rather than see its mission as being a militant criticâ€ of Mugabe and Zanu PF.
â€œAll that is now required is that these leaders must remain true to their word,â€ he said. â€œThey must implement the agreement they signed. In this regard, they (MDC-T) have absolutely no need to refer to their external supporters for approval, whoever they might be, and however powerful they might seem, including any and all South African formations,â€ Mbeki wrote.
â€œRealistically, Zimbabwe will never share the same neighbourhood with the countries of Western Europe and North America which have benefited especially from the migration of skilled and professional Zimbabweans to the North.â€
Mbeki could not conceal his anger that Tsvangirai had denounced Sadc leaders.
He said: â€œBecause leaders in our region did not agree with you on some matter that served on the agenda of the Sadc Extraordinary Summit meeting, you have denounced them publicly as cowards.
â€œIt may be that, for whatever reason, you consider our region and continent as being of little consequence to the future of Zimbabwe, believing that others further away, in Western Europe and North America, are of greater importance.
â€œAll of us will find it strange and insulting that because we do not agree with you on a small matter, you choose to describe us in a manner that is most offensive in terms of African culture, and therefore our sense of dignity as Africans, across our bordersâ€¦ Such manner of proceeding might earn you prominent media headlines. However, I assure you that it will do nothing to solve the problems of Zimbabwe.â€
Tsvangirai hit back at Mbeki on Wednesday and asked him to step down as the negotiator of the talks.
The former trade unionist said he had written to Sadc chairman, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe â€œdetailing the irretrievable state of our relationshipâ€ with Mbeki and â€œasking that he recuse himselfâ€.
â€œHe does not appear to understand how desperate the problem in Zimbabwe is, and the solutions he proposes are too small,â€ Tsvangirai said in a statement he issued in Johannesburg. â€œHe is not serving to bring the parties together because he does not understand what needs to be done.â€
Tsvangirai, however, stressed that his party would continue negotiations with no prejudice to the outstanding issues.
â€œI would like to reiterate that the MDC is ready, willing and able to bring about the change that Zimbabwe needs from an inclusive government,â€ he said. â€œWe have a viable and bankable economic stabilisation programme and other key policies that we want to discuss with Zanu PF so that we can implement them together to respond urgently to the suffering of our people. That is the mandate we have from the people.â€
The MDC-T had on several occasions tried to have Mbeki removed by Sadc as mediator after accusing him of bias against the party.
The MDC accused the former African National Congress leader of being sympathetic to Mugabe and claimed that his mediation in Zimbabwe had exacerbated the countryâ€™s crisis.
However, the regional bloc continued to have faith in Mbeki and it is highly unlikely that Sadc will remove him. Mbeki brokered the September 15 deal, but it ran into problems a few days after it was signed when Mugabe and Tsvangirai failed to agree on the allocation of ministerial portfolios.
Under the pact, Mugabe would have 15 ministers, Tsvangirai 13 and Mutambara 3.
Meanwhile, the Botswana Foreign minister Phandu Skelemani on Wednesday launched an attack on Mugabe and suggested Sadc should close its borders in an attempt to bring him down. Skelemani told the BBCâ€™s Hardtalk programme that Sadc nations have failed to move Mugabe with mediation and they should now impose sanctions.
The minister said the regional leaders should tell Mugabe to his face: â€œLook, now you are on your own, we are switching off, we are closing your borders.â€™â€
He added that if no fuel went into Zimbabwe for a week, Mugabe would be gone. Leaders from Botswana and Zambia have been lonely voices in the region against Mugabeâ€™s government. Zimbabwe has since accused Botswana of meddling in its domestic affairs.
By Constantine Chimakure