The outcome of the negotiations could make or break the shaky inclusive government which recently plunged into a crisis due to the intensifying power struggles and rising political tensions within the coalition arrangement. The infighting led to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his ministers temporarily pulling out of government on October 16.
They returned on Monday.
Following an emergency Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Organ on Politics, Defence and Security summit in Maputo last week, the political parties signatory to the GPA were directed to engage in dialogue with immediate effect within 15 days and not beyond 30 days.
However, the parties had by yesterday not started negotiations on the contentious outstanding issues although consultations were underway to fix a date for the talks. The parties are expected to start the meetings by next week.
MDC-M chief negotiator Welshman Ncube said yesterday consultations were going on to set in motion the talks after the crucial Maputo summit. “We have not yet agreed on a date, but we are consulting on when we should meet to start the talks,” Ncube said. “There are several issues which came up in between events. I was away (in Egypt) and an MP for the MDC-T (Makoni Central legislator John Nyamande) died and as a result some people were attending the funeral.”
Despite the overwhelming pressure being exerted by the Sadc leaders on GPA parties to find common ground and solutions on divisive issues, there has been a slow start to negotiations, raising fears of lack of urgency to resolve the disputes threatening the survival of the inclusive government.
Due to President Robert Mugabe’s absence, Tsvangirai and his ministers only attended cabinet on Wednesday, officially ending their boycott of government ahead of the divisive trial of Roy Bennett which resumed yesterday. The Bennett trial, which was expected to gain momentum yesterday, was postponed to Monday because the defence wants Justice Chinembiri Bhunu to recuse himself.
Tsvangirai and the MDC re-engagement came after the Maputo meeting convened to help to resolve the political crisis triggered by their pullout from cabinet following the re-arrest of Bennett who is facing charges of terrorism and banditry allegedly designed to topple Mugabe.
Mugabe and his Zanu PF ministers have been holding cabinet meetings alone after Tsvangirai and the MDC temporarily withdrew from the coalition last month citing disputes over a series of unresolved issues in the political agreement that led to the formation of the inclusive government.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai could not meet on Monday as expected because the former was attending the China-Africa summit in Egypt ensuring the process did not start immediately after their return from Maputo. Cabinet was also postponed from Tuesday to Wednesday as Mugabe was away. Mugabe, Tsvangirai and deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara only met after cabinet on Wednesday instead of Monday but did not discuss the GPA issues.
At the Sadc summit, the issues on the official agenda included the MDC’s outstanding issues which cover the appointment of Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono, Attorney-General Johannes Tomana, provincial governors and the swearing-in of Bennett as deputy Agriculture minister.
Zanu PF’s grievances centred on sanctions, “pirate” radio stations, external interference and parallel government.
The agenda also has other remaining issues which encompassed the establishment of Zimbabwe’s National Economic Council, constitution-making and a land audit.
Briefings with different government officials and diplomats showed there were serious behind-the-scenes attempts to break the deadlock to preclude the crumbling of the inclusive government. South Africa, as facilitator, is playing a major role to find middle ground on all issues in dispute.
However, given that the political stakes are high on the issues in contest, Sadc might find itself meeting again soon in a bid to secure closure and finality on the matter.
Sources said Mugabe recently indicated to Tsvangirai at their last meeting after the MDC’s disengagement on October 26 (before they met again on Wednesday) that he was prepared to make concessions on most of the MDC’s demands provided Tsvangirai and his party came out openly to denounce sanctions.
One well-placed source told the Zimbabwe Independent in Maputo that Mugabe told Tsvangirai he was prepared to climb down “in a matter of minutes” as soon as Zanu PF and the MDC work together to get sanctions lifted.
This provided further evidence Mugabe and Zanu PF are now using the sanctions issue as leverage against Tsvangirai and the MDC. The irony is that Tsvangirai and the MDC are also using sanctions as leverage against Mugabe and Zanu PF.
Negotiators interviewed yesterday said when the talks resume there are likely to be renewed clashes at the negotiating table.
“It won’t be easy because the political stakes are high and no one is prepared to lose ground anymore,” one negotiator said.
Although Mugabe appears to be saying he can compromise on Gono, Tomana, governors and Bennett easily, the reality is that it would be difficult for him to give in on Gono, provincial governors and now Tomana because they form a pillar of strength for him on their own.
It is also common cause Mugabe and Zanu PF hardliners do not want Bennett in government for historical and racial reasons politically connected to land reform. This would make it exceedingly difficult for the MDC to extract concessions on these issues.
Similarly, the MDC does not think the removal of sanctions is primarily their responsibility, making it hard for Mugabe to get what he wants. With the two main sides still playing hardball, prospects of a quick-fix solution are thus bleak.
In fact Tsvangirai clearly demonstrated this on Wednesday. In an interview carried by his newsletter, the premier said he was not responsible for the sanctions and Zimbabwe’s international isolation, setting the tone for negotiations by his party.
“I must underline that Morgan Tsvangirai is not personally accountable, neither is the MDC as a party accountable for the removal of sanctions. This issue in terms of the GPA is a collective responsibility,” Tsvangirai said. “Zimbabwe’s isolation is a collective responsibility. It should not be apportioned to any particular party, let us approach it from that angle. The other thing on radio stations is that once the (Zimbabwe Media Commission) ZMC is in place you make the parallel market irrelevant.”
However, Zanu PF’s position remains that the MDC is responsible and must remove the sanctions and stop foreign radio broadcasts, something nearly impossible to achieve given that these issues are not under their control. Sanctions and radio stations in relation to Zimbabwe are foreign policy issues of the US and EU governments and realistically, the MDC simply has no control over them.
Sadc however wants the parties to fully implement the GPA first and then “engage in a dialogue in order to find a lasting solution to the outstanding issues”.