SOUTH African President Jacob Zuma’s facilitation team is back in the country to make a final push to resolve outstanding talks issues. Negotiators have declared a deadlock on several agenda items in their final report.
Zuma and his facilitators must be lauded for their commitment and drive, but their indefatigable efforts will remain woefully insufficient unless backed by a clear negotiating strategy and diplomatic fibre.
A close examination of the final report on talks shows that most of the so-called outstanding issues are peripheral and politically insignificant. Some of them are either of mainly symbolic value or administrative matters. Most of the real issues — including electoral reforms — have been addressed but there is a serious problem of implementation. The few residual issues parties are fighting over simply need the attention of President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Take for instance the issue of provincial governors. Negotiators have agreed on a formula of sharing the 10 posts of governors but the only squabble remaining is who between Zanu PF and MDC-T takes five or four plus a minister of state. Why can’t Mugabe and Tsvangirai, if they are leaders of substance, resolve this?
Another example: the dispute over the swearing-in of Roy Bennett. The two MDC groups agree there is no legal basis for Mugabe to refuse to allow Bennett to take office. Zanu PF says he can’t because he is facing serious charges. But the MDC-M has come up with a compromise for him to be deployed to another ministry. MDC-T has agreed, but Zanu PF says it would “consult” over the matter. Again this needs Mugabe and Tsvangirai to sort out. There is no need to bring in Zuma, let alone the whole of Sadc.
Sadc must not tolerate Mugabe’s intransigence. Tsvangirai and his party must also be dynamic. They must not always run to Sadc screaming. They should resist Mugabe’s obduracy internally. Resistance, not endless negotiations, is essential for change where fundamental issues are at stake.
The talks report says there has been no agreement on the appointments of Attorney-General Johannes Tomana and Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono.
Following extensive discussions on the above issues, negotiators noted the differing legal interpretations by MDC-T and Zanu PF on the provisions of Article IX of the Memorandum of Understanding executed on July 21 2008, and the provisions of Article XX of the Global Political Agreement of September 15 2008. Given the gap between the legal arguments, it was agreed “negotiations should be done on the basis of bold political considerations”.
Negotiators failed to find common ground on these appointments and hence they requested Zuma and the principals “to be seized of the matter and seek ways and means of resolving the issue”.
There is a problem here. To begin with it was wrong to focus on Tomana and Gono as individuals. Tsvangirai has said before it is not about individuals but institutions. This is my point. Negotiators should have right from the start focused on institutional reform (zeroing in on the Attorney- General’s Office and Reserve Bank in this case) and that would have made their job much easier.
As part of the broad reform agenda, it is more important to have institutional reforms than to purge individuals while structural issues are not addressed. Finance minister Tendai Biti came up with a law to reform the central bank. That was more important than just removing an individual, while leaving the bank unreformed. Gono is not really the issue,
but the institutional arrangement and corporate culture of the RBZ.
There has been a suggestion in MDC-T circles of having a separate and independent National Prosecution Authority which is not run by the Attorney-General. The AG will then focus on his role as government’s chief legal advisor outside prosecution matters. This is more sensible than shouting hysterically that Tomana must go. Granted, Tomana might be Mugabe’s political hack, but that’s beside the point. The issue is he must not be allowed to use a public institution for partisan political agendas if he remains in office.
The same applies to the George Charamba issue. It should not be about Charamba per se, but his ministry. Deputy Information minister Jameson Timba should know this.
Then there is the issue of ministerial mandates and review. Mugabe must stick to the original mandates. If he doesn’t, the MDC groups must tell him that his illegal revision of the agreement will not be respected. They can raise that issue in cabinet and everywhere they meet Mugabe until he understands his unlawful actions are not going to be accepted. If it means raising the issue every week in cabinet, let it be so. Sanctions are no longer an issue.
On the co-chairing of Home Affairs, the MDC-T’s suggestion of splitting the ministry is good, but the party should blame itself for failing to appoint an effective minister who would seize the initiative and impose his authority. The other remaining issues like transport arrangements for Tsvangirai, communication between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, regularisation of Tsvangirai’s staff, parallel government, national heroes and compensation of commercial farmers for their seized land can be easily dealt with internally.
The real issue must be political and institutional reforms which capture and deal with all sorts of problems the MDC groups are particularly raising. Parties must focus on constitutional and electoral reforms — the route towards the final showdown and the endgame. Zuma’s facilitators must encourage the parties to look at the broader picture, not to behave like dogs fighting over a dry bone.