The Luanda meeting would be critical in determining Zimbabwe’s direction amid intensifying fights over the GPA, constitution-making and the elections roadmap.
Seeing the dangers of unilateral action, Mugabe, who needs regional endorsement and legitimacy, this week went all out to consult Sadc on elections before he could proceed.
Regional leaders last year demanded at summits in Livingstone, Zambia; Sandton in Johannesburg, South Africa; and Luanda the need for Zimbabwe to follow the roadmap before free and fair elections after 2008’s hotly-disputed presidential poll run-off.
“Heads of state and government will meet in Luanda on June 1 for the tripartite summit of Comesa, East African Community and Sadc. Senior Sadc officials will first meet in the Angolan capital on May 30 followed by the Council of Ministers on May 31,” a senior Sadc diplomat said last night.
“Apart from regional integration and trade issues, they will discuss the political and security situation in the region and that’s where Zimbabwe comes in.”
In a bid to build consensus and avoid confrontation with regional leaders, Mugabe on Monday dispatched Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa to deliver a special message to Sadc chair, Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos in Luanda.
Last month, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai sent Minister of State in his office, Jameson Timba, to meet with the Angolans.
On Tuesday State Security minister Sydney Sekeramayi met with Zambian President Michael Sata in Lusaka.
Mnangagwa and Sekeramayi were in Maputo last week for the sixth Zimbabwe-Mozambique defence and security permanent joint commission meeting with their counterparts and reportedly sounded out to President Armando Guebuza.
Vice-President John Nkomo was sent to Pretoria to meet South African President Jacob Zuma, while Zanu PF chairman Simon Khaya Moyo travelled to Namibia.
Others envoys went across to other Sadc countries, including Tanzania. Zuma chairs the Sadc Troika of the organ on politics, defence and security. Sata, a key Mugabe ally, also sits on the troika, together with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. Tanzania is incoming troika chair. Mugabe met Sata last month when he came to open the trade fair in Bulawayo. They also had a meeting in Livingstone last December.
Zuma, facilitator in Zimbabwe, is expected to brief the meeting when it discusses the political and security situation in the region. The South Africa leader in March visited Botswana, Namibia and Angola.
Senior Zanu PF officials said Mugabe’s envoys were not pursuing party manoeuvres but “national interest”.
“The president is exercising responsibilities as head of state and government. Zimbabwe is a member of Sadc, not Zanu PF or the two MDC parties. So these envoys are representing government and not Zanu PF which is why they are meeting presidents and not party leaders,” a senior politburo member said.
“The idea is to consult and compare notes because the situation has shifted. Things have moved and changed. We are no longer at the stage of mediation but at a point where we are discussing collectively the way forward. The country can’t be held hostage by the constitution-making process; life has to go on. To the extent that the constitution-making process is necessary, let it go on but the country must also move on and that’s why we must have elections by December 31. Other parties want elections by March next year. What’s the difference between December 31 and March 31, other than three months?”
Zanu PF is also expected to take advantage of the meeting of secretary-generals of former liberation movements to be held in Zimbabwe soon.
Mugabe’s envoys reportedly gave the regional leaders an update of the political and security situation in the country — painting a picture of a politically stable and peaceful country burdened by a dysfunctional government. The emissaries reportedly indicated the constitution-making exercise had reached a dead end, hence the need for elections this year.
Zanu PF officials say Mugabe (88) is pressing for polls this year due to old age and deteriorating health.
The MDC parties say they would only agree to polls when a new constitution is in place and the GPA is fully implemented. Mugabe’s emissaries reportedly carried messages to convince Sadc leaders it was in the national interest for Zimbabwe to hold elections this year so that the country starts 2013 without divisive political issues. Further they do not want elections to disrupt the United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly to held in Victoria falls in August next year.
Zanu PF is also arguing there is no material difference between holding elections in December and March next year. The party also claims rain patterns have changed, hence it would be more practical to hold polls in December than March when people are ploughing fields even though March is traditional polls month.