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Dialogue the only way out

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s remarks on Wednesday at the Zanu PF central committee meeting that his party is not considering power-sharing talks with the opposition MDC-Alliance as it has a two-thirds majority were instructive.

Mnangagwa — who scraped through with a wafer-thin margin in the hotly disputed July presidential election — said his rival MDC leader Nelson Chamisa had also challenged his controversial victory in court and lost. He said the talk of a possible government of national unity (GNU) was thus “day-dreaming”.

Mnangagwa said his party was concentrating on the economy and not politics. There are voices which support Mnangagwa’s argument. Former deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara entered the fray this week, saying much the same. He said it is not strategic for the MDC to engage in talks for a GNU because the ruling party has a two-thirds majority in parliament, unlike the situation in 2008 when the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), with former South African president Thabo Mbeki as mediator, forced a unity government amid a hung parliament. Mutambara further said the 2008 situation was opportune for talks as former president Robert Mugabe had not been endorsed by Sadc and the African Union (AU).
In other words, talks were necessary and strategic in 2008 as Zanu PF didn’t have a majority in parliament, while Mugabe had no legitimacy, unlike Mnangagwa who has been endorsed by Sadc and the AU with his party in control.
The premise of Mutambara’s argument is ahistorical and fundamentally flawed; hence it collapses on its own. Mugabe and Zanu PF entered into formal talks in 2007 with a two-thirds majority. Mugabe had also been endorsed by Sadc and the AU after the disputed 2002 elections.
Talks followed the savage attack by police on the late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Mutambara’s friend Lovemore Madhuku.
Sadc initiated the process in Dar-es-Salaam in 2007. So that argument is simply incorrect, unsound and unsustainable. The environment, balance of forces and power relations among the political movers and shakers will determine the need for talks, not rhetoric. In the meantime, Chamisa says he wants talks, not for a GNU but for a consensus-driven reforms agenda and implementation roadmap. He says the MDC doesn’t necessarily have to join government to help fix the broken nation. He insists Mnangagwa did not win the election and lacks legitimacy.
Mnangagwa officially got 51,6%, although the electoral commission initially declared him winner with 51,8% before changing the figure under pressure, while Chamisa had 44,3%. African election observers and others endorsed Mnangagwa and Zanu PF’s victory, while Western observers, mainly the Americans and Europeans, were skeptical, stopping short of rejecting the outcome. The elections were expected to provide Mnangagwa legitimacy after he has seized power through a military coup after ousting Mugabe in November 2017. But rejection of Mnangagwa’s victory spoiled the president’s party and rained on his parade. The opposition’s de-legitimisation campaign made a bad situation worse. Western diplomats have also moved away from their obliging position after the coup. Now they are demanding a reforms roadmap and implementation matrix as a pre-condition for re-engagement, and mostly important funding.
The international community’s goodwill has all but evaporated.
Mnangagwa and his supporters have retreated to the laager of hostile rhetoric reminiscent of the Mugabe era. The outcome of the elections, the August shooting and killing of civilians and the economic implosion have created a new cauldron of political instability and popular discontent.
All the while, Mnangagwa and his administration have come up with austerity measures to halt the economic tailspin.
However, diplomats, from the West and East alike, say Mnangagwa’s reform agenda is all foam and no beer!

This is where talks come in. The involvement of former Kenyan chief justice Dr Willy Mutunga, as we exclusively report in this edition, is opportune. Zimbabwe needs dialogue and a healing process. The form and content of the talks as well as the ultimate objective can always be discussed.

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