Tower of Babel dialogue hits dead end

Chamisa-MDC-leader.jpg

In this Thursday, March 8, 2018 photo, the leader of MDC-T, Zimbabwe's biggest opposition party, Nelson Chamisa gestures during an interview with the Associated Press in Harare. Ahead of Zimbabwe's crucial elections this year, the biggest opposition party has selected a charismatic lawyer and pastor to challenge the military-backed president in the first vote without former leader Robert Mugabe in decades. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

AN ad hoc meeting of last year’s presidential candidates, which President Emmerson Mnangagwa hastily convened on Wednesday in an effort to lay the groundwork for national dialogue, ended in futility after sharp divisions emerged over its agenda and purpose, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.

ANDREW KUNAMBURA

Mnangagwa called the meeting to “confront the national question” by engaging those who contested the presidential election. His biggest challenger, MDC leader Nelson Chamisa, snubbed the event which he said was improperly convened.

Some of the candidates who attended the meeting said upon entering the magnificently furnished boardroom at State House, venue of the meeting, they felt intimidated and belittled as Mnangagwa and senior officials from his party who included secretary for administration Obert Mpofu, legal secretary Patrick Chinamasa and politburo member Sydney Sekeramayi had already occupied high table seats facing the rest of the room.

One participant described it as “more of a civil hearing” than a meeting of equals.

The meeting began with Mnangagwa giving a speech in the presence of the press, in which he told the losing candidates to forget about the general elections, recognise him as the legitimate president and join his call for the removal of sanctions.

Mnangagwa then immediately asked for submissions from the participants without giving them a written agenda for the meeting.

United Democratic Alliance president Daniel Shumba was the first to speak.

“Shumba was very frank in his submissions. He said that he was disturbed by the way the army and police brutalised people during the protests last month and urged Mnangagwa and Zanu PF to start showing respect for the rule of law if unity was to be achieved in the country. He also said there was no doubt that there is urgent need for dialogue to solve the problems facing the country but, for it to succeed, all the players must be on an equal standing,” one presidential candidate who attended the meeting told the Independent.

“APA (Alliance for People’s Agenda) leader Nkosana Moyo, who spoke after Shumba, echoed pretty much the same sentiments as Shumba, although he placed particular emphasis on the need for truly inclusive dialogue which involved political players and the civil society. He also spoke against army and police brutality.”

Build Zimbabwe Alliance leader Noah Manyika was next to speak after Moyo, electing to read an open letter he had written to Mnangagwa a few days earlier.

“Manyika further said contrary to what Zanu PF and government said, it was actually Zanu PF members who are the worst in terms of abusing social media. He concluded his submissions by saying that he totally respected the MDC’s decision to boycott the event and supported its notion that charges against its senior officials implicated in last month’s violence needed to be dropped as a precondition for any talks,” detailed notes provided by one of the candidates show.

After the presentations by Shumba, Moyo and Manyika, MDC-T leader Thokozani Khupe stood up and said her party supported the idea of dialogue and said the meeting was the right platform to kick-start the process. Fighting in her corner were National Constitutional Assembly leader Lovemore Madhuku, Coalition of Democrats candidate
Elton Mangoma, United Democracy Movement (UDM) leader Violet Mariyacha, independent candidate Brian Mteki and Tendai Munyanduri of the New Patriotic Front who were of the idea that there was nothing wrong with Mnangagwa convening the meeting.

“They also agreed that the elections were behind us and that they recognised Mnangagwa as the legitimate leader of the country. They also generally agreed that what was critical for the country was now to unite and work together to solve the problems we are facing, as well as engage the international community and court investors,” one of the candidates said.

Former army chief Ambrose Mutinhiri, who had been quiet throughout the meeting and was the last person to take the floor, reportedly stunned everyone when he said he could not speak as president of any party because his outfit — the National Patriotic Front which was formed weeks before the general elections with former president Robert Mugabe’s blessing — had been disbanded.

“Mutinhiri surprised us all when he said he was not going to make any submissions because his party had been disbanded and went on to say his president had already spoken and there was no need for him to say anything else. Basically, he said he had rejoined Zanu PF and now subscribed to its ideas,” one source said.

The meeting, sources said, ended on a rather chaotic note and without any agreement or resolution on any of the issues, with Moyo and Shumba objecting to a Khupe resolution that dialogue should continue.

“There was an attempt by Khupe to pass a resolution that dialogue should continue, but it was really unclear what exactly that meant. Shumba and Moyo objected because it was unclear what that meant. In the end, nothing concrete was passed beyond expressions of the importance of dialogue,” another candidate said.

Interestingly, Chamisa attended yesterday’s dialogue meeting convened by church leaders, which Mnangagwa boycotted.

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