ANDREW KUNAMBURA/BRIDGET MANANAVIRE
FORMER South African president Thabo Mbeki’s (pictured) visit to the country this week was a Sadc-initiated mission to nudge political parties into negotiation as the regional bloc realises that Zimbabwe’s problems were caused more by a political crisis than the so-called Western sanctions, it has emerged.
Mbeki flew into the country on Monday before holding meetings with various political stakeholders, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa, opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa as well as several other politicians and civil society leaders.
The meetings were meant to enable Mbeki to acquaint himself with the crisis in Zimbabwe while laying the groundwork for negotiations.
Sources revealed Mbeki’s visit came after behind-the-scenes discussions among Sadc leaders, lobbying by the MDC and frustration within the regional grouping caused by Mnangagwa’s failure to turn around the country’s political and economic fortunes, despite promising to do so when he rose to power through a military coup in November 2017.
Officials revealed Sadc leaders had come to the conclusion that dialogue was unavoidable if Zimbabwe is to get out of the economic and political doldrums it finds itself in.
Because of its influence in the region, South Africa has taken the lead in helping Zimbabwe find a lasting solution.
Chamisa last month dispatched a high-powered MDC delegation led by one of the party’s vice-presidents, Welshman Ncube, to Sadc headquarters in Gaborone, Botswana, in a bid to push for a regionally-mediated dialogue between his party and Zanu PF in the context of an obtaining economic and humanitarian catastrophe, which has the potential to destablise the entire region.
Ncube’s delegation went to Botswana on November 21.Sources revealed that by the time Ncube visited Botswana, Sadc leaders were already discussing the Zimbabwe crisis, hence Mbeki’s visit.
Sadc executive secretary Stergomena Tax also hinted this week that the regional organisation was behind the push for talks.“Fellow Sadc citizens, let us give space to the mediation and let us be supportive,” she tweeted on Tuesday.
In an unusually tough message, the South African government last month said Zimbabwe’s political differences were responsible for the crisis in the country and not just sanctions, as the bloc pushed for dialogue.
International Relations and Co-operation minister Naledi Pandor said: “While we support the call for an end to economic sanctions, the political dynamics that we observe are inexplicably linked to the economic solutions and that the politics and the economic as well as the social need to be confronted simultaneously.
“… We are not going to achieve economic resolution without resolving the political, intractable hostility and lack of amity of social conjoining and finding a national solution. This coming together of a range of aspects that need attention can only be led from Zimbabwe.”
Sadc leaders are also concerned by the deterioration of Zimbabwe’s relations with Western powers which had shown signs of thawing after Mnangagwa’s rise to power on the back of a military coup.
Mnangagwa’s promise to institute far-reaching economic and political reforms while opening up democratic space was well received in Western capitals. Western governments are however gradually hardening their stance towards Zimbabwe as they are disappointed by Mnangagwa’s failure to implement reforms as well as his appalling human rights record.
A cornered Mnangagwa has resorted to bashing the West, which his government sees as working against the international re-engagement programme.
Relations with the United States, in particular, soured after the ill-fated Sadc-supported anti-sanctions march on October 25.
“Sadc leaders have been talking among themselves. They are basically admitting that sanctions have an effect on the economy, but problems in Zimbabwe are not limited to sanctions and are largely of a political nature, hence their decision to nudge parties into negotiations,” a well-placed official said.
“They (Sadc leaders) realised that after the anti-sanctions march, Zimbabwe’s relations with the West had worsened, particularly with the US. During the march, US officials were constantly in touch with the Sadc leaders and regional diplomats accredited to Washington telling them that despite the march, they will not lift the sanctions unless human rights violations are stopped.
They encouraged Sadc leaders to encourage Harare to implement proper political and economic reforms as necessary preconditions for the removal of sanctions.
“So it is in that context that Mbeki, who is considered an elder statesman, was in the country,” he added
Sources further said during their Monday meeting, Mbeki and Mnangagwa also explored the possibility of the former South African leader mediating in the Zimbabwe-US diplomatic impasse, particularly over the removal of sanctions.
“Mbeki however indicated that he did not have reliable contacts in the administration of President Donald Trump. He then suggested that Sadc should assist in that respect,” an official said.
Mbeki brokered the 2009 Global Political Agreement which saw Zanu PF and MDC, then under the respective leadership of Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai (both now late) following a dispute emanating from the March 2008 general election.
From that arrangement, Tsvangirai became the country’s prime minister while Mugabe remained an executive president.
Details of those closed-door meetings Mbeki held with political leaders over the course of this week have since begun emerging, suggesting that both Mnangagwa and Chamisa are willing to negotiate.
Mbeki, however, has a tough task as the two leaders have divergent views on the form and content of the dialogue.
Mnangagwa wants Chamisa to recognise him as the legitimately elected head of state, while the opposition leader maintains last year’s presidential election was rigged.
Mnangagwa also wants dialogue to be under the Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) which involves fringe parties like the Thokozani Khuphe-led MDC-T and Lovemore Madhuku’s NCA.
Chamisa has vowed not to join Polad. Instead, his party came up with its negotiating framework in its policy document: Economic Recovery, Legitimacy, Openness and Democracy (Reload) revolving around concerns regarding Mnangagwa’s legitimacy. The document was launched in Harare on July 11.
The MDC this week told Mbeki that it favours talks which result in an inclusive National Transitional Authority (NTA) which would prepare for credible elections, by instituting agreed critical reforms, including electoral reforms.
“These parties under Polad told Mbeki that they are comfortable with the Polad arrangement which they said was working towards reforms. They want Chamisa to join the Polad forum.”
Officials revealed that Mbeki accommodated as many voices as possible as he wanted to understand the nature of the Zimbabwean crisis before dialogue begins.
Mbeki is however confident that an agreement will eventually be reached, given that all parties have expressed their commitment to talks.
“Everyone recognises there should be talks but there is no consensus as to the framework of the talks,” the official said.
This was corroborated by high-raking MDC members, who said Mbeki still has a lot of work to do if he is to break the ice.
“We are at that stage where there are talks about talks; in other words it’s a preliminary stage. We are still talking about how we can talk. The president (of the MDC, Chamisa) wants to have a dialogue which addresses the questions of disputed elections.
He wants to ensure that we can rearrange our constitutional state to be able to guarantee progress on issues of our political system which will bring about stable economic systems.
He emphasised to Mbeki that what we need is a transitional mechanism which will usher in a new constitutional order that will prevent a repetition of the same evils in our society rather than a power-sharing agreement,” a senior member of the opposition MDC told the Independent.
“So what happened is that after he met with the president (Chamisa), Mbeki went back to Mnangagwa to put across these proposals before he had his second meeting with us. Mbeki in the second meeting said Mnangagwa had flatly rejected the transitional authority arrangement insisting that he has the mandate to rule. He then said he was flying out to brief Sadc leaders and that he would be back in the country before the end of the year,” the MDC source said.
Efforts to get a comment from Mbeki were fruitless as his spokesperson Siyabulela Gebe’s phone was not reachable.