HOW the stark differences between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa are handled will shape the country’s course and determine the outcome of the current political dialogue being mediated by former South African president Thabo Mbeki (pictured).
Mbeki visited Zimbabwe last month on a Sadc-initiated mission to nudge the two protagonists to the negotiating table as the regional bloc increasingly gets frustrated by the political logjam in the country.
Mbeki held meetings with various political stakeholders, including Mnangagwa, Chamisa, as well as several other politicians and civil society leaders.
The meetings — meant to enable him to acquaint himself with the crisis in Zimbabwe, while laying the groundwork for negotiations — gave Mbeki a comprehensive picture of the the extent of divisions between Mnangagwa and Chamisa.
There are fundamentally three major impediments to dialogue, although other factors cannot be discounted.The first one pertains to issues around Mnangagwa’s legitimacy, arising from the contentious July 2018 presidential election which Mnangagwa won by a wafer-thin margin.
Chamisa has refused to recognise Mnangagwa’s legitimacy, arguing that the election was rigged in favour of the incumbent.On his part, Mnangagwa says talks can only proceed if Chamisa recognises his presidency, but Chamisa insists he will not drop the legitimacy question, which forms the very basis of his contention and therefore the need for dialogue.
Secondly, there is disagreement over the form and shape of the talks, with Mnangagwa arguing that he has already set the ball rolling by instituting the Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) platform, which Chamisa has refused to join despite having been invited to do so.
Mnangagwa has subsequently argued that any dialogue can only take place within the Polad framework, creating another impediment.The MDC, however, sees the Polad platform as a charade and an extension of Zanu PF.
The third issue concerns the preferred outcome of the talks.Chamisa, during meetings with Mbeki, highlighted that his party would favour the establishment of a National Transitional Authority (NTA) as opposed to a Government of National Unity (GNU).
The MDC’s proposal implies that Mnangagwa will have to dissolve government and step down as President to give way for the establishment of the NTA, which will oversee a number of electoral, constitutional and political reforms for an agreed period before a general election is held. Zanu PF neither wants a GNU nor an NTA.
Some political analysts believe Chamisa is right to shun the Polad platform given that the players have no political gravitas and therefore no mandate from the electorate.
“Polad is shooting in the dark. I would agree entirely with Chamisa that it is not the best platform. There is a lot of unilateralism whereby Zanu PF and its leader are proceeding as if there is no Polad in place, particularly if you look at how the other players cried foul after they were overlooked in the process of constitutional amendments.
It took (Justice) minister Ziyambi Ziyambi to put them in their places by reminding them that they were not an extension of government and Mnangagwa can make his administrative decisions without consulting them,” Eldred Masunungure, a political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe, said.
Political scientist and publisher Ibbo Mandaza concurred, saying: “Polad is just a waste of time and resources. If there is to be a genuine dialogue, another platform should be found and I think president Mbeki, being an experienced broker, should surely be alive to that fact.”
Masunungure believes Zanu PF is never going to yield to the demands for an NTA, which he describes as being “beautiful on paper, but unrealistic”.
“The NTA is beautiful on paper, but practically very difficult to implement because it amounts to a surrender on the part of Mnangagwa and Zanu PF. I don’t see any fair-minded person making any such demands. Chamisa’s preference is therefore likely to be set aside by Mbeki and will definitely be rejected by Zanu PF,” Masunungure said.
“The GNU is better because Zimbabweans are still nostalgic about the previous GNU which led to the remission of the crisis of 2008. It’s not theoretically as beautiful as the NTA, but practically workable,” he added.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Tawanda Zinyama echoed Masunungure’s sentiments, saying: “I would say the GNU is the best route. In the end, the MDC will have to yield to that because of pressure from the public and the international community for such an arrangement. What you will have to bear in mind is the fact that Mnangagwa’s presidency is not doubted either regionally or internationally. He is recognised on the global level as the de jure president of Zimbabwe and therefore is coming to the negotiating table on a very solid footing.
“The clamour for an NTA would have made sense if his presidency was questioned by other countries and not just the MDC.“The international community is just questioning his leadership style and his poor human rights record and not his presidency. So as the talks progress, I tend to see the MDC relenting a bit and accepting that, in reality, a GNU is the best option.”
Whatever the outcome, there is no doubt that the negotiations are going to be difficult as they will be dramatic. Long-suffering Zimbabweans will be praying for a solution to the intractable political crisis.