August 21, 2003

Zanu PF drags feet over talks

The crucial talks between the ruling ZANU PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to break the political impasse that is badly hurting the economy could take much longer to kick off as the ruling party does not seem too keen on a negotiated settlement.

Political commentators were this week unanimous that utterances by the ruling party stalwarts over the past couple of weeks smacked of reluctance on the part of Zanu (PF) to engage in dialogue with the opposition. The ruling party's reluctance to engage the MDC remained the logjam holding back the epoch-defining talks that could usher in a new political era. This comes at a time when church leaders who are leading the talks seem to be getting difficulties in getting the ruling party to agree to come to the negotiating table amid media reports saying the party was not in any hurry to engage the opposition in dialogue.

On Heroes Day last week, President Robert Mugabe, as per tradition, digressed from his prepared speech to launch a veiled attack on the MDC whom he described as "the enemies of Zimbabwe" and whom his party will not talk to until they repent. This, the analysts said, was the official position for the ruling party which has been fudging and prevaricating in its preparations since the church-driven efforts to kick start the talks started about a month ago.

At the weekend, ZANU PF national chairman John Nkomo told the state media that his party was in no hurry to draft an agenda for the talks and this week no ZANU PF official turned up for a preliminary meeting planned between the party and the church leaders who are trying to facilitate the dialogue. "There is nothing that is going to happen in the near future," said Lovemore Madhuku, University of Zimbabwe law lecturer and chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA). "In fact nothing significant has been happening all along, it's only that the talks were blown out of proportion by the media."

"We might not see any talks taking off anytime soon especially after Mugabe's utterances at the Heroes Acre last week," University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Joseph Kurebwa said. "Nothing may happen for some time as ZANU PF expect MDC to do certain things to show that they are indeed repenting, something like calling on the international community to ease sanctions on Zimbabwe which ZANU PF believe are a result of an international campaign by the MDC," Kurebwa said.

After months of a tense political stand off resulting from Mugabe's controversial re-election last year, the MDC last month announced that they had decided to put the interest of the country before anything else hence they were going to abandon their confrontational approach and engage ZANU PF in dialogue. However, since then ZANU PF has not made any serious effort to requite the opposition party's overtures, instead setting debasing terms for the opposition party to meet before any dialogue could start. "ZANU PF has never been interested in the talks in the first place, they wanted them when they thought that they could use them as a bait to destroy the MDC, but it now seems like they have decided to destroy the MDC by dividing Welshman (Ncube) and Morgan (Tsvangirai)," Madhuku said. "They (ZANU PF) do not want to talk to a strong opposition party so they have to undermine it first before they can agree to any talks and this is what they are doing now," Madhuku said.

Kurebwa however warned that if ever the opposition leaders give in to the demands by ZANU PF, they risk losing their power base as most opposition supporters do not want a solution that involves ZANU PF in any way as they blame it for causing all the economic problems facing Zimbabwe. "There is a clear difference between what is desirable and what is practicable. Talks might be desirable, but I don't think the conditions exist for a coalition government or a government of national unity in Zimbabwe at the moment as there is nothing in common between the two parties," Kurebwa said.

Chairman of the Zimbabwe Integrated Programme (ZIP) Heneri Dzinotyiwei, said the main obstacle to the talks was that there was no clarity on the agenda. "The dialogue has not gathered any momentum because there is no clarity as to what needs to be discussed and also possibly the question of who has the mandate to drive these talks," Dzinotyiwei said. He said although the church leaders seem to have made much progress in precipitating the talks compared to regional African leaders who have had a series of meetings without much to show, the African leaders still had a role to play in the debate.

"The only person who is in a position to influence the time-frame (of the talks) in any significant way is President Mugabe himself and he needs some people with much clout to pressurise him and that is where some SADC heads of states could come in," Dzinotyiwei said. "When the church leaders see that ZANU PF is not willing to move, they should retreat a bit and give regional leaders a chance to talk to Mugabe. Dialogue should always remain on the agenda until a solution to the economic crisis in this country is found."

The analysts drew uncomfortable parallels between the ZANU PF-MDC talks and 1980s ZANU PF's talks with PF ZAPU which dragged for more than two years and culminated in PF ZAPU being negotiated out of existence. During these 1985-87 negotiations several senior PF ZAPU leaders were either languishing in prison, under home arrest, or had fled into exile as ZANU PF moved in full force to crush the opposition party. As it was the party in control, ZANU PF did show any care about how the talks progressed, as it boasted that it could still rule the country without any talks with the opposition taking place.

Throughout these talks, hawks in ZANU PF like the late Morris Nyagumbo and Enos Nkala repeatedly denied that there were any talks going on between the ruling party and PF ZAPU, or rushed to the Press at every opportunity to announce that the talks had collapsed. On the other side, PF ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo and the church leaders who initiated the talks maintained that the talks were still on and the opposition party continued to make more concessions until it was swallowed by ZANU PF. (Financial Gazette, Harare)

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