January 9, 2004

Zanu PF - MDC rift set to be prolonged



Even though informal contacts between Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have produced a number of detailed options for ending the country's political and economic crises, the two sides remain a long way off from the formal talks necessary to save Zimbabwe from collapse. And MDC secretary general Welshman Ncube, who is leading the informal talks for his movement, insists that unless both parties commit themselves to binding negotiations, the contacts mean nothing. "The MDC position is that the informal contacts about process cannot be described as talks because they are not binding and they are exploratory in character. Even if they stray to substantive matters, they don't amount to talks because they are only exploratory. "The informal talks between myself and [Zimbabwean Minister of Justice Patrick] Chinamasa, to find a gateway to dialogue, are exploratory," he further insisted. Ncube is of the view that once binding talks start an agreement could be quickly hammered out and an election held soon after.
In a nutshell, the informal talks have identified four stumbling blocks to a political settlement in Zimbabwe. The MDC is insisting the Zimbabwean government allow the paper, The Daily News, to begin publishing again. The Zimbabwean government has repeatedly violated court orders which gave The Daily News the right to publish and forcibly closed the paper down.
The opposition movement is also demanding the disbanding of Zanu-PF militias, widely claimed to foster a reign of fear by attempting to intimidate opponents of the ruling party. The two sides are also wrangling about amendments to Zimbabwe's Access to Information and the Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act. The MDC and many local and international human rights groups insist the legislation stifles free speech and free political activity. The MDC would furthermore like a limited review of the Zimbabwean Constitution as a way of levelling the political playing field in the country before the next round of elections. "Interim constitutional changes would include the creation of an independent electoral commission and a much more open electoral framework," says Ncube. He confirmed that there have been informal talks between the movement and Zanu-PF around possible constitutional amendments. However, there are differences between the two over a date for an election under an amended Constitution.

Zanu-PF spokesperson Nathan Shamuyarira refused to comment on the informal talks or the status of contacts between Zanu-PF and the MDC. (Mail & Guardian, Johannesburg)

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