THE church-led talks to find a political accommodation in Zimbabwe are in trouble as Zanu PF will not be submitting its proposals to the clergy as promised,
the Zimbabwe Independent heard this week.
The initiative of the clerics is in danger of being sidelined altogether as Zanu PF and the Movement for Democratic Change look set to press ahead with behind-the-scenes talks of their own.
The ruling party, which was expected to submit proposals last week, is said to be suspicious of the church delegation that seeks to revive dialogue for an end to the political crisis gripping the country.
“There is nothing to say about that,” said Zanu PF spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira. “The teams have not even met to discuss the proposals. There is nothing to talk about.”
Zanu PF’s chief negotiator Patrick Chinamasa has publicly dismissed the church leaders as “insincere brokers” and supporters of the MDC. It is thought he was piqued by the publicity given to the church-led talks. His discussions with the MDC team headed by Prof Welshman Ncube are regarded in government circles as the official negotiations initiated by Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo last year.
Chinamasa’s outburst against the clerics could also have been directed by hostility from President Mugabe himself and officials in his office.
Sources said the church initiative, involving Bishop Sebastian Bakare of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, Bishop Patrick Mutume of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, and the Reverend Trevor Manhanga of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, was jeopardised when they issued a joint statement on July 17 condemning human rights abuses and instability prevailing in the country.
The statement apologised for previous inaction by church leaders and called on government to address the economic malaise afflicting the country.
When the church leaders met Mugabe on July 25 he is said to have had a copy of their statement on the table in front of him.
The sources said Mugabe was keen to send out the message that talks would be held according to his rulebook and not the church’s or the opposition’s.
“The church has to start to mend bridges with Zanu PF which is a major drawback to its mediation thrust,” a source said.
The church leaders held meetings with both Zanu PF and MDC leaders last month, after which they proclaimed having received assurances from both sides on their commitment to the resumption of dialogue. But it now seems the government would prefer to concentrate on its direct talks with the MDC, abandoning the “unofficial” church mediators, at least for the time being.
The Zanu PF delegation that met the church leaders comprised Mugabe, Shamuyarira, vice-president Joseph Msika and national chairman, John Nkomo.
The church leaders had been waiting for written proposals from both sides. The MDC submitted its proposals three weeks ago. Zanu PF has been dithering on submission of its agenda because it has “reservations over the church in as far as what the party expects from the dialogue is concerned”, a senior ruling party source said.
Manhanga yesterday said the church troika was organising a meeting with Zanu PF to better understand the party’s position.
“It appears there is some misunderstanding,” said Manhanga.
“We will probably understand when we meet with Zanu PF. We can’t comment on what they feel about us or statements issued by the church because the party has not made any official position to us,” said Manhanga. “It will be difficult to proceed without Zanu PF submitting its agenda or stating a clear position.”
The Independent recently disclosed that the political rivals have been holding informal talks behind the scenes, and sources this week said that the ruling party has opted to pursue this “official” route. A regional delegation with the blessing of South African President, Thabo Mbeki, would be expected to come and mediate the talks once there is evidence of progress.
“The two parties are committed to dialogue,” said a source privy to the ongoing manoeuvres. “In fact, they have been covering some ground. But the issue is that of the (church) mediator. Zanu PF has agreed to ignore the church’s initiative because of the suspicion it has of the church leaders.”