FORMAL talks between Zanu PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to resolve the country’s crisis will resume towards the end of next month, it emerged
Sources close to the current informal discussions said the two parties were now ready for a negotiated settlement to break the political impasse as they have managed to clear obstacles to dialogue, including President Mugabe’s disputed re-election last year.
The issue of Mugabe’s legitimacy that stalled the talks last year would now be removed from the agenda but electoral irregularities would remain.
“We are expecting Zanu PF and the MDC to start formal talks towards the end of September,” a well-placed source said. “An announcement to that effect will be made soon.”
Zanu PF and the MDC have been talking informally to clear hurdles to dialogue and ensure the process is irreversible.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai last weekend gave Zanu PF an October 1 deadline for the resumption of talks. The ruling party is also keen to ensure dialogue restarts before the hearing of Tsvangirai’s election petition against Mugabe which begins on November 3.
Diplomatic sources said South African president Thabo Mbeki and other regional leaders want talks in progress before the Commonwealth summit on December 6 in Abuja, Nigeria, to ensure the lifting of Zimbabwe’s suspension from the club. Zimbabwe was suspended in March 2002 for electoral fraud.
African leaders ignored the Zimbabwe crisis at the African Union meeting in Mozambique last month. They, however, called for the lifting of targeted sanctions against Harare during the Southern African Development Community meeting in Tanzania this week.
Sources said Mbeki and Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo would “underwrite” whatever deal emerged from the talks, while the United States and other donor countries would provide a reconstruction package.
It is understood the agenda for talks would remain largely unchanged from the one agreed before dialogue broke down in May last year.
The agenda includes confidence-building measures, the constitution, political violence, multi-partyism, sovereignty and economic recovery.
The constitution item would now take centre stage as the two parties regard it as offering a way out of the current deadlock.
In its position paper to church mediators recently, the MDC listed constitutional reform, electoral law changes, restoration of economic stability, political liberties and law and order, cessation of political prosecutions, torture and depoliticisation of food relief as key agenda issues.
The ruling party has refused to deal with the clerics, saying it prefers direct talks with the MDC.
Zanu PF and the MDC first entered talks in April last year under the mediation of Mbeki’s envoy Kgalema Motlanthe and Obasanjo’s emissary Adebayo Adedeji after the disputed presidential election.
Mbeki and Obasanjo kick-started the initiative after visiting the country on March 18, a week after the poll. They met Mugabe and Tsvangirai in Harare en route to London for the Commonwealth meeting where Zimbabwe was suspended.
Obasanjo was also in Harare on February 9 this year after meeting Mbeki in Pretoria the previous day to broker dialogue between the two parties. After his visit Obasanjo wrote to Commonwealth chair John Howard of Australia lobbying for the lifting of measures against Zimbabwe. Howard said last week that Canberra would push for the extension of Harare’s suspension in Abuja because the situation, far from getting better, had in fact got worse.
Mbeki and Obasanjo also visited Zimbabwe on May 5 over the talks.
Their trip came a few weeks before MDC officials met Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) veterans to exchange notes on political negotiations.