PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s foot-dragging scuttled South African President Thabo Mbeki’s repeated promises of a negotiated settlement to Zimbabwe’s multi-layered crisis by the end of last month
, it emerged this week.
Official sources said Mugabe reneged on his assurances to Mbeki to find a solution to Zimbabwe’s suppurating problems by June and effectively sunk his counterpart’s vouched-for deadline, repeated on a number of occasions. But he did agree last week, just before the deadline passed, on electoral reforms which are the product of wide-ranging but discreet talks both within the country and the region.
Mbeki met a Movement for Democratic Change delegation in Pretoria on Sunday to discuss the impasse.
Mugabe is said to have assured Mbeki last year that by June there would be a political settlement between the ruling Zanu PF and opposition MDC on an array of issues currently in dispute.
The sources said Mugabe’s assurances informed Mbeki’s promise. But Mbeki’s pledged deadline came and went this week without a solution in sight.
In reaction, Mbeki’s office adopted a diplomatic stance – in line with its widely-criticised “quiet diplomacy” on Zimbabwe – and merely said there was need for patience.
However, Mbeki met MDC officials, led by the party’s head of negotiations with Zanu PF, Welshman Ncube, in Pretoria last Sunday in a bid – not to salvage the irretrievable deadline – but to limit the damage caused by his botched deal with Mugabe.
Sources said Mbeki and Ncube’s team reviewed the Zimbabwe situation and tried to chart the way forward following the failure of efforts to start formal inter-party talks.
The meeting discussed the current political situation and proposed electoral reforms presented to the politburo by Zanu PF secretary for legal affairs Patrick Chinamasa last Friday.
But the meeting did not focus on the economic emergency as it was taken as understood that no economic recovery could take place without a political settlement.
Mbeki last visited Harare in December in a bid to kick-start talks between Zanu PF and the MDC. After that he met separately a Zanu PF delegation led by Chinamasa and an MDC one led by Ncube in Pretoria on February 28.
Since then he had been pushing for a solution in Zimbabwe. Chinamasa’s electoral proposals, endorsed by the politburo last Friday, were said to have been a result of sustained regional pressure on Mugabe. They also reflect glacial progress in stop-go informal talks between Chinamasa and Ncube although this was not disclosed to the Zanu PF politburo last Friday for fear of irking ruling-party mandarins.
Regional leaders are said to have been concerned about Zimbabwe’s archaic electoral system and the collateral damage caused by disputed elections to adjacent economies.
The international community also seems to have been involved. Outgoing British ambassador Sir Brian Donnelly recently indicated in a speech at a farewell party he knew about the coming electoral reforms. Referring to elections, Donnelly on June 18 said: “I would not be surprised, over the coming weeks, to see some gestures made to appease critics…but I am unconvinced that this will be enough to ensure a level playing field.”
It is thought Mbeki is keeping key players informed on the understanding they leave matters to him.