By Phillip Pasirayi
THE ongoing Mbeki-mediated talks between the ruling party, Zanu PF and the opposition MDC are doomed largely because of the failure by the two partie
s to locate and define the national question through the same lens.
Whilst the opposition is still interested in pursuing the democratic route to win the people’s mandate to govern, Zanu PF remains unmoved by the deepening national crisis and is determined to consolidate the politics of coercion as opposed to consent.
The Sadc mediation is caught up in this cobweb of Zanu PF’s politics of survival. I do not provide this thesis because I am some prophet of doom or that I am a Zimbabwean who is not interested in transformative change but because of my appreciation of how Zanu PF is set to delay the Mbeki process and frustrate the MDC out of the talks.
The first point is what I would call the Robert Mugabe factor. President Mugabe is the biggest stumbling block who is holding the country to ransom due to his insatiable desire for power. Mugabe is 83 years old, has been in power since Independence from Britain in 1980 and has committed serious crimes during the 27 years that he has been in power.
If anything Mugabe is comfortable with a situation where he dies in office and skips the possibility of being arraigned before international criminal tribunals to face charges of crimes against humanity. The situation is even worse now as we witness growing resentment to Mugabe’s rule not only from opposition parties but from camps within Zanu PF who are working to oppose Mugabe’s nomination as the party’s presidential candidate in the forthcoming elections.
There is evidence of a serious lack of common vision and what constitutes the common good between the negotiating parties.
The ongoing Zanu PF-MDC talks are not anything new in political science as there is a growing body of knowledge about what is called deliberative politics or the politics of accommodation given as the solution for deeply divided societies. Unless the two parties agree that there is a serious national crisis characterised by gross human rights abuses, rampant corruption, economic meltdown, lack of investment, militarisation of the state institutions and public policy incongruence, among other problems, then the talks will not yield any substantive results.
The public couldn’t care less about electoral politics and the politics of constitutional engineering when they do not have anything to eat or money to send their children to school.
So far the agenda of the Zanu PF-MDC talks has concentrated on the same debate of how to ensure that we have free and fair elections and how we can have a new constitution in place which sounds good but is divorced from the struggle of the poor people who want to know when they can have bread, sugar, cooking oil and other basic commodities.
A more practical approach would have been putting on the agenda of the talks issues such as the setting up of a transitional governmental authority drawn from a wide section of Zimbabwean society to immediately deal with the economic challenges that our country is facing, which include food shortage, and fuel and electricity shortages, among other problems.
This transitional government would be constituted by experts and technocrats from government, opposition, academia, civil society and other interest groups with a clear mandate of resuscitating the economy as an immediate concern before facilitating a process of constitutional reform.
Elections at this moment are not a viable alternative that will address the socio-economic and political problems the people are facing. It is only the politics of accommodation that will save our country from descent into total collapse.
The agenda for these talks which we got through the media is not a people’s agenda but rather a self-serving agenda meant to buttress the partys’ position and gain political capital from the process.
Zanu PF and MDC have no business discussing the smart sanctions imposed on the Harare regime by the US and the European Union (EU) or disbanding the so-called pirate radio stations broadcasting from the UK, South Africa and the US. The international community unequivocally imposed sanctions on a norm violating regime and it is the conditions that invited the sanctions which should rather be debated and not how the MDC should ask the VOA Studio 7, SWRadio Africa to shut down or the EU and the US to lift the sanctions.
It is not so much about advocating for the broadcasting stations to disband but it is about a change in policy and Zanu PF’s willingness to protect and promote citizen rights which will translate into a shift in editorial policy at SWRadio Africa, Voice of the People or Studio 7.
In the same vein, if people’s freedoms are being respected in Harare and if administrative and judicial mechanisms are put in place which enhance the respect, protection and promotion of human rights, the countries which imposed the sanctions will reconsider the sanctions and work with a reformed political establishment as opposed to the one that abuses the rights of its citizenry.
The media plays a crucial role in reconciling conflicting parties as much as it can exacerbate the situation through partisan and less balanced reportage. The tone of the government-controlled media has not changed in portraying the MDC as a party created by the British to effect regime change in Zimbabwe. If anything the vitriolic attacks against officials of the opposition have intensified since the Zanu PF-MDC talks began.
Journalists like Pikirayi Deketeke or Caesar Zvayi must know the new dispensation is looming. For the purposes of political expediency,editors may decide to extinguish columnists such as the Herald’s Nathaniel Manheru who only exist to deride opposition and civic leaders.
In the same vein, zealots like historian and former journalism teacher, Tafataona Mahoso, must not be allowed to continue insulting the leaders of the MDC, likening them to rebels and terrorists. The idea here is to reconcile all political forces that exist and create a semblance of a nation that celebrates its diversity and is ready to confront the socio-economic challenges that it faces as a bloc.
Political scientist, Rud Andeweg notes that the spirit of accommodation in politics is rooted in the understanding that the alternative to political compromise in the long run is detrimental.
In Zimbabwe, the ruling party does not want to compromise with the opposition and civic groups. Zanu PF strives to outplay and outwit the opposition and does not at any time want to collaborate with the groups that it continues to brand as agents of regime change.
The ongoing talks do not include other important players within Zimbabwe’s body politic such as labour and human rights rights groups. This makes it difficult for the bi-partisan process to produce a result that is national and that Zimbabweans can proudly identify with as reflective of their thoughts, aspirations and the future that they envision for the country.
The exclusion of critical voices such as the National Constitutional Assembly, Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and many others in the ongoing process, makes the whole process a farce that is aimed at hoodwinking Zimbabweans into believing that their problems are being addressed whilst nothing substantive is happening.
* Phillip Pasirayi is a Zimbabwean scholar based at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (USA).