SOUTH African President Thabo Mbeki yesterday piled pressure on President Robert Mugabe to speed up the pace of talks between the ruling Zanu PF and the
opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Mbeki’s push comes in the wake of a slowdown in the tempo of negotiations between the two parties which have been engaged since May.
The two parties have missed deadlines in September, October and November. Now they have come up with a new early December deadline which should be met before the Zanu PF congress and the ANC’s conference mid next month. Fears linger that Zanu PF is trying to take Mbeki and the MDC down a garden path and sink the process later.
Sources say the delays are indicative of pitfalls which lie ahead in the talks that need to be dealt with now. Mbeki is said to have come to ensure the talks remain on track and the parties display a sense of urgency in their attitude as the elections fast draw closer.
Talks which had resumed on Sunday in Pretoria broke off on Tuesday because Zanu PF chief negotiator Patrick Chinamasa wanted to attend a meeting in Lesotho and then another gathering in North Africa.
It is said MDC delegates also had other commitments although they accepted a postponement largely because they wanted to put in order their position paper on sanctions and land.
This falls under agenda item No 5 which also deals with issues such as demilitarisation of state institutions, the role of traditional chiefs, use of food aid for political benefit and foreign broadcasts into Zimbabwe.
However, Mbeki said yesterday he was “very confident” a solution to the country’s political stalemate would be found soon.
“They (the talks) have gone very well. I came to Harare today to see the president and the leadership of the MDC so we can reflect on where we are and to report to them (Sadc) as facilitators how the talks have gone and also put my own perspectives on where we are going. There has been progress indeed,” Mbeki said after meeting the two sides.
Regional leaders appointed Mbeki in March to mediate between Zanu PF and the MDC. South African Local Government minister Sydney Mufamadi is chairing the talks assisted by Director in the Presidency Reverend Frank Chikane and Mbeki’s legal advisor Mujanku Gumbi.
Zanu PF negotiators are Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche and the MDC has Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti, assisted by Lovemore Moyo and Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga.
Mbeki in August reported progress to the Sadc summit in Zambia. It is said he told Mugabe and MDC leaders yesterday that he has to report to the Sadc troika on politics, defence and security chairman Angolan President Eduardo Dos Santos on progress so far.
Mbeki met with Mugabe separately at State House. It is said he told Mugabe that there was need to finalise the talks as soon as possible because the process was lagging behind.
Mbeki is also said to have indicated that he wanted to report as soon as possible to the Sadc troika and as a result he wants to the talks finalised by the first week of December. Mbeki also urged Mugabe to reciprocate the MDC’s support for Zanu PF’s constitutional amendment project.
It is said Mugabe had given assurances to Mbeki that if the MDC backs the amendment, Zanu PF would also make significant concessions. The MDC was told that Mugabe had agreed to remain in the process and that he would adopt the final agreement. Mbeki and Sadc are the underwriters of the promise.
Mbeki also told Mugabe that as far as he was concerned there had been significant progress because most of the things have largely been agreed on, with only a few things remaining on the first four agenda items — constitution, electoral laws, security legislation, and media laws. The parties are currently discussing the last agenda item, which is the political climate.
The negotiating parties have already agreed upon a draft constitution and have basically agreed on the other three agenda issues which have been “parked” in the meantime to deal with technical issues and matters that cannot be resolved until the final agreement is in place.
Some of these issues are transitional mechanisms and the date of elections. While the negotiators are agreed informally that elections should be postponed to June, Mugabe has flatly rejected the suggestion. The sources said the date, which the MDC said yesterday is still on the agenda, could actually become decisive, determining the failure or success of the talks. If Mugabe insists on the March date, the sources said, the MDC might walk out of the talks and boycott the elections, taking the country back to square one.
They said Mbeki told the MDC leaders the same message he gave to Mugabe. Mbeki met MDC leaders at the South African ambassador’s residence. MDC leaders present were Morgan Tsvangirai, Gibson Sibanda, Welshman Ncube, Arthur Mutambara, Thokozani Khuphe, Tendai Biti, Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga and Lovemore Moyo.
While the MDC is upbeat that progress has been made despite delays, Mugabe and Zanu PF took a decision in a crucial politburo meeting on September 5 they would not accept a new constitution before elections under any circumstances or an agreement which might lead to their defeat.
Mugabe said in that meeting that the negotiators were doing a good job because they had managed to put across the party position in a “strong, confident and progressive manner”, it has been confirmed.
Vice-President Joseph Msika also applauded the Zanu PF negotiating team, saying there had been “fears that they may give in to demands which would compromise the party”.