PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe and opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai have made a dramatic climb-down from their intransigent positions in inter-party talks under mounting pressure from South African president Thabo Mbeki, it has emerged.
The move demonstrates Mbeki’s increasing leverage in the convoluted mediation process despite stinging criticism of him for his failure to wring a solution from the two men over the past eight years.
Sources said after the botched meeting between Mugabe and Tsvangirai last Saturday, Mbeki has been piling pressure on the two leaders to drop rigid preconditions to dialogue and dispatch chief negotiators to Pretoria where crisis talks began yesterday.
The negotiations centre on a government of national unity. The sources said Mbeki has advised Mugabe to defer the appointment of a new cabinet to give a chance to the talks because a breakthrough could be found soon. Mugabe had wanted to announce a new cabinet since last week.
He has been claiming he would not talk unless he is recognised as the legitimate president, while Tsvangirai has been saying he would not reengage unless he was also acknowledged as the winner of elections on the basis of the March 29 results.
Tsvangirai has said he would not talk unless an African Union envoy was assigned to the talks to partner Mbeki. He also wants to see the “dismantling of structures of violence” and the release of jailed party members.
However, the sources said Mbeki – who will next month take over as Sadc chairman – has prevailed on both sides to drop these demands and reengage each other to resolve the political stalemate and halt economic haemorrhaging. Mbeki’s party, the governing ANC, is also piling on the pressure, particularly on Mugabe, to negotiate in good faith.
On Wednesday ANC deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and secretary-general Gwede Mantashe met Mugabe and his deputies Joseph Msika and Joice Mujuru in Harare to increasse pressure for serious engagement.
The ANC and Zanu PF met in Johannesburg last month for talks on the local crisis. Although ANC leader Jacob Zuma is more critical of Mugabe in public than Mbeki, it is said they are in constant touch on the Zimbabwe issue.
Zanu PF negotiators Patrick Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche and MDC emissaries Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma, who represent Tsvangirai’s group, and Welshman Ncube and Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga for the Arthur Mutambara camp resumed talks on how to form a government of national unity yesterday.
After the recent AU summit in Egypt resolved Mugabe and Tsvangirai must form a government of national unity, the negotiation process has been gathering momentum although it suffered a setback last week after Tsvangirai boycotted a meeting at Zimbabwe House.
Sources said the real reason why Tsvangirai pulled out was that he did not want a group meeting but a one-on-one with Mugabe.
“Tsvangirai wanted to meet Mugabe alone for private talks in the presence of Mbeki.
“This was agreed, but a mix-up arose when Mbeki allowed negotiators to be there.”
Tsvangirai himself confirmed this to journalists during the week.
There is a growing consensus among Zimbabweans, the AU, United Nations, Sadc and even within the G8 that a negotiated settlement which produces a power-sharing agreement is the most workable way out for Zimbabwe.
As a result there has been a flurry of private and informal engagements on the way forward between Zanu PF and the MDC, as well as Mbeki and his negotiators
Sydney Mufamadi, Frank Chikane and Mujanku Gumbi.
It is understood Mbeki was in constant communication with Mugabe and Tsvangirai while in Japan this week where Zimbabwe loomed large in private and public debates. This led to the reconvening of talks yesterday.
“Mugabe and Tsvangirai were put under tremendous pressure by Mbeki during the week to accept responsibility to find solutions to their own country’s problems,” a reliable diplomat said. “This led to consultations between Zanu PF and MDC representatives to set a date for talks.”
While he was in Egypt, Mbeki did the same. He was in touch with the parties in Zimbabwe to force them into dialogue. This led to a meeting between Zanu PF and the MDC formations on June 30 and July 2 in a bid to organise the failed July 5 first-ever meeting between Mugabe and Tsvangirai.
Mbeki had on July 2 spoken to Tsvangirai about it. It is said he had a tough discussion on the issue because Mbeki wanted the party negotiators to meet, while Tsvangirai pushed for a private meeting with Mugabe. Mbeki ended up yielding but had reservations.
The sources said Mbeki asked Tsvangirai if he wanted to negotiate and agree a deal with Mugabe himself or leave it to negotiators to work out the deal under instruction from their principals. But the MDC leader maintained it was better for him to meet Mugabe first and clear the way for the talks.
The meeting – which was to feature Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara at 3pm at Zimbabwe House in the presence of Mbeki – was then confirmed. This is according to the Mutambara faction. However, Tsvangirai pulled out at the last minute.
The sources said after that Mbeki pulled out all the stops to get the talks back on track by intensifying pressure on Tsvangirai, especially after his grilling by G8 leaders on the negotiations. Reports said Mbeki was taken to task over Zimbabwe after he claimed there was progress in the dialogue. G8 leaders reportedly rejected this, including his assurances Mugabe was going in a few years’ time and that he might even accept a ceremonial post in the new set-up.
Mbeki reportedly said there was no legitimate government in Zimbabwe and that was why he was pushing for a negotiated settlement to resolve that problem.
By Dumisani Muleya