TALKS to find a settlement to Zimbabwe’s decade-long crisis started in Pretoria this week with Zanu PF and the MDC still deeply divided over what the process should produce.
The negotiations followed Monday’s momentous occasion when President Robert Mugabe and leaders of the two MDC factions – Arthur Mutambara and Morgan Tsvangirai –– signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) before mediator, South African President Thabo Mbeki.
The Tsvangirai-led MDC, the bigger of the two formations, is pushing for a transitional government (TG) headed by its president, while Mugabe’s Zanu PF insists on an inclusive government with the 84-year-old incumbent at the helm.
The African Union and United Nations have joined the consultative process, thus broadening it beyond Mbeki’s sole remit from Sadc.
Politicians and political analysts this week said what is desirable for Zimbabwe is a construction that is not blinded by the politics of the day, but rather the economics.
Zimbabwe-born South African businessman Mutumwa Mawere argued that the country was bleeding and the politics at play seems to focus on political matters to the exclusion of the fundamentals of the economic situation.
“Whether it will be a GNU or TG, the country needs a change of direction,” argued Mawere.
“The policies have to change.”
He said the talks were likely to produce a GNU.
“It seems that a GNU will be the preferred outcome. Both Zanu PF and MDC-Tsvangirai have largely the same number of parliamentary votes requiring a scheme of arrangement,” Mawere said.
“This may take the form of a new interim constitution providing for the election of a prime minister by parliament. The prime minister will then come from the MDC factions. The president (Mugabe) will remain in situ presumably to ensure a stable transition.”
He said the danger with this approach was that given the age of Mugabe, this may not work as it will favour the MDC in future elections.
“Zanu PF urgently needs a leadership renewal and I do not think this will materialise through a GNU,” Mawere argued. “Depending on the succession battle in Zanu PF, there may be strong forces that favour a transitional government that will still give Zanu PF a residual claim on power from the electorate. Either way, Zimbabwe is at the crossroads.”
A GNU is an arrangement that has often been used in post-conflict situations to provide transition from an autocratic to a democratic constitutional order.
The unity government is a construction that responds to a crisis that a purely electoral system cannot resolve.
This type of government would not be unique to Zimbabwe. In South Africa it formed an integral part of the post-apartheid governing arrangement. Between April 1994 and February 1997 South Africa was governed under the terms of an Interim Constitution whose Clause 88 required that any party holding 20 or more seats in parliament could claim one or more cabinet positions and enter the government.
This arrangement was deemed necessary given the political, social and economic forces at play at the time. Sudan, Palestine, Lebanon and more recently Kenya have put in place similar governments.
A TG refers to an arrangement where none of the contesting parties elect to remain outside the state waiting for a new election.
This will call for a government comprising new faces who are not part of the contest.
They will then form a government typically composed of technocrats under an agreed framework and timetable to elections. The contesting parties would then agree to contest in an election.
Last week, civil society in Zimbabwe met and agreed that the talks should yield a TG born out of consultation with all stakeholders.
“We believe that a transitional government would provide an appropriate vehicle for ushering in democratic reform,” a statement from the society said.
“The transitional authority would have a specific limited mandate to oversee the drafting of a new, democratic and people-driven constitution and the installation of a legitimate government.”
The civics said they rejected the suggestion of a power-sharing agreement that fails to address the inadequacy of the current constitutional regime.
They demanded that the TG be headed by an individual who is not a member of Zanu PF or MDC.
But Mawere argued that the civil society had no role to play in the current talks saying the electorate had spoken on March 29.
“Three parties dominate the lower and upper house of parliament. They can change the constitution because their legitimacy comes from the people,” he said.
“The legitimacy of civil society is something that would require to be tested. Unfortunately, there is no reliable mechanism for authenticating non-state actors as many of them are motivated and driven by funders.”
Mawere added that if the March 29 results reflected the will of the people of Zimbabwe then it “cannot be wrong and just to engage the leadership of the parties that came from a process that everyone has come to accept as a largely true barometer for the change” agenda.
David Coltart, the legal affairs secretary of the Mutambara-led MDC, said a GNU would be viewed with extreme scepticism by most Zimbabweans who fear that it would draw in unscrupulous political leaders.
“The fear is that those leaders are then compromised and that they will fail to deal with the fundamental problems facing Zimbabwe,” Coltart argued. “It is for this reason that a transitional authority should be agreed to.”
Coltart is of the view that civil society should play a crucial role in some aspects of the TG.
“During the transition, civil society will have to play a major role in certain aspects of the transitional authority’s mandate, especially regarding the process which should culminate in a new democratic constitution,” he suggested.
National Constitutional Assembly chairperson Lovemore Madhuku said the negotiations for a political settlement were illegitimate because they ignored key stakeholders.
“I think as civil society our reaction is very clear,” Madhuku said. “We believe that the approach taken by the political parties is illegitimate. It is illegitimate because they believe that as political parties on their own they have the responsibility to resolve the crisis and they are excluding the rest of society generally, and not just civil society.”
He said the MoU was simply for a power-sharing arrangement.
“So if you just pick out the so-called agenda items you can be misled into believing that there is going to be a serious discussion of the issues there. There is no serious discussion,” he argued.
“You cannot say that you have a new government, which is what the subject matter is, and that the new government must look at the land question and the issue of sanctions.”
He said the land issue and sanctions were not related to the centre of the country’s problems – a governance crisis that must be resolved by Zimbabweans “agreeing to reform our political system, followed by free and fair elections and a legitimate government that has a clear mandate to govern”.
But in an open letter after signing the MoU, Tsvangirai said whatever decision the negotiations would produce, Zimbabweans must endorse it.
“We must acknowledge that the outcome of these negotiations will not be acceptable until it has been endorsed by Zimbabwean civil society, the trade unions and the people themselves,” wrote Tsvangirai.
“We are not here to form an elitist pact, but rather to represent the hopes and aspirations of each citizen and every stakeholder. This is my commitment to our partners who have struggled with us for a more democratic form of government.”
By Constantine Chimakure