WHILE power-sharing talks between Zanu PF and the two MDC factions started on an optimistic note in Pretoria, South Africa, yesterday, potential dangers which could derail the negotiations are looming.
An assessment of the opportunities and threats to the talks by the Zimbabwe Independent revealed that, although the talks stand a good chance of success they are also endangered by internal and external political factors.
If both parties refuse to make serious concessions, the negotiators are bound to have problems on who leads the envisaged new government. The issue of violence before the elections and the need to hold perpetrators to account might become a problem. The MDC has produced a long list of issues which it needs addressed â€“â€“â€“ violence, release of detained party leaders and members, resumption of humanitarian aid and the March 29 presidential election result as the benchmark for talks â€“â€“ before the final agreement.
Eddie Cross, an MDC MP, said the fate of alleged perpetrators of political violence would be one of the issues expected to loom large during the talks, although it was not mentioned in the MoU. He said the alleged perpetrators should have no role to play in the expected new government.
“Not covered in any of the talks so far or mentioned in any agenda is the issue of just what is going to happen to the many monsters who have been responsible for planning, managing and undertaking the violent repression of the opposition in the past decade or more,” Cross said.
Although Mbeki has said parties accepted dialogue unconditionally, there are lingering grievances which his party wants dealt with.
Internally, the talks are under threat from the forces within and behind the negotiating parties. Zanu PF â€“â€“ now a shell party after collapsing into state structures â€“â€“ is heavily influenced by decisions made by the Joint Operations Command (JOC) which is believed to be running government from behind the scenes.
Observers say Zanu PF structures have all collapsed and the state pillars and bureaucracy are now being used to prop up the crumbling party defeated at the parliamentary elections in March.
Sources said JOC heads are not happy with the looming government of national unity with the MDC after a bitter campaign. Senior army chiefs, including Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga, Army chief of staff Major-General Martin Chedondo, Police Commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri, Brigadier-General David Sigauke and Prisons Commissioner retired Major-General Paradzai Zimondi said just before the March 29 elections they would not salute Tsvangirai if he won.
Zanu PF is riddled with divisions and factionalism. It is feared this might sabotage the talks as rival factions try to secure their political ground.
The MDC factions also have pressures behind them which might become a problem if those behind the scenes do not approve the final agreement. In the case of Tsvangiraiâ€™s MDC, sources say, the party is under pressure from South African-based local telecoms tycoon Strive Masiyiwa who is said to be increasingly pulling the strings and controlling the decision-making process.
It said the MDC factions failed to unite before the elections and only agreed to work together afterwards due to Masiyiwaâ€™s influence. Sources say Masiyiwa has also deployed his lieutenants to the party â€“â€“ including Tsvangiraiâ€™s spokesman George Sibotshiwe and advisor Wellington Chadehumbe â€“â€“ to control the party agenda and safeguard his own interests. Efforts to verify this with Masiyiwa were not successful.
Tsvangiraiâ€™s faction is accused by Zanu PF of being under heavy United States and European Union influence. It has been said the party receives funding from them and, if true, this might constitute a threat to talks as the partyâ€™s financiers may not agree with some aspects of the agreement.
So far the US and EU â€“â€“ which are pushing for sanctions against Harare â€“â€“ have been unenthusiastic and openly sceptical about the negotiations. Mutambaraâ€™s faction is said to be under South African influence. The party is understood to have been brought back to the negotiations â€“â€“ after its recent exclusion from meetings before the June 27 election run-off â€“â€“ by South African President Thabo Mbeki, the mediator. The Mutambara formation is seen as beholden to Mbeki because of this and other influences Pretoria has on them.
Apart from these internal threats to the talks, there are also external dangers such as foreign pressure and interference, particularly by the United States and the European Union who are pushing hard for stiffer targeted sanctions â€“â€“ travel bans, an asset freeze and arms embargo â€“â€“ against President Robert Mugabe and his cronies.
Their hardline approach is seen by some as counter-productive at a time when talks are gathering momentum. The US, supported by Britain, has said it would continue to push for United Nations sanctions. Mbeki has complained that his mediation was being threatened by interference by the Western powers.
Independent MP and political analyst Jonathan Moyo â€“â€“ involved in failed Zanu PF and MDC talks in 2002 â€“â€“ said there were issues which could affect the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed on Monday to pave way for the talks which started yesterday and any expected final agreement.
“The MoU and any agreement expected to come out of it seems to be more about political expediency rather than principle and this may become a problem. It may end up causing harm to the public interest it purports to be trying to serve. One of the issues which may be affected is the 1987 Unity Accord between Zanu and Zapu that embodies our history and national interest,” Moyo said.
“If there is a conflict between expediency and principle, one would expect principle to prevail, otherwise all hell will break loose in the end. The MoU and any expected agreement would not address the national question we are facing. While images of politicians at the signing of the MoU gave hope in view of the worsening economic meltdown, there is a danger that in the process many issues would not be resolved if political expediency prevails over fundamental issues of principle.”
By Dumisani Muleya /Constantine Chimakure