THE Sadc-mediated negotiations on the Zimbabwe crisis held in Harare this week ended in a stalemate over a matter most people thought was simple – power-sharing.
South African president Thabo Mbeki told journalists on Wednesday that the talks had adjourned to give MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai time to “reflect on the sticking point”.
He would then inform the other two principals, President Robert Mugabe and Arthur Mutambara, the leader of the smaller formation of the MDC, once he was ready to sign the power-sharing deal.
The nation awaits with bated breath to see whether Tsvangirai will re-think his position and append his signature to the document that is believed to be the key to unlocking Zimbabwe’s economic recovery prospects.
Away from the political stalemate, it was not business as usual for companies and people with a direct or indirect interest in the talks.
To start with, hotel staff would testify that this was probably one of their busiest weeks as they worked overtime to keep their hotel up to standard and in line with its international reputation as one of Zimbabwe’s five star hotels.
The red carpet rolled out for Mbeki, Mugabe, and Mutambara was their worst assignment as keeping it clean was a major task. People would trample it with the dusty shoes. It was a taxing experience as it had to be cleaned all the time.
Heavily armed police sealed off the 15th, 16th, and 17th floors where the three principals were housed. Even Tsvangirai’s bodyguards were denied access to those floors despite the fact they were security personnel.
On Sunday, they were taken aback when, as they tried to accompany their leader to his room, they found armed police in the elevator. They panicked, wondering what was about to happen to their leader.
“He is fine. We are in charge of security. Go back,” came the order.
What could they do given the order save to calm down and head for the leather sofas closer to the elevators.
It was not only Tsvangirai’s security men who pressed the panic mode. Even some journalists who were closer to the drama for a minute thought Tsvangirai had been kidnapped. The theory was that Mugabe and his government had become so desperate for Tsvangirai’s signature that he had to be kidnapped to append it on the agreement before the talks.
One international media correspondent was overheard commenting on the phone: “The MDC leader was taken hostage as he made his way into his room in preparation for the signing ceremony. We are not sure what his fate is at the hands of Mugabe’s men. We will keep you updated on this.”
The number three seems to have been the in-thing during the negotiations.
Three principals, three days of negotiating, three different rooms, three hotel floors, three presidential-guard escort vehicles, 33 backers to the negotiators and more than 30 journalists from the public and private media gathered at the venue of the negotiations.
But in the end three was not a lucky number. There was no agreement.
On Sunday, which marked the first full day of negotiation, Mutambara was the first to arrive at the hotel. Mbeki had spent the night in Harare after his arrival on Saturday night.
In a departure from his usual self, Mutambara refused to talk to the media and walked straight to his 15th floor room.
Tsvangirai was the next to drive in. His motorcade, comprising a Mazda Rustler, the noisiest of all the vehicles in the motorcade, two Nissan hard-body trucks and a silver-blue Land Cruiser with dark windows. This is the car that he used for the better part of the talks.
He was whisked away to the elevators en route to his room.
Then came Mugabe in his usual motorcade comprising motorbikes, the latest Mercedes Benz – Zim 1 – which is his official car, and a cavalcade of other cars with security personnel.
Mugabe greeted personnel at the hotel’s entrance before striding on the red carpet to the elevators and up to his floor.
Then started the shuffling of papers from one office to the other.
At the reception area, there was a host of journalists and security details. The waiting game took its toll on the “players” up until they started complaining to staff from information secretary, George Charamba’s office that they could not stand the hunger any longer.
“Bacossi”, “Bacossi”, “Bacossi”, the journalists shouted, in reference to Gideon Gono’s handouts. Eventually the information officers were forced to compile a list of all the journalists present for “accounting” purposes. The impatient scribes were led to the Jacaranda room where the names of about 60 journalists were called out for tickets to the dining room.
“Now we can wait even until tomorrow morning,” exclaimed some journalists “We have eaten and that makes the situation better. No man can work on an empty stomach.”
Interested parties had to wait until 02.00 hours on Monday for the negotiators to start appearing on the ground floor of the hotel.
The hope was that a deal had been signed given that the negotiators had been locked in for over 13 hours. When Mugabe appeared in the hotel foyer there was a stampede by journalists wanting to hear his comments.
“We are going to rest now. We will continue tomorrow,” was all he said before summoning Patrick Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche, his two foot soldiers in the talks, into his presidential car.
They were in the car for 15 minutes before he was driven away.
Tsvangirai and Mutambara appeared 45 minutes later carrying the same message: “We will continue tomorrow after the heroes commemorations.” He didn’t look happy.
On Monday, Mugabe at the Heroes Acre revisited the talks saga, saying he was optimistic that the negotiations would yield results.
There was hope that Tsvangirai would, in the spirit of the negotiations, appear at the commemorations, but he decided to stay away. Instead Mutambara turned up much to Mugabe’s delight.
Mutambara, while speaking to journalists, said Mbeki would address journalists in the morning of Wednesday before he left for the Angolan capital, Luanda, where he was to brief the chairman of the Sadc organ on politics, defence and security, JosÃ© Eduado Dos Santos on the progress of the talks.
Journalists were advised that he would address the media before departing, only for Mbeki to summon a handful of journalists who included a SABC news crew to address them.
Mbeki told those journalists who arrived in the morning: “I addressed journalists yesterday. I cannot do so today.”
Efforts to trail him to the Harare International Airport yielded no result as he bade farewell to a few cabinet ministers who accompanied him to the airport before walking up the staircase to his Inkwazi jet.
It wasn’t perhaps “mission failure” just yet. But it certainly seemed “mission impossible” after Wednesday.
By Nkululeko Sibanda