FORMER South African President Thabo Mbeki’s mediation role in the Zimbabwe political crisis has been biased in favour of President Robert Mugabe, but it is now too late for him to be recused after the signing of the global political agreement on September 15, political analysts have said.
The analysts said the war of words that erupted between Mbeki and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai last week revealed the deep-seated mistrust the opposition party has in the recalled leader.
Tsvangirai wrote to Sadc chairperson Kgalema Motlanthe asking Mbeki to recuse himself from facilitating negotiations between the MDC and Zanu PF. The former trade unionist also labelled Sadc leaders cowards for failing to rein-in Mugabe.
In his response, Mbeki said that Tsvangirai and his party were taking instructions from Western countries and as a result were frustrating the formation of an inclusive government.
The wrangling between Tsvangirai and Mbeki nearly scuttled talks in Pretoria last week on the Constitutional Amendment No19 Bill which gives legal effect to the power-sharing agreement.
Zanu PF and the two MDC formations, however, went ahead with the negotiations after the intervention of Motlanthe and agreed on the contents of the Bill. The Bill will create the office of the prime minister and two deputies.
Tsvangirai will be the prime minister in the unity government, deputised by the leader of the smaller formation of the MDC – Arthur Mutambara. The other deputy will come from the MDC-T.Â Â
University of Zimbabwe political scientist Eldred Masunungure said there was “clearly a large dose of bias” in the manner in which Mbeki has conducted his mediation of the country’s 10-year crisis.
“Naturally, the bias has been in favour of his fellow liberation war hero Robert Mugabe who is also a father figure to Mbeki,” Masunungure observed. “There is thus an additional element of generational deference at play between Mbeki and Mugabe, a dynamic that is missing between Mbeki and Tsvangirai.”
He added that there was a sense in which Mbeki sees Tsvangirai as being disrespectful of Mugabe.
“It is my considered view that Mbeki and Tsvangirai have very different worldviews while Mbeki and Mugabe’s worldviews tend to converge. In short, there is no chemistry between Mbeki and Tsvangirai,” said Masunungure, who is also the director of the Mass Public Opinion Institute.
But the political science professor was quick to point out that it was late too for Mbeki to be recused and after all, Mugabe and Sadc would not allow that to happen.
“The process has advanced too far now and has reached what appears to be an irreversible stage independent of the wishes and dreams of the political gladiators,” Masunungure explained. “In any case, people don’t have to like each other in order to work together. Neither Mugabe nor the Sadc will allow the departure of Mbeki at this stage; it’s just unfathomable.”
He said it was undiplomatic for Tsvangirai to say the decision of Sadc that the MDC-Tsvangirai and Zanu PF should co-manage the home affairs ministry was a “nullity” and that the regional leaders were “cowards”.
Another political scientist Michael Mhike said Mbeki had not bought into the MDC-T agenda, hence the bias against Tsvangirai.
“He has and will never believe that the kind of change promised by MDC-T is the kind of change that Zimbabwe needs,” Mhike said. “Even after the March 29 election and the subsequent fiasco, Mbeki was nowhere to be seen. When he eventually surfaced, the starting point was not about the people’s agenda, but what deal could be constructed so that the status quo could be maintained. It is obvious that Mbeki would have preferred a different outcome from the elections.”
Mhike believes that had the other presidential aspirant in the March poll, Simba Makoni, won, Mbeki could have been persuaded to support that change. He argued: “Mbeki knows that Mugabe does not offer any new ideas and yet he cannot see himself supporting an agenda that he is convinced is not an African one.
“He believes that MDC-Tsvangirai is not a principal but an agent of Western powers whose interests in Zimbabwe are suspect. Mbeki’s personality is such that if he holds a view it is difficult to change his mind. If Zimbabweans had come up with a different choice, you can be rest assured that Mbeki would have been the first to encourage Mugabe to retire.”
Mutumwa Mawere, Zimbabwe-born South African businessman, said it would be wise for Mbeki to recuse himself, but said the former leader has invested so much in the Zimbabwe project for him to allow anyone else to take the glory.
“Mbeki is now effectively part of the story and he has taken a position on the issues as well as personalities involved,” Mawere said. “It is obvious that he does not like Tsvangirai. Without Mbeki, Mugabe would be exposed and the outcome may be different. Mbeki’s argument is that an agreement exists signed by all parties and this should be implemented notwithstanding the attitude of Mugabe and his colleagues on the agreement.”
He argued that through the September 15 pact and not elections, Zanu PF remains as the ruling party and has continued to act as such since the March 29 poll despite that the two MDC formations now control parliament.
Even Mbeki would have raised questions on legitimacy, but he has chosen to turn a blind eye choosing to pile pressure on Tsvangirai to proceed to assimilate himself and his party into a machine that he has absolutely no control over,” Mawere said. “It is clear that Zimbabweans will not get a fair deal because – as Mbeki suggests – any attempt to vary the terms of the global political agreement for genuine cause is a manifestation of the alleged involvement of third party – Western interests.”
The analysts said if Mbeki was to recuse himself, the negotiations were likely to collapse because Mugabe would not accept another mediator given that the former South African leader had turned into an ally prepared to save his political career.
“Mugabe has found an ally in Mbeki and will not allow a situation where his principal defender is removed,” another University of Zimbabwe political scientist and Zimbabwe government critic, John Makumbe, said. “Mugabe is the winner and he has Mbeki to thank and not the people of Zimbabwe who in his mind made a mistake in voting for the two MDC formations.
Through Mbeki, Mugabe is now riding on a high moral ground and he can sustain his contention that it is Tsvangirai who is the problem in refusing to accept a deal of a lifetime, that is. becoming a prime minister in a Zanu PF dominated government.”
MawereÂ said Zanu PF and the MDC still have to come to an agreement on how they should work together in a unity government.
“The issue of trust is still hanging and Zanu PF continues to maintain that it has the majority stake in the deal,” Mawere said. “Sadc should know that Mugabe has no option but to realise that no legitimacy will be restored without Tsvangirai’s cooperation and goodwill. He continues to complain loudly about the impact of sanctions confirming that indeed they are biting. If Mugabe had an alternative plan, you can be rest assured that the world would know about it.”
He said Sadc would not come to the rescue of Zimbabwe without the support of the international community.
“Sadc support does not amount to anything significant. Zimbabwe needs a new lease of life supported by real resources and not rhetoric. Sadc has no money to back its hollow resolutions,” Mawere said. “I think Tsvangirai by pushing for Sadc intervention he naively thought that the regional body was sufficiently interested in Zimbabwe’s future to tell Mugabe that it is time to step aside and allow the country to move forward.”
The MDC accused Mbeki of being sympathetic to Mugabe.
However, the regional bloc continued to have faith in Mbeki and it is highly unlikely that Sadc will remove him. Mbeki brokered the September 15 deal, but it ran into problems a few days after it was signed when Mugabe and Tsvangirai failed to agree on the allocation of ministerial portfolios.
By Constanine Chimakure