Mbeki kicks for Touch

I must say that the past week has surprised me. Mr. Mbeki came home from his trip to the G8 summit in Japan in a hurry. First he called for an immediate resumption of the dialogue between the MDC and Zanu PF - suspended after the debacle last year when Mugabe simply put his foot down and said that he would not implement the agreement thrashed out over 9 painstaking months by the negotiating teams under Mr. Mbeki's mediation. MDC was reluctant to begin 'talks' but eventually agreed to resume 'talks about talks.' These got under way on Friday last week and after two days of fruitless arguing, the talks were suspended and the negotiators returned home.

On Monday this week, the South Africans continued the dialogue and although we know little of what went on behind closed doors, we understand that it was a very rough session - almost physical at times. The result was a draft 'Memorandum of Understanding' which the South Africans then said - 'sign that - all of you'.

By all accounts Zanu PF were prepared to sign but the MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai stuck to its guns and said they would not sign nor begin substantive talks until its preconditions were fulfilled. There was much huffing and puffing about that - both in the State controlled media here and in South Africa where the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs dismissed the MDC demands with several snide remarks in Pretoria.

On Thursday the MDC National Executive was recalled to review the draft MOU and after two hours of intense debate and several amendments, they agreed that providing our preconditions for substantive talks were satisfied, MDC would sign the MOU as a basis for full negotiations on a transitional authority to run the country until a new constitution could be adopted and free and fair conditions held - perhaps in two years time. I was astonished by the terms of the MOU and said so to the President.

Now today (Sunday) the BBC has stated that following a terse announcement in Johannesburg to the effect that Mr. Mbeki would be assisted in his mediation role in these talks by both AU and UN representatives, MDC has announced that we would sign the MOU on Monday. In fact behind the scenes there was more to this than met the eye and I think most media have yet to fully appreciate what in fact has transpired.

On Thursday the Chairman of the AU Commission, Mr. Ping, arrived in Johannesburg and on Friday the SADC Organ on Security and Politics joined him. In subsequent meetings, they thrashed out an agreement that paved the way to the appointment of the AU and UN representatives and by doing so met one of our key demands as a precondition for the talks. The other preconditions were all covered in the MOU and had already been agreed by Zanu PF on Tuesday. These include a complete cessation of political violence and the resumption of humanitarian aid on a non-political basis.

And so the stage is now set for full negotiations between the MDC and Zanu PF. The first step in this process will be a short, but highly significant meeting between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai - the first such meeting since this crisis began 10 years ago. Following this meeting to agree on the basis for the negotiations, locale and timetable, the leaders will sign the MOU. At this point I would imagine that the MOU would become a public document and be available to everyone via the Press and other Media. When this happens I forecast shock and trepidation in Zanu circles and astonishment and delight everywhere else.

It represents a full climb down by Mugabe and his cohorts made even more significant by the fact that nowhere does it mention that Mugabe is the President of Zimbabwe. In fact we really do not have a government at the moment - not even a caretaker one as the winners of the March election have yet to be sworn in and the subsequent 'election' of Mugabe as President has not been accepted by any of the major multilateral organisations involved - the SADC, the AU and the UN. Far from taking Zanu PF forward, the sham election held on the 27th of June has simply compounded their problems and isolation.

Once the MOU is signed I expect the full negotiations to begin immediately at a secure location and with the full team of mediators present. Our own team is now being selected and appointed and will include both technical experts and politicians. Theirs is a very tough assignment and nobody inside or outside the country is putting any money on a reasonable outcome. Skeptism is almost universal.

This time my own money is on an outcome that we can live with and start the long process of stabilizing and reconstructing our battered economy. The reasons are quite simple - Zanu PF is at the end of the road, Mr. Mbeki and his associates want this crisis resolved and those with the resources to help us put Zimbabwe back together again have a very clear understanding of what they will accept in terms of a political solution that qualifies us for assistance. There is absolutely no point in negotiating a deal that is not acceptable to the people with money - both in the shadowy world of finance and investment and in the realm of bilateral donor activity.

The one feature of recent events that convinces me that this time Mbeki is kicking for the posts is that he has demanded that the whole process is wrapped up in two weeks. In fact there is talk of a SADC summit of Heads of State in mid August to receive a report on the talks and to consider their outcome and any future role of SADC as a guarantor of the implementation of the final Agreement. I agree fully with this timetable, as our own economic slide is now so fast that not many are going to survive the ride for much longer.

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. Clearly there is no place for these men and women of violence and corruption in any transitional administration. That is a key subject that the Mediators will have to attend to and resolve.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 20th July 2008