Dealing with the Devil

I watched Mugabe last night at the SADC Summit in Johannesburg as he listened to the Zambian Foreign Minister lambaste him for his disregard for any sort of democratic principles in his effort to hold onto power. Mugabe had his eyes nearly closed, the camera was focused right up close and you could see his teeth were clamped shut. You could almost feel the animosity and anger. Just down the line was the vacant seat of Botswana - Ian Khama had refused to attend the summit if Mugabe was invited.

None of the other SADC leaders would have been very happy to have Mugabe in their midst, he has disgraced the region, undermined our reputation as a progressive democratic group of States that should be taken seriously when it comes to the questions of democracy, openness, security of assets and the rule of law. For most Zimbabweans, the man once regarded, as a hero of the liberation struggle is now a failed despot.

When you dine with the devil you better use a long spoon - in our case that has not really been an issue until the last few days when MDC leadership have at last come face to face with Mugabe in the negotiations. But on Sunday we had the first really substantive exchange with Mugabe since the talk's process began more that 15 months ago. They took place at the Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare and the first session lasted 14 hours.

At the next session on Monday afternoon the talks ran into what always was going to be the major sticking point, who was going to drive this transition? No agreement was reached and the parties agreed to break away to think through the issues. When they gathered on Tuesday Mr. Mbeki presented Morgan Tsvangirai with a draft text that had already been agreed and signed by Mutambara and Mugabe. He took the text to his team and on return he tabled an alternative MDC version of a draft final text.

He told the other parties to the talks that as far as the MDC was concerned, this was the core of the arrangements for the transition and that the MDC would not change its stance significantly. Mugabe belligerently threatened a unity government with Mutambara and said Morgan would be excluded from such an arrangement. Morgan walked out of the talks and left the building.

Mbeki then spent some time explaining to the other two leaders why a deal without Morgan's signature on it simply would not fly. He announced that he would take the dispute to the SADC leadership for mediation when they met in Johannesburg on Saturday. Then he flew to Luanda to consult President dos Santos.

On Saturday and Sunday the talks have gone on more or less continuously - with neither side moving very far. We could have told Mr. Mbeki some days ago that MDC would not move from the position that it had agreed at the outset. This is a negotiation to enable the orderly transfer of power from Zanu PF to MDC and to create space for that process through a transitional arrangement that would end when a new constitution had been agreed and promulgated. That process would be followed by our first free and fair election under a universal franchise since 1980. The latest position is that Mr. Mbeki has announced the talks are to continue under the guidance of the SADC Troika until a deal is reached. The issue dividing the parties is tantalizingly narrowly based; it's really just the question of powers and duties for the President and the Prime Minister. But it is the key issue and the whole deal revolves around the question.

As we have always said, there is no purpose in negotiating an agreement just to have the outcome repudiated by the international community who in the end are going to be asked to pick up the tab for Mugabe's delinquency. Since this has been the main point of contention from the beginning, I am surprised Mbeki had the nerve to even float the arrangements that he did for the structure of the new government - he should have known better.

But the one thing the past few days have shown is that Mbeki has to have a deal and is willing to go to great lengths to get the final hurdles resolved. If he can, it will save South Africa from having to deal with the floodtide of refugees that are on their way to South Africa and the possibility of losing the World Cup in 2010 as well as what is left of his personal legacy after 8 years in office as President.

As for the rest of us stuck at home and glued to our radio and television sets, we can do little except wait and pray. But of one thing I am completely sure - the vast majority of Zimbabweans are saying to us - 'vasbyt' - do not give in and do not allow Mugabe to retain any sort of residual power and influence. I am amazed at the near total consensus on that position across the country.

When it became known that Mutambara had signed a deal with the regime, there was outrage in all parts of the country. I can imagine that Mutambara himself must have felt the blast of hot air! Certainly our mails have been full of condemnation and worse. He tried to deny that he had done a deal, but both Mbeki and Mugabe confirmed that he had agreed to share power even if Morgan walked away.

So now we wait and watch. I have been telling people that if they see that Morgan has agreed to a deal then they can take it that it is all over. The MDC will run the new government even if at the same time it has to work together with Zanu PF. If no deal is struck then we will walk away even though we dread the thought of what it will cost all of us. But for us there is simply too much at stake and we will do this in the memory of all those who have died and suffered in the past 10 years during our struggle for democracy and freedom.

We can sense that even if we do have to walk away from a deal, that the end is now in sight and that time is running out for the monsters that have destroyed our country. We can see that it is only a matter of time before we can celebrate the dawn of a new Zimbabwe.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 17th August 2008.