Negotiations for a power sharing deal between President Robert Mugabe’s government and Zimbabwe’s main opposition parties have nearly been concluded, people involved in the talks said.
An agreement is expected to be signed in the next few days between both factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the ruling ZANU-PF party, which has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980.
The parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding on 21 July, which paved the way for talks and committed the negotiators to a news blackout. However, speaking on condition of anonymity, a negotiator said: “We are just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. We should be forming a government in which we will be sharing power within the next few days.”
Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main MDC faction, is expected to return to Zimbabwe from South Africa, where the talks were conducted, on 8 August; Thabo Mbeki, appointed as mediator by the Southern African Development Community, is expected to arrive in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, the following day for the signing ceremony. If the power-sharing parameters were concluded in time, the agreement could be signed on 8 August.
According to the negotiator, in terms of the deal Mugabe would be retained as executive president, while Tsvangirai would occupy the post of executive prime minister. Arthur Mutambara, leader of the MDC break-away faction, was expected to be given an influential ministerial post.
“We have agreed to adopt a system which is almost similar to the French model, in which both the president and the prime minister wield a lot of power,” the negotiator said.
The power-sharing deal was expected to last for five years, after which internationally supervised elections would be held. He said despite public posturing and claims that there were serious differences on the formation of a power-sharing government, the opposite was true.
“Generally, we have been agreed on many issues, and that is why we have almost completed the talks in a short time. Everybody involved in the talks acknowledges that the people have suffered for too long as a result of the political and economic hardships caused by the political stalemate.”
Amnesty for all
Mugabe had demanded that all people implicated in politically motivated crimes, himself included, be exempted from any trials, although the MDC believed there should be some form of accountability, a senior ZANU-PF official said.
Mugabe and his government have been implicated in Operation Gukurahundi (The rain that washes away the chaff before the spring rain) in 1983 – also known as the Matabeleland Massacres – when the North Korean-trained 5th Brigade was the vanguard unit in a campaign against alleged dissidents. At least 20,000 people were killed in the operation.
Operation Murambatsvina in 2005 – also known as Operation Restore Order, and officially described as a slum clearance programme – left more than 700,000 people homeless after houses and shacks were bulldozed. United Nations Special Envoy Anna Tibaijuka, after visiting Zimbabwe, said the operation had breached both national and international human rights law.
In 2008, ZANU-PF lost its majority in parliament for the first time since independence and Mugabe came off second best in the first round of presidential voting. The military, war veterans and ZANU-PF militia were implicated in the deaths of scores of MDC supporters in the period before the run-off ballot, which led to Tsvangirai withdrawing his candidacy in protest.
“The talks have gained so much momentum that it would almost be impossible to abort them,” the ZANU-PF official said. “All parties have increased the number of negotiators and technical committees, while support staff have been flown in [to South Africa] to prepare for the signing ceremony expected by Saturday. As ZANU-PF we have started inviting guests who should attend the ceremony where the power-sharing deal will be signed.”
The negotiator said two key security ministries, defence and intelligence, were deemed “non-negotiable” by security chiefs, who are believed to have influenced Mugabe to cling to power after he lost the first round of voting.
“The MDC responded by saying home affairs, which controls the police and justice, were ‘non-negotiable’, as they wanted to safeguard themselves from possible unfair treatment before the justice delivery system,” the negotiator said.
“That is why very few people are surprised by reports that the homicide section of the country’s largest police station in Harare was bombed over the weekend.” No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, but the blast destroyed the records of investigations into the recent political violence.
ZANU-PF has offered the opposition the ministries of finance and trade; the opposition declined the offer but were interested in the local government and foreign affairs portfolios.
“The MDC felt ZANU-PF needed to clean up the mess that it had created by running down the economy. Local government was preferable, as the MDC now controls most of the local authorities and it would give them influence to consolidate its presence countrywide.”
Under ZANU-PF rule the economy has gone into meltdown, with the official annual inflation rate estimated at 2.2 million percent – although independent economists believe it could reach 50 million percent by the end of August – and unemployment is estimated at more than 80 percent, with shortages of food, electricity, water and fuel commonplace.
Civil society unhappy
However, civic society organisations warned that the power-sharing deal could be rejected by the electorate, as a transitional authority was preferred, with a shorter timeframe before elections would be held.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association said in a statement: “We humbly suggest that the outcome of the ongoing talks should lead to the setting up of a transitional authority, headed by nonpartisan technocrats mandated to come up with a people-driven constitution, as well as create an environment conducive to the holding of truly free and fair elections within a period of not more than two years.”
McDonald Lewanika, the spokesperson for Crisis in Zimbabwe, a coalition of 350 civic organisations, said ‘quick fixes’ were not a solution to Zimbabwe’s crisis.
“We reiterate our calls for the establishment of a transitional authority with a specific mandate of taking Zimbabwe to a lasting democracy, as opposed to a power-sharing Government of National Unity (GNU),” he said.
“A GNU is a stopgap measure which gives the ruling ZANU-PF party breathing space before reverting back to its war path on the opposition supporters and the broader pro-democracy movement,” Lewanika commented.
“The transitional authority must run the state for a period not exceeding 18 months before going into fresh elections, to be held under a new constitution and supervised by regional and international observers.”