South African President Jacob Zuma is in Harare for a two-day visit aimed at resolving the disputes that have hobbled the country’s power-sharing government for the past year.
But to ordinary Zimbabweans the visit is inspiring little hope.
Zuma is expected to kick starts his Herculean task with one-on-one chat with Mugabe, Tsvangirai and deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara before meeting together with all three.
This is the first time Zuma will be acting in his capacity as the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) chief negotiator, but he has travelled to Zimbabwe before as part of efforts by South Africa to break the political deadlock.
Many believe Zuma would not have it easy in Zimbabwe.
Hopes that the signatories to Zimbabwe’s power-sharing deal would be able to overcome their differences and fast-track the implementation of outstanding elements of the agreement after a SADC intervention last November have steadily faded.
The 27 item agenda that Zuma will be ploughing through includes disputes about key government appointments and Western sanctions on the President and his team.
Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party says it will not agree to his ‘park and proceed’ proposal in the ongoing negotiations to resolve the country’s political stalemate.
“Preparing for a free and fair election entails implementation of these issues on the global political agreement. Parking them is almost like shelving a problem and running away from your own shadow, it is not possible,” says MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa.
In response, Zanu-PF has lambasted the MDC for not doing enough to convince western governments to lift targeted sanctions against their leader and over 200 of his supporters. They have also warned there will be no more “concessions” made to the MDC until sanctions are removed.
Zuma is expected to raise the issue of elections with Mugabe and Tsvangirai.
The South African President is said to favour a new vote as early as 2011 but he will have to convince especially Mugabe to agree to new electoral framework — in the absence of a new constitution — that could allow a truly democratic poll.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai have in recent days hinted they prefer an election to end their power-sharing dispute, but analysts say both are not ready for a new vote, while there are fears of a quick return to the political violence and gross human rights abuses witnessed in the 2008 elections.
When he became president last year, Zuma was expected to take a firmer hand with Mugabe than Mbeki, who had taken a softly-softly approach to the iron-fisted 86-year-old.
But Zuma, too, according to political analysts, has appeared timid. While meeting with Western leaders, he has been more vocal in support of Mugabe’s campaign to lift sanctions than the need for further reforms.
In a sign of how poisoned relations are, a group of women Zanu-PF supporters were at the airport to meet Zuma with chants of: ‘Tsvangirai, you’re a harlot of the West.’