Mbeki again fails to secure Zimbabwean agreement

JOHANNESBURG – Zimbabwean negotiators returned to Harare at the weekend after another unsuccessful attempt by President Thabo Mbeki to achieve an agreement on a power-sharing unity government.

But Mbeki has succeeded in persuading President Robert Mugabe to postpone – at least for a week – his plans to appoint a cabinet unilaterally while he drafts a new compromise proposal. For Mugabe to appoint a cabinet on his own would kill the negotiations, it is widely believed.

The negotiators from Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and the two formations of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change continued their separate meetings on Saturday in Pretoria with Mbeki’s emissaries to the dialogue, Constitutional Affairs Minister Sydney Mufamadi, Director-General in the Presidency Frank Chikane and chief presidential legal adviser Mojanku Gumbi.

But the envisaged joint meeting among all the parties was not held because Zanu-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s larger MDC faction (MDC-T) remained far apart on the central sticking point of how to share executive powers between the president and prime minister.

In a plan put to Tsvangirai by Mbeki and other regional leaders at the Southern African Development Community summit in Sandton two weeks ago, Mugabe would remain president while Tsvangirai would take up a new post of prime minister. But Tsvangirai rejected the plan because he said it would offer him no real executive powers.

The Zimbabwean negotiators paid a courtesy call on Mbeki while they were in Pretoria for the latest round of negotiations, although their substantive separate meetings were only with his emissaries.

Authoritative sources said Mbeki’s emissaries had adjourned the talks on Saturday so that they could try to devise their own compromise proposals, which would be tabled to all the parties this week.

Mugabe had therefore been urged to avoid appointing a cabinet at least until Saturday.

"We have adjourned but we are all on standby to meet the mediators again this week," said an authoritative source.

"They (mediators) have listened to what each side had to say and they now want to help break the stalemate by coming up with their own proposals to break this stalemate."

Sources said the Zanu-PF negotiators had told the South African mediators that all their party was interested in now was knowing whether Tsvangirai would sign the deal put to him at the SADC summit. If not, Mugabe wanted to move ahead with appointing a new cabinet and running the country.

Tsvangirai’s negotiators, on the other hand, had told the mediators that their party would not budge on its demands for executive power for Tsvangirai, and would not accept the current deal in which Mugabe is designated as chair of the cabinet and Tsvangirai his deputy.

They want Tsvangirai to be designated head of the government, chair the cabinet or at the very least be designated co-chair of the cabinet so that he is equal with Mugabe and not below him in any power-sharing arrangement.

And they also want Mbeki to declare the dialogue dead if Zanu-PF refuses to compromise, so that they can focus on the next stages of the struggle.

But Zanu-PF remains opposed to all of the MDC-T demands. It seems that unless one of the sides shifts its positions this week, the negotiations will collapse and Mugabe will proceed with a government of his own choice.

The wholesale arrest of MDC-T MPs last week was seen as an indication that Mugabe had given up on the talks and was resorting to his old-style tactics of using force to retain power.

Four of the five arrested MPs were still in police custody at the weekend.

The MDC-T formation alleged there was a state-led conspiracy to get its MPs convicted and jailed to reduce the party’s razor-thin majority in parliament.

However, the MDC-T believes that Mugabe will ultimately be forced to comprise by Zimbabwe’s collapsing economy, knowing that investors and donors will finance a rescue package only if Tsvangirai gets the main say in determining policy.