Hot Seat transcript: Prof Brian Raftopoulos' analysis on the implications of the Zimbabwe deal

HOT SEAT TRANSCRIPT – Journalist Violet Gonda’s guest is political analyst Professor Brian Raftopoulos, with an in-depth analysis on the implications of the deal signing by the political rivals.

Violet Gonda: South African President Thabo Mbeki has finally brokered a power sharing deal between the political rivals in Zimbabwe. Mbeki announced on Thursday evening that there will be a formal signing ceremony on Monday. On the programme Hot Seat I have invited political analyst Professor Brian Raftopoulos to help us understand this historic development. Welcome Professor.

Raftopoulos: Hello Violet, how are you?Gonda: I am fine. First of all your reaction to the news.

Raftopoulos: Well I am cautiously optimistic. I think it’s a step forward in the Zimbabwe political process. As well as dangers there are also possibilities and I think that it’s important to understand that this has been a long time in the making. These mediation discussions have been going on for over a year and so I think that people have invested a great deal into this and I think this is a welcome development.

Gonda: And some Zimbabweans we have been talking to are also cautiously optimistic about this development but some feel it may be a deal that is going to serve the political leaders more than the masses. What really pushed them to sign? Do you understand what their motivation was?

Raftopoulos: I think the motivation was that on both sides there was clearly not much alternatives to a negotiated settlement. ZANU PF clearly has no answer to the economic decline. They have no answer to the question of illegitimacy of the presidency. The international isolation has intensified – even within the region there are increasing questions about the role of Mugabe and his government. So I think there was pressure building up for ZANU PF to sign. On the part of the MDC I think there has been a lot of support for the MDC internationally that was also increasing in the region. But in terms of the internal social forces I think these have been severely weakened over the years by state violence, by the increasing impoverishment & poverty produced by the economy and by the weakening of the civic movement and therefore the capacity for increasing internal pressure has also been weakened. And so I think a negotiated settlement had become an increasing necessity for both sides in the context of this other regional and international pressure.

Gonda: 
And many people are saying they can’t really react because they are still waiting to find out the details of the deal. I understand that the details are expected to be revealed on Monday after the formal signing ceremony, but what have you heard? What might the deal look like?

Raftopoulos: Like many other Zimbabweans I am anxious to see the details of the agreement. To look at the fine print of what is there and then we can have a clearer picture of what this government is going to look like.

But clearly it will involve – as far as the little information that we have been able to access – involves sharing of ministries, sharing of responsibilities, the issue of being able to open up political space within the country, developing a new constitution within 18 months and of course in the longer term preparing the grounds for a new presidential election.

Now we will need to look in more detail once the full information regarding the deal is made public and we can have a more informed discussion around it.

Gonda: Ok.  Now Mugabe said on Thursday before the signing of the deal – that the two parties – ZPF and MDC – are like oil and water – are the political positions so polarized that it’s likely we can have a paralysed government?

Raftopoulos:
There is always that possibility that an agreement like this can stall. That it can lead to more difficulties in the coming months and the coming years and that old rigidities can re-emerge or continued rigidities will still be available for political mobilisation. On the other hand there is the chance that this period will open up possibilities for new political alliances, for more spaces for the civics to begin to re-organise and to put pressure on the new government formation to deliver some kind of economic stabilisation to take place and critically for humanitarian assistance to be made available to what is an increasingly critical position for millions of Zimbabweans. So there are both dangers and possibilities and the outcome of this depends on struggles that will take place in the context of the next few years.

Any transition like this is also a fight of struggle, a fight for political contestation and the outcome of that context one can’t fully predict.

Gonda:
What about those two leaders themselves? You know after nearly 3 decades of unchallenged leadership do you see Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai working together? And if so what are the implications of this?

Raftopoulos:
Yes it is going to be a huge challenge. Mugabe is unaccustomed to defence, unaccustomed to sharing this kind of power and responsibility. So again one hopes that this agreement will usher in an early retirement for Mugabe. Or at least provide the indication that this is designed to push him out. But yes there is always a danger that Mugabe’s penchant for authoritarian ways of doing things will be a problem but this is a challenge that Morgan Tsvangirai and the two MDCs will confront, challenge and move beyond.

Gonda: There are some who feel there is no deal that can strip Mugabe off real power. Is it possible that he can find ways to manipulate this deal?

Raftopoulos:
We don’t know the full details of how the powers would be shared so it is difficult to answer that. But one also needs to say that as much as this is a compromise we are a long way from where we were even a couple of years ago. We are in a situation where ZANU PF has been forced to sit at the table across from a party that in some way it still regards as a foreign construction and is deeply suspicious of. In a situation were ZANU PF now has to very seriously cede some of its powers in key areas. And perhaps ZANU is not in the same position that it was in even a year ago. I think it’s weaker than it was and as these things open up and if things improve the future of ZANU itself is going to be a real challenge for ZANU PF because the pressure on it to transform itself or to deal with these kind of political changes will be immense for a party that is not used to that. So we shouldn’t underestimate the possibilities even while understanding the challenges.

Gonda: Earlier on you talked about the economic crisis and we know that starvation and inflation are still a major risk – so how is Zimbabwe going to be rescued now?

Raftopoulos:
I can only speculate but clearly part of what a new transitional government will immediately have on the table is an economic reconstruction programme. So I am sure discussions will open up with various bilateral discussions between this new dispensation and foreign donors, financiers about what kind of development can take place.

I don’t think there will be an immediate pouring in of money. I think people will be very cautious. Zimbabwe has a huge foreign debt – I think of over a billion dollars and that of course is something that is going to have to be dealt with. So I think it is going to be a difficult period.

There is going to be lots of doom, disappointment and disillusionment but also I think for where we are at the moment we have a few alternatives but to try and make this work as best as we can.

Gonda:
I saw a report from the European Union threatening more sanctions. Is it possible to give us your thoughts on the relation between ZANU PF and the international community? Do you see western powers endorsing this deal – even though we don‘t know what the details are yet, but will they be prepared to work with this regime?

Raftopoulos:
One doesn’t know. I think the western powers are having to think and are waiting to see the details of this report and to try and understand whether this deal offers the possibilities of opening up of political spaces.

Yes you are right I have also heard these discussions about continued sanctions and that is partly because people are waiting to see what the possibilities of this deal are and to try and work out a safe relationship with this process – rather than going in 100% in one blow is to look at it in different phases. We will have to see what happens with the sanctions.

I think a lot depends on what kind of powers the MDC and Morgan Tsvangirai have and what message Morgan Tsvangirai himself sends out to western countries about what he thinks they should and should not be doing.

Gonda: What does this deal mean for all the groups that were formed around the crisis – like the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Women of Zimbabwe Arise and indeed radio stations like SW Radio Africa, Studio 7 and VOP – and even news websites like NewZimbabwe.com, the Zimbabwean, the Zimbabwe Times and so on? What will the signing mean to the cause of democracy?

Raftopoulos: Well I think the civics as a whole should also be looking at this as a step forward and what they should be assessing is – when we have the details – they should be looking at what it would mean in terms of opening up of political spaces. I think there is going to be a huge need for civics to be strengthened, to continue their role of critical engagement with the state and build up an autonomous capacity to always be in a situation where they are able to respond to injustices, to problems within the State. And so the need for a vibrant civil society in my view is more current that ever.

I don’t think you will find that things will change all of a sudden. I think it is going to be a long slow difficult process and the road for critical civic engagement, critical media discussions will be as important as ever.

Gonda:
And the radio stations that are out of the country?

Raftopoulos:
I am sure there is something in the agreement. I would think there is something in the agreement about that – I am not sure we will have to wait for the details about that. But I think the radio stations will have to respond according to what they feel is in the agreement and according to what possibilities there are to begin to operate from within Zimbabwe. I think that should be the key determinant of the radio stations. Whether they have the abilities, the capacity, and the availability to move their operations into Zimbabwe in order to build on the enormous amount of good work that stations like yours have developed over the years.

Gonda: I know you have just talked a bit about this but still there seems to be a sense of confusion because people hadn’t really expected this to happen so “suddenly” even though it has taken several years for us to get where we are right now. What then becomes the Zimbabwe situation – is it just going to end on Monday with the last signature?

Raftopoulos:
No I think the signature is just the first small step towards a hard long struggle to roll back the disastrous policies and authoritarian practices of ZANU PF. No signature, no agreement ever just signals that kind of decisive change. Certainly it introduces a new dynamic into the process and we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of this dynamic and seeing the possibilities of using it to expand spaces. But the damage that has been done to the Zimbabwe political structures and the economic structures, the livelihoods of people and the effects of the political violence on the social fabric of communities has been enormous. And I think there are decades of work of rebuilding.

Gonda: And the Diaspora – what about the Zimbabweans abroad and in neighbouring countries – how do you get them to repatriate because the brain drain is central to economic recovery? 

Raftopoulos: I think this is a very, very important question. I think it is going to be a long difficult process. I don’t think people who have left the country – especially professionals will rush back to Zimbabwe. I think many won’t or won’t want to return. There may become a process of travelling between two countries. But I think this issue of human resource development – as it was important in the 80s when a new government began in the post independence period – I think the question of human resources development will be one of the central features required to re-develop and to build the economy and structures of Zimbabwe.

Gonda: And of course the culture of intolerance to criticism has been a hallmark of our political life as a nation, and now that the MDC is part of government do you see the culture of intolerance changing?

Raftopoulos:
I think that depends on what the MDC does. It depends on how the civics tries to fight for that space. But my sense is that one of the features of such an agreement would be the opening up of space for greater debate. But such spaces can only be sustained when people fight to keep them open, it has constitutional provisions for them to be available, and has structures and organisations which ensures that those rights are protected. And so there are no guarantees but the possibilities may well be there to open up some spaces for a new kind of tolerance.

Gonda:
You have been one of the few people to have the opportunity to advise the MDC  leadership. What is your opinion on this?  Do you see the MDC fighting for the restoration of democratic freedoms like, as you said,  the right to free flow of information, the right of association and even the right to demonstrate?

Raftopoulos: I think the MDC comes from a tradition in the constitutional and civic movement where real issues were absolutely central to the battles of opening up the political space. The MDC like any political party has got very contradictory elements and it’s got very problematic elements as well but I think the thrust of its legitimacy as a party has always been its commitment – at least at a formal level – to opening up of political spaces. There is obviously no guarantee of how the MDC will behave in government and that also depends on what it will do as a party and also what happens outside of the party, especially in the civil society and in the broadening of debate in the civil society.But I do think we need to – like any other party like this – give it the opportunity to demonstrate its capacity or lack of it to show what it is able to do. And to give it a chance to see what can be done in a situation like this and not try to prejudge too much what we speculate what might be done.

Gonda: What about the ZANU PF dynamics? What do you see happening because there are going to be many people who will lose their jobs especially if ZANU PF will now share the cabinet with the MDC?

Raftopoulos: Yes, ZANU PF has been going through a crisis for several years. A crisis of succession, a crisis of trying to understand what its long term future is, a crisis of loss of legitimacy within the population and the problems of its own organisational structures and I am sure that may well deepen as political structures and political debates open up in Zimbabwe. We could see a further crisis within ZANU PF and maybe some very dangerous responses from them. These are the kind of risks with transitions like this. One only hopes there will be enough political determination and structures in place to help deal with these kinds of tensions. But I think it is going to be a very difficult few years.

Gonda:
On the other hand is it possible that this transitional period can give ZANU PF an opportunity to regroup?

 Raftopoulos:
It’s possible yes. It is possible that it can give ZANU PF a chance to regroup, to rethink its role. It also partly depends on how the MDC is able to use its space within and outside of the State to put more pressure on ZANU PF and to ensure that if there are changes within ZANU PF that there a changes towards a more democratic political style.And I think that comes out of the MDC’s capacity to deliver, to fight for expansive political spaces and to ensure greater tolerance and pluralism within the Zimbabwe politics.

Gonda: And I know this has been an important issue for you especially in the last couple of years as you work for the Solidarity Peace Trust. What does it mean for the human rights violations perpetrated during the reign of the regime?

Raftopoulos: I think this is one area where the civic movement is going to have a key role to play, which is putting the issues of transitional justice questions on to the political agenda very quickly. It’s more than likely that issues of impunity and accountability will not have been dealt with in this agreement. That the people we know were responsible for orchestrating violence are likely not to be made accountable for what they have done immediately. So it is very important that the civics fight that these issues are brought on the agenda and fight for long term issues of justices for those who have suffered human rights abuses.

Gonda: What would you see as an alternative if this whole power sharing deal collapses?

Raftopoulos: If this power sharing deal collapses what we will get is once again a very repressive ZANU PF. We will see a reassertion of the role of the military through ZANU PF, a continuing economic decline. And certainly in the near future a huge attack and further attack and weakening of the MDC and the civic movement. So we need to hope and work hard to make this agreement possible and to make it work and allow that we fight for the opening up of democratic spaces in Zimbabwe.

Gonda: How would you judge Thabo Mbeki’s involvement in this?

Raftopoulos: I think it has been mixed, I think there was a certain smugness in Thabo Mbeki’s comments on the signing of the deal because we know that there has been a lot of problems over the years and there has been the need to pressure him in many, many ways. But also clearly there has been some skilful ways in which he has handled the quiet diplomacy. So I think we are going to have to look more carefully at how this quiet diplomacy has worked itself out and study it more carefully and once we have done that make a proper assessment of Thabo Mbeki’s role in the mediation, in the politics of ZANU PF, in the politics of MDC and then come to a more informed decision. I think that is a decision that is still to happen.

Gonda: And of course Zimbabweans have been waiting long enough for a peaceful solution to the crisis, why haven’t the details been made public and why wait until Monday to sign? Do you have any idea?

Raftopoulos: No, but I think the details should have been made much sooner. I think one of the problems of this mediation has been the secrecy around it. Zimbabweans had a right to have access to more of this information earlier. But I am sure that they are waiting until Monday because there may be more details that have to be finalised – the finer print of the agreement. The question of the allocation of ministries and a more detailed picture of what this government would look like in the next few months.                                                                                                                

Gonda: And a final word?

Raftopoulos: Well the final word is that I think that we need to understand that this is a moment of possibility; it is not in my view a defeat. It’s a demonstration of where the balance of political forces in Zimbabwe are at  the moment and that therefore we need to now rethink and reorganize in order to make sure that we don’t regret politically once again to the era we have just come out of, or are still in the process of coming out of. Gonda: Thank you very much Professor Brian Raftopoulos.

Raftopoulos: Thanks very much Violet.