The situation has triggered uproar in Zanu PF which has left the party divided on contentious issues at the negotiating table, while reinforcing the main MDC faction’s leverage in the increasingly problematic talks.
Sources close to the talks said Zanu PF negotiators Nicholas Goche and Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was standing in for Patrick Chinamasa while he was out of the country, surprised even MDC negotiators when they gave in on the media reforms. MDC-T has tabled a number of proposals on media changes including reforms of public newspapers under the Zimpapers group and the state broadcaster ZBC. The party also wants sweeping reforms of media laws.
Sources said Zanu PF negotiators were backtracking on several other outstanding issues on the talks agenda. The agenda has 27 items, 21 new issues and six old ones. Negotiators have already ploughed through 15 items, agreeing on 12 of those, while disagreeing on three.
The negotiators have clashed on the Roy Bennett, Johannes Tomana and Gideon Gono issues and for now agreed to shelve the disputes until they have finalised all other matters. An agreement has been reached on sharing of provincial governors and what is left is working out dates for the implementation of the decision.
Talks gathered momentum this week after the arrival of South African President Jacob Zuma’s facilitation team comprising Charles Nqakula, Mac Maharaj and Lindiwe Zulu. The team arrived on Sunday and left on Tuesday after meeting GPA principals and their party negotiators.
The team wanted to be updated on the talks, focusing on the agenda, progress, problems and timeframes. Sources said all parties were impressed by the Zuma team which has shown a different facilitation approach and attitude from former President Thabo Mbeki’s group. The South African team briefed Zuma on their findings on Wednesday. Sadc executive secretary Tomaz Salomao is in Harare.
However, the talks have thrown Zanu PF turmoil amid accusations that negotiators were incompetent or were selling out. The issue has been brought to Mugabe’s attention for a decisive intervention.
“When the talks resumed last week Zanu PF negotiators, who included Goche and Mnangagwa, were badly overrun by MDC-T representatives Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma,” a source said. “They were outflanked on many issues, leaving Zanu PF exposed at the talks,” a source said. “While MDC-T negotiators brought documents to support their positions, Zanu PF negotiators came empty-handed. This left the Zanu PF team at sixes and sevens, hence the urgent call for the party leaders to intervene to prevent disaster.”
Sources said Mugabe was alerted on the lacklustre showing of his party’s negotiators at the weekend and steps were being taken to address the situation which has already been partially rescued by Chinamasa’s return. Chinamasa’s return would mean Mnangagwa’s retreat to the background. MDC-T negotiators were disappointed because they said Mnangagwa was open-minded and progressive, but Zanu PF officials accuse him of “selling out”.
When the media issues were tabled last weekend, Zanu PF negotiators, whose performance was described as ranging from the perfunctory to the incompetent, surprisingly gave in on MDC-T proposals to re-establish the Mass Media Trust to run Zimpapers. They also agreed that ZBC must be run by a board appointed by parliament’s Standing Rules and Orders Committee from a list supplied by the portfolio committee on the media.
The Mass Media Trust was formed in 1980 when the then new government bought the Zimpapers stable from South Africa’s Argus Group to house the majority shares in the newspaper group on behalf of the Zimbabwean public. It acted as a buffer between the government and the company which is listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange.
However, government has always run over the trust to ensure direct interference in Zimpapers. The situation deteriorated at the turn of the millennium when the Mass Media Trust was virtually disbanded to give government a free hand to illegally interfere in the running of the company, especially regarding its editorial policy.
Government officials from the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity are known to be interfering with the company’s management and its editorial departments. Earlier this year there were reports of government officials seizing cash and fuel from Zimpapers for their own use. Officials also often prescribe to editors directly and indirectly on what to write and not write.
The proposal to restore the Mass Media Trust to protect Zimpapers, agreed to by negotiators last week although Zanu PF officials in government are resisting it, is designed to curb such illegal practices.
Zanu PF negotiators also agreed last week to turn state broadcaster ZBC into a public broadcaster. Currently ZBC, a state broadcaster which many in the media say must be transformed into a genuine public broadcaster, is functioning like a propaganda mouthpiece for the former ruling party or a faction of it at least. During election periods Zanu PF virtually privatises and monopolises ZBC for self-serving propaganda purposes. The Zimbabwe Independent