But Thabo Mbeki, who oversaw the original agreement, is no longer South Africa’s president and has lost the heft he needs to persuade Mr Mugabe to implement it. In any event Mr Mbeki should step down as mediator and give way to Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s probable next president. And if Mr Zuma is unable or unwilling to take on the job, the UN’s former secretary-general, Kofi Annan, a proven negotiator, should be asked in to break the stalemate.
Mr Mugabe has been stalling, perhaps in the hope of wriggling out of the deal altogether. Within days of signing it, he flew off with a vast entourage to rant against “imperialists” at the UN in New York, without the slightest indication that anything had changed back home. Since then, he has breached a plain understanding that the two men (and a small third party) would share out the main ministries in an equitable manner. Most recently, he has unilaterally handed his own party virtually all the portfolios with real clout, including those that run the army, the police, the courts, foreign affairs, the mines, the state-owned media, local government and land resettlement. His spokesman has hinted, presumably as a prelude to offering a concession, that the finance ministry—a poisoned chalice if ever there was one, since inflation is running officially at 231m% and unofficially in the billions—may be open to discussion. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change is rightly refusing to be tricked into playing second fiddle.
You thought it couldn’t get worse
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe is dying. It is hard to imagine the misery worsening, yet it is. The currency is worthless. Swathes of public-sector workers are no longer getting paid enough even to buy a few loaves of bread a month; many are not getting paid at all. More than 80% of the people are thought to have no job, beyond subsistence and barter. Some 3m in a population of around 12m have fled abroad. Harrowing reports are filtering out that people are starting to die of starvation. More than 1.4m are suffering from HIV/AIDS. The UN’s World Food Programme is trying to keep 2m people alive with food handouts but says that another 3m may need feeding by early next year if mass starvation is to be averted. Mr Mugabe’s thugs are still beating and sometimes killing supposed backers of Mr Tsvangirai. The handful of white farmers left on the land is still being harassed. Some of Mr Tsvangirai’s closest colleagues still face bogus charges, including treason; the state media peddle packs of lies; foreign reporters cannot visit freely; many foreign charities are unable to operate.
One of the manifold defects of the power-sharing agreement orchestrated by Mr Mbeki last month is that it lacks both a strong arbitrating mechanism and a strong mediator to implement the deal and knock the parties’ heads together when things get stuck. The Southern African Development Community (SADC), the 14-country club that has tried to break Zimbabwe’s impasse, reappointed Mr Mbeki as chief “facilitator” after the deal was struck, though his stature has shrivelled since he lost the presidency of his own country last month.
Find a new head-banger
That is why it is time for Mr Zuma, head of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC), to displace Mr Mbeki as mediator. Apart from being the coming man in South Africa, he is by nature a more forceful figure. He did a fine job making peace between the ANC and his fellow Zulus after apartheid ended. He would be a lot readier than Mr Mbeki ever was to twist Mr Mugabe’s arm. True, the SADC recently renewed Mr Mbeki’s mandate, but there is no fixed-term contract; it should quietly press him to step down with good grace.
Mr Zuma may plead that he is too busy trying to heal divisions in the ANC after its own recent internecine battles. In that case the SADC, backed by the African Union, should call on Mr Annan, the experienced Ghanaian who, after running the UN for ten years, managed to cajole Kenya’s warring parties into a power-sharing compromise early this year. He has several of the qualities that Mr Mbeki so manifestly lacks, in particular an unwillingness to be pushed around by a clever 84-year-old who refuses to accept that his time is up.
Mr Mugabe, of course, may well seek to reject the good offices of either Mr Zuma or Mr Annan. But as his country descends even deeper into chaos, his ability to pick and choose his mediators is shrinking fast. And Zimbabweans now desperately need a stronger one than Mr Mbeki. – The Economist