"The truth about SADC troika summit" – George Charamba

THE fall-out from last Saturday's SADC troika summit continued to be felt this week after President Robert Mugabe appeared to criticise South African President Jacob Zuma, followed by an intemperate editorial comment in the state-run Sunday Mail newspaper which also published an opinion by Tsholotsho North MP Jonathan Moyo who said Zuma "can no longer be trusted, if he ever was".

A spokesman for Zuma responded saying "governments have their own channels of communication … Should the Zimbabwean government wish to understand our position … they will contact the South African government through the normal channels as they always do".

Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba today dives into the diplomatic spat, saying it is "not very clever" to take newspaper editorials and comments by opinion writers as representative of government policy:

FROM its inception in 1980 as the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCc), Southern African Development Community (SADC) was and has always operated as a consultative and consensual body.

Its structures, procedures and leadership style have and are all subordinated towards this one core mores.

No one knows this better than President Robert Mugabe, himself a founder President of this sub-regional body, and a major player in most of its anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles in the 1980s and 1990s, himself a major actor in most of its conflict prevention, management and resolution efforts during and after these defining struggles.

There is no compelling reason for SADC to depart from this winning approach which has turned our sub-region into both a haven of peace and an organisational exemplar.

Since the late nineties and especially after 2000, in the context of the Third Chimurenga for the restoration of national land rights, Zimbabwe has fought for the recognition of its right full rights as an independent and sovereign African State. It has done so within the context of the larger family of SADC.

Indeed, its victories on this crucial front against neo-colonial forces are, to a significant extent, explained by the principled stance which SADC has consistently adopted, in keeping with the founding pan-African, libertarian ideals that animated its predecessor organisation, the Frontline States (FLS).

Zimbabwe stands to enjoy more victories in this continuing fight for national empowerment by working within the familial context of SADC.

As a founder member of SADC and a geo-economic part of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe finds neither the reason nor the wish to rescind its membership or to conduct its struggles and affairs in a manner that repudiates SADC. Zimbabwe’s membership to SADC is existential.

Zimbabwe’s political challenges – themselves an offshoot of its strong affirmative stance on all-round sovereignty – have been a concern of SADC from their onset.

No year has passed without a SADC initiative or pronouncement on Zimbabwe, with the decision to appoint South Africa under former President Thabo Mbeki as facilitator of the inter-party political dialogue, amounting to a culmination of this characteristic engagement.

The point to emphasise is that both the recommendation for dialogue on Zimbabwe, and definition of mechanisms for operationalising that dialogue, came from SADC through a searching process of consultation and consensus building.

It is quite significant that SADC chose to call its point-man on Zimbabwe, His Excellency President Thabo Mbeki, a facilitator and not something else more exhortative or even peremptory. Gingerly, engagement and persuasion, as opposed to high-handed, intrusive diplomacy, is the correct way, is the winning way, indeed is the SADC way!

Read against this well-founded and established mores and etiquette, the SADC Troika Summit held last Thursday in Livingstone, Zambia, was somewhat of an anomaly from this tried and tested SADC tradition.

The meeting, which was slotted for early Thursday morning, started just after midday – a delay which was graciously and convincingly explained by host President and Chairman of the Troika, His Excellency President Rupiya Banda.

He knew that President Mugabe was coming to spend a night in Livingstone – itself literally a stone’s throw away from Victoria Falls – both out of respect and to ensure he would not delay the meeting. President Mugabe’s submission to SADC and total respect for the sister Republic of Zambia – itself host to our liberation – can thus not be doubted.

After the opening and lunch, the real meeting actually began close to 1500hrs, initially bringing together Troika members of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation who are Zambia (Organ Troika Chairman), Mozambique (past Chairman of the Organ Troika) and Namibia (Chairman of SADC).

South Africa wore two hats of deputy chairman of the Organ and facilitator of the Zimbabwe Inter-Party Political Dialogue.

The Summit itself focused on two situations, that in Madagascar and that in Zimbabwe, with former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano as facilitator for Madagascar.

The meeting of the Organ went on well into the evening, and it was not until after 2000hrs that the principals and leaders of Zimbabwe’s three political parties were called in. I am referring to President Mugabe (Zanu-PF), Prime Minister Tsvangirai (MDC-T), and according to the wording of the communiqué, Professor Welshman Ncube as president of MDC-N, and Professor Mutambara as Deputy Prime Minister.

It is interesting that the communiqué recognised all these players by their official designation in the inclusive Government, and stayed clear of any controversies related to party representations. Except for Professor Mutambara, each of the principals had in tow his team of negotiators and officials.

Soon after, President Banda as chairman of the troika addressed the Zimbabwe leadership, apprising it on troika deliberations founded on a report which President Zuma as facilitator had tabled.

Basing its deliberations on both the facilitator’s report and other decisions SADC had taken on Zimbabwe in the past; the chairman then spelt out the decisions which the troika had taken on that day on Zimbabwe.

Thereafter, he opened the floor firstly to Zimbabweans and later to the rest of the group. Since Zimbabwe is not a member of the troika, I am not at liberty to disclose what followed. Suffice it to say all parties to the GPA spoke to the meeting and its decisions.

Soon after and that evening, President Mugabe, in the company of Ministers Mnangagwa, Goche, Chinamasa, Mumbengegwi and Biti, left Zambia for home.

The following morning, on Friday, the President addressed the Central Committee meeting of his party, Zanu (PF), at which meeting he publicly rejected dictation to Zimbabwe by the troika, as opposed to facilitation. Expectedly, Saturday press carried screaming headlines of varying accuracy and emotions.

Arguably, the most dramatic headline came from NewsDay which read: "SADC can go to hell – Mugabe". You looked in vain in the body of the NewsDay story for a quote on the President which captures the headline. It was a marketing headline, not a reflection of what the President actually had said in his address.

Besides, the President was addressing the troika of SADC, not SADC itself whose membership is more than the four countries which attended the Livingstone meeting. The troika itself reports to SADC Summit. The two should never be conflated.

Clearly and unambiguously, the anvil of President Mugabe’s address related to procedures and style. He was making a procedural point vis-à-vis a committee of SADC, a point stirred by what he saw as a clear, unexplained and arguably inexplicable departure from SADC norms and practices.

He never ever addressed the substance of the communiqué itself and, as will be clear shortly, Zimbabwe has very little difficulties with the communiqué itself. In fact, it has no difficulties at all, merely cautionary concerns with one or two of its proposals.

But something grossly untoward and uncharacteristic happened in Livingstone which Zimbabwe found quite objectionable. The facilitator’s report on the strength of which Summit decisions were made, was not availed to parties to the GPA, at least in the meeting. What we have are decisions of Summit whose founding premise we do not officially know.

All we know from the communiqué is that the facilitator’s report was "frank". How frank and over what, no one among parties to the GPA officially knows. How accurate and founded on what consultations, again no one officially knows beyond the communiqué intimation that the facilitator was "commended" for "the work he has been doing on behalf of SADC", and that the troika "endorsed the report of the SADC Facilitation on Zimbabwe."

And this procedural anomaly was raised in the short opportunity availed to the Zimbabwe political leadership by the way.

There were more worrisome procedural anomalies preceding that Summit. On the eve of the Summit, it emerged that two of the three parties to the GPA had been invited by the facilitating team to make individual submissions on a roadmap for Zimbabwe’s possible political future.

Such a request was not only unfair and divisive, but actually departed from a set, consensual procedure where all parties produce a joint review and mapping document for submission to the facilitator.

Fortuitously, a meeting towards that end had been called early in the week of the Livingstone Summit. It was at that meeting that it emerged that two parties to the GPA had in fact made individual submissions to the facilitating team at its behest, a development which advertently or inadvertently amounted to implying divisions and irreconcilable differences between or among the political parties.

Far from that being the case, the negotiating teams of the parties were in communication and actually looking forward to joint work.

Noteworthy, negotiators of the three parties met this Monday, three days after Livingstone, to review progress in the implementation of the GPA, something they would have done had it not been for the dates of the Livingstone Summit which intervened.

Additionally, the parties are set to meet today, Wednesday, to now produce a roadmap which is closely aligned to timelines of the GPA to the extent that these are still feasible. All have resisted a self-invitation by the facilitating team to fly in today in order to be part of the review and drafting of a roadmap.

The consensus view is that the team will be invited once this internal process is complete, or if it falters. This is exactly the exercise which would have produced a report for the facilitating team ahead of Livingstone, but which was circumscribed by circumstances I have already described.
Facilitation proceeds on due care and consensus. It cannot be arbitrary, preclusive or a matter of dictation. That antagonises parties. Above all, it should assist interaction of differing parties, not substitute or abort it.

And in the case of Zimbabwe, facilitation has been by invitation, specifically in those instances where internal, inter-party dialogue and consensus will have failed. That happened repeatedly under President Mbeki’s tenure, which is how we have come this far.

As matters stand, all the parties had in fact addressed the same concerns a week or so before at a special cabinet meeting convened for the purpose. The Prime Minister tabled a report which highlighted areas of concern, leading to a decision to have a series of special cabinet meetings dedicated to dealing with actual matters of the GPA and other environmentals.

The point to stress is national platforms are being used to resolve nagging issues, itself clear proof that we are well before and well away from a deadlock, indeed that we are within mutual trust and confidence.

One does not want to see that burgeoning internal conflict prevention, management and resolution mechanism delayed or even destroyed by incautious external facilitation.

Ultimately Zimbabweans must be the first line of resolving their own problems, including developing mechanisms for such resolution. Livingstone should nurture and augment this national capacity building through careful facilitation.

In terms of substance, the Livingstone communiqué amounted to one huge step forward towards resolving problems in Zimbabwe. This precisely is what makes a compelling case for proper procedures and fitting respect to all involved.

There was no need to keep documents away from parties. There was absolutely no reason not to hear formal presentations from all parties prior to arriving at decisions.

Nations are sovereign; nations do have sensitivities and boundaries beyond which solicitous facilitation becomes irritating intrusive dictation.

We know this from protracted negotiations on Mozambique; we know this from the protracted negotiations on Angola; we know this from the DRC conflict; we know this from problems in Lesotho where a facilitator was actually rejected and dropped. More fundamentally, we know this from South Africa’s own Convention for a Democratic South Africa, CODESA for short.

I said the Livingstone communiqué marks a quantum leap forward. It does. It abhors violence which it blames on all parties to the GPA. This is consistent with the facts on the ground and consistent with the findings of Jomic which blames all parties for spurts of violence we have witnessed in the country.

It calls on "all parties to the GPA" to implement "all the provisions of the GPA", itself quite in sync with calls inside the country, especially on sanctions, external interference and intrusive broadcasts, all of which have stood in the way of "a conducive environment for peace, security and free political activity" desired by SADC on our behalf.

More fundamentally, the communiqué exhorts the inclusive Government to "complete all the steps necessary for the holding of the election including the finalisation of the constitutional amendment and the referendum."

The accent is on finalisation of the constitutional process, something Zanu PF and the President have been agitating for. The endgame is elections, again something all parties must accept as an unavoidable pang of the routines of democracy.

That means the Minister and Ministry of Finance can no longer delay or under-fund COPAC without falling foul to the dictates of the Livingstone Troika communiqué. That means Zanu PF’s call for elections has now been endorsed by the Troika.

Penultimately, the Troika is urging SADC to assist Zimbabwe towards peaceful, free and fair elections by ensuring polls that are held under SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.

As a matter of fact, these guidelines are already domesticated and are now part of our electoral laws. This cannot be an onerous demand, surely? Zimbabwe cannot be opposed to, or pained by what it has voluntarily adopted and already incorporated into its national laws.

The final decision relates to a team of officials appointed by the Troika of the Organ to assist Facilitation Team and Jomic "to ensure monitoring, evaluation and implementation of the GPA."

Of the three parties to the GPA, only MDC-T endorsed this proposal unconditionally. MDC accepted the principle of it, but insisted it would be guided by its terms of reference. Zanu PF would neither accept nor reject the proposed team for the simple reason that it was not privy to the reasoning behind its founding. Nor were its parameters spelt out to it.

Accepting it meant embracing an unknown, something responsible and experienced leaders can never do. And going by the President’s Friday reaction, the test lies in the tone of the proposed body, which should never be one of dictation.

The accent on Zimbabwe’s reaction to the Livingstone Summit has thus been on procedures and style of managing facilitation and engagement by the Troika. It has not been on substance. That is quite far off from making or breaking SADC. Matters must be reported in proportion.

Lastly, a lot of dire reading has been made out of this week’s Sunday Mail editorial comment and an opinion piece it carried on the same matter.

The opinion of the Sunday Mail has been conflated with the opinion of the Government of Zimbabwe. I hope this article which reflects views and concerns of the Government of Zimbabwe puts this needless conflation to rest.

No one in Government is naïve enough to think that the views of SABC stations or The Citizen amount to the views of President Zuma and/or his Government. It is not very clever to wilfully expunge institutional distinctions we honour and uphold elsewhere simply because we are dealing with Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe Government has a voice that speaks when it is necessary. Like it has just done!
Charamba is the Presidential Spokesman and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity