Mbeki, Zuma and Zimbabwe: A Transition from Facilitative to Evaluative Mediation

One wonders, what the state of the global political agreement would be if former South Africa president Thabo Mbeki were still an active mediator, to the process

Would there be talk of a Road Map to an election? Would the SADC troika been definitive in their condemnation of the delay in implementing the terms and provisions of the global political agreement, and in their rebuke of the violence, intimidation and political persecution obtaining in the country today?

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While we may not be able to definitively answer these and other enquiries, what is clear, is that President Zuma has chosen to directly address, the power imbalance between the parties to the agreement. This approach, has unnerved the military/security establishment in Zimbabwe, who had become accustomed to Mbeki’s facilitative (softly and respectfully) approach.

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Herein lays the fundamental difference between Mbeki and Zuma on the Zimbabwe crisis. The difference is in their approach and or attitude to the power/influence imbalance between the MDC and ZANU-pf. Mbeki, preferred not to address the power imbalance between the military backed illegitimate incumbent – Mugabe and the unarmed, people backed Tsvangirai, and opposition formations. His approach- a wall mark of other crises he has mediated, is to side with the incumbent or entrenched forces, while persuading and seeking concessions and accommodations from the weaker other side.

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Mbeki in the case of Zimbabwe advocated for the preservation of the status –quo and an accommodation of the opposition. When the opposition took a position or agreed to a set of conditions that placed a constraint on the stronger incumbent, Mbeki advocated increasing the size of the cake. Recall the increase in the number of ministerial positions renegotiated the day of the swearing in of Prime Minister Tsvangirai necessitating a re-write of the already signed and agreed to Global Political Agreement. All this to accommodate disgruntled Zanu-pf loyalists.

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President Zuma, since taking over from Mbeki, has concerned himself with the precise matter of equalizing power between the parties. Zuma has sought to confine the parties to resolving the political impasse, without the undue influence, interference and obstruction of the military/security establishment.

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Recent calls by Mugabe to hold elections in 2011 were viewed by regional observers and Zuma as undue influence being exerted on the political process by the military/security establishment. This scurrilous attempt met with regional opposition led by president Zuma. Zuma’s insistence that the political process be allowed to work, and that the military/security establishment stand down and follow the pace and led of the political actors, has sparked panic and frenzied criticism of South Africa’s leader, emanating from the propagandist Jonathan Moyo, speaking on behalf of the Zanu – pf hardliners and military/security establishment.

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Prime Minster Tsvangirai, wary of the activity and influence of the military/security establishment on the political process, characterized the situation obtaining in the country as a silent coup. This charge ignited Mugabe spokesperson, George Charamba’s, fury and a wild accusation that the MDC –T misled the region, into believing that Mugabe was incapacitated and the military was running the country.

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Zanu-pf negotiators in the recent round of negotiations held in Cape Town South Africa expressed reluctance to discuss security sector reform, for fear of recrimination and in an attempt to protect Zanu-pf’s source of power and cohesion. Zuma recognizing the intricate role played by the military/security establishment in obstructing, influencing and subverting the political process, has made overt and direct attempts to engage the force behind Zanu-pf and bring resolution to a lingering crises.

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The fact is, Mugabe cannot win a straight election in the country with or without the military and security establishment’s support. However the nuance is, with the support of the military and security establishment he – Mugabe, can and presently holds the country’s democratic transition hostage.

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Zimbabwe’s future is at stake, and regional stability is threatened if Zuma’s approach fails.

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Ralph Black is a Mediation, Negotiation and Conflict Resolution consultant, and the MDC-T Deputy Chief Representative in the United States of America. He can be reached at e-mail ralphblck@yahoo.com.