Zim talks: Negotiators face tricky hurdles


Cuthbert Nzou

HARARE - More hurdles, among them Western sanctions and the security of President Robert Mugabe's henchmen who oversaw his violent re-election in June, are expected to hobble talks between Zimbabwe's ruling and opposition parties that began in earnest in neighbouring South Africa on Thursday.


Political analysts had predicted the greatest threat to the power-sharing talks between Mugabe’s ruling ZANU PF party and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC party to come from the issue of who will lead a new government of national unity.

But sources from within the two feuding parties said they were as equally divided over Western sanctions – imposed on Mugabe and his top officials five years ago and further tightened this week – farm seizures and the fate of ZANU PF hardliners accused of murdering at least 120 MDC supporters and displacing 200 000 others since March.

Prior to the signing of the MOU (memorandum of understanding on talks), the negotiators had agreed on a wide range of issues that forms part of the current agenda, except on sanctions and the land question, one of the sources said.

The other issue, surprisingly not on the agenda, is the fate of perpetrators of political violence, said our source, who spoke on condition he was not named because all parties to the dialogue are under oath not to discuss the talks with the media.

In a statement released on the eve of the signing of the MOU, the MDC’s policy coordinator Eddie Cross summed up the party’s position regarding senior ZANU PF and government officials as well as military commanders accused of committing violence.

Clearly there is no place for these men and women of violence and corruption in any transitional administration. That is a key subject that the mediators will have to attend to and resolve, wrote Cross.

The agenda for the inter-party talks include setting out the objectives and priorities of a new government, a new constitution, restoration of economic stability and growth, land reform and sanctions.

Mugabe accuses Tsvangirai – who he labels a puppet of the West – of calling on the United States and the European Union (EU) to impose sanctions on his government and has in the past repeatedly urged the MDC leader to tell Washington and Brussels to lift the sanctions.

The MDC denies campaigning for sanctions and says only the Western governments have the power to scrap the visa and financial bans imposed on Mugabe and his top officials.

In a hint of how critical the issue of sanctions was to the success or failure of dialogue, Agriculture Minister Rugare Gumbo on Wednesday accused the EU of seeking to foil talks after the bloc this week announced it was imposing further sanctions on more individuals and businesses close to Mugabe.

Angola, a close ally of Mugabe’s administration, also this week called on the West to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe’s leadership to aid the dialogue process.

Disagreement over land reform centred on whether ZANU PF officials who grabbed most of the best farms seized from whites will be able to keep these lucrative properties under the unity government or even under a possible MDC administration in the future.

ZANU PF and the MDC agree in principle on the need for land reform but the two parties differ sharply on the methodology of farm redistribution.

The MDC says Mugabe’s land reforms have been chaotic, corrupt and have benefited greedy top government, ZANU PF and military officials some of whom ended up with as many as six farms each regardless of the government’s stated one-man-one-farm policy.

The opposition party has promised, if it wins power, to carry out a thorough audit of the farming sector to identify those who grabbed more than one farm and were not fully utlising the land.

ZANU PF says the land audit is merely a ploy by the MDC to retake farms and hand them over to their former white owners.

At the talks, Mugabe wants the MDC to make an undertaking that the land reform programme is irreversible, a ZANU PF politburo member said. Tsvangirai should also ask his Western backers to lift the sanctions. We expect him to do so even before an agreement is in place.

However, the biggest obstacle in the way of talks remained the issue of how to structure the government of national unity and what roles Mugabe and Tsvangirai would play in the administration.

ZANU PF reportedly wanted Mugabe to remain as executive president, while Tsvangirai becomes Prime Minister or a vice-president.

But sources said Tsvangirai wanted to be appointed executive prime minister with Mugabe as a titular president in a 24-month transitional arrangement that would culminate in an election supervised by the Southern African Development Community and the African Union (AU).

The sources said little differences were expected on the need for a new constitution as the protagonists had agreed to a draft supreme law in January after eight month of talks, which collapsed after Mugabe unilaterally announced the date of the March 29 harmonised elections.

South African President Thabo Mbeki is chief facilitator of the talks but will work closely with a reference group comprising AU and United Nations officials. – ZimOnline

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