Zimbabwe NGOs shut out of political talks

Zimbabwean non-government organisations say their concerns are ignored
because they are shut out of political talks.

Negotiators at the Zimbabwe crisis talks in Pretoria, South Africa are under
growing pressure from civic organisations which want to be more directly
involved in the process.

As talks between the main political parties continued beyond the August 4
deadline, all three leaders – President Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF and Morgan
Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara of the two factions of the Movement for
Democratic Change, MDC – indicated that they were largely happy with the
progress of the talks. Tsvangirai pointed out that some “sticking-points”

Analysts believe the obstacles to progress could be fundamental differences
at the negotiations over whether Mugabe or his main rival Tsvangirai should
lead a transitional government. Both of them claim that right, based on two
different election results – the March 29 poll in which Tsvangirai got more
votes than Mugabe, and the June 27 run-off which Tsvangirai boycotted,
citing violence against his supporters.

For Zimbabwe’s main civil society organisations, neither man is acceptable.
A group of these organisations said in mid-July that they would not
recognise an interim administration headed by Mugabe or Tsvangirai, and
instead wanted to see a neutral figure fill the role.

As the talks dragged on past their two-week deadline this week, more
organisations voiced demands to have a greater say in the talks process.

The militant Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, PTUZ, which claims to
represent the interests of most teachers in the country, voiced concern at
the restricted number of participants in the negotiations, from which it
said the “voice of civic society” was palpably missing.

Only political parties are involved in the talks in Pretoria.

“It is our conviction that dialogue would have been more meaningful if the
players were broadened than is the current scenario. Reducing participants
to ZANU-PF and two MDC formations led by Tsvangirai and Mutambara is at best
too simplistic and at worst a fabrication of political processes,” said a
statement issued by the PTUZ, recalling that the negotiations which led to
Zimbabwean independence in 1980 were “broader than the current dialogue”.

The trade union indicated that it was sceptical that the talks could succeed
in their present format, given the deep divisions between ZANU-PF and the
MDC and the “secrecy and mystery” surrounding the talks.

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, an umbrella body which represents 350
organisations, also expressed concern about whether the process would result
in an effective political deal – and it warned against “quick fixes” which
“do not address the constitutional and democratic deficit”.

“The coalition is utterly opposed to a pact agreed between the political
elite which does not adequately address the socioeconomic and political
crisis, which is by and large. a crisis of governance and legitimacy,” the
group said in media advertisements this week.

The Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, which brings together key players from the
sector, has a particular interest in ensuring that any new constitution that
comes out of the talks contains specific guarantees of free speech.

However, the alliance complained this week that with no media figures
present at the negotiations, and participants barred from even speaking to
reporters, it was not in a position to press this important demand.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association also said the talks should have been
“more inclusive”, with “the input of civil society organisations”.

So far, politicians appear to be ignoring such calls for greater inclusivity
or a broader forum.

An analyst who did not want to be named said that whatever the merits of
such demands, the short deadline set by the July 21 Memorandum of
Understanding did not allow of it.

The analysts said it was feared that expanding the format of the process
would make it harder to stop information leaking out.

“The real fear is that expanding the negotiating process could raise more
dust than shed light on the way forward,” he said. “The real key issues in
the current negotiations are about leadership, so there is simply no
meaningful role for any of these civic society organisations.”

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