SADC split on Zimbabwe

Regional body remains deeply divided over how to solve country's political crisis.

By Chipo Sithole in Harare (ZCR No. 167, 6-Nov-08)

Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe may have little to worry about ahead of the full summit of the Southern African Development Community, SADC, scheduled for November 9 in South Africa.

For it appears that the old guard is still backing him, despite calls from younger and more radical Southern African leaders for robust action against the long-time leader of Zimbabwe.

The SADC summit has been called in an effort to resolve the dispute between Mugabe and opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, leader Morgan Tsvangirai over the allocation of cabinet posts.

However, observers are concerned that regional leaders are failing to agree on a way to solve the deadlock, which is preventing Zimbabwe's political rivals from forming a unity government following their agreement to share power, signed on September 15.

The MDC has accused Mugabe's ZANU-PF of failing to honour the power-sharing agreement, while Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba accused the opposition of "trying to negotiate for a transfer of power, not sharing power".

Regional leaders, including South African president Kgalema Motlanthe, have already held two SADC summits in the last three weeks to try to press Zimbabwe's leaders into a compromise. At their last meeting in Harare on October 27, Mugabe and Tsvangirai agreed only to bring the dispute before an emergency SADC summit comprising 15 heads of state.

But the SADC members disagree about how to go about tackling the problem.

A number of younger leaders - comprising Motlanthe, Armando Guebuza of Mozambique and Ian Khama of Botswana - have said that a dangerous precedent is being set in the region where the losing party in an election is allowed to force the opposition into sharing power even though there was a clear winner.

On November 3, Khama called for an internationally supervised rerun of Zimbabwe's presidential poll in order to end the country's political crisis, saying that talks were leading nowhere.

"We strongly believe that the one viable way forward in Zimbabwe is to have a rerun of the presidential election under full international sponsorship and supervision," he said in his 2008 state of the nation address to parliament in Botswana.

"That way, a repeat of the past run-off presidential election - which was declared by regional and international observers to be neither free nor fair and was characterised by intimidation and violence - can be avoided.

"It should be unacceptable for ruling parties to seek to manipulate election outcomes to extend their stay in power, as this is bad for democracy on our continent."

Earlier in August, Botswana - a vociferous critic of the Mugabe government - said it did not consider Mugabe's re-election in the June presidential run-off to have been legitimate.

Khama has openly supported the renewal of travel bans and an assets freeze previously imposed by western countries on Mugabe and his closest associates as a result of electoral violence.

However, key Southern African powers Angola, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, and Malawi are lobbying on Mugabe's behalf within the SADC.

They oppose renewing sanctions, and insist that the MDC wants more power than it deserves.

Many of the older SADC leaders also support the "quiet diplomacy" of former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who mediated last month's power-sharing agreement.

In an interview with South African newspaper Business Day, Mbeki said he would facilitate an agreement at the upcoming SADC summit.

The former president said the sharp differences between Mugabe and Tsvangirai could be resolved as the dispute was only centred on who takes control of the home affairs ministry.

However, Mbeki's remarks immediately drew a sceptical response in Zimbabwe.

MDC secretary general Tendai Biti, the MDC lead negotiator at the talks, told IWPR that the dispute ran deeper than the disagreement over ministerial portfolios cited by Mbeki.

He listed a number of other sticking points, including disagreements over appointing provincial governors and the composition, functions and constitution of the National Security Council; as well as allegations that the text of the power-sharing deal has been altered.

When asked if a deal was on the horizon, Tsvangirai said that he was unaware of any breakthrough in talks, while a spokesperson for the splinter MDC faction said he would "believe it when it happen[ed]".

Even the Mugabe regime seemed surprised by Mbeki's remarks, with Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa - who has been representing ZANU-PF in the formal talks with the MDC - saying he was "not aware of any new developments".

Although negotiations seem to be making little progress, Nathan Shamuyarira, spokesman for ZANU-PF, told IWPR that dialogue was a far more effective tactic than imposing further sanctions.

"You must engage to have influence, whether over power-sharing, human rights or the rule of law," he said.

Yet the MDC maintains that such engagement has already been tried and failed and now wants the issue taken up to the United Nations.

"We are disappointed with those who still hold out hope that a tyrant can reform," said Moses Mzila Ndlovu, foreign affairs spokesman for the breakaway MDC faction headed by Arthur Mutambara.

"The man is moving from bad to worse. He is insincere and [is] negotiating in bad faith. I think this issue is too big for [the] SADC."

As the dispute continues, so does the violence inflicted on Zimbabweans, say the MDC.

According to reports, several opposition legislators, youth and female activists protesting the delay in the implementation of the power-sharing agreement have been arrested. One young man alleged that he was viciously tortured while in police custody.

Meanwhile, exasperation in the international community is also mounting, with eminent leaders accusing Mugabe of stalling.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on November 1 that he hoped the SADC leaders meeting in South Africa would take action to see peace and stability maintained in the region.

"They should really take very decisive measures to help resolve this crisis," said Ban. "This has been taking too long a time."

The secretary general said that he hoped that Mubage would no longer disappoint the international community.

"There has been such a long and urgent call and expectations from the international community. He should now meet the expectation of the international community, and I am again doing my best and I'm personally engaged in this process," he said.

Chipo Sithole is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.