The ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have been talking for some time, and continue to talk, but the two parties are being forced to issue, at times, conflicting statements to keep the hounds away. Sources say while there appears to be worldwide interest in the talks not everyone is interested in a peaceful solution of the present crisis in Zimbabwe, especially one that does not entail the removal of President Robert Mugabe from office.
The sources say South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been under pressure from the Movement for Democratic Change backed by the conservative Democratic Alliance of South Africa to force Mugabe out, was fully briefed about the situation in Zimbabwe. Mbeki has been heavily criticised for his “quiet diplomacy” with some quarters accusing him of being biased towards ZANU-PF. They say Mbeki is against the MDC because of its close links to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions which gave birth to the opposition party because he is afraid the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU), an alliance partner in Mbeki’s African National Congress (ANC), could do the same thing.
Sources, however, say Mbeki is misunderstood by both the MDC and the opposition parties in South Africa. He understands the situation in the region much better than they do. The sources also say it was not Mbeki’s revelation that talks were going on between the ruling ZANU-PF and the MDC that changed United States President George Bush’s mind on whether to take sterner action on Zimbabwe or not. That decision, they claim, had been made in Washington long before Bush had laid a foot on the African continent.
Bush’s top adviser on Africa, Walter Kansteiner, has advocated for more than a year that the United States intervene directly in Zimbabwe but Bush is reported to have been briefed by better informed US citizens, who include its former ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, an architect of the peace settlement that led to Zimbabwe’s independence, this would be counterproductive.
“Talks have been going on for some time, but no one will admit that they are taking place because there are too many spoilers,” an observer who has been watching the political scene in Zimbabwe since independence said. He said this was the same situation when ZANU-PF held talks with ZAPU during the 1980s. No one acknowledged that the talks were taking place. PF-ZAPU officials continued to be detained and harassed, as is happening to MDC officials at the moment, yet the talks continued culminating in the unity accord of 1987, which resulted in the cessation of civil strife that had rocked the country for more than five years. “The same is happening today. Talks are going on. But the two parties will continue to behave as if nothing is happening,” the observer said.
Though the private and international media continue to give the impression that Mugabe is under pressure to hold the talks to save his neck, observers say it is the MDC that is under pressure. The party has to talk or it may be ditched by its allies. Though the allies may be backing the MDC at the moment, deep down what they really want is to get rid of Mugabe. If he steps down, and he is replaced by someone even from ZANU-PF, including Emerson Mnangagwa, who has been described by some media as the Butcher of Matebeleland who is likely to be worse than Mugabe, the West is likely to accept him.
But contrary to popular belief, Mugabe has wanted to step down for some time. It was the formation of the MDC in 1999 and the entering into the fray of the Western allies following the introduction of the fast-track land reform programme that made him stay on. “ZANU-PF is a strong party,” an observer said. “And contrary to what people think, it is built along the same lines as Western political parties. The party comes first. You settle your differences internally.”
“This is why no one, that is not a single major political player, has left the party since independence. Edgar Tekere gave Mugabe a scare in the 1990 presidential elections but he has admitted that he never left ZANU-PF. Enos Nkala has lambasted Mugabe now and again but he has never left the party. The same with Callisto Ndlovu. Eddison Zvobgo speaks like a member of the opposition but he is hanging in there. Even those who seem to have abandoned the party like Dzingai Mutumbuka and Fay Chung. They are still behind the party and are giving it financial and moral support when it comes to the crunch. So this talk about tension in ZANU-PF is just talk. Everyone is waiting his or her turn when Mugabe goes. The old man has been wanting to go for some time. He is simply hanging in there to hold the party together.”
Observers say, it has also dawned to the West that though Mugabe has been brutal to his own people, he has practically not done anything to stifle big business. He may lambaste and call the West names but their investments remain secure. This was the point brought home to Bush before he came to Africa. He was told that confrontation being advocated by assistant secretary of State Walter Kansteiner would not pay off as the US had strategic interests in Zimbabwe.
Kansteiner who has more than 20 years experience with African and emerging market business issues and has advised corporations on a wide range of mergers, acquisitions, and privatisations, including the buy side on the US$1.3 billion privatisation of Telkom South Africa, the largest privatization in Africa to date, has been advocating for the removal of Mugabe to bring back the rule of law to the country.
Whispers say Kansteiner has been driving the United States’ Southern African policy and is probably the one who wrote the New York Times op-ed story that was attributed to Secretary of State Collin Powell. In the article, written two-weeks before Bush’s visit to Africa, Powell called on South Africa and other African countries to “play a stronger and more sustained role” to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe. He was quoted as saying: “If leaders on the continent do not do more to convince President Mugabe to respect the rule of law and enter into a dialogue with the political opposition, he and his cronies will drag Zimbabwe down until there is nothing left to ruin, and Zimbabwe’s implosion will continue to threaten the stability and prosperity of the region.”
He even suggested a solution. ZANU-PF and the MDC could legislate constitutional changes that would allow a transitional government and fix a date for new elections. “If this happened, the U.S. would be quick to pledge generous assistance to the restoration of Zimbabwe’s political and economic institutions even before the election,” he said. This was clear testimony that all the US wanted was to get rid of Mugabe. It did not matter who took over from him because the country would start receiving assistance once the two parties had agreed to a transitional process.
Observers said this was typical Kansteiner thinking. But the plan was shot down with Zimbabwe Information Minister Jonathan Moyo calling Powell an “Uncle Tom”. Powell never said anything after that, and he was conspicuous by his silence during the African tour. It almost appeared as if he was not accompanying Bush yet reports said he was accompanying the president in a jet with Kansteiner and 300 other administration officials.
In an attempt to explain President Bush’s so-called “about turn”, the Sunday Times of South Africa, said Kansteiner was facing a tough battle because Jonathan Moyo had a close friend also in the Bush administration, Jendayi Frazer, “a black American of radical views”, who is the National Security Council’s senior director for African affairs. The paper said Frazer “dislikes Walter Kansteiner”…. whom she is said to refer to as “that white boy”.
But Frazer is probably not alone. There was even a rethink by African American leaders who had at one time condemned Mugabe for the present crisis in the country. One observer said the United States had too many interests at stake in Zimbabwe. He said that if one looked carefully at all statements Bush had made on Zimbabwe or Mugabe, almost all had been prompted by the media.