Thursday, August 07, 2008

Mbeki flies to Zim to push talks

from the Globe and Mail (Canada)

— South African President Thabo Mbeki is set to fly to Harare today in an effort to push Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai into a deal to end the country's crippling political crisis.

He will endeavour to get the sworn enemies to agree on a deal to share power - no small task, given the chasm between the 84-year-old who has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence and says he will never leave office, and his harshest critic, who says he will accept only a deal in which he and his party take power.

On July 21, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding that gave them two weeks to hammer out a political transition. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Tsvangirai and Mr. Mugabe held their first acknowledged meeting, sharing a brief meal.

Teams from both sides began negotiations in the South African capital, Tshwane (formerly Pretoria), but the talks broke down July 29 on the crucial issue of who will, in fact, hold power. The government apparently proposed that Mr. Mugabe remain the president with all the powers he has now, with Mr. Tsvangirai given the role of third vice-president....

In those first negotiations, it soon became apparent, according to people close to the talks, that those delegated to speak for the Movement for Democratic Change and ZANU-PF could handle the basic constitutional issues but were not empowered to make real decisions about power. And so it falls to Mr. Mbeki to try to bridge a vast and hostile distance - which can really only have one outcome, putting Mr. Tsvangirai in power, an outcome all of Zimbabwe's current powerbrokers are determined to keep from happening.

Mr. Mbeki himself brings limited powers of persuasion to the deal. He and Mr. Tsvangirai openly despise and mistrust each other, the international community believes he has little credibility as a mediator, and his own party dismisses him as a failure. But Mr. Mbeki takes over as head of SADC, the regional power bloc, next week, and he appears determined not to step into that office with the festering and divisive sore of Zimbabwe still open.

The proposal from SADC, reportedly, is that Mr. Mugabe remain a largely titular and ceremonial president, while Mr. Tsvangirai takes the position of prime minister, which the country currently does not have, with executive powers. There is a suggestion that control of the government's 23 ministries be divided between the parties.

But two senior ZANU-PF members who are very close to Mr. Mugabe, and who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Globe and Mail that he has no intention of relinquishing power.

"The feeling in our party is that we are the ruling party and therefore we must maintain some power, I mean real power," said a senior member of cabinet who co-ordinated the government activities around the election. "Anything that attempts to strip us of this power is not acceptable. ... ZANU-PF is not going to accept crumbs, and that is a fact."...

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