BY BLESSING MASHAYA
AFTER many other unsuccessful previous attempts to foster national dialogue, the jury is still out on a new talks initiative by a South Africa-based think tank to bring the country’s main political players to the negotiating table.
While both churches and analysts hope that something tangible will come out of the latest push by the Zimbabwe Institute (ZI) to forge much-needed political dialogue, there is uncertainty about whether this will bear fruit.
This comes after ZI, which is led by Zimbabweans based in South Africa, recently opened channels of communication with the country’s major political groupings led by the “Big Three” of local politics — President Emmerson Mnangagwa, opposition leader Douglas Mwonzora and Nelson Chamisa — in a bid to get them to talk ahead of the 2023 national elections.
Crisis Group’s senior consultant for Southern Africa, Piers Pigou, yesterday said that ZI had been trying to promote inter-party dialogue in the country for many years.
“Given the current political divisions in play, it is unclear how this latest initiative will bear fruit where previous efforts have not borne fruit.
“A more technical discussion about reforms is clearly necessary. The government claims that it is reforming, while the opposition say reforms in play are inadequate.
“Of course, this also requires a wider angle lens on contextual and institutional factors that are often airbrushed from such debates,” Pigou said.
“It seems highly unlikely though that inclusive talks would secure substantive collective agreements ahead of the 2023 polls.
“It also seems unlikely that a GNU (government of national unity) in the current circumstances would be embraced, unless there were some very clear parameters and intended reform commitments from such an endeavour,” he added.
However, Professor of World Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, Stephen Chan, said a GNU was the way to go for Zimbabwe.
“What is required is not only a political coming together, but a commitment by all parties to prioritise technocratic appointments to any eventual unity Cabinet.
“(Finance minister) Mthuli Ncube needs people who can understand him, nuance his policies, and propose alternative measures.
“In short, if the purpose of negotiations is to nominate such people who are not leading members in the main parties, that kind of agenda could be beneficial for Zimbabwe,” said Chan.
Senior public management lecturer at South Africa’s Tshwane University of Technology, Ricky Mukonza, said while talks were necessary, he was pessimistic about the Big Three’s commitment to dialogue.
“The acrimony that is demonstrated by the leaders of the three main parties does not give any hope for co-operation and working together of the parties.
“There is also divergence in terms of policy positions, particularly between MDC and Zanu PF.
“At a party level, I do not see talks happening. However, I see individual leaders across parties having talks as they try to position themselves for power,” Mukonza said.
“Talks would have been ideal at this point in time as the country is so divided politically and also performing poorly economically.
“A cool off period, where all political players will be working together and pulling in the same direction for the common good will assist to stabilise the country.
“The challenge is that, even if elections were to be done and one of the three parties wins, the outcome will be contested and development will be difficult to attain post the elections,” said Mukonza.
On their part, churches said they supported the ZI initiative, adding that they were ready to work with all stakeholders to ensure that the dialogue took place.
“The church is willing to participate or even facilitate national dialogue if called upon. A GNU, the timing of the next elections … can be some of the outcomes of the national dialogue and cannot be prescribed,” the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC), Frederick Chiromba, said.
The leader of the Zimbabwe Divine Destiny Network, Ancelimo Magaya, also said churches were ready to support ZI’s efforts.
“Anything that is inclusive, the church is ready to join it. But we don’t want this to be an electoral pact or elitist pact.
“It’s an interesting initiative from ZI. It’s a noble initiative when people decide to bring the warring parties together to end the crisis in Zimbabwe.
“Political reforms are very critical and must be looked at because they are the main cause of our challenges,” Magaya said.
“When you are talking about political reforms, you are also talking about electoral reforms and politicians’ undue interference with the electoral process must be dealt with.
“If talks are successful, in my view, I still say no to a GNU. We need elections whose results are not going to be disputed.
“We had a GNU before where others were busy consolidating power, while others were working to reform the economy. A GNU can always happen as a result of what comes out of elections,” Magaya further told the Daily News.
This comes after well-placed sources in Zanu PF, the MDC and the MDC Alliance told the Daily News earlier this week that ZI executive director, Isaac Maphosa, would facilitate the dialogue — with the three political groups having allegedly already deployed point persons for the dialogue.
On Zanu PF’s side, it’s claimed that its secretary for legal affairs in the politburo, Paul Mangwana, and his deputy Fortune Chasi would represent the party.
The MDC would be represented by secretary-general Paurina Mpariwa and her deputy Sibusisiwe Bhuda Masara, while Chalton Hwende and Jacob Mafume would represent the Chamisa faction — it was further claimed.
While Mangwana confirmed that Zanu PF was in talks with the ZI, he declined to give further details.
“We are participating in that (dialogue) programme on a bilateral basis. Ask Maphosa, he will tell you more information on the issue,” he told the Daily News.
Hwende would neither confirm nor deny that they had also been approached, but emphasised that his group was open to talks to resolve the country’s political and economic crises.
“As MDC Alliance, our position is clear that this country needs elections which are not disputed. We have our own document which details reforms which we want as MDC Alliance.
“Any effort by anyone in Zimbabwe to bring political parties together, be it Parliament, government and civil society organisations is a welcome development,” he told the Daily News.
Mpariwa could not be reached for comment after her party’s spokesperson, Witness Dube, referred questions to her.
Maphosa, the facilitator of the “underground” dialogue, declined to comment saying the issue was “sensitive”.
All this comes amid mounting pressure on Mnangagwa, Mwonzora and Chamisa to initiate all-inclusive national dialogue to help find solutions for the country’s decades-long political and economic crises.
It also comes after Mnangagwa recently agreed to engage in dialogue with Mwonzora, while insisting that the talks take place under his Political Actors Dialogue platform.
Speaking to the Daily News’s sister paper, the Daily News On Sunday at the weekend, Mwonzora said while a fresh GNU was a possible outcome of the talks, what was more important was for Zimbabweans to find each other in the interests of the country.
“We do not know what the exact outcome of the dialogue will be. We want an outcome that will culminate in a better Zimbabwe free from poverty and misery.
“We will be guided by what Zimbabweans want. Whether they want a GNU or any other arrangement is up to the Zimbabwean people. We simply want to see Zimbabweans happy,” he said. – Daily News