27 January 2009

Zimbabwe: Little Hope At SADC Summit

Pretoria — After a 12-hour meeting behind closed doors, Southern African Development Community leaders emerged early on Jan. 27 to announce that bitter political rivals Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai will form a unity government.

"The prime minister (Tsvangirai) and the deputy prime ministers shall be sworn in by 11 February 2009 to be followed by the swearing in of ministers from Mugabe's Zanu-PF and two factions of the MDC to follow on February 11," SADC Secretary General Tomaz Salomão told reporters.

He also emphasised that a constitutional amendment that will pave the way for the creation of the post of Prime Minster had been agreed to by the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The MDC however insisted that no deal had been reached and instead felt cheated by the decision of the SADC leaders.

"We regrettably once again note that Mr Mugabe was allowed to sit in during the closed session of the plenary meetings. Thus once again Mr Mugabe has been unfairly allowed to be a judge in his own cause," read an MDC statement circulated at the end of the meeting.

"As [far as] the merits are concerned, our expectations were again that SADC would come up with a just resolution to the outstanding issues of Zimbabwe and all the parties concerned. Quite clearly the conclusions reached as reflected in the communiqué fall far short of our expectations."

Few held much hope that a seventh summit of Southern African leaders on Zimbabwe would find a solution to the political crisis in Zimbabwe.

The emergency summit came just a week after a meeting between Zimbabwe's main political rivals failed to resolve a paralysing dispute over implementation of a power-sharing deal reached in September 2008.

The September agreement, signed by Zanu-PF, Tsvangirai's MDC and Arthur Mutambara, leader of a smaller breakaway faction of the MDC, ran into immediate difficulties due to differences over how government posts should be distributed.

This was after President Mugabe had unilaterally gazetted ministries, convened parliament and appointed key government officials without consulting the two MDC leaders. At the core of the disagreement is the allocation of security ministries, particularly Home Affairs which SADC has proposed should be shared by Zanu-PF and MDC-Tsvangirai.

Announcing the breakthrough, Salomão said outstanding issues such as the release of political prisoners, sharing of other government posts such as governors and ambassadors will be looked at a later stage.

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe weighed in telling journalists that the MDC had also agreed to share the Home Affairs ministry. "All the parties accepted that position of SADC," he said.

However, the MDC said it will come up with a final position on whether to join a new government as directed by SADC only after a meeting of it's party's top decision-making body to be held shortly in Harare.

Ahead of the (SADC) summit, civil society leaders in both Zimbabwe and South Africa had met to map the way forward. Discussions centred around a push for a transitional authority, a call for fresh internationally supervised elections, regional campaigns to pressure SADC and African Union (AU) to openly condemn Mugabe's government and mobilisation of Zimbabwean masses into street protests.

On Sunday, Jan 25., unionists, gender advocates, human rights activists conducted a night vigil and protests in Pretoria. On Monday morning, the numbers of people demonstrating had fallen, particularly when compared to previous demonstrations outside similar summits. By the end of the day, most activists had retired to restaurants and bars in Pretoria and Johannesburg, waiting for the signal announcing the death of the talks.

Joy Mabenge of the Institute for Democratic Alternatives for Zimbabwe (IDAZIM) told IPS that the failure of the talks might trigger long-delayed mass revolt.

"The pronouncement that the political talks are dead is likely to trigger mass protests. For now the masses are trapped and indeed arrested in false hopes of either an inclusive government or a transitional authority being consummated," says Mabenge.

"The nation has reached a tipping point and what the ordinary people are waiting for is in historical terms the 28 June 1914 Sarajevo assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand to trigger some sort of coordinated civil disobedience."

Nixon Nyikadzino, a Zimbabwean human rights activist, told IPS that there is now a need to look beyond the talks and start mobilising the masses. "SADC has failed, it should now refer the matter to AU but in the mean time we have to start consolidating the mass movement and ask people to exercise people power and revolt in defence of their vote."

The National Constitutional Assembly's Maddock Chivasa also called for the people's agenda. "Now it's time for civil society to do what we have always be calling for as NCA and mobilise people into street protests and show Mugabe that he is not the one with the critical mass. Street protests should now run parallel to whatever diplomatic process will be considered after this meeting," Chivasa told IPS at the summit.

At least until the MDC's meeting in Harare on Jan. 30, it remains far from certain whether this is the beginning of the recovery from Zimbabwe's massive crisis so clearly illustrated by the collapsed economy and a devastating cholera outbreak which has killed close to 3000 people over the last three months.

(*Adds SADC announcement of agreement to form unity government, and MDC statement that final decision to be taken at weekend party meeting. Story first moved Jan. 26, 2009.)

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