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Zanu PF taking MDC down the garden path

THE Sadc-initiated talks between Zanu PF and the MDC that started in March to find a lasting solution to Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis hang in the balance despite piecemeal ag

reements between the protagonists.

Reports say Zanu PF and the MDC are failing to agree on two crucial issues — the introduction of a new constitution and on the dates of next year’s harmonised elections — and it is now evident that the talks may collapse. We are told that the ruling party’s politburo on September 5 resolved that it would not accept a new constitution before the polls or any agreement that might lead to its ouster.

The ruling party also insists that elections will be held in March next year.

On the other hand, the MDC argues that it only supported Constitutional Amendment No 18 after being assured by talks’ facilitator, South Africa President Thabo Mbeki, that President Robert Mugabe had assured him that a new constitution would be in place before the elections.

A draft constitution agreed to by both parties is already in place and in the custody of Mbeki. Again we are told that the MDC wants the elections moved to June in the event that the opposition party reaches an agreement with Zanu PF. The party argues that the agreed reforms should take root first before the harmonised polls.

Besides agreeing on Constitutional Amendment No18, the MDC and Zanu PF also reached consensus on the amendment of repressive laws — the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA).

The amendments were tabled and passed by the lower House on Tuesday and the Senate on Wednesday and now await presidential assent.

But it is because of the differences on the date of elections and new constitution that I see the talks collapsing despite assurances by Zanu PF chief negotiator Patrick Chinamasa that the two parties are closer to an agreement. Just as predicted by civic organisations such as the National Constitutional Assembly when the MDC supported the constitutional amendment, it seems Zanu PF is taking the opposition down the garden path.

Chinamasa, who is also Justice minister, told parliament on Tuesday that 97% of the talks have been covered, but Tendai Biti, the secretary-general of the Morgan Tsvangirai faction, immediately denied it.

Though this week’s amendments will go a long way in addressing the technical aspects of the negotiations, the changes need to be felt on the ground.

There is need for a paradigm shift especially by the police who have frequently used Posa to ban opposition meetings and anti-government protests.

The MDC should fight tooth and nail to force the Mugabe regime to introduce a new constitution that will guarantee free and fair elections conducted by a properly constituted Electoral Commission.

The commission should not be made up of presidential appointees or former members of the army and state security organs.

It is also my proposition that the constitution should take away the power vested in the Registrar-General’s Office to register voters under the supervision of the ZEC. The ZEC should be solely in charge of voter registration.

If the MDC fails to push for such changes, then they should simply walk out of the talks and find alternative ways to fight Mugabe’s dictatorship.

It seems the only path the MDC should take now is to abandon the negotiations given what Chinamasa told parliament on Tuesday and Mugabe’s pronouncement last Thursday at the Zanu PF’s extraordinary congress.

Chinamasa reminded the MDC that it should not expect to win on every one of its demands.

“It’s a 50-50 situation, you give in order to get something back,” Chinamasa said.

But it is evident that the MDC has been on the losing end in the talks given that it agreed to some amendments that did not at all broaden the democratic space in the country.

One example centres on Posa. While the MDC was pushing for the abrogation of a provision that compels political parties and civic organisations to seek police authority to hold rallies and marches, the clause has remained on the statute books.

The repressive law was amended to the effect that parties and civic organisations can now appeal against banning of their rallies or marches to magistrates’ courts instead of the Home Affairs minister. This does not in any way enhance democracy. It is a fact that courts in this country have been abused by the government to further its interests and given that magistrates’ courts fall under the Public Service Commission, one wonders if magistrates would be able to withstand pressure from government’s political muscle.

In my view, the amendments were piecemeal and would do little to enable citizens to enjoy basic freedoms such as the freedoms of association, assembly, and expression.

If indeed Mbeki was given a guarantee by Mugabe that a new constitution would be in place before the 2008 elections, the South African president must push the Zanu PF leader to honour the pledge.

Mugabe should not have his way. His wings must be clipped, even if it means Mbeki has to seek support from Sadc which appointed him talks’ facilitator.

The real danger is that if the talks collapse, the MDC, especially the Morgan Tsvangirai faction, may boycott next year’s polls and, given its support base, the elections would not be deemed legitimate by either the local or international community.

That would mean another five years of international isolation and poverty for the majority of Zimbabweans which even Zanu PF may balk at.

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