PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has rejected a last-minute bid by South African President Thabo Mbeki to cancel next week’s presidential election run-off.
Mbeki met Mugabe in Bulawayo on Wednesday in an eleventh-hour bid to stop the country’s volatile run-off whose campaign the opposition MDC claims has left dozens of its supporters dead or injured.
Mbeki also met Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai for talks in Harare to secure support for his plan supported by Southern African Development Community (Sadc) leaders.
Sources said Mbeki tried to secure a meeting between Mugabe and Tsvangirai to resolve the Zimbabwe deadlock through talks and not the run-off but did not get a commitment from Mugabe. Tsvangirai agreed to meet Mugabe to discuss Zimbabwe’s crisis.
It is said Sadc is pushing Mugabe and Tsvangirai to form a government of national unity.
Wednesday’s meetings marked an escalation in Mbeki’s mediation effort in Zimbabwe. Negotiations have been gathering momentum over the past couple of weeks. Negotiators for Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF and the MDC recently held meetings in Pretoria to find a negotiated settlement to the stalemate worsened by the controversial March 29 elections.
Mugabe and his party lost that poll although Tsvangirai did not get the required majority to form a government.
Sources close to Mbeki’s meetings said he told Mugabe it would be better for Zimbabwe to abandon the run-off because it would not resolve the country’s political and economic crisis.
Tsvangirai’s spokesman George Sibotshiwe confirmed Mbeki met his boss but could not give details. “I can confirm the meeting, I can’t give details,” he said.
However, sources said that Tsvangirai complained to Mbeki that the run-off would be a monumental farce because he was being blocked at every turn from campaigning via rallies, public media addresses and on other platforms.
He also raised serious concerns about political violence. So far at least 70 people, most reportedly MDC supporters, have been killed since the March polls. It is said Tsvagirai blamed the state security forces for the political murders.
“Tsvangirai said the run-off would be a sham because he has not been allowed to campaign, and his party officials and supporters are being arrested, harassed and killed,” a source said. “He also said his party was being treated like a banned organisation, while he himself was treated like a criminal.”
Tsvangirai also raised the issue of the treason charge against the MDC’s secretary-general Tendai Biti, the party’s chief negotiator at the talks with Zanu PF.
It is said Mbeki indicated to Mugabe that even if he wins the run-off his victory would be disputed by Tsvangirai and most of the world leaders, including African presidents due to the current wave of political violence, abductions, torture and killings.
A group of former African presidents and other prominent figures have signed a petition calling for an end to the reign of terror in Zimbabwe. Several sitting African presidents have also made similar calls this week.
The sources said Mbeki indicated to Mugabe it would be better to pursue a negotiated settlement than persist with the run-off which even if he wins would be viewed as illegitimate or rejected outright by voters.
Former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, Britain’s Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mark Malloch-Brown, and civil society organisations in Zimbabwe yesterday said Mugabe’s victory would be illegitimate.
“The victor of an unfair vote must be under no illusions: he will neither have the legitimacy to govern, nor receive the support of the international community,” Annan said.
Malloch-Brown said: “President Mugabe needs to understand that elections held on those terms will not be recognised anywhere around the world, least of all in Zimbabwe, as free, fair and legitimate.”
ANC president Jacob Zuma on Wednesday said he did not think the run-off would be fair. “I think we’ll be lucky if we have a free election,” Zuma told Reuters. When asked if he thought the vote would be fair, Zuma replied: “I don’t think so.”
Mugabe is said to have acknowledged this, but insisted that elections would go ahead next Friday. His chief election agent and key strategist Emmerson Mnangagwa said before Mbeki’s meetings the run-off was going ahead.
Mnangagwa has said working together with the MDC after the run-off is “unavoidable”. He said Zanu PF was planning to create a new position of prime minister presumably to accommodate Tsvangirai.
Mbeki arrived in Harare and was met at the airport by Mugabe’s deputy Joseph Msika and Zimbabwean Ambassador to South Africa Simon Khaya Moyo. He held meetings with South African ambassador to Harare Mlungisi Makhalima before meeting Tsvangirai. After that he flew to Bulawayo to meet Mugabe.
By Dumisani Muleya