National Dialogue: So near yet so far

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SIMBA RUSHWAYA/CHENGETAI ZVAUYA

The launch last week of a national dialogue among the country’s political parties came after three weeks of President Emmerson Mnangagwa having floated the idea. But it appears Zanu PF and the MDC Alliance, the main opposition party, are still worlds apart. Thus any hope of an agreement between the country’s two largest parties is remote, going by their statements this week.

Never mind the body language which the President and the MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa displayed in the aftermath of the call. ZANU PF this week told the Business Times that it would not bow down to pressure from Chamisa and his party. On the other hand, the MDC Alliance, which is viewed as a strategic political player in the revival of the economy, maintains that it will only come to the negotiating table if a foreign mediator joins the talks.

Here lies the conundrum. According to the Zanu PF spokesperson, Simon Khaya Moyo, the party has always been keen to have a dialogue with other political players. “But the MDC Alliance must know that the election period is over until 2023, and the people gave President Mnangagwa the mandate to rule for the next five years. The demand that we need to have another election is not possible.

“The opposition has to recognise that we are the ruling party and we are constitutionally running the country. We don’t need any mediator in our dialogue as we feel we can resolve the issues amongst ourselves as Zimbabweans without foreign interference,” says Khaya Moyo.

He believes there must not be any preconditions attached to the talks. “As a party our position is clear. We are open to dialogue with all political parties in the country without any preconditions and we must sit down as Zimbabweans and discuss amongst ourselves,” he says.

Chamisa refused to attend the political dialogue called by Mnangagwa, but 21 other political party leaders turned up. Chamisa, however, attended the breakfast meeting organised by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches in Harare last week and said the MDC Alliance wanted an international mediator to chair the dialogue called by Mnangagwa.

“We have a political crisis arising out of a disputed and rigged presidential election result in Zimbabwe,” Chamisa told the breakfast meeting. “The presidency is disputed. We need a genuine dialogue under a credible convener and mediator to solve this crisis. Stop citizens’ abuses, beatings and arrests,” Chamisa said in response to the invitation by Mnagangwa.

This led Eldred Masunugure, the political commentator, to forecast that the two protagonists would eventually find themselves after a period of testing the waters.

“The parties will eventually sit on the table, but they are testing each other’s powers,” Masunugure said. “The unfortunate scenario is that it is the grass that suffers when two elephants fight. Zimbabweans have suffered enough and they need solutions to the seemingly unending crises. For the good of the country, Mnangagwa and Chamisa must sit down and talk.”

Pressure is mounting on the major political players to find a solution to the country’s problems after the three-day stayaway turned violent, leading to the deaths of almost a dozen people after security forces moved in to quell the riots.

The United States and Britain, whose sanctions have to a larger extent crippled the country’s economy, ratcheted up pressure on the Mnangagwa administration, demanding that the government heeds Chamisa’s call for international mediation in the national dialogue.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the US government deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino said Zimbabwean soldiers accused of rape and torture in the crackdown that followed the protests should be tried for their crimes.

“The United States remains seriously concerned about the excessive use of force by Government of Zimbabwe security forces since January 14, which has resulted in at least 13 deaths, 600 victims of violence, torture or rape, and more than 1 000 arrests,” he said.

“We extend our condolences to the families and friends of those killed or injured. The Government of Zimbabwe’s use of violence against civil society and imposition of undue internet restrictions betray promises to create a new Zimbabwe,” Palladino added.

Speaking to France24 recently, President Mnangagwa described the recent protests as a “well-organised plan” engineered by “local NGOs well-funded by the opposition”. He said the protests were a “regime change” attempt.

President Mnangagwa rejected the claims of mass human rights violations by the security forces and said the rule of law was being enforced against all culprits. He said Zimbabwe would not be deterred in its bid to rejoin the Commonwealth despite the British government having expressed its opposition to such a move. He also criticised the UK’s call for the EU to impose additional sanctions on Zimbabwe, stressing that he would ask his African peers to stand against such a move.