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reform basis for mediation, say activists
April 05, 2007
HARARE - Civil society
groups in Zimbabwe have revived calls for constitutional reform
as South African President Thabo Mbeki begins mediation between
the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition to help resolve the
country's political and economic crisis.
chairman of the National
Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a pressure group advocating constitutional
reform, said, "Even though we don't expect Mbeki to dictate
terms, it should be realised that constitutional reform is paramount
in any dialogue that might take place and as a mediator he should
vests considerable power in the office of the president. A raft
of amendments and tough new laws have slashed away at basic freedoms
such as the right to association and expression, undermining democracy,
rights group charge.
Last week, following
a violent crackdown by the government on protestors, the Southern
African Development Community called on Mbeki to negotiate a political
settlement. This week, Mbeki met with opposition Movement for Democratic
Change (MDC) officials Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube.
The need for constitutional
reform was an MDC condition for dialogue when Mbeki last tried to
mediate the political impasse in 2002. The MDC had refused to acknowledge
the 2002 presidential elections, which Mugabe won, as free and fair.
But Mbeki's efforts to negotiate an agreement failed.
Last year, Mbeki told
the South African Broadcasting Corporation that his 'quiet diplomacy'
towards Zimbabwe had almost resulted in a deal in 2004.
"They were actually
involved in negotiating a new constitution for Zimbabwe, and they
... completed it ... they gave me a copy initialled by everybody
... so we thought the next step then must be to say, 'where do we
take this process?'. But then ... new problems arose among themselves,"
Nelson Chamisa, spokesman
of the Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the MDC, said a new constitution
should be put to a referendum before presidential and parliamentary
elections are held next year.
"We are optimistic
that a solution will be found soon, even if that might take as long
as 12 months. We need to be thorough and honest because what should
be considered foremost are the burdened citizens," Chamisa
Mbeki has set up a five-member
team to help speed up dialogue ahead of the polls. "In reality
we don't have much time, because normally those elections in Zimbabwe
take place in March. So that means that ... Zimbabweans probably
have 11 months to do everything that is necessary to ensure that
these elections are free and fair and that the outcome ... is not
contested by anybody," he announced this week.
Madhuku suggested Mbeki
should consult beyond political parties and involve civil society
and other organisations representing the interests of Zimbabweans.
president of the Zimbabwe
Civic Education Trust, a voter education rights group, urged
Mbeki to be neutral and not be influenced by claims from ZANU-PF
that the MDC was a front for western interests. "He [Mbeki]
has described past elections in Zimbabwe as free and fair, but he
should also look at the pre-requisites for free elections."
Chimhini urged Mbeki
to abandon 'quiet diplomacy' in dealing with Zimbabwe "but
rather show a bit of his knuckle" to hasten the negotiating
There is a sense of optimism
that "this time round" Mbeki might make some headway as
Mugabe is "an extremely beleaguered man," remarked political
analyst John Makumbe. "Discontent is simmering because standards
of living have fallen to their worst as prices rise on a daily basis,
while critics of the current government have become more committed
to regime change. The international community is also tightening
Facing the world's highest
annual inflation rate of more than 1,700 percent, many frustrated
Zimbabweans have taken to the streets in the past three months.
The protests have recently given way to bombings of police stations,
a passenger train and a supermarket, among other targets across
Makumbe said in addition
to the economic meltdown and political tension, Mugabe was facing
dissent from within ZANU-PF.
"There are new dynamics
with ZANU-PF itself as some of its members are anxious for change.
While in 2002 Mugabe did not face open criticism from his lieutenants,
there are powerful figures from within the party that represent
a thinking different from his and are becoming increasingly impatient
with the his hard stance against the opposition and the West,"
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