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Mugabe trying to fob MDC off with minor reforms
Dumisani Muleya, Business Day (SA)
September 18, 2007

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is prepared to make only insignificant concessions that do not dilute his power during talks between his ruling Zanu PF and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Mugabe's unwillingness to concede ground in talks for meaningful reforms to end Zimbabwe's political and economic problems came to light during Zanu PF's critical politburo meeting held in Harare early this month. The politburo meeting, chaired by Mugabe, defined the rules of engagement and the parameters for the talks for the first time. Zanu PF officials who had been largely kept in the dark about the talks until two weeks ago were told whatever agreement came out the process would not change anything. Mugabe's hitherto undisclosed position means Zanu PF is negotiating in bad faith despite its efforts to appear as if it is genuinely engaged with the MDC in talks in SA to end Zimbabwe's protracted crisis.

Zanu PF's position on the talks further complicates President Thabo Mbeki's role as talks facilitator. Mbeki, who is facing all sorts of obstacles, is under mounting pressure to wring an agreement out of the current process, having failed to do so on two occasions in 2002 and 2003- 04. Inside sources said Zanu PF agreed at its politburo meeting after a briefing on the talks by its main negotiator, Patrick Chinamasa, that the party would not make any major concessions during negotiations. Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche form Zanu PF's negotiating team, while Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti represent the MDC. Ncube and Biti are assisted by Priscilla Misihairabwi. The talks are chaired by SA's Provincial and Local Government Minister Sydney Mufamadi, who is assisted by director-general in the Presidency the Rev Frank Chikane, and Mbeki's legal adviser, Mujanku Gumbi.

Chinamasa, Mugabe's point man on the talks, revealed during the politburo meeting that issues to which Zanu PF had already agreed were inconsequential in the broad scheme of things because they would not affect Mugabe's grip on power and his bid for re-election next year. It is understood that Chinamasa said Zanu PF should support Mbeki during the talks because he had been very helpful to the party in several respects. This is the same position taken by the Zanu PF central committee meeting on March 30 after Mbeki became mediator. Chinamasa said Zanu PF had agreed to abolish appointed MPs in the lower house of parliament; to have the presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections held concurrently on one day, and to have the polls postponed from March to June next year if necessary. Zanu PF is also giving ground on debate on the bill of rights and death penalty, among other things such as slightly amending repressive laws, which do not open the floodgates for a new constitutional dispensation.

It is said Mugabe told his party that whatever had been agreed on "does not hurt us at all". Mugabe and Chinamasa's remarks are said to have shown party officials that the idea of the talks is at best to buy time or at worst to make concessions that do not affect Mugabe's battle to cling to power. The talks are expected to end in mid-October. Chinamasa also made it clear that Zanu PF would not agree to the need for a new constitution. Mugabe had publicly said he did not want a new constitution after Mbeki had started his mediation. This means Zanu PF has rejected the main item on the agenda for the talks. However, the ruling party would make small concessions on the electoral laws, repressive security legislation, media regulations and the political climate.

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