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Lots of talk but very little gain
Mail & Guardian (SA)
November 20, 2007

The last stretch of talks mediated by President Thabo Mbeki will be a key test of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change's (MDC) ability to press meaningful concessions from Zanu PF. Already under pressure from supporters after agreeing to constitutional amendments in September, the MDC now finds itself four months away from crucial elections without having made any real gains in the talks. The two sides met again recently but the talks were informal, as Sydney Mufamadi and Frank Chikane, Mbeki's mediators, were in Harare to attend the funeral of the son of Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, one of the Zanu PF negotiators. As bitter divisions undermine opposition support, there are questions as to whether the MDC has the muscle to wrest any real concessions from the process. Getting Zanu PF to agree to broader reform would help the opposition to rebuild its damaged credibility. This realisation alone puts its negotiators under immense pressure.

Zanu PF has benefited the most so far from the Mbeki-led negotiation process. The amendments agreed upon in September, while bringing some reform to electoral laws, essentially keep Mugabe's core powers intact. In fact, the amendments significantly expand the size of Parliament, long a desire of Mugabe's, and allow the president to appoint supporters to the upper house. A raft of repressive pieces of legislation remains in place to buttress Mugabe's rule. People involved in the talks say negotiating about legislation has been the easy part. The tougher battle will be discussions about how Zimbabwe is governed, they say. For either side, winning that last stage of the battle will depend largely on how much leverage it has over the other. The only tool the MDC has - and one which Tsvangirai has employed at several stages of the talks - is the threat to boycott elections. The MDC knows Zanu PF is desperate to gain legitimacy in the election next March and a boycott would damage the credibility of the polls.

But threats to boycott "can only be used so much", according to a senior opposition official close to Tsvangirai. "The problem is once you make that threat two, three, four times, you risk losing both the respect of the mediators and confusing your own supporters." A key test will be the MDC's ability to resist pressure from impatient supporters. Tsvangirai has conceded that hostility to the September agreement arose from widespread "mistrust of the Zanu PF dictatorship and a lack of a proper and full brief of the various stages in the negotiation process". In fact, the secretive nature of the talks was one of the many issues at the heart of recent MDC infighting. Mbeki has forced both sets of negotiators to sign a non-disclosure agreement, the terms of which are such that the teams can report only to the most senior officials in their respective parties. This has not been a problem for Zanu PF, where power is tightly concentrated around Mugabe. But in the MDC a crisis meeting had to be called last weekend after officials protested that only Tsvangirai and his secretary general, Tendai Biti, were privy to the details and progress of the talks. Biti and Welshman Ncube form the MDC negotiating team.

Lovemore Madhuku, head of the National Constitutional Assembly, a pressure group that campaigns for a new constitution and has severed a longstanding alliance with the MDC over the talks, doubts the opposition has the stamina to push Zanu PF to the wire and force it to yield on key issues. "The MDC has so far not extracted any concessions from Zanu PF at all.

What they have simply done is capitulation. Everything they have agreed to so far was brought to the table by Zanu PF," Madhuku said. The MDC's internal fighting, which erupted in 2005, has gravely diminished its threat to Zanu PF, a fact of which Mugabe's negotiators - Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche - will be fully aware when it is their turn to give something away. "They [MDC] are unable to get anything out of Zanu PF. To be able to do so, they needed to be in a position to put Zanu PF under pressure. At the moment they are nowhere near that position," said Madhuku.

At the start of the negotiating process in April, both factions of the MDC created four committees to give their team research support. However, little has been done, as leaders were preoccupied with the internal strife, the crisis meeting of Tsvangirai's faction heard last week. Zimbabwe Election Support Network chairperson Noel Kututwa says the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which runs elections, is behind schedule with the delimitation process. In the past demarcation for 150 constituencies usually took at least six months, but a ZEC crippled by low staffing levels is expected now to take less than three months to mark 210 constituencies. Meanwhile, Edwell Mutemaringa, chief accountant for the country's registrar general, told a parliamentary portfolio committee that his department, which runs the voters' roll, has received less than a tenth of its budget requirements. The Zimbabwean police, which in terms of the law should provide at least four officers per polling station, wants to double its size for the elections. But deputy police chief Levy Sibanda has said the police force is so broke it can no longer even supply uniforms for recruits. Director of the Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust David Chimhini feared the talks were fast running out of time. "We still need to get information [on the result of the talks] relayed to the electorate and we don't see sufficient time at the moment to do that," he said.

On October 12 2005 a meeting of the Movement for Democratic Change to discuss its participation in elections ended in spliting the party into two factions. Arthur Mutambara heads one faction, of 22 MPs, with Gibson Sibanda as his deputy and secretary general Welshman Ncube. Other key figures in this faction are Paul Themba Nyathi, Renson Gasela, Fletcher Dulini Ncube and Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga. Morgan Tsvangirai leads a faction of 21 MPs, with Thokozani Khupe as his deputy, Tendai Biti as secretary general and Lovemore Moyo as chairperson. The Tsvangirai faction now faces a further split after Tsvangirai sacked Lucia Matibenga, head of the influential women's wing, last month. Tsvangirai has the support of his chair, Moyo, and a group of personal, powerful advisers, key among them businessperson Ian Makone. Tsvangirai faces opposition from most of his senior MPs, including Tapiwa Mashakada, the deputy secretary general, and Elias Mudzuri, a popular and ambitious former Harare mayor. Mudzuri has called Tsvangirai's recent actions "unacceptable".

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