African leaders divided over Mugabe

A transitional government in Zimbabwe should be given two years to let the dust settle before another round of elections can be held, the Angolan government has advised the African Union (AU).

This week saw African leaders take a tougher stance on Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, who was sworn in as the self-styled president after African observers refused to certify his election as free and fair.

Discussion about Zimbabwe arose at the AU summit in Egypt’s Sharm- El-Sheik after a heated debate about the concept of a single pan-African government.

“The mood was tense enough after the discussion about the union government; Zimbabwe just added to the drama,” said an official who attended the meeting.

Leaders from Nigeria, Liberia and Botswana refused to let Mugabe off the hook and did not mince their words.

Said the source: “They said to him: ‘This is not even just bad, the situation is utterly grave and unacceptable.’ They told him: ‘You have failed’.”

Mugabe counter attacked by branding his critics “Western stooges”, but the African leaders would have none of it.

“‘With your imperialist rhetoric you are not doing justice to the will of the Zimbabwean people,’ he was told. But he didn’t get the point,” the official said.

Leaders decided to break ranks with Mugabe because of the threat of a split in AU ranks. “Some states, like Botswana, are saying suspend Mugabe, others are encouraging him to sit down and talk.”

The AU communiqué after the summit called on Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change to enter talks to establish a government of national unity.

Mugabe’s long-standing ally, Angola, also urged him to pursue a unity government, but warned the summit that new elections could take place only in two years.

The AU resolved that President Thabo Mbeki’s mediation efforts should continue, but that the facilitation team should work in Harare full time.

But in Zimbabwe positions are becoming entrenched and the rhetoric is escalating, creating doubt that a unity government will ever be formed.

Officials on both sides see the issue of who will lead a coalition government as the biggest obstacle. They doubt talks will take off in the near future.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai seemed willing to parley earlier in the week, with a party spokesperson saying he was ready for negotiation.

But the MDC leader told reporters that the AU had failed to recognise his first-round win. He appeared emboldened by a statement on Tuesday by the European Union saying it would back a unity government led only by him. The EU pledged €250-million to a new government, one report said.

“Any talks must be held on the basis of that [March] election,” Tsvangirai said.

Zanu-PF, wary of damaging what little African solidarity remains, has officially stuck to the line that it remains open to dialogue. But a senior Mugabe loyalist told the Mail & Guardian: “It is Tsvangirai who is desperate to talk, not us. Mugabe is in power, Tsvangirai is not.”

Mugabe appeared conciliatory ahead of the AU talks. Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, deputy secretary general of the other MDC faction, said she had received two calls on Sunday—from Mugabe’s office and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa—inviting her party to Mugabe’s “inauguration”.

Mugabe also invited Tsvangirai, but both factions rebuffed him. In his inauguration speech Mugabe said he was ready for “serious discussions” with the MDC.

The M&G was also told that Tsvangirai had, through senior adviser Elton Mangoma, sought to establish contact with Zanu-PF.

Some support for talks remains in opposition ranks. Welshman Ncube, key to the Mbeki negotiations, called for “an urgent meeting with all political players” this week to set a dialogue agenda.

And Nelson Chamisa, spokesperson for Tsvangirai’s party, said on Wednesday: “We are open to a negotiated settlement.”

But MDC treasurer general Roy Bennett said at a meeting in Johannesburg this week that the MDC’s conditions for talks centred on the deployment of peacekeepers to disband Zanu-PF’s torture and re-education camps.

In a heated statement on Tuesday Tendai Biti, Tsvangirai’s secretary general, angrily dared Mugabe to form a government on his own.

“It is now the firm view of the MDC that those who claim they have got a mandate to govern should govern,” he said.

Chinamasa, Zanu-PF’s chief negotiator, said before any agenda could be agreed for the dialogue Tsvangirai should first publicly denounce all Western sanctions and declare that land reform was irreversible.

“He must talk to us directly and not through foreign interests.”

Tsvangirai, meanwhile, is stepping up his bid to sideline Mbeki, calling for “another AU partner to come here and solve this crisis”.

At the Sharm-El-Sheikh meeting Ethiopia called for Mbeki to “reach out for help” and ask another mediator to join him.

But officials revealed that, in a closed session at the AU summit, Mugabe praised Mbeki’s efforts in mediating talks resulting in constitutional reforms. He rejected pressure for a wider African role.

Mugabe is desperate to please his African peers, but is prepared to latch onto any sign of “Western interference” to drop the process, one official admitted. “The EU statement (backing Tsvangirai) would have been a godsend,” the official said.

The walking wounded
They keep pouring in at the Ruwa Rehabilitation Centre, a government therapy centre east of Harare, which has become a sanctuary for hundreds of victims of political violence.

In the aftermath of despot Robert Mugabe’s controversial “re-election” rights groups have reported a slight ebbing in attacks by his loyalists. But people are still arriving at the centre, a doctor told the Mail & Guardian.

Most of the victims are from the northern Mashonaland provinces and tell a similar tale. They campaigned for the opposition MDC and are now under attack by militia members.

The MDC says nine of its supporters have died since the run-off “election”.

At the African Union Summit in Egypt Mugabe denied Zanu-PF was responsible for the violence gripping the country.

“He blamed it on the MDC, saying they started it,” an East African official who attended the summit told the M&G. Mugabe also insisted the violence had subsided. Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights, a group of independent doctors, say its members treated about 2 000 people for injuries sustained in political violence in June alone, and more than 5 000 since February.

The doctors said: “Many victims of violence are failing to access treatment because of several restricting factors, including limited freedom of movement, no access to transport and poorly equipped institutions.”
Post-election attacks on farmers in the central Chegutu district have been reported.

Ben Freeth and Michael Campbell, two farmers who head a farmers’ union and who are challenging land seizures in a regional court, were brutally attacked in their homes earlier this week.

They were forced to sign documents declaring they were dropping the court case, the Justice for Agriculture group reported. Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena said on Thursday that 16 people had been arrested for the attacks, which he called “plainly criminal acts”.

Mugabe unlikely to be tried for war crimes
Dictator Robert Mugabe is unlikely to face prosecution at the International Criminal Court (ICC), despite a report in The Times of London that Western powers are considering hauling him before the court for atrocities inflicted on his opponents.

“He needs to know he is moments away from an indictment,” a diplomat reportedly told the newspaper.

Fears of ICC prosecutions are said to have fuelled the reluctance of Mugabe and his security chiefs to cede power. In 2006 he was said to be close to signing an agreement with the Movement for Democratic Change, but pulled out when former Liberian president Charles Taylor was charged with war crimes at the ICC.

However, international law experts point out that Zimbabwe is not a signatory to the court’s founding document, making it difficult for any successor to Mugabe to take a case to The Hague.

ICC public information coordinator Florence Olara confirmed that Zimbabwe has not signed the statute.

This also means that the ICC could not on its own initiative decide to investigate alleged crimes against humanity by its leaders.

The DA wrote to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon last week to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights abuses perpetrated by Mugabe and the Zanu-PF leadership.

The DA has asked Ban to refer the matter to the chief prosecutor of the ICC so that a criminal investigation can be initiated.

Mugabe can only be referred to the ICC only by the UN Security Council. But such a move would almost certainly be opposed by Security Council members Russia, China and Zimbabwe’s ally, South Africa. The most recent case referred by the Security Council to the ICC was that of Darfur.


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