Even though informal contacts between Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have produced a number of detailed options for ending the country’s political and economic crises, the two sides remain a long way off from the formal talks necessary to save Zimbabwe from collapse.
And MDC secretary general Welshman Ncube, who is leading the informal talks for his movement, insists that until both parties commit themselves to binding negotiations, the contacts mean nothing.
“The MDC position is that the informal contacts about process cannot be described as talks because they are not binding and they are exploratory in character. Even if they stray to substantive matters, they don’t amount to talks because they are only exploratory.
“The informal talks between myself and [Zimbabwean Minister of Justice Patrick] Chinamasa, to find a gateway to dialogue, are exploratory,” he insisted.
Ncube is of the view that once binding talks start an agreement could be quickly hammered out and an election held soon after. “Our view is that once political talks begin there would be more than enough time to prepare for an election, which can be held well before those scheduled for 2005,” he said.
In a nutshell, the informal talks have identified four stumbling blocks to a political settlement in Zimbabwe.
The MDC is insisting the Zimbabwean government allow the paper, The Daily News, to begin publishing again. The Zimbabwean government has repeatedly violated court orders which gave The Daily News the right to publish and forcibly closed the paper down.
The opposition movement is also demanding the disbanding of Zanu-PF militias, widely accused of unleashing a reign of terror in the country in an attempt to intimidate opponents of the ruling party.
The two sides are also wrangling about amendments to Zimbabwe’s Access to Information and the Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act. The MDC and many local and international human rights groups insist the legislation stifles free speech and free political activity.
Zanu-PF and the MDC seem to have a good idea of what amendments may have to be made to the Zimbabwean Constitution to facilitate a political settlement in the country. The MDC would like a limited review of the Zimbabwean Constitution as a way of levelling the political playing field in the country before the next round of elections.
“Interim constitutional changes would include the creation of an independent electoral commission and a much more open electoral framework,” says Ncube. He confirmed that there have been informal talks between the movement and Zanu-PF around possible constitutional amendments.
However, there are differences between the two over a date for an election under an amended Constitution.
Ncube also insisted that any comprehensive review of the country’s Constitution would have to wait until after political settlement has been reached — so that those talks could take place in an atmosphere of free political activity.
There is no indication that formal talks between the MDC and Zanu-PF will start any time soon. “We are waiting. We have not heard anything from Zanu-PF, or the office of South African President, Thabo Mbeki, who we understand has a commitment from Zanu-PF for unconditional dialogue,” says Ncube.
Zanu-PF spokesperson Nathan Shamuyarira refused to comment on the informal talks or the status of contacts between Zanu-PF and the MDC.
Some analysts in Zimbabwe point out Zanu-PF is not likely to make any move on the talks until Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe returns from a private visit to South East Asia.
In a further sign of Zimbabwe’s disintegration, the country’s banking system is showing signs of failing, arguably the first sign of the collapse of the formal economy. This week, six of Zimbabwe’s 11 banking institutions have stopped paying their debts to other banks because they did not have the money.
The country is already suffering from inflation of 620%, unemployment of over 70%, a shrinking economy and drought and famine. Economists say that until there is an end to the political crises, there is no chance of saving the economy.