What is needed is real mediation

In his final rally before his one-person election Robert Mugabe declared that he would go to Cairo and would dare anyone of the leaders there to point a finger at him so he could see “whose finger was clean or dirty”.

It was a telling remark. It means: “I have done exactly what you motley crew of dictators and coup plotters have done, so what’s the big deal?”

And he’s right—could Hosni Mubarak, Omar al-Bashir and Moammar Gadaffi challenge him, other than to give advice on how to crush dissent and hold on to power for life?

Tanzania’s Jikaya Kikwete and Botswana’s Ian Khama represent a new generation of leaders who do not have “dirty fingers”. They tried to show the possibility of a different Africa, but got drowned by a democratically elected president at the centre of the media efforts.
It was telling that South Africa lobbied hard for the African Union not to go the route of delegitimising Mugabe—the same role as it is now playing in blocking UN sanctions against the Mugabe regime.

President Thabo Mbeki has played a less than honest role in the Zimbabwe crisis. The debate rages on about what he is playing at in Zimbabwe. His government insists talks are taking place, when nothing is happening—“phoney talks”, you could say. Prior to a major summit, he hastily meets Mugabe or Tsvangirai or their representatives and then announces “peace in our time”, like Neville Chamberlain announcing that he had secured guarantees of peace from Adolf Hitler.

It is surreal to find history repeating itself so tidily. Zanu-PF’s machinery bludgeoned the opposition into withdrawal from the election and the militia continues with its reign of terror, the opposition is constantly harassed and the main negotiator for the opposition faces treason charges. As this unfolds, Mugabe is “president”, the opposition is vilified and we hear the same old noises about the need for peace in Zimbabwe by the same people who will not condemn the gross violation of human rights in that country.

To add insult to injury, Mbeki convened a meeting at the presidential offices in Zimbabwe when the legitimacy of the “president” was in question. Surely a poet-president would appreciate the value of symbolism? Surely a mediator would seek to meet the parties on neutral ground? At the same time, a mediator should be very unambiguous about anomalies—Kofi Annan very critical of the violence in Kenya and went as far as calling for the prosecution of the perpetrators. And he was the chief mediator.

But the game has changed. Tsvangirai has wised up to Mbeki’s game and should keep insisting that:

  • The violence has to stop and for that to happen Mugabe should dismantle the machinery of terror set up by the generals;

  • Negotiations cannot take place in a climate of intimidation where the opposition’s chief negotiator is facing treason charges and was effectively shut away for the entire period the MDC needed to strategise for the planned run-off;

  • The AU should deploy a special envoy to be in Harare permanently until the resolution of the Zimbab­wean question; and

  • The mediation team should be expanded to include credible and impartial African leaders.

Unfortunately for Mbeki, unlike the sanitised observer reports of past elections, the Southern African Development Community(SADC) and Pan African Parliament observer missions’ indictments cannot be wished away and neither can the graphic media reports and documented evidence of torture, maiming and killings. Mbeki cannot keep ducking the MDC charge of bias. Why doesn’t Mbeki do the honourable thing and request the SADC and the AU to expand the mediation team or request a respected team of eminent people to step in and take over? If he could remove himself from mediation in Côte d’Ivoire, why can’t he do it in Zimbabwe? For a president who dreamed of an Africa of good governance and economic development, when it comes to Zimbabwe, Mbeki has been hoist by his own petard.

Our people’s legitimate demand is for a Constitution that guarantees the freedoms of the people of Zimbabwe and respect for the election results of March 29 2008. Of our mediator we demand that ordinary Zimbabweans be allowed to express our will freely at the ballot and in our daily lives. Given the labelling of everyone opposed to the Zimbabwean dictatorship as a puppet, I can only ask: If every “puppet” can stand for election in South Africa, why can’t Zimbabwean “puppets” do the same?

Chris Kabwato is the publisher of Zimbabwe in Photos

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