Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe could regain some international credibility with a compromise deal with the Movement for Democratic Change, but he has undermined his standing within his party by giving ground to the opposition.
It is understood that in terms of a draft agreement punted by the MDC and circulated among the negotiators, Mugabe has agreed to hand over executive power to the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai, who will become prime minister in a new government, while Mugabe remains ceremonial head of state during a transitional period.
There is still some jostling over Mugabe’s political future between Zanu-PF hawks and doves, as the document remains unsigned.
A meeting on Thursday — between the chief mediator President Thabo Mbeki, Mugabe and Tsvangirai — was planned to discuss details of the agreement.
This week’s expansion of the negotiating teams was seen in Zimbabwe as a significant indication that a deal was imminent. Zanu-PF threw in its big guns — its chairman, John Nkomo, former foreign minister and seasoned negotiator Stan Mudenge and Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi, a trusted Mugabe ally. A senior official in Zanu-PF, Chris Mutsvangwa, said this indicated “progress”.
But sources said the settlement talks have seriously strained the fragile alliances that have bound Zanu-PF together since the 1987 unity accord with Joshua Nkomo and his PF-Zapu.
Former Zapu figures are worried that conceding power to the MDC will dilute their influence. With every concession at the talks, tensions in Zanu-PF are mounting, the sources said.
In terms of the 1987 accord PF-Zapu is entitled to one of two vice-presidential posts and a share of the key ministries. It has controlled the home affairs portfolio, which supervises police and the prisons service, but Mugabe is apparently poised to hand it to the MDC under the new deal.
The 1987 accord has been under strain since 2000, when Matabeleland, from which PF-Zapu drew much of its support, rejected Mugabe at the polls. Mugabe has blamed his alliance partner for the losses.
At Zanu-PF’s last politburo meeting it was decided that Mugabe’s executive powers are non-negotiable. But it appears his position has been whittled down during the talks, meaning that his rivals in his own party could step up pressure for his resignation as Zanu-PF leader.
“It’s going to be a real test for him [Mugabe],” said a Zanu-PF official who sits in the politburo. “He knows there’s a lot at stake here, including for him personally.” He said there would soon be a meeting of the party’s central committee at which these tensions are “likely to be thrown up”.
Indeed, they have already boiled over into the open. Former PF-Zapu leader Joseph Msika, one of Mugabe’s two deputies, publicly protested about “secret visits behind [his] back” to Mugabe by people he said were angling for posts in the new government and seeking to sideline him.
He vowed to resist pressure for him to retire, adding that PF-Zapu “was never swallowed” by Zanu-PF in the 1987 deal and remains an equal alliance partner.
Dumiso Dabengwa, a former PF-Zapu leader and Zanu-PF politburo member who backed Simba Makoni in the March election, said this week that former Zapu figures protested at their exclusion from the Zanu-PF negotiating team. Mugabe assuaged them by including Nkomo.
Whether the European Union and the United States accept any role for Mugabe in a new government remains to be seen. The EU has promised a large cash injection to help kickstart Zimbabwe’s collapsed economy — on condition that he is stripped of authority.
But one European diplomat indicated that the EU might accept a ceremonial role for him. “We will have to see how his role is defined in government before we decide whether to accept it or not.”
In MDC circles it is accepted that Mugabe will be the titular president, representing Zimbabwe in international forums such as African Union summits, but will have little real influence on government.
“Mugabe will be there, but the person in charge will be Morgan [Tsvangirai],” said one.
The MDC is also said to have accepted that Mugabe and his lieutenants will be immune from prosecution. Under the “Kenneth Kaunda option” it has been proposed that Mugabe retire in luxury once a multiparty transitional authority exhausts its term, tentatively set at two years, and fresh elections are held.
The talks represent the first occasion the two sworn enemies will meet face to face since the talks restarted on Sunday. They have been communicating through intermediaries on key issues.
The MDC said that one beneficial outcome of the shuttle diplomacy has been a marked reduction in violence against the party’s supporters by Zanu-PF militia. The violence has not completely died down, an MDC insider said, but “at least the killing has stopped in the past week”.
Non-governmental organisations previously prevented by government from doing their work are now allowed to continue and provide humanitarian assistance.
For the first time the MDC admitted its hand in the violence since the March 29 elections. In a statement negotiating parties admitted the violence is “attributable to us” and called on members to desist the perpetration of violence.