SA’s new Zim team plays it safe

It has been a quiet end to Thabo Mbeki’s ‘quiet diplomacy” on Zimbabwe, with little emerging from the first meetings of Jacob Zuma’s new task team in the country to suggest a major shift in approach.

Instead, old disputes were being piled up again between Zimbabwe’s two main parties, as both sides tried immediately to get the measure of Zuma’s new team.

Zuma has sent in Charles Nqakula, Mac Maharaj and Lindiwe Zulu to mediate in a row threatening Zimbabwe’s unity government. A second Southern African Development Community (SADC) deadline to resolve the dispute passes this weekend with no real solution in sight.

The Zuma team’s appointment officially ended the Mbeki mediation, despised by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and activists for chumming up to Mugabe, but hailed by its supporters for brokering a deal that has brought some kind of stability to Zimbabwe.

Both sides in Zimbabwe have been searching for clues to what direction the new team will take. A comment by Zulu that Zimbabwe would now be taken more as a domestic matter for South Africa than a foreign policy issue has been taken by the MDC and the critics of the Mbeki mediation as a sign that Zuma wants urgent action.

But there was little else to show early signs of a marked departure from Mbeki’s ‘quiet diplomacy”.

On Monday Nqakula declined to say what progress had been made.

‘We will not make a determination of the quality of what we were able to get, but we are satisfied that we came and did our job,” he said.

The team was to report to Zuma this week, who in turn would report to the head of the SADC troika on politics and security. The troika will then call a meeting of regional leaders to present the report, he said.

‘Our instruction was to come here and do an assessment of how far the parties have gone in terms of finding answers.”

They would first have had to win the confidence of negotiators who had grown attached to the Mbeki team. Welshman Ncube, secretary general of the smaller MDC faction, said it was not yet clear how Zuma’s ‘evaluation team” differed from Mbeki’s ‘facilitation”.

‘Previously there was a facilitation team and this was not an evaluation team. These [the Mbeki team] were the facilitation team, they sat with the negotiators, chaired the meetings when they were required to be chaired and then when we requested that we wanted to talk on our own without them being present we would tell them so. They were not an evaluation team. I have no idea what the terms of reference of the new team are.”

According to Nqakula, his team sought to assure the parties ‘that our job is to assist in the search for a ­permanent solution to this situation”.

In the meetings Zanu-PF stuck to its position; Mugabe will not discuss any other issue until Western sanctions against himself and his top allies are lifted. Zanu-PF also wants the MDC to call for an end to private radio broadcasts into Zimbabwe. The MDC says it does not have the power to call for an end to sanctions or foreign radio broadcasts, insisting political and media reforms would end such action.

Zanu-PF also complained that Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader who is also the prime minister, is running ‘parallel government structures” made up of his party allies.

The MDC told the mediators that its most immediate demands are the reversal of the appointments of the Reserve Bank governor and attorney general.

The two sides drifted further apart on the land issue, with the MDC demanding an audit of all current landholdings. But Zanu-PF negotiators argued this was a plot by their rivals to ‘reverse land reform” by handing resettled land back to white farmers.

A range of other quarrels has emerged, with the two sides now even fighting over who gets to be buried at the national shrine for liberation war veterans. There is also a fight over plum diplomatic postings.

MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said his party wanted posts in Pretoria and Brussels ‘in the principle of sharing of ­authority and responsibilities”.

Both sides agree that a new constitution is a key task for the unity government, but they cannot agree on how a commission to lead the process should conduct its work.

The MDC wants the country’s 10 provincial governorships distributed according to the March 2008 election outcome, which would give Tsvangirai most of the posts.

Mugabe had originally agreed to this, but his senior loyalists have told him this would only allow the MDC to entrench itself in the areas it took from Zanu-PF last year.

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