There are talks about talks again. Maybe these are the talks. But talks about what?
I have an acutely vested interest in the talks between representatives of Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change that are currently under way in South Africa.
I want the talks to succeed.
You see, my life literally depends on these talks. South African President Thabo Mbeki, on the other hand, is just looking for an undeserved addition to that part of his dull CV that refers to mediation.
Almost a decade ago, Mbeki went live before an international television audience and, without being asked, offered the world the African Renaissance, which still remains in the incubator. Maybe he’s afraid the Renaissance might not survive the harsh African climate.
However, my optimism over the talks is doused by several scenarios which make me conclude this is just another charade to give the long suffering Mbeki a small opening to escape.
Who are the principals in these talks? What and how much can they offer or concede? And what do they mean to the people of Zimbabwe?
First, there is Mbeki, a lacklustre mediator prone to taking sides when trying to bring two opposing camps together.
Mbeki’s mediating skills were badly exposed and then tarnished when the Ivorians fired him from their mediation talks for bias.
I cheer when I remember what happened in Ivory Coast after they fired Mbeki.
Is the sight in the Ivory Coast not one to behold when we have a president whose former adversary (in violent manner) is now his prime minister in peace?
Also remember, please, that the bogeyman himself, Mugabe, riding on the back of his highly efficient army, put Mozambique’s Alphonso Dhlakama, of the Mozambican Resistance Army (RENAMO), on the defensive and brought him to the negotiating table, culminating in that historic peace accord between the Mozambican government and RENAMO in Rome.
Zimbabwe had to act; it was suffering badly because of the political instability in Mozambique.
One of my most cherished moments was seeing Mugabe on the podium, with a genuine smile on his face, hugging a beaming Alphonso Dhlakama in front of a jolly Joachim Chissano during Mozambique’s 10th Anniversary of Peace Celebrations in Maputo.
That was in 2002.
Regrettably, that has meant nothing to both Mbeki and Mugabe.
Since becoming president, Mbeki has had ample opportunity to arrest the worsening situation in Zimbabwe.
The last time he invited and held mediation talks between Mugabe and the opposition, Mbeki succeeded only in splitting the opposition.
Mbeki has failed to control the situation and, two weeks ago, went to the extent of telling his nation through a speech in parliament that “South Africa just has to live with the influx of (Zimbabwean) refugees.”
He had rather ignore Mugabe and protect him at the expense of South Africans.
So we have Mbeki, an ardent Mugabe ally, who has nothing to crow about as far as mediation is concerned, now tasked with the job again.
The folly of diplomacy!
So, hands up those who think Mbeki is a good mediator.
I see only one hand.
Okay, Mr Mugabe, you can put your hand down.
Your vote does not count. (Does that sound familiar to you, Sir?)
Then there is the man himself Robert ‘Pol Pot’ Mugabe.
He sent a team of light weights to the negotiating table.
And this gauges the seriousness of the matter. I made the same point (The UK Guardian, Aug 20, 2003) when similar talks were ongoing and with these two Mugabe representatives as the principal negotiators.
Patrick Chinamasa is Mugabe’s Minister of Justice.
And Nicholas Goche, the one time Foreign Affairs ministry functionary who rose through the ranks, is Mugabe’s Minister of Labour and Social Welfare.
Both are minnows but good Mugabe praise singers. Of the two, Goche surprises us the most. I first met Goche when I was a student in the US and he was at our embassy in Washington just after independence. Goche was straightforward and espoused democracy through all his pores. He never struck us as one who would end up like this. But, I guess, power, money and politics are like fungi; they never stop growing.
So here we are with Chinamasa and Goche once again in the forefront to bring better fortunes to Zimbabwe.
They tried it before and failed.
Obasanjo and Mbeki tried it with them before and failed. This time, Mbeki is reported to have requested Chinamasa to give him “more evidence that they were serious about the talks.”
And does anyone of us believe that Mugabe is in these talks to negotiate his way out of power? No, he is not. And if he is not, what are these talks about?
Hands up those who think Mugabe is serious about these talks. I see only one.
Okay, Mr Mugabe, you can put your hand down. Your vote does not count. (Surely, that must sound familiar to you, Sir?)
The talks cannot be about power sharing for that would be political suicide for the MDC.
Unity then? It cannot be. The chasm is too deep and there is no common ground.
Besides, no matter how much we love and revere the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo, his capitulation to disband ZAPU (which gave birth to ZANU) and be swallowed by ZANU shall always remain as the day when Zimbabweans were robbed of choice.
Unity does not mean giving up our dreams and hopes for the country and adopting the other person’s.
Unity means that if our people prefer a certain path, whether it is championed by the ruling party or the opposition, then we all embrace it and work towards its fulfilment together.
Unity does not mean abandoning your agenda for the nation. It does not mean being swallowed by another party whose ideology is totally different from yours.
So what are these talks about? Are they about Mugabe’s retirement and immunity from prosecution?
I will not laugh while in the execution room but I want to know who can forgive the murderer other than the murdered or his kin? And this brings us to the MDC, the third participant in these talks.
Now, what is the MDC negotiating for? Are they negotiating a merger on party level? Are they demanding, as the late Ndabaningi Sithole, the late Joshua Nkomo and a horde of other opposition parties did since independence, that the ‘playing field be levelled’? Are they demanding ‘a new constitution before the next elections’? Are they willing to tackle and tell us, now, what will happen to our head of state, should ‘Pol Pot’ Mugabe lose the elections?
Since when have African dictators respected their own constitutions? I call the MDC, particularly Morgan Tsvangirai, as my first witness for the prosecution. Hopefully, Mr Tsvangirai’s wounds inflicted on him for joining a prayer meeting for the nation of Zimbabwe have now healed enough for him to appear.
If Mugabe is demanding immunity from prosecution in exchange for stepping down then tough luck because no one has the authority to pardon Mugabe except those he committed crimes against. I said as much to Tony Blair (Daily News, Zimbabwe, March 4, 2003) who was actively pursuing and promising Mugabe immunity in exchange of exile in Malaysia. No one has the authority to pardon Mugabe except the Zimbabwean people.
The MDC should be warned, however, that the sacrifices and concessions they make do not amount to a betrayal of the people. The concessions they make must not disappoint. Mugabe’s trickery is a matter of public record.
No one can rule Zimbabwe with Mugabe free on a pig farm somewhere or alive in exile else where in Saudi Arabia. Mugabe got too many people killed. Too many were murdered in his name. This is one man who will never live in peace should he make the mistake to leave the presidency.
So, hands up everyone who believes ‘Pol Pot’ Mugabe is trying to negotiate himself out of power.
No paws up, just like I thought!
*Tanonoka Joseph Whande is a Botswana-based Zimbabwean journalist.