Zim talks

2008-07-23 00:00

For the first time in a decade Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai met on Monday to sign an agreement opening the way for talks — beginning tomorrow in Pretoria — aimed at finding a sustainable solution to the country’s political crisis. Although there’s no reference to power sharing, the agreement endorses the prevention of violence, the creation of a new constitution and the restoration of the wrecked economy.

Many would, of course, have preferred to hear that Mugabe had been removed from the African political arena, but even they will have shared the generalised relief. For this is, at long last, a start, a small step on the long road to Zimbabwe’s rehabilitation and one for which South African president Thabo Mbeki — and his policy of quiet diplomacy — must be given credit, difficult though it is, given the labyrinthine character of such diplomacy, to assess just how great Mbeki’s responsibility really is for this very welcome, if reluctant, rapprochement.

Did Mbeki present a range of incentives, inducements, threats or pressures in order finally to bring Mugabe to the negotiating table? Could he cunningly have turned the proposed United Nations (UN) sanctions into a coercive tool, for example? It will be recalled that sanctions were vetoed by Russia and China (for cynical reasons relating to trade, no doubt) and that South Africa lent its approval to the veto. Might Mbeki have managed to convince Mugabe that the sanctions issue would not go away and that Russia and China might not find it politic to turn a blind eye to the ruin of Zimbabwe forever?

Or does Mugabe’s consent to the coming talks hinge instead on the depths of his anti-West, anti-UN and anti-Group of Eight (G8) paranoia? The idea of being forced by any or all of these to capitulate would surely have appalled him. Following the lost April election, the farcical second election and the scornful criticism and ridicule rolling through much of Africa as well as the rest of the world, he had at last to acknowledge (to himself at least) that he’d arrived at the end game. In order to salvage his dignity, therefore, and to evade the humiliation he most feared — that of being seen to grovel to the hated colonialist master bloc — he would have found himself forced to accept Mbeki’s offer to broker an African solution.

As already observed, although the talks are scheduled to last a mere fortnight, the road ahead will be long and hard. It may be years before Zimbabweans truly see a light at the end of their tunnel of impoverishment and hunger, terror and injustice.

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