Troublesome neighbours

2010-03-23 00:00

THE Zimbabwe crisis just won’t give South Africa any breathing space. For the past decade, it has saddled South Africa with a heavy responsibility to manage or solve it.

Whichever approach South Africa has chosen, it has had to account for the repeated failure by Zimbabwean parties, especially Zanu-PF, to put the country firmly on a path towards prosperity and democracy.

No other issue has troubled South Africa as much as the Zimbabwe crisis. This matter led to Thabo Mbeki’s fall from power in 2008. Now, finding a lasting solution beyond the transitional government has become one of President Jacob Zuma’s big foreign policy challenges.

Zuma and his team have visited Zimbabwe many times and with each publicised visit expectations have risen. This adds to the weight of responsibility and accountability for transition in Zimbabwe.

Last week, Zuma’s mediation team comprising Charles Nqakula (head), Mac Maharaj, Lindiwe Zulu and Welile Nhlapho visited Zimbabwe, and Zuma joined them for two days of intensive facilitated negotiations on a list of issues that are in dispute between parties to the Global Political Agreement.

After meeting all three principals — Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangarai and his deputy, Arthur Mutambara — Zuma announced a package of measures that the parties agreed to.

The real breakthroughs in this list of commitments, however, are five issues that have in the past few months precipitated the near collapse of the inclusive government, namely; the appointment of the governor general, the position of attorney-general, the swearing in of the Movement of Democratic Change (MDC) candidate for the position of deputy minister of agriculture, the appointment of provincial governors, and the withdrawal or suspension of sanctions against Zanu-PF figures.

Zuma’s intervention has yielded agreement among parties on a formula for the distribution of governor posts, the appointment of a new governor general and attorney-general, the appointment of Roy Bennett and the engagement of the West on sanctions.

But all these agreements are subject to the parties finalising talks on the implementation modalities by March 31. This leg of the negotiation process should not be regarded as less significant than talks on substantive political questions identified with the deadlock in the past months. This is because in a power game such as this, issues, processes and modalities are just as important as substantive ones.

The announcement also revealed that undertakings made in regard to matters of principle mean that some areas will need to be fleshed out in detail during meetings among negotiators themselves. The detail is an important bargaining opportunity for the parties, a process that might lead to new deadlocks before March 31. A party that feels it was defeated during negotiations on substantive questions may want to use process talks to undermine or water down the victory of the other party.

An important cause of deadlocks in the past has been issues of interpretation and application of the Global Political Agreement.

For this reason, Zuma’s team will need to stay very close to the process to ensure that no party feels pressurised to accept terms of the agreement they are not fully conversant with. Of course, a very important condition for success is trust. The facilitation team has to make sure that this does not run out at this point.

The European Union (EU) started engaging with Zimbabwe last year. The United States is beginning to soften its stance now that it no longer regards the agreement reached in 2008 as a non­issue. Australia has also sent signals that it is ready for engagement. Even the British have made a commitment to look closely at the progress that the inclusive government is making. International finance institutions have also softened their stance with the International Monetary Fund showing its willingness to re-engage with Zimbabwe.

Engagement by the international community is dependent on the progress that the parties are demonstrating through the inclusive government and frequent stalemates do not help the situation. SADC must use its collective power to ensure that its facilitation process does not fail.

Back to the announcement of the “package of measures” agreed to last week. The urgency to report progress to the SADC organ that oversees the facilitator may have led to a rush to announce partial commitments by the parties as breakthroughs. Zanu-PF is reported to be making every commitment subject to sanctions being removed. Tsvangarai’s MDC is said to be reluctant to move until Zanu-PF moves on the rest of the issues, including operationalisation of commissions and the constitution-making process.

This does not mean that the undertakings the parties made to Zuma and his team are not significant. They represent a step forward in a protracted negotiation process. The commitments are important undertakings on matters of principle. If negotiators carry this political maturity into their discussions about processes and modalities, then Zuma’s efforts would be a major breakthrough.

Until then, Zimbabwe is our problem. Until it is resolved we will continue to experience the spill­over of humanitarian disaster, economic meltdown and international political tensions. The crisis casts doubt over us as an accomplished peacemaker. It also affects the region’s economic stability. Yet the resolution of Zim­babwe’s difficulties is not entirely within our power as it ultimately depends on the commitment of key Zimbabwean parties to change.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.

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