THE prospects for direct talks between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa — to end Zimbabwe’s growing political and economic crises — appear to be dead in the water, the Daily News can reveal.
This comes after the government vetoed former South African president Thabo Mbeki’s now anaemic mediation efforts yesterday, which have been aimed in part at getting the two political rivals to engage directly.
It also comes as the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) — which is among the many local and external groups that are pushing for dialogue between Mnangagwa and Chamisa — are saying a competent local mediator can do the job just as well as outsiders.
The latest development also comes at a time when Zimbabwe is battling massive food shortages due to a deadly combination of the country’s deteriorating economy and the severe drought that has hit the region.
Speaking to the Daily News yesterday, Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba said his boss saw no need for Mbeki’s mediation because “any talks were to be held under the auspices of the political actors dialogue (Polad).
“Why would he (Mnangagwa) need to invite President Mbeki? Who wants President Mbeki to mediate?
“I don’t know about the South African embassy because that is their national. They can expect him in the country anytime.
“What would be wrong is for anyone to create an impression that the political dialogue in Zimbabwe requires external mediation,” Charamba said.
“It doesn’t, and that position has been made clear to all and sundry, including local players and well-wishers.
“The former president of South Africa is aware of that position by the government of Zimbabwe.
“He is also aware of the standing arrangement of interaction among parties which is called Polad, and that there won’t be any other,” Charamba added emphatically.
“As for the claims that President Mnangagwa did not make a call, or did not receive a call from or to President Mbeki, the truth of the matter is that there was no need for a call from either side.
“If anything, the two met on the sidelines of the African Union (AU) (at the weekend) strictly from a position of camaraderie … briefing a colleague about political developments in the country, economic developments … but more critically … about sanctions,” he said further.
“As you are aware the AU makes provisions for elder statesmen of Africa to sit in its sessions.
“But more critically, the president of Zimbabwe met with the president of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa and briefed him about the situation in the country … socially, politically, and diplomatically.
“I am making this point because I don’t want anyone to be left with a mistaken notion that the mere act of meeting with elements within the South African leadership implies a request from Zimbabwe for them to mediate.
“That request has never been made and will not be made,” Charamba said as he hammered the government’s position home.
Mbeki — who helped to broker the stability-inducing 2008 government of national unity between former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and ex-president Robert Mugabe, who are both late — was in the country last December to try and nudge Mnangagwa and Chamisa to hold direct talks.
Previously, both Mnangagwa and Chamisa have said that they were interested in dialogue, although nothing concrete has developed despite those encouraging statements.
On his part, Mnangagwa has since been very consistent in his demands that any talks with Chamisa should be held under the platform of Polad — where he regularly holds meetings with leaders of fringe opposition parties — who a large cross-section of Zimbabweans has dismissed as tokens, particularly as the youthful MDC boss is not part of this structure.
Chamisa himself has also repeatedly ruled out joining Polad — demanding instead direct dialogue with Mnangagwa.
Charamba said further yesterday that it was time for Zimbabweans to “move on and forget about the 2018 elections, because nothing would change their (the polls’) outcome”.
“I hope people are counting the days that are passing, the months that are going irrevocably.
“We are past the mid-point of the term of the president and if there is anyone who thinks that their focus is retrospective and not prospective, then they have grief awaiting them come 2023.
“Let no one have any illusions that the young man (Chamisa) went to South Africa in the pursuit of dialogue … in the national sense … but … with the international community (in mind),” Charamba further told the Daily News.
Yesterday, Chamisa — speaking through his spokesperson Nkululeko Sibanda — also said that the prospects for dialogue between him and Mnangagwa were “as good as dead” if the only platform for talks would be Polad.
“The issue of dialogue is dead in the water once it is taken to Polad because dialogue means two people engaging.
“What we know is that Mnangagwa is not taking President Mbeki’s calls despite having promised to do so,” Sibanda said.
Meanwhile, ZCC general-secretary Kenneth Mtata said yesterday that there was no imperative need for foreign mediation to end the country’s growing crises.
“In the context of a mediator, I think the mediator should be found among Zimbabweans. There is no need for a foreign mediator unless if we do not have the agreed human resources.
“Let us try to find a locally-agreed mediator and … reason as one person,” he said.
However, University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, said the proposed Chamisa-Mnangagwa dialogue was “inevitable” — despite the latest developments.
“It is inevitable that they (Mnangagwa and Chamisa) will find each other and negotiate. Maybe this is (Charamba’s statements) part of the grandstanding to achieve concessions from both parties.
“It is inevitable that there would be some form of dialogue between the two … whether it’s open or behind the wall it is another matter.
“But we can deduce from this that behind the scenes something is happening,” Masunungure told the Daily News.
“I don’t think Charamba is telling the whole truth. Even if we suppose that it is the truth, that hardline position will soon be challenged by the hard reality on the ground,” he added.
In 2009, Mugabe was forced into forming a government of national unity (GNU) with Tsvangirai after the hotly-disputed 2008 polls.
Tsvangirai was widely believed to have beaten Mugabe hands down in those polls.
However, the results of the elections were withheld for six long weeks by stunned authorities — amid widespread allegations of ballot tampering and fraud, which were later confirmed by former Zanu PF bigwigs.
In the ensuing sham presidential run-off, which authorities claimed was needed to determine the winner, Zanu PF apparatchiks engaged in an orgy of violence in which hundreds of Tsvangirai’s supporters were killed — forcing the popular former prime minister in the inclusive government to withdraw from the discredited race altogether.