Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has rebuffed efforts by Joaquim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique, to bring about a dialogue between Mugabe’s ruling party and its political opposition, Mr. Chissano told reporters Wednesday at a Southern African Development Community summit in Gaborone, Botswana.
The development represented a major setback to efforts by the African Union and other interested parties to engineer a political opening in Zimbabwe, which is on the brink of economic collapse, deeply in debt, and critically short on food and fuel.
Mr. Chissano told reporters that “there is no mission for Zimbabwe because at least one of the parties, President Mugabe, said clearly there is no need of such talks.”
He said he was told by senior Harare officials that they did not consider talks with the opposition to be necessary to address what they regard as a purely internal matter.
Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to Dr. Peter Kagwanja, Southern African director for the International Crisis Group, for perspective on why the 81-year-old Zimbabwean president adamantly refuses to talk to his opposition.
Mr. Chissano’s recent appointment by the African Union as a special envoy to Zimbabwe and mediator in the proposed inter-party talks raised hopes for progress in a situation that was deadlocked even before Mr. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF, claimed a two-thirds majority in March elections.
It is on the basis of that majority – contested by the Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, the country’s main opposition party, which says the election was marred by massive fraud by the ruling party – that ZANU-PF denies the need for talks.It claims a mandate and says the opposition wants to gain power by non-electoral means.
But President Mugabe is under pressure from a number of directions, including South Africa, to which he has turned seeking a loan of several hundred million U.S. dollars, to open a dialogue with the opposition and institute broad democratic reforms.
Instead, though, his government has proposed constitutional amendments expanding its powers to seize farmland and restrict the foreign travel of citizens.