Zimbabwe's ruling party and opposition took an important first step Monday toward agreeing a power-sharing formula to end months of turmoil following March elections in which political violence claimed the lives of more than 100 people, mainly opposition members.
In the presence of regional mediator and South African President Thabo Mbeki, President Robert Mugabe as head of the ruling ZANU-PF party with Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, heads of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change signed a memorandum of understanding setting the stage for wider talks on sharing political power.
Mr. Mbeki said in his remarks before the signing
that the memorandum “commits the negotiating parties to an intense program of
work to try and finalize negotiations as quickly as possible.” The agreement sets a tight two-week timetable for the next phase of more substantive talks on forming a national unity or transitional government.
Mutambara noted that the document is "not the solution,” just a starting point. He said that the events of the past three months had "traumatized the people," referring to the political violence which followed the March 29th elections and only recently tapered off.
Mutambara said Zimbabwe’s leaders must say “it is okay to belong to a particular political party," and that there must be a “longer conversation” on the constitution. Parties to the talks, he said, must come up with a “national economic vision, a shared national vision.”
Tsvangirai pointedly referred to Mr. Mugabe as “the president of ZANU-PF” not the president of Zimbabwe, indicating he is still not ready to acknowledge Mr. Mugabe as chief executive.
Mr. Mugabe claimed victory in a presidential run-off election held on June 27, but the ballot was widely condemned as illegitimate given the climate of political violence and intimidation in which it was held, and the withdrawal June 22 of Tsvangirai, his rival, over that violence.
Like Mutambara, Tsvangirai alluded to the political violence, saying that “the people who have been brutalized, the hate speech, I hope all of that will be in the past” expressing the hope that "every Zimbabwean will feel safe."
Tsvangirai concluded: “not finding a solution is not an option. We all have to do our best.”
Mr. Mugabe said the signatories to the pact were there to “chart a new way of political action.” He thanked and defended Mr. Mbeki, often criticized for allegedly favoring Mr. Mugabe as mediator. Mr. Mugabe said his party takes the memorandum “quite seriously.”
Then an indirect cut at the MDC, Mr. Mugabe insisted that “we shall be doing this entirely as Zimbabweans,” and that while the country would look to Southern Africa for support, it would “cut off” European and US influence. "No master from Europe, no master from America."
Mr. Mugabe, who seemed more subdued than his opposition negotiating partners, concluded: "Let us move forward under what Professor Mutambara has been calling our vision.”
Harare correspondent Irwin Chifera, present at the signing ceremony, gave an account of the event at the Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare to reporter Carole Gombakomba.
For a government perspective, reporter Blessing Zulu reached Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, who hailed the signing as a milestone in Zimbabwe’s history.
Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the Tsvangirai MDC grouping said the memorandum was significant, but offered the caveat that "the devil is in the details."
Secretary General Welshman Ncube of the MDC formation led by Arthur Mutambara said he hopes the negotiations will be conducted with sincerity on all sides.
Political Analyst Brian Raftopoulos said the mere fact that Mr. Mugabe and Tsvangirai found it possible to sit down at the same table was a milestone in itself.