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Is Zanu PF Toning Down Hardline Stance on West?

FILE - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace wave to supporters and guests during celebrations to mark his 90th birthday in Marondera about 80km (50 miles) east of the capital Harare, Feb. 23, 2014. Mugabe turned 90 on February 21. (File Photo)
Zanu-PF’s insistence on the full implementation of its controversial indigenization policy, and its hardline stance against the West, appear to be waning, in favor of a more conciliatory call for re-engagement and compromise on black empowerment.

Zimbabwe’s threats to kick out foreign-owned companies that don’t tow the indeginization line, have turned to assurances - to some - that no such thing will happen. President Robert Mugabe took many by surprise when he declared in his 2014 Independence Day speech, that he would negotiate with companies bringing business to Zimbabwe, and not insist on the 51-49 percent requirement on them.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa echoed the same assurance at a recent international conference in Harare, saying government would not take 51 percent of anyone’s money, as no one size fits all. At the same conference, Minister Chinamasa also called for an end to confrontation with the West, saying Zimbabwe is ready for new partnerships.

Analysts are pondering the meaning of this change of tone and position. Lecturer Tendai Chari of the University of Venda in South Africa, says Zanu-PF is simply claiming its July election victory.

“I wouldn’t characterize it as change as such, as far as indigenization policy, media policies and so forth. I would say perhaps its moderation of those policies, and we know that Zanu-PF won comprehensively and perhaps Zanu-PF is feeling more comfortable in the driving seat in terms of consolidating its power base.”
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.
In line with this, Nkululeko Sibanda of Huddersfield University in the United Kingdom says Zanu-PF is capitalizing on the vacuum of political opposition. With former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai now out of the unity government, and his party fractured by internal conflict, that has potentially turned off western supporters, Sibanda says Zanu-PF is positioning itself.

“Zanu-PF certainly believes that with Morgan Tsvangirai losing his position, there is a vacuum in terms of who the international community can relate to, and they hope they can recapture the position they had before the advent of the MDC,” said Sibanda.

But political analyst Brilliant Mhlanga of Hertfordshire University in the United Kingdom, sees this more as reaction by Zanu-PF, to a dose of reality.

“Over the years they have been pursuing the Look East Policy, but it is known that those that they are dealing with in the East, China and India and of course others, are also dealing with the West, so they know that for a fact that they cannot lock out the West, so it’s a strategy,” said Mhlanga.

Whatever the motivation, analysts say Zanu-PF has little choice but to do something different given the state of the economy and the hardships citizens are subjected to. The challenge, however, remains winning over western countries, who for many years had pushed for regime change in the country, and showed open support for the MDC.

Media studies lecturer Chari says based on media coverage of Zimbabwe, the West is paying close attention.

“The hype and negative reportage has gone down. My understanding is that if you want to understand the policy of westerners, you must check their media as well. There is a correlation between a media agenda and foreign policy agenda, and I think at the moment they have adopted a wait and see kind of approach,” said Chari.

Chari, however, says the West, while still holding out on Zanu-PF, is faced with little alternative, but to work with the former liberation party.

“I cannot say they have dropped the regime change agenda but they are studying the situation. They might embrace Zanu-PF completely, depending on how things pan out in the opposition, because quite clearly, the western world is disappointed. I cannot say fed up with the MDC but they are disappointed with the developments in the MDC … but I am not sure if now they are embracing Zanu PF.”

Sibanda contends the West has little option but to work with Zanu-PF and President Mugabe, though with caution.

“It is a fact, I know, speaking to a few governments in Europe, believe that they still need to have some form of partnership with Zimbabwe, and therefore since Mugabe is still in power, they may have to find a working position,” he said.
Will Zanu PF supporters be part of the re-engagement process? (FIle Photo: Irwin Chifera)
Will Zanu PF supporters be part of the re-engagement process? (FIle Photo: Irwin Chifera)
Mhlanga contends the West, despite its apparent anti-Zanu-PF stance, has been engaging Harare, and will likely do so more openly. He says the United States omission of Zimbabwe from the countries invited to meet with President Barack Obama in August, is inconsequential.

“They are talking, we know that America is talking to Zimbabwe, we know that Britain is talking to Zimbabwe, we know that other countries in the West, we’ve had even Brussels changing its position on Zimbabwe….but don’t be surprised that in the next other such big event, Zimbabwe will be invited. And we’ve seen Zimbabwean ministers coming to Washington, so that wouldn’t surprise us.”

Aside from winning over the international community, analysts say Zanu-PF is also waking up to the reality that citizens are disgruntled and want to see the party bring change.

“They stand to benefit a lot by polishing their image, and I think they are trying in all spheres of life, especially when you look at the media side. The minister of information is, I think, trying to reach out to the media in a big way, and this perhaps signals the government’s intention to mend its relations with the media and also to polish its image, which has been in bad shape for quite some time.”

Sibanda warns, whatever Zanu-PF’s motivation, it is folly to believe the former liberation party has changed its stripes, adding the party is continually courting citizens for their vote.

“Zanu-PF does need an economy that is improving so as to be able to pay salaries and with the MDC completely out of government to be able to maintain some level of sanity in the supermarkets, but I believe certainly this has nothing to do with the people of Zimbabwe, and I see Zanu-PF changing its position if need be, toward any election.”

It remains to be seen whether Zanu-PF’s re-engagement and toning down of rhetoric will bring the much-needed foreign investment and pacify the millions failing to make ends meet.