Public in Zimbabwe Downbeat About Political Agreement

Combo picture shows Zimbabwean Movement for Democratic Change president Morgan Tsvangirai (right) on May 10 during a press conference in Pretoria and Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe during celebrations marking the country's 28th anniversary of independence on April 18 in Harare. (Photo: STF / AFP-Getty Images)

An agreement between Zimbabwe's political parties to pursue negotiations to establish a new constitution and bring an end to political violence has been met with skepticism by ordinary Zimbabweans trying to survive the country's 2.2 million percent annual inflation rate.

On July 21, Robert Mugabe, president of the ruling ZANU-PF party, and opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, signed a Memorandum of Understanding under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community's appointed mediator, South African President Thabo Mbeki.

As news spread of the deal, widely seen as a groundbreaking initiative, people in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, responded to the images of Tsvangirai and Mugabe shaking hands at the signing ceremony with a mixture of disgust, disbelief, and indifference.

"This is a major betrayal by Tsvangirai. Many people have died, been raped, tortured, and had their homes set on fire for supporting him. He needed to consult widely with us before hopping into bed with Mugabe," Matthews Shoko, a staunch supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (M.D.C.) party, told IRIN.

"Tsvangirai himself withdrew from the presidential run-off, saying the levels of violence were unacceptable; why is he prepared to walk into office via a path littered with dead bodies and broken limbs?" Shoko asked.

Mugabe has been in power since Zimbabwe won its independence from Britain in 1980. The ruling ZANU-PF lost its majority in parliament for the first time since independence in March 29 elections, but Tsvangirai fell short of securing an outright presidential win by a couple of percentage points, so a second round of voting was set down for June 27.

In the lead-up to the presidential run-off more than 60 people died in political violence, thousands were reported missing and tens of thousands were displaced. Tsvangirai pulled out of the second round of voting in protest against the violence, leaving Mugabe as the sole candidate. He claimed a landslide victory.

Never Trust a Politician

Caroline Mpofu, a sales executive at an electrical company, was dismissive of the agreement. "I never trust politicians. I am sure the discussions have more to do with sharing power than the interests of Zimbabweans in general. It's more to do with power than addressing the food shortages stalking the country," she said.

"More than a hundred people have died because of these politicians. Suddenly the politicians are shaking hands, but in the countryside, there is very little information. People are being told to beat up any M.D.C. supporters. Torture bases continue to exist, while women continue to be gang-raped."

According to a recent United Nations report, about five million of Zimbabwe's 12 million people are expected to require food assistance in the coming months, but the government has banned the activities of humanitarian organizations, including food distribution, alleging that they have a political agenda.

Tafara Shava, who lives in Mudzi, a remote district in Mashonaland East Province, said the details of the agreement had yet to reach this area, and even when it did, it was unlikely that people would believe it, and they would probably beat up anybody who suggested that Mugabe and Tsvangirai had shaken hands.

"What the politicians are doing is very unfair. In Mashonaland East we are still chanting slogans like 'down with Morgan Tsvangirai,' and yet the main rivals are having lunch together in plush hotels. People need to be told that there are new developments taking place."

The Memorandum of Understanding calls for an end to hate speech and political violence, the lifting of the ban on humanitarian organizations to enable them to distribute relief, and setting the objectives and priorities for a new government that will address the economic decline and political malaise, among other things, all to be agreed within two weeks.

"The dialogue commenced on 10 July 2008 and will continue until parties have finalized all necessary matters, save for short breaks that may be agreed upon. It is envisaged that the dialogue will be completed within a period of two weeks from the date of signing [July 21] of this MoU," the agreement said.

The talks will be held in Pretoria, South Africa.

One clause suggests that the end result would be the formation of a coalition or government of national unity. "The parties shall not, during the subsistence of the dialogue, take any decisions or measures that have a bearing on the agenda of the dialogue, save by consensus. Such decisions or measures include, but are not limited to, the convening of parliament or the formation of a new government."

The memorandum also reflects Tsvangirai's demands for diluting Mbeki's role as a mediator. "The dialogue shall be facilitated in accordance with SADC and AU [African Union] resolutions," it reads.

More Sanctions

Although the agreement is seen as a breakthrough to resolving Zimbabwe's plight, it has not influenced the European Union's decision to expand sanctions against the country's ruling elite, including a travel ban to European Union countries and freezing their assets. Mugabe and other senior government officials are named.

At a meeting in Brussels, European Union foreign ministers added another 37 names to the list, bringing the number of people to 168, and also added four "legal entities," or companies.

Those added to the list have not been named as yet, to prevent them from moving any assets to a country outside the European Union. The decision to intensify sanctions against Zimbabwe's ruling elite was taken after the agreement between Zimbabwe's opposing political parties was reached.

Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb told reporters in Brussels: "If you look at reconciliation, it takes probably 10 steps. To start the discussions between the opposition and government is the step number one; [it's] way too early to start discussing any lifting of the sanctions." ©IRIN

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

From Integrated Regional Information Networks.