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Prospects and Possibilities for Zimbabwe’s New Power-Sharing Deal

A leading Zimbabwean scholar told a packed public meeting about the challenges facing his country and called for transitional justice to be put on the agenda. Professor Brian Raftopoulos also urged the international community to pursue a policy of phased engagement with Zimbabwe during his talk at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) on 19 September.

The Director of Research at the Solidarity Peace Trust, South Africa, spoke about the “critical” political climate in Zimbabwe following the recent power-sharing deal between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai, and he issued a warning about more violence should the agreement collapse. Other areas discussed included unsuccessful political strategies pursued by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the violence unleashed by ZANU-PF after the March elections, the importance of the diaspora, and the role of the Church. The event, entitled Zimbabwe: Prospects and Possibilities, was organised by the Royal African Society (an institutional member of LIDC), the Univeristy of London's Centre of African Studies (CAS), and Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA).

The power-sharing deal
Raftopoulos underlined how the South African-brokered mediations which secured the recent deal began slowly in May 2007. Under the pact, signed on 15 September, Mugabe, leader of ZANU-PF, remains President and his party gets control of 15 ministries. Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), becomes Prime Minister and the MDC factions control 16 ministries.  Raftopoulos described the agreement as “necessary”,  the result of both parties’ weaknesses and he called for the discussion of important issues, such as transitional justice.  He said comparisons drawn between today’s situation and the power-sharing agreement reached in 1987 between Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, leader of ZAPU, were wrong for a number of reasons: ZAPU didn’t have the same national appeal as the MDC, there was no international support for ZAPU, and ZAPU was swallowed into Mugabe’s party.

Raftopoulos also highlighted how the labour movement and civic action have both been undermined by the current situation and he warned of potential difficulties ahead.  He said: “If this agreement breaks down the MDC is in trouble and we will see another round of violence.”

Mutual political weaknesses
The presentation highlighted how both ZANU-PF and MDC have been greatly weakened by the political crisis in Zimbabwe. Raftopoulos said the post-election attacks, the worst violence in Zimbabwe since the 1980s, showed how weak ZANU-PF’s party structures had become as they were so reliant on coercion. He also added that ZANU-PF’s succession is on the agenda. Raftopoulos said: “This is a leadership in severe decline. It is very difficult for ZANU-PF to pull out now. I think ZANU-PF will be under as much pressure as the MDC.”

The MDC’s strategies after the March election were also examined and the reasons for their failure were explained. Raftopoulos said the move to shift mediation efforts away from South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) towards the African Union (AU) and UN was never likely to succeed, the plan to use parliament as the centre of power was undermined by ZANU-PF, and the assumption that the declining economy would strengthen the MDC was incorrect as it weakened the opposition.

International dimensions
Raftopoulos said this year’s elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe were setting a precedent where electoral processes were blocked and regional bodies were then involved in negotiating a compromise.

He also referred to the Zimbabwean diaspora, by saying: “Professionals have gone out and established themselves. The real danger is that this diaspora won’t go back.”

Raftopoulos said foreign ministries should pursue phased engagement contingent on Zimbabwe meeting benchmarks set by the MDC.
By Guy Collender, Communications Officer, LIDC