Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa is toning down on one of his key demands for dialogue with President Emmerson Mnangagwa – to have an external mediator and is now open to either local cleric or retired judge mediating such talks.
This comes as relations between authorities and Chamisa are widely accepted to be at an all-time low following the continuing clampdown by police on the MDC and its officials.
But despite this tension, behind-the-scenes and indirect ‘talks about the talks’ appear to be gathering pace with Chamisa now saying that he will accept mediation by “neutral” locals.
MDC spokesperson Daniel Molokele said at the weekend that the party would be comfortable with an independent judge or clergyman mediating the mooted dialogue.
Chamisa and the MDC have previously insisted that any talks with Mnangagwa be held on condition that they are brokered by a respectable external mediator.
Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo was at one time touted as a potential candidate for this role after Chamisa held talks with him in the West African nation — and after the retired statesman also held private talks with Mnangagwa in the capital recently.
Meanwhile, Sadc says it prefers Zimbabweans to mediate in the much-talked about talks.
Polarisation in the southern African nation deepened after last year’s disputed elections won by Mnangagwa by a razor-thin margin, scuppering any hope of the country shaking off its divided past and implementing economic revival after long-time leader Robert Mugabe was removed from power via a bloody coup two years ago.
Zimbabwe’s churches have unsuccessfully sought to broker talks between the government and its opponents as the country battles its worst economic crisis characterised by severe shortages of fuel, cash, medicines, and rolling power cuts while inflation now in three figures is at its highest in a decade.
Their efforts, however, stalled on Chamisa’s refusal to recognise Mnangagwa’s presidency over allegations of “electoral theft” and that any talks be mediated by a neutral figure.
But after the opposition dropped the legitimacy component from its list of key demands following a meeting at the weekend, government felt the move could pave the way for possible talks.
Information secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana yesterday said the move by Chamisa’s camp would go a long way in depolarising the country’s toxic political environment.
“That conciliatory tone coming from the main opposition party in Zimbabwe is a welcome development. There’s need to depolarise the nation so we focus on developmental issues. This involves having Zimbabweans talking to one another with respect and a sense of propriety. We have to engage one another. That’s the essence of dialogue whose frame, substance and tone is not that of a negotiation,” he said.
“There was no legitimacy issue in Zimbabwe. There’s a leader in Zimbabwe whose legitimacy is internationally recognised. That’s why diplomats from any country in the world present their credentials to that leader.”
Mangwana, however, said such talks would be presided over by a respectable local convenor.
“National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NRPC) and the Zimbabwe Gender Commission heads are the independent convenors. Surely ‘independent’ does not mean foreigner, does it?” he asked rhetorically.
The opposition leader said his party was ready for “a sincere, honest and credible dialogue process to end political hostilities that are holding back economic recovery” and insisted that the country needed assistance from the region.
“My message to our brothers in Africa is: Please help us to fix our politics and economy in Zimbabwe. A weak Zimbabwe is a weak region and a sick continent,” Chamisa said.
“The problems of Zimbabwe are the problems of Africa, so it is important to be assisted through this and allow needed reforms that usher in a new Zimbabwe and a better country for all.”