Zimbabwe: Can Mbeki Mend Fences Between President Mnangagwa and Opposition Challenger Chamisa?

By Prince Kurupati

Former President Thabo Mbeki is trying to Break the Impasse between the Ruling Party and the Main Opposition Party in Zimbabwe
Former President Thabo Mbeki is trying to Break the Impasse between the Ruling Party and the Main Opposition Party in Zimbabwe

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki recently made a visit to neighbouring Zimbabwe with the aim of easing the political tensions being experienced in the country. Mbeki’s visit saw him visit Zimbabwe’s top political leaders including the President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the leader of the main opposition party Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance.

Thabo Mbeki’s visit surprised many as there had been no rumours of such a visit both in the state as well as private media. Before the visit, influential people in different circles, as well as the general public, were calling upon the church to spearhead negotiations between the president and the main opposition party citing that only negotiations were capable of easing the ever-rising political tensions in the country as well as the deteriorating economic conditions.

Since the last election conducted in July 2018, Zimbabwe has steadily deteriorated politically, economically and socially. On the political front, numerous cases of human rights abuses have been reported as well as recorded. Just after Election Day in 2018, several people were gunned down by security forces while many others were injured as they protested the outcome of the election. In January 2019, security forces heavily clamped down on protesters who were calling on the government to act on the bread price increase; a number of people were shot dead, others succumbed to injuries they sustained from beatings while many were left with permanent injuries. Over the course of the year in 2019, there were dozens of cases of abductions and torture mostly targeting the members of the opposition party, members of the civic society, as well as media personalities critical of the government.

On the economic front, Zimbabwe continued to slide towards hyperinflation. Prices of basic commodities have risen sharply. Basic commodities such as bread have become a luxury as only the rich are able to purchase bread on a daily basis. Other essential commodities such as fuel, electricity and medication have also risen sharply in the process making the life of the ordinary man difficult. This has been compounded by the fact that while prices of commodities have been rising, wages and salaries have remained constant thereby eroding purchasing power. To make matters worse, often wages and salaries are deposited into one’s bank account. Withdrawing one’s salary from the bank is a difficult thing to do owing to the current liquidity challenges. What this means is that one has to spend hours or in some instances spend the whole night in a bank queue just to withdraw a small portion of his/her salary. If one opts against spending much time in a bank queue and opt to use a bank card, s/he will have to part with a lot of money in the form of transaction fees (POS fees). Even more depressing is the fact that most merchants have different prices for the same commodity depending on the form of money one is using. When using cash, prices will be relatively cheaper than when using a bank card.

The economic situation has not only affected individuals in their homes but has also affected the industry as well. Production capacity in industries has decreased owing to inadequate electricity supplies which have seen some areas going for 18 hours a day without electricity. As this is not bad enough, industries have been finding it difficult to source foreign currency from the central bank hence resorting to the black market where they are charged exorbitant fees. The end result is that industries in the quest to remain in operation have placed the burden on the consumers.

On the social front, a silent genocide has been taking place in the country’s hospitals and clinics. The government has been failing in its mandate to stock all hospitals and clinics with essential medicines. On top of it all, the government has been involved in a ‘war’ with medical personnel including nurses and doctors. The war has seen nurses and doctors take turns to undertake industrial action. At one point, the country’s doctors went on strike for nearly 100 days! In their absence, patients suffering from basic conditions, unfortunately, could not receive any help and many subsequently died. While some doctors have returned to work, they are still faced with the challenge of a lack of medical equipment and supplies which makes their job difficult. Essentially, what this means is that even in their presence, patients still continue to die as there are no medicines in the hospitals. Only those who are fortunate to be rich and wealthy are guaranteed to receive the necessary medical help as they can visit private health institutions which charge in foreign currency. For the majority who do not have access to foreign currency, once they get sick, they will be very lucky if they do not add to the silent genocide statistics.

The above snippet illustrates the challenges that Zimbabwe faces today; as this is just a snippet, it, therefore, means that there are many more problems currently being faced by the ordinary man in Zimbabwe. As the challenges are numerous and they all affect man in every sphere of life be it on the political side, economic front or social front, in the home or otherwise, there is need to look for solutions to eradicate the challenges. The solution that has been cited by many is to address the differences that exist between the ruling party and the opposition party. Many believe that once these two parties come to a common ground and start working for the country, then things might change. Those who have been advocating for such a solution have been insisting on the church to spearhead the process of bringing the leaders of the ruling party and the main opposition party to the negotiation table. However, this has been a difficult task as often; the church leaders chosen to be at the forefront of the process have been seen to align with one side or the other hence making it difficult for the other party to willfully and willingly come to the negotiation table.

The emergence of Thabo Mbeki, therefore, can be seen as a welcome development. However, it ought to be noted at the same time that Mbeki does come with his own baggage. On the positive side, Mbeki does know Zimbabwe’s political environment and actors. He was the mediator when then-President Robert Mugabe signed the Global Political Agreement (GPA) together with the leaders of the two MDC factions, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara in 2008. The GPA subsequently led to the Government of National Unity (GNU) in 2009. For his part in the negotiations in 2008, Mbeki played a huge role as he managed to quell down the tensions between ZANU (PF) and MDC which had led to the death of dozens of people. On that front therefore, Mbeki did usher in peace in a broken country.

In as much as Mbeki did a great job in bringing peace to the country, his solution at the time was for the short term and not long term. It is because of the short-sightedness of his solution that 10 years later, he is back in the country looking to broker another peace deal between ZANU (PF) and the MDC. As such, as Mbeki starts his talks with the leaders of the ruling party and the main opposition parties in Zimbabwe, there is need for him to introspect and come up with a long term solution rather than a quick fix solution which will need another mediator to come to Zimbabwe in 10 year’s time. One of the things that Mbeki need to consider in his deliberations with the political actors in Zimbabwe is to invite the military to the negotiation table. The military in Zimbabwe has shown that it does possess much political power (even though this is not desirable in a democratic country). As such, any long term solution to the country’s political challenges will have to bear in mind the immense political power that the military possesses.

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