As Mugabe Goes Back on the Defensive, Mbeki Faces a Crisis of Credibility

Article excerpt

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe appeared until recently to be negotiating in reasonably good faith with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) for a new political dispensation.

He made some important concessions, including the scrapping of the 30 appointed Members of Parliament and reforms to the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which had given the government undemocratic powers to control political activity and the media respectively.

Then he dug in his heels on other demands from the MDC that are more crucial still - including a new constitution, to be implemented before this year's elections, and a postponement of those elections beyond March to allow all the reforms to take effect.

President Thabo Mbeki, who had been mandated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) last March to mediate the political negotiations, had largely left the job to his aides. But on Thursday he took personal charge and flew to Harare to meet Mugabe and the MDC leaders to try to break the deadlock.

Mbeki emerged from a five-hour meeting with Mugabe and told reporters; "It's work in progress and very good progress."

But Mbeki was apparently obfuscating, referring to past progress rather than the outstanding issues he had come to Harare to try to resolve.

Because he then apparently went to meet the MDC leaders and told them Mugabe had agreed to none of their demands on the outstanding issues.

It appears Mbeki himself is sympathetic to the MDC demands. That would make sense.

When he returned last March from the SADC meeting in Dar es Salaam where he was given his mediation mission, Mbeki made it clear that his mandate was to help the Zimbabweans agree on "what should be done between now and those elections to create a climate that will be truly free and fair, for an outcome that will not be contested by anybody ..."

This was in an interview with Britain's Financial Times, which his office later referred to as the "official position on Zimbabwe". …