Disclaimer: This is a reprint of an article I wrote in 2005 and was subsequently published by an online newspaper, NewZimbabwe.com. In re-reading it, I noticed that it still applies to the current situation surrounding negotiations. One needs only replace a few words such as “elections” with “negotiations” and everything will read as if it were written today. There are other developments that have taken place as well, but the central message remains that Zimbabwe needs mature parties, and its solution lies beyond Zanu-PF and the MDC. I am reproducing the article in its original form.
After Zanu-PF won the parliamentary elections in 2005, President Robert Mugabe extended an olive branch to the opposition and pledged to cooperate. However, the MDC vowed not to work with a government that had stolen the election. The MDC alleged that the elections were not free and fair; a common feature of the elections were the discrepancies between figures announced by the ZEC and the total votes of Zanu-PF, MDC candidates and independents. Clearly most of the constituencies won by Zanu-PF, especially in rural areas, looked very suspect. The grievances of the MDC are therefore justified. However, the question is: What next? This is a complex one to answer.
Events leading up to election day were characterised by both positive and negative developments. The positive climate, which was free of physical violence, at least, was a precursor to pronouncements by many observer missions that found the elections to be free and fair. This has put the MDC in a rather difficult position. Many are arguing that the MDC is a party that complains every time it loses an election. My suspicion is that the MDC will not be taken seriously by SADC, South Africa and other countries that are friends with Robert Mugabe. These are beginning to think that the MDC is bent on causing mayhem in Zimbabwe; that elections are only free and fair if they are won by the MDC.
Mugabe has further weakened the MDC’s case by inviting it to work with him in developing the country. If the MDC continues to refuse to cooperate with Mugabe, it risks soliciting criticism not only from its sympathisers but also from the international community. The secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, has, for example, called for both parties to engage in constructive dialogue. And the business community in South Africa is beginning to send signals that it would be fool-hardy for the two parties not to work together now. It is thus a general feeling that for the Zimbabwean crisis to be resolved, the two main parties need to sit down and talk. The reconstruction of Zimbabwe is far beyond elections, which will not bring peace, stability and economic development. What we need now are mature leaders who have the country and its citizens at heart. Does Zimbabwe have this kind of leaders?
It is also naive and very dangerous to assume that had the MDC won the elections, Zimbabwe would be on a road to recovery. Chances are that Mugabe with his executive powers would have continued to block all reforms for which the MDC would have opted, and the MDC with its overwhelming majority would have continually frustrated Mugabe’s executive powers. The result would have been a stalemate or deadlock. But now that Zanu-PF has a two-thirds majority in Parliament, it is embarrassing for the MDC to take up its 41 seats. However, it is even more dangerous for the MDC to reject the election and engage in a peaceful protest. No one will take the MDC seriously; instead it is likely to have its members incarcerated.
Already there are voices in South Africa and the region that are arguing that the MDC has itself to blame for the defeat. First the MDC opted not to contest the elections and later decided to take part; in the process it confused the electorate. Secondly, there are concerns that its leader was more interested in protesting against the election than in focusing on what would develop the country. These are valid concerns and the MDC needs to go back to the drawing board to review its strategies. A number of key questions need to be addressed. For example, would rejecting the election result make the government rerun the election? It is unlikely. Is further polarisation of the electorate a desirable alternative for the reconstruction of the country? Why can’t the two parties talk and come to a consensus on the way forward?
One thing is clear: Zanu-PF will not bow to the MDC’s demands, especially after observer missions declared the elections free and fair. It is therefore suicidal for the MDC to think that Mugabe will attend to its concerns. However this is not to say the MDC should not continue uncovering the discrepancies that characterised the election. It needs to find ways of engaging Zanu-PF in a way that will restore order and development in the country. There is a need for political maturity on the part of both parties. Zimbabweans need better parties than they currently have.