HARARE – Zimbabwe’s main opposition party has begun negotiations with the ruling party about how to resolve the nation’s political crisis, despite its leader refusing to take part in talks convened by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, people familiar with the situation said.
The talks may help ease social tensions a month after a crackdown by security forces on anti-government protesters left at least 17 people dead. They also offer an opportunity to find ways of addressing economic upheaval that’s spawned the fastest price increases since a hyperinflationary spiral in 2008.
Officials from political parties represented in Zimbabwe’s parliament met in the southern city of Bulawayo last weekend, according to four people who attended the gathering. They declined to be identified because one of the conditions of the talks was that they aren’t discussed with the media.
Senior members of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance and the smaller Movement for Democratic Change-T were at the meeting, the people said. Also in attendance were members of the National Patriotic Front, a party formed by supporters of former President Robert Mugabe, who was forced to step down in November 2017 after almost four decades in power.
The parties tabled issues they want resolved, mapped out the outline of an agenda for future negotiations and set rules for keeping discussions respectful, the people said. The more outspoken members of the two main parties — Zanu-PF and the MDC Alliance — weren’t at the talks, they said.
The MDC has been at odds with Zanu-PF since a disputed election in July returned Mnangagwa to office, eight months after he succeeded Mugabe.
The MDC, which has said it doesn’t recognize Mnangagwa as the nation’s legitimate ruler, has previously demanded an outside mediator be appointed before it agrees to any talks to resolve its differences with the ruling party. Mnangagwa said last month he wouldn’t talk to anyone who doesn’t recognize his presidency.
The Feb. 16 talks were facilitated by the Zimbabwe Institute, a Harare-based organization that fosters dialogue between political parties, government, business and non-governmental organizations, the people said. The institute didn’t answer calls seeking comment.
The four parties agreed to exclude political bodies not represented in Zimbabwe’s parliament, in contrast to Mnangagwa’s attempt to kickstart dialogue on Feb. 6, when he invited the heads of more than 20 political parties. Those talks, which had no agenda, were boycotted by MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa.
Substantial time was given to setting rules for civility and probity, mainly because the political atmosphere is polarized, the officials said. Organizers were keen to avoid talks breaking down in acrimony. The MDC Alliance had five senior officials and lawmakers at the Bulawayo meeting, while at least three Zanu-PF officials were present.
No date was set for follow-up talks, though all four parties agreed to meet again. Among the issues to be debated will be:
- That the MDC Alliance recognize Mnangagwa as Zimbabwe’s president
- A return to the rule of law
- The confinement of troops to barracks
- Economic measures to resuscitate the economy