PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa’s cautious intervention in the current Zimbabwean crisis has got off to a rocky start, with the opposition warning yesterday that they will not be railroaded to accept any deals that they disagree with, as had happened a decade ago when the country’s unity government was put in place.
This comes after Ramaphosa announced on Thursday that he had appointed former South African vice president and Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete, as well as former cabinet minister Sydney Mufamadi as his special envoys to Harare – “to identify possible ways in which South Africa can assist Zimbabwe”.
It also comes as well-placed sources in South Africa have told the Daily News On Sunday that Ramaphosa’s surprise move followed preliminary talks within his government and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) about how Pretoria can encourage national dialogue among Zimbabweans – including between Zanu-PF and some of its self-exiled former officials.
After Ramaphosa’s announcement, Zanu-PF and the opposition welcomed the move cautiously – with both seeking to ensure that the intervention would work in their interests.
Yesterday, the opposition said they expected that any dialogue that could take place as a result of South Africa’s intervention would lead to comprehensive political and economic reforms – including sweeping changes in the country’s security sector.
Tough-talking MDC Alliance vice president, Tendai Biti, also said they would not make the same mistakes that they made in 2008 when the MDC was forced into an uneasy coalition government with Zanu-PF, having won the hotly-disputed elections of that year.
“We now look forward to the agenda and the mandate of the team. We know Mufamadi very well from the time we negotiated the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in 2008.
“We are curious to know their mandate and how that will interconnect with Sadc and AU (African Union), because any mediation outside the two will be difficult because we need impartiality.
“We have not been formally approached, but we know it is the people of Zimbabwe who have made Ramaphosa to act.
“So, we cannot be ignored. Zimbabweans cannot be ignored,” Biti told South African television channel eNCA.
“In 2008 we negotiated a very difficult agreement, the GPA, which focused on stability more than democracy – doing a disservice to the agenda of democracy. It skirted the issue around security sector reforms.
“This time around, anyone who wants to be involved with Zimbabwe must understand that the problems are structural and that they cannot be white-washed,” he said further.
“Mufamadi must know that the task ahead is huge because Zimbabweans are not going to take anything short of respecting their will.
“So we emphasise democracy over stability because the former is the guarantor of the latter,” Biti added.
This comes as political analysts and the Church have also put doubts on the latest mission by Ramaphosa, to try and finally end Zimbabwe’s worsening crises.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure is among the analysts who have warned that Ramaphosa’s mediation effort is likely to fail because the government does not accept that there is a problem in the country.
“Ramaphosa holds an important position as AU chairperson, and he has thus been forced by circumstances to act.
“He cannot afford to fold his arms when a neighbour is burning … this is also an indication that the continent has heard the cries of Zimbabweans and there is an appetite to act.
“However, the fact that the Zimbabwean leadership does not agree that there is a crisis makes it difficult for him.
“How does he proceed when their interpretation of the problem is running parallel?” Masunungure told the Daily News on Sunday’s sister paper, the Daily News, on Friday.
“The envoys will gather data from all stakeholders and what they will get in terms of the interpretation of the problem will most likely be contradictory and conflicting.
“They will compile their report and it will be up to Ramaphosa to say if there is a crisis worth mediation or not. But how to proceed will be a difficult task for him given that Mnangagwa’s government thinks the crisis is being concocted by the opposition,” he added.
Another analyst, Admire Mare, also said while the appointment of the envoys was a step in the right direction, there was nothing to suggest that Mnangagwa’s administration was ready to reform.
“We hope they will adopt a root and branch approach rather than deal with the symptoms of the crisis.
“Unfortunately, Ramaphosa has little options to turn to. So, he will go with the mediation route. But it’s not clear whether all the parties will do so in good faith or just for the sake of buying time because the situation is very dicey at the moment,” he said.
Similarly, churches have also warned that mediation efforts would not necessarily resolve the country’s socio-economic and political problems if Zimbabweans did not take the government to task and speak with one voice.
The secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), Kenneth Mtata, said the solution to the country’s long-standing problems could only come from Zimbabweans.
“It is commendable that President Ramaphosa has taken interest to respond to the situation in Zimbabwe. But South Africa can only do so much.
“We as Zimbabweans must shape our destiny together. Even if we get an envoy from heaven, if we are unrepentant, the envoy will go back empty handed,” he said.
The ZCC had also argued in the past that international mediation will not yield tangible results, calling for internal dialogue.
“What we are advocating for is a consensus model which can happen at the grassroots level, where there is an enlightened citizenry, at civil society level where we have churches, the media and different organised actors participating in agenda setting and the third level where political actors provide a consensus which allows for collaboration,” Mtata said.
All this comes as the government has been accused of launching a brutal crackdown against the organisers of last month’s flopped mass protests.
Rights groups have said dozens of opposition figures and activists have been tortured and assaulted in a retributive exercise by suspected security agents.
On its part, the government has refuted the allegations – claiming instead that the opposition is allegedly working with foreigners to destabilise the country>chaosafrica