Former president Thabo Mbeki. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Former president Thabo Mbeki. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

Harare — Former SA president Thabo Mbeki has brought fresh hopes of breaking the political crisis in Zimbabwe after he held separate talks with President Emmerson Mnangagwa and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa this week, and promised to return before the end of the year.

Chamisa’s popular opposition MDC, which narrowly lost elections in July 2018, has refused to recognise Mnangagwa as the country’s legitimate leader and has called for an outside mediator to help resolve its differences with the ruling party.

The differences between Mnangagwa and Chamisa have contributed to the country’s economic crisis as it is sharply divided along partisan lines, with institutions polarised and the international community not warming to Zanu-PF rule.  

Mbeki mediated in Zimbabwe’s post-election crisis in 2008 between former president Robert Mugabe and then-opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, which resulted in the formation of a five-year, power-sharing government. There is a general feeling among Zimbabweans that a power-sharing agreement could stabilise the country and allow the ailing economy to recover.

Close to half Zimbabwe’s population faces hunger as a result of drought while the country is also grappling with shortages of foreign currency, power and fuel, as well as annual inflation estimated at 440%, the second-highest in the world.

Mbeki arrived in Zimbabwe on Monday and left on Wednesday after marathon meetings with Mnangagwa, Chamisa, opposition parties, as well as churches and NGOs.

Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, Mbeki said he would be back in Harare before the end of the year for more talks.

“We have been talking to everybody, and everybody, of course, is interested to discuss the situation and I am interested too in the situation here, just to understand what has been happening and to say, very basically, that we support the efforts of the Zimbabweans to address their fundamental challenges,” he said.

“Whatever the challenges are, [it is important] that everybody gets together, so we have been listening to everybody and ... will come back later [in December] to finalise that.” 

Warming to Chamisa

Mnangagwa and Chamisa have not met since the 2018 election, but state media on Thursday reported that, after Mbeki’s visit, the opposition leader appointed a team of negotiators led by his vice-president Tendai Biti to hold talks with Zanu-PF.

Addressing a crowd in the eastern town of Mutare, Mnangagwa appeared to warm to Chamisa saying, “To Nelson Chamisa, I want to say you have a crucial role to play in Zimbabwe’s present and unfolding future.”

Commenting on his official Twitter account, Chamisa said Zimbabwe’s political impasse cannot continue.

“We want dialogue that is meaningful, where the political will to change for the benefit of Zimbabweans outweighs political expediency. Dialogue must deliver true change and real reforms. When we shake hands, let us be agreeing to truly walk in the same direction, a new direction,” he tweeted.

Previous mediation between the two failed after Mnangagwa demanded that Chamisa first accept him as president of the country, a demand rejected by the youthful opposition leader, who wants the legitimacy issue to be on the agenda.

Chamisa has also snubbed the political dialogue platform initiated by Mnangagwa, demanding a neutral, international mediator.

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