JOHANNESBURG – South Africa will actively campaign for
Zimbabwe’s reintegration into the international community once formal dialogue
between the government and opposition resumes in the neighbouring country.
Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad said this week that
there should be "no debate" about Zimbabwe’s re-admission into the Commonwealth
once talks are under way.
Zimbabwe’s one-year suspension from the Commonwealth – imposed
due to the flawed presidential elections – was extended to December following a
dispute between the group’s member states.
Many African nations, led by South Africa and Nigeria, opposed
the extension of penal measures, while countries such as Australia, New Zealand
and Britain have pushed for harsher action.
The decision to extend the suspension was taken after
Commonwealth secretary-general Don McKinnon canvassed the views of member states
and found that this was a "broadly held view".
South Africa sharply criticised the move. Commonwealth heads of
state will now decide on the issue when the group meets in December for its
Pahad said this week: "We are hoping for real movement in
Zimbabwe long before the Commonwealth meets."
The Commonwealth body should be assisting in the process of
reconciliation, not imposing penalties, Pahad said.
"We can’t continue to argue about Zimbabwe. It is best to
engage with the parties and assist with the dialogue. Punitive actions are
clearly not helping the situation," Pahad said.
While South Africa was "perpetually involved" in facilitating
the talks, it had not been asked to mediate or chair the dialogue between the
ruling Zanu PF and opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), he said.
"Our interest is not to get the limelight, but to get
progress," Pahad said.
The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), which meets
in Tanzania later this month, is also expected to rally behind Zimbabwe in
campaigning for its re-entry into the Commonwealth, and the easing of penalties
by Europe and the United States.
SADC officials said President Robert Mugabe would, however,
have to report "tangible progress" in the talks if his counterparts in Dar es
Salaam were to throw their weight behind him.
Despite repeated denials by Zanu PF and the MDC that they were
engaged in direct talks, it emerged last week that the two parties have been
talking for several months.
Sources said talks had been in progress since May. The talks
were to clear disputed issues before an announcement of formal dialogue.
MDC delegation leader to the talks, Welshman Ncube, and his
Zanu PF counterpart, Patrick Chinamasa, have held numerous meetings to discuss
the contested issues in last year’s agenda.
The talks stalled last year following the MDC’s court challenge
of the election results.
Issues in contention include confidence-building measures;
Mugabe’s legitimacy; political violence; constitutional changes; and the
The two parties want to build sufficient confidence in the
process of dialogue before talks restart. This is to prevent a collapse once
Progress has apparently been made in the removal of some
Both parties have reached consensus on the issue of Mugabe’s
re-election. The MDC has agreed to suspend its court petition challenging
Mugabe’s disputed election victory, once formal talks resume. And Zanu PF has
also agreed to the terms. The two parties have also agreed to deal with the
issues of political violence, legislative reforms, changing of electoral laws
and restoring civil and political liberties. Zanu PF and MDC delegates to the
negotiations are exploring ways of coming up with a new constitution. This is
seen as a short-cut to resolving the country’s crisis. If a new constitution is
agreed upon, it could lead to fresh elections. In this case, most of the
currently contested issues would be automatically addressed. Religious leaders
have also stepped up efforts to see formal dialogue resume as soon as possible.
On Friday, the MDC submitted its proposal on the agenda, and the way forward, to
the leader of the church mediators, Bishop Sebastian Bakare. The MDC document
contains issues such as the need to modify the electoral framework, the repeal
of repressive legislation, the de-politicisation of the security forces, the
disbanding of Zanu PF militias, the ending of political violence and the
assurance of non-partisan distribution of food. The document also deals with
economic issues, and proposes urgent measures to be taken to address the crisis.
Zanu PF is expected to submit its own report to the church leaders this week.
The clerics will formulate an integrated agenda, the terms for dialogue, and
time-frames before the talks begin in earnest. – Sunday Times