Church told to kick-start talks… as national dialogue ‘window of opportunity’ opens

Source: Church told to kick-start talks… as national dialogue ‘window of opportunity’ opens – DailyNews

Mugove Tafirenyika


WITH the momentum towards national dialogue continuing to gather speed, as Zimbabweans cry for an end to the country’s decades-long political and economic challenges, analysts have urged the Church to step in and kick-start the talks.

Speaking to the Daily News yesterday, the analysts also said they hoped that the ruling Zanu PF and MDC leaders were not currently speaking in forked tongues on the urgent need for the talks.

This comes as the leaders of the country’s two main political parties have said that they are willing to engage in national dialogue, in the interests of long-suffering Zimbabweans.

University of Zimbabwe political scientist, Eldred Masunungure, was among the anlaysts who told the Daily News yesterday that the Church needed to step in again to engage all key local stakeholders, as well as the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) to kick-start the talks.

“It is encouraging that the protagonists are showing signs of willingness to engage, so a combined effort of the Church and Sadc taking the lead in bringing the relevant parties to sit down should see us through as a country.

“The Church should initiate the talks because someone has to take the lead in shepherding the dialogue. They must approach the protagonists, as well as the Sadc region to set up the parameters for the talks, because on its own the Church may not have the necessary gravitas to tackle political organisations.

“We only hope that Zanu PF and the two MDCs are not speaking in forked tongues and have a genuine appetite for the talks,” Masunungure told the Daily News.

Stephen Chan, a professor of World Politics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, said the much-discussed talks could be set in motion by an ice-breaking meeting involving President Emmerson Mnangagwa, opposition leader Douglas Mwonzora and MDC Alliance president Nelson Chamisa on their own.

“Given conditions in Zimbabwe, dialogue is the only sensible way forward, but both MDC factions need to be involved and the dialogue needs to be transparent and even-handed.

“Having said that, formal talks might well be beneficially preceded by an informal meeting between the ‘Big Three’ — Mnangagwa, Chamisa and Mwonzora — something like a Kariba Houseboat meeting of the sort once brokered by South Africa.

“In short, an ‘ice-breaker’ sort of meeting is required. The very early talks to end Apartheid in South Africa were exactly of this sort of informal, ice-breaking and confidential nature,” Chan told the Daily News.

“No one says anything in public afterwards, except to announce that a formal process of dialogue will begin. And, yes, there is no reason why the Church should not act as hosts for a Kariba Houseboat Mark Two,” he added.

The Church, Chan said further, could take advantage of the recent efforts by Catholic Bishops who met with Mnangagwa and Chamisa over the issue, as well as the deteriorating economic situation in the country that has been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Another analyst, Admire Mare said the involvement of the Church would ensure that “a comprehensive national dialogue is brought to the table without any delay, so that the country can address all the challenges at play”.

“The Church, labour, civil society and student unions have a role to play in the dialogue. It must not be a political discussion because Zimbabwe is over and above politics.

“All stakeholders must be afforded the space and a neutral venue and mediator must be agreed upon,” Mare told the Daily News.

On his part, the leader of the Zimbabwe Devine Destiny, Bishop Ancelimo Magaya, said the recent developments which have seen hitherto political “enemies” becoming civil with each other provided fertile ground for dialogue.

“The fact that political parties are warming up to the idea that no transition can be achieved without dialogue is welcome.

“Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations has since last year been pushing for dialogue and has even met some of the political leaders, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

“While we have not been able to make headway in that direction, I can confidently say that the Church, given the latest indications, will be spurred into action and is going to take up the initiative through the ZHOCD. We are sure this will succeed as long as there is political will,” Magaya said.

“We emphasise that the talks must, however, not be limited to political players, but must include the people.

“We have had dialogues before involving Zanu and Zapu, MDC and Zanu PF which had their successes, but were short-lived because they did not involve the people … which is partly why we are here today,” he added.

All this comes after Zanu PF national political commissar Victor Matemadanda recently said he was open to the ruling party meeting leading opposition figures outside the Political Actors Dialogue (Polad), if that will help in the resolution of the national question.

Speaking to the Daily News On Sunday last week, Matemadanda said such necessary engagement may, however, need to be endorsed by current Polad participants for this critical dialogue to happen.

Matemadanda’s sentiments came after both Mwonzora and Chamisa had, crucially, said that they were willing to hold unconditional talks with Mnangagwa, in a bid to help move the country forward.

“I see that the opposition, particularly Mwonzora, is showing political maturity, and that is the right thing to do given that the MDC’s politics has been premised on polarisation.

“Any discussions can be done anywhere, but they do not become official unless they are done under an established platform, and in our case Polad.

“It doesn’t mean that they (such talks) cannot be done outside Polad. They can be done, but at the end of the day, an established forum will make them official,” Matemadanda told the Daily News On Sunday.

“It must be understood that the president came up with Polad knowing fully well that he had won the elections.

“But he felt strongly that other leaders who contested the elections had their own ideas of how to take the country forward, and that those ideas needed to be respected.

“They (the MDC) are not the only people who are interested in the affairs of this country. It is not about the people at the top of Zanu PF and the MDC alone, but also the lower echelons of the parties as well as other stakeholders.

“They are all a vital component in any dialogue that can be deemed national. While we may have the MDC by whatever prefix or suffix, they fall in the broader category of the nation, and so Polad should eventually be the platform for dialogue.

“Suppose we have outstanding issues in Polad, where we do not agree, such issues can be put to a vote and the MDC’s voice will be heard,” Matemadanda further told the Daily News on Sunday.

“We appreciate that Zanu PF and the MDC might be the biggest political parties, but it does not mean that they are more important than citizens, and so the question of discussion outside Polad, with due respect, is not important if we want to see each other as equal.

“I hope and trust that MDC leaders come to understand that. Imagine that some stakeholders even suggested an election sabbatical, if such a proposal were to be agreed between Zanu PF and the MDC; it will not be sustainable because some will cry foul and say they have been left out,” Matemadanda added.