HARARE – A delegation from South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) on Wednesday held talks with top Zanu PF officials, aiming to break a political paralysis that has spawned a deep economic and human rights crisis in Zimbabwe.
True to earlier indications by Zanu PF’s secretary for administration Obert Mpofu, the delegation was denied permission to meet with any other groups or individuals who wanted to make submissions – the second time this has happened after three envoys sent by President Cyril Ramaphosa last month were forced to cancel meetings with the main opposition MDC Alliance.
Head of delegation Ace Magashule said they had received meeting requests from the MDC Alliance, civil society organisations, a union of journalists and the United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols.
“We have received some requests to meet other stakeholders from Zimbabwe like the opposition parties Simba Makoni (Mavambo/Kusile), the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu), Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, MDC Alliance, as well as United States ambassador to Zimbabwe,” Magashule said.
“But we felt that, together with Zanu PF, that indeed there is no problem meeting with the structures and therefore we are going to make arrangements to once more come back and meet with these organisations.”
Jacob Ngarivhume, an opposition leader recently incarcerated for 43 days after calling for anti-government protests, told the SABC on Wednesday night that he had been advised that the delegation would be returning at the end of September.
Diplomatic sources said the meeting on Wednesday was essentially to get Zanu PF to accept Ramaphosa’s attempts to mediate in the crisis. To save face, Zanu PF would maintain its hard-line stance of denying the opposition an audience with the ANC, which it would accede to down the line.
Following a meeting of the ANC’s National Executive Committee last week, Ramaphosa had expressed hope that the ANC delegation would not meet the same fate as his envoys. The ANC officials would engage Zimbabwe’s political rivals “with the intention to develop a fuller understanding of the situation in Zimbabwe and determine how the South African government and the ANC can assist.”
The delegation “must speak to all parties and stakeholders as well,” Ramaphosa had said.
South Africa plays host to millions of Zimbabwean economic refugees, and the ANC is increasingly facing domestic pressure to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe to ease pressure on jobs and social services.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa denies there is a crisis in Zimbabwe, and a communique issued at the end of the meeting said there was “consensus between the two parties to work together on addressing the challenge of fake news”; “consolidate the gains of the liberation struggle” and that “sanctions are one of the biggest problems for Zimbabwe.”
Speaking to reporters, Magashule said the two parties also committed themselves to “respect the right to freedom of association, right to free speech and all human rights in general.”
“We committed ourselves to listen to the views of others. We encourage interaction with others,” he added, suggesting the ANC had made inroads in nudging Zanu PF to accept that it has a human rights problem and that it must reach out to its rivals for an inclusive solution to the crisis.
Apart from Magashule, the ANC delegation included national chairman Gwede Mantashe, defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and NEC members Tony Yengeni, Lindiwe Zulu, and Enoch Godogwana.
Ramaphosa is shortly expected to send his envoys back to Harare. He indicated last week that “ANC and government processes must complement each other.”
Mnangagwa is coming under increasing pressure from a restive population angry over state brutality and an economic collapse that has seen inflation gallop past 800 percent while salaries have stagnated.
The 77-year-old leader has maintained that “there is no crisis” in Zimbabwe while accusing his political rivals of seeking his overthrow through unconstitutional means.
“I wish to unequivocally state that there is no crisis in Zimbabwe as elections were held in July 2018 and a winner was declared in terms of the country’s constitution,” he said last week in comments which appeared aimed at his main rival Nelson Chamisa, who does not recognise his declared victory insisting the election was rigged.
Mnangagwa’s disputed presidency has fuelled a political paralysis in the country as the 77-year-old Zanu PF leader seeks to assert his legitimacy while an economic crisis rages in the background.
Western diplomats recently expressed concern over the deteriorating political and economic crisis, and said the government should stop using the Covid-19 pandemic to curtail freedoms.
Dozens of Mnangagwa’s critics including journalists have been arrested, abducted and tortured or forced into hiding over the last two months accused of plots to oust the 77-year-old who came to power through a military coup in 2017.
The United Nations and the African Union have both issued statements urging Zimbabwean authorities to respect the freedoms of assembly, free speech and the media.