Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mbeki slugs Mad Bob

There's a heading you thought you'd never see.

Finally, FINALLY, if the reports are true, Mpeki has told Mad Bob what he should have said years ago and saved thousands of lives.

This does not absolve Mpeki and he is only being forced into this situation because of world pressure but we should be thankful for small miracles if this shunting by Mpeki bears fruit and brings the misery to an end for the brave Zimbabwean people.

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The president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, has been warned by Thabo Mbeki, the South African president, that he faces prosecution for the crimes he has committed during his 28 years in office unless he signs a deal to give up all effective power.

Mbeki, who has done all he can to shield and support Mugabe for the past eight years, has come under overwhelming western pressure and has had to tell Mugabe that he could no longer protect him and his key cronies from being charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The power-sharing talks between Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) are shrouded in secrecy.

But The Sunday Times has learnt that Mugabe, who has vowed that Tsvangirai will never be in government and that “only God can remove me from power”, faces humiliation over the terms of the deal that he will be forced to sign next month.

He will remain as president in name only and all real power will be held by a 20-member cabinet under Tsvangirai as prime minister. The opposition MDC will have 11 cabinet posts to nine for Mugabe’s Zanu-PF.

All Mugabe’s senior officials in the army, police and intelligence services, who have unleashed a campaign of terror since the MDC won a disputed victory in the elections held in March, will be dismissed.

Observers caution, however, that bringing Mugabe to justice could be protracted since Zimbabwe does not recognise the jurisdiction of the ICC. Any investigation would require a referral from the United Nations security council, which would probably be blocked by China or Russia.

The transitional government will have close ties to a group of western donor nations known as the Fishmongers Group, set up a year ago on Britain’s initiative. It includes the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Sweden, Holland, Norway, Canada and Australia. China declined an invitation to join.

The decisive showdown came last week when Mugabe realised that his power was broken. On Monday Mbeki’s emissary, Sidney Mufamadi, a South African cabinet minister, arrived in Harare to read the riot act to Zanu-PF officials.

According to the officials who were present, he told them bluntly: “You don’t have a government. You can’t summon your parliament. You have no legitimate president and thus you can have no cabinet. You cannot behave as you have been doing. Real talks have to start right away.”

The Zanu-PF negotiators, still congratulating themselves on Mugabe’s spurious “victory” in last month’s stolen election, were taken aback.

Worse was to follow. Mbeki flew to Harare and said that Mugabe and Tsvangirai must meet to sign a memorandum of understanding committing themselves to serious negotiations and to share power. The talks, he insisted, must be concluded within two weeks and the two men must meet, shake hands and sign the memorandum.

Mugabe had never been willing to meet Tsvangirai, let alone shake his hand. According to leading Zanu-PF sources, he is frightened of going on trial for human rights crimes, particularly since an arrest warrant was issued against Omar Bashir, Sudan’s president, earlier this month.

Under Mbeki’s pressure Mugabe gave in. He agreed that Tsvangirai should come to State House, the president’s official residence. Tsvangirai refused to attend, saying that to do so would be to acknowledge Mugabe as the legitimate president of Zimbabwe: he would sign only on neutral ground.

Mugabe had to be persuaded to leave State House and was driven to Rainbow Towers, the former Sheraton hotel in central Harare, to sign the document and glumly shake hands with a triumphant Tsvangirai.

The power of the western donor nations has grown as the Zimbabwean economy has catapulted towards meltdown. Hyperinflation means that a newly introduced Z$100 billion note is not enough to buy a loaf of bread.

The latest harvest has been dismal, bread may soon run out and widespread famine is a threat. The World Food Programme estimates that by early next year 5.1m people could be facing starvation.

The Fishmongers Group, which is based in Holland, stands powerfully in the wings and in effect has a veto over the negotiations. Planning is already far advanced for a post-Mugabe future, with individual countries agreeing to focus their efforts on education, health and other sectors. A total of £2 billion has been pledged to date.

The transitional government will be obliged to follow edicts laid down by the group. They will insist that the new government gives full and equal access to food aid, plans a return to financial stability, restores the rule of law with an independent judiciary and respects property rights.

This will mean that the farms stolen by Mugabe and his cronies will either have to be restored to their owners or compensation will be paid.

The group will also insist that the government be committed to freedom of the press and hold fair elections within 18 months. The group will not release even a dollar to a government that includes anyone guilty either of gross corruption or human rights violations. Zanu-PF will be hard pushed to find nine ministers who qualify.

The new dispensation will bring to a halt the campaign of terror unleashed by Mugabe since he was defeated in the first round of the presidential elections in March. A diplomatic source said: “The toughest part of the negotiations is going to be the question of immunity from prosecution for Mugabe and, say, the top 20 members of the junta.”

Another diplomat said: “It’s ironic. Mbeki could and should have brought Mugabe to heel eight years ago. It would have saved a lot of lives.”

Professor Lawrence Schlemmer, South Africa’s leading social scientist, said that the deal would be of “epochal importance” to the whole southern African region: “The West could have just walked away from another African disaster. Instead, they are showing a huge commitment to democracy in this region.”

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