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Lindiwe Zulu, key in President Jacob Zuma’s Zimbabwe facilitation, said this week that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) parties had not used enough leverage during the long negotiations with President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF to try to level the political playing field before the July 31 presidential and parliamentary elections.
Mugabe and Zanu-PF trounced the MDCs in both elections which ended the uneasy unity government among the three parties that had governed Zimbabwe since February 2009.
But Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main MDC, alleged massive vote rigging and began a legal challenge to the results before aborting his challenge because he said the courts would not provide him the electoral material he needed to demonstrate rigging.
Zulu told the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper on the sidelines of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Lilongwe last week that the MDC negotiators had failed to pin down Zanu-PF to secure the implementation of necessary reforms.
“As facilitators, our duty was to bring the two warring teams to the negotiating table and each party had to push its own agenda,” she was quoted as saying.
“We could not advise the MDCs on what to do, the ball was in their court, because we were supposed to be impartial in our conduct of duty. There was a well-stipulated SADC-initiated roadmap to be followed to the letter until elections were held, but the MDC negotiators decided not to push for its implementation.”
Zulu became the effective spokeswoman of Zuma’s facilitation team because she was the only one who consistently and reliably briefed journalists about what was happening. She made it clear that the SADC would only allow elections to take place once all agreed reforms had been implemented.
This angered Mugabe who insulted Zulu by calling her “idiotic” and a “street woman” in a rally before the elections and asked Zuma to silence her. Zuma responded by implicitly rebuking Zulu, issuing a statement saying that many unauthorised and even inaccurate statements had been made about the facilitation and that in future only the official spokesman Mac Maharaj would speak on the issue.
Zulu told the Zimbabwe Independent she had fallen out of favour with Zanu-PF because she pushed hard for the implementation of the roadmap and reforms.
“We tried to push hard to level the playing field. That is when Mugabe felt I was doing more than the MDCs themselves,” she said.
The paper said it had been told by a senior SADC official that the MDC had allowed itself to be dominated by Zanu-PF in the talks.
“In those meetings we tried to make the MDCs talk, but they remained silent and allowed Zanu-PF’s chief negotiator Patrick Chinamasa to overshadow them,” said a senior SADC official privy to the negotiations.
“We could not say anything more because during negotiations we were supposed to remain neutral, but one could feel the MDCs were playing underdogs when they were the ones who had been previously short-changed.”
Mugabe apologised to Zulu at the Lilongwe summit. She told the Zimbabwe Independent she had not taken his attacks personally because “in our meetings, we used to communicate professionally and I knew he was just grandstanding when he attacked me”.
“I had to stop being in the media because we felt we could lose the plot by creating an impression that the whole issue was about me and not the people of Zimbabwe,” she said.
“So in order to keep our focus, I agreed to be restrained even if my president (Zuma) knew I had done nothing wrong.”
Zulu confirmed on Saturday that the Zimbabwe Independent had asked her in Lilongwe if she felt South Africa’s task in Zimbabwe was over. She had said yes.
“They asked me how I could say that when the final report of the SADC election observers was not yet out and when several issues in the GPA remained outstanding.”
The Global Political Agreement was signed by Zanu-PF and the two MDCs in September 2008, setting out the basic framework for the unity government and the negotiations for a road map to credible elections.
“I said we did the best we could to implement the GPA. But at the end of the day it was up to the Zimbabwean parties. Our task was to ensure a level playing field.”
But didn’t her statement to the Zimbabwe Independent say more than that, that the MDC parties had not negotiated hard enough, she was asked.
She said she had been asked a specific question about the MDCs and she had replied that if they lost it was because of what they did in the negotiations. “And of course they needed to do more. If I’m asked to respond to a question about that, that is what I have to say.”