Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, centre, briefs journalists after meeting President Jacob Zuma in Harare this week. Zuma was on a working visit to hold talks with Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on the progress made on the implementation of the Global Political Agreement. Picture: AP

Peta Thornycroft

Independent Foreign Service

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma had a “rough” meeting with Zimbabwe’s leaders in Harare on Wednesday night as he tried to persuade them to agree on a draft constitution so he could report some success to a regional summit in Maputo today.

Though Zuma, the official regional mediator in Zimbabwe, acknowledged only “minor hitches” in his talks, others close to the negotiations said the meeting was much harder.

Negotiators from all three parties in Zimbabwe’s unity government finally agreed a few weeks ago, after many months of hard bargaining, on a draft constitution which will be the foundation of new elections. It is already the product of difficult compromises by all three parties, none of which likes it very much.

Zuma was hoping to take this document to the Southern African Development Community which is supervising the Zimbabwe negotiations. But when he got to Harare, he and his team were told by Zanu-PF: “We didn’t actually sign it off, we just initialled it.”

As the meeting with Zuma wrapped up, sources said Mugabe told him: “We are now at a stage where principals have been served with the draft constitution and each party at the level of the principals is now considering the draft.”

But Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Industry Minister Welshman Ncube, the leaders of the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), factions both told Zuma they had already endorsed the draft.

This was while the pro-Zanu-PF Herald newspapers said Zanu-PF had considered the draft and “effected amendments”.

In fact, Zanu-PF has no power to effect amendments on its own as it can only do so after further negotiations supervised by the multiparty parliamentary committee which negotiated the constitution.

Zanu-PF militants have made it clear that they do not agree with several clauses in the draft, especially the lessening of powers of the president.

Zanu-PF’s objections to the draft constitution present Zuma with a dilemma at today’s SADC summit: should he insist that Mugabe accept the document and risk a confrontation, or appease him and open up a whole new phase of the already protracted negotiations?

Brian Raftopoulos, a veteran Zimbabwe analyst from the Solidarity Peace Trust, said Zuma and the SADC should and could put their foot down. “SA has enough diplomatic support within SADC to say to the spoilers [Zanu-PF]: ‘Enough is enough, we have come with you this far, we guaranteed this agreement, we have seen the “vagueries” and blockages put in the way, and the heart of it is now [settled] by the constitutional reform process.’

“It is up to SADC to take a unified position and insist this process moves forward and is signed up to by all the parties.

“SADC’s credibility is at stake. They have set out guidelines, given it a lot of time and from the beginning bent over backwards to accommodate Mugabe. SADC must take a strong position as this draft is the production of a long-term relationship.”

Raftopoulos said if Mugabe walked away from the SADC, dissolved parliament and unilaterally ended the inclusive government, as many feared he might, “this will be a real problem for Africa to decide what to do”.

But some observers fear that Mugabe and Zanu-PF may be feeling strong enough to defy Zuma and the SADC as Zimbabwe is not as broke as it was in 2008 when Mugabe agreed to enter into a unity government with the two MDCs after they had beaten Zanu-PF in elections. Then schools were closed, shops were empty and hyper-inflation had wiped out the Zimbabwe dollar.

Now Zimbabwe uses the US dollar and the SA rand, and there is a degree of stability. Ironically, the MDC cabinet ministers, in particular, have delivered a better-controlled finance ministry, and the return of children to schools and staff to hospitals. In addition, the top clique in Zanu-PF has benefited from illicit revenues from diamonds mined in eastern Zimbabwe.