South African-mediated crisis talks between Zimbabwe's opposition and ruling party were deadlocked Monday over whether the country should put a new constitution in place before the next elections and whether those elections can be held in March as President Robert Mugabe insists they must, sources close to the talks said.
Both sides were looking to South African President Thabo Mbeki, named mediator in the talks in March by the Southern African Development Community, to help unblock the political logjam. But Pretoria sources said Mr. Mbeki was fighting for survival in his ruling African National Congress party against a challenge by Jacob Zuma.
Opposition sources said that after two weeks of deliberations negotiators had failed to agree the constitutional issue and a date for the next elections. They charged that the ruling ZANU-PF party reneged on an earlier agreement to put a new constitution in place before the next elections, this in exchange for opposition backing for the constitutional amendment passed in September over strong civic opposition.
ZANU-PF insiders said that undertaking was made in hopes that the talks would end in August leaving enough time to take the constitution to parliament and to the people. Those sources said the ruling party was adamant about not postponing the elections beyond March, thus there was not enough time to implement a new constitution.
Researcher Chris Maroleng of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria told reporter Blessing Zulu that ZANU-PF is unlikely to change its position.
Though the negotiations appear to have hit the wall, they have resulted in legislation to amend the much-maligned Public Order and Security Act and the equally detested Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, both considered impediments to free and fair elections by restricting assembly and hampering the free press.
Sources said the amendments would be tabled in parliament this week.
But some Zimbabwean civil society organizations have not welcomed the amendments with open arms, saying that instead of being amended, POSA and AIPPA, as the two repressive laws are known, should be done away with entirely – repealed.
Crisis In Zimbabwe Coalition Coordinator Jacob Mafume said the amendments were “cosmetic” and had not benefited from any input from civic stakeholders.
Under the amended security act, organizers of public meetings will be able to appeal meetings bans to local magistrates courts rather than the home affairs minister. Police will be obliged to engage in a dialogue with those proposing to hold meetings.
The Broadcasting Services Act amendments will change the composition of the ruling board to include three members named by the president from a list of six nominees submitted by the parliamentary committee on standing rules and orders
Mafume told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that broad consultation is needed to produce legislation appropriate for a democratic society.
Program Officer Itai Zimunya of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa called the amendments “deceptive,” saying the ruling party has offered them to deceive the Southern African Development Community and the international community.
The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists attacked the amendments, saying there was no consultation although the acts directly concern the work of journalists.
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists Secretary General Foster Dongozi said that although journalists know at this stage they cannot do anything to halt the amendments they will meet with the opposition and the ruling party to express their views.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...