Despite reports that the ruling and opposition parties in Zimbabwe were expected to issue a memorandum of understanding (MOU) Wednesday, that is not likely to happen.
The ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition MDC are trying to negotiate, following the recent disputed and controversial presidential run-off election. In the meantime, the United States and other countries are considering further sanctions against the government of President Robert Mugabe. The election has been widely criticized as being a sham.
VOA reporter Delia Robertson is following the story. From Johannesburg, she spoke with English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about why a memorandum of understanding would not be issued Wednesday.
"I think essentially because the MDC is still undecided about what it wants to be included in the MOU. I think it's also undecided about whether in fact it really wants an MOU or not and how that will affect its status in terms of talks," she says.
Currently, MDC members are discussing the issue. "The MDC has been meeting for a couple of days now and they continue in meetings today about the MOU and how to proceed from here. I think there's some disagreement within the MDC itself, particularly the Morgan Tsvangirai formation of the MDC, which is the largest formation of that party, about what the MOU should include; and also about who should be playing what role in negotiations. There may be some dissatisfaction with how they've been handled up till now by the (party's) secretary-general Tendai Biti," she says.
Since Mr. Mugabe claimed victory in the disputed runoff and was sworn in to a sixth term in office, what leverage does the MDC really have? Robertson says, "I think the leverage that they have is essentially that in order to be able to govern – because the MDC won the most votes in parliament and almost a majority in the senate – that the ruling party would need the MDC in order to proceed further. And also because Mr. Mugabe is very anxious that sanctions are not increased against him and senior people in his party. And so, in order to prevent that from happening he needs some sort of agreement."
The last time MDC and ZANU-PF officials met was last week in South Africa. "They met in preliminary talks to determine how the talks would proceed," she says.
South African President Thabo Mbeki had been appointed by SADC, the Southern African Development Community, to mediate Zimbabwe's political crisis. Many have criticized his quiet diplomacy for failing to bring political change.
"He (Mbeki) convened the talks last week. Those talks continue to be facilitated by senior members of his government. And it is my understanding that be popped in a few times to meet with the delegates. So, yes, indeed he continues to play a role. And in fact some of the objections expressed by Mr. Tsvangirai and others as a reason for delaying the signing of an MOU until a second mediator has been appointed to work along side of him may in fact be somewhat of a cover by the MDC to disguise it's own uncertainties within its own ranks," she says.Robertson says that the MDC would like a second mediator to come from the African Union (AU), thus expanding mediation efforts beyond SADC. "However, as we know, when the AU met they essentially handed the ball back to SADC and said SADC will continue with its efforts to resolve the situation in Zimbabwe, the crisis there," she says.