Power-Sharing in Zimbabwe

By Nontando Hadebe 8-12-2008

It is Tuesday, August 12, and the leaders of the political parties are still locked in talks of power sharing -- it was expected that a deal would be struck on Sunday, but to no avail, so the talks continue. Most of us are still digesting and coming to terms with the content of the proposed new deal -- some parts are hard to swallow, but I think the model of power-sharing being used by chief mediator Thabo Mbeki is modeled on the South African experience.

If you can recall, to avert violence and bring peace the African National Congress (ANC) had to compromise with the National Party. So F.W. de Klerk was made vice president and the national anthem of the National Party was incorporated into the ANC anthem. There was realism that as much as the ANC wanted absolute power, they could not wish away the NP. Power-sharing and compromise was the best option. The agreement had its flaws, but the good far outweighed the weaknesses. The question now is whether the same will happen in Zimbabwe. There are similar parallels -- Mugabe and ZANU-PF are a formidable force that cannot be wished away and have support, so it seems necessary for the sake of progress to move forward. It will be imperfect with many flaws, but it's a starting point. In a few years, Zimbabweans will vote for the government they want, as has happened in South Africa.

The point is whether the South African experience will prove effective for Zimbabwe. There are no guarantees, but there does not seem to be other alternatives that will shift Zimbabwe to a new era of peace, democracy, and freedom. It's a gamble based on a good practice, but is it best for Zimbabwe? We don't know!

Interestingly, the government has also expressed commitment to the process until a solution is found that works for both parties for the benefit of Zimbabweans. The key issue is said to be real power-sharing and the future role of Mugabe in the government of national unity. Another historical event may be playing a key role in the delay in talks. Around 1987, a government of national unity was formed between ZANU-PF and an opposition party called ZAPU. The opposition leader was given the office of second vice president, which he accepted. In reality, it was a ceremonial position with no power -- the opposition party was swallowed up and rendered powerless. This piece of history is a sober reminder of the way in which the government understands "power-sharing."

Fortunately history has lessons for the future, of which the opposition is probably keenly aware. It was reported that after the talks on Sunday, one of the key negotiators for the opposition party said: "Please pray."

Nontando Hadebe, a former Sojourners intern, is originally from Zimbabwe and is now pursuing graduate studies in theology in South Africa.

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