The government is likely to announce some amendments to the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) by the beginning of next month so that President Robert Mugabe can take a “trophy” to the European Union- African Caribbean and Pacific countries summit in Lisbon that his government is transforming.
This was the feeling of Gorden Moyo, executive director of Bulawayo Agenda, a civic society organisation that promotes dialogue within the country. Moyo said the government and both factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change(MDC) had already agreed to changes to POSA, AIPPA and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) as part of the ongoing talks to find a lasting solution to the country’s political and economic crisis.
The talks are being mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki who has come under attack for his “quiet diplomacy” which critics say favours the ruling party and President Robert Mugabe’s government. The ruling party is represented in the talks by Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Labour Minister Nicholas Goche while the Morgan Tsvangirai faction of the MDC is led by its secretary general Tendai Biti.
The Arthur Mutambara faction is also represented by its secretary general Welshman Ncube who is widely seen as the leader of the faction. Moyo said he had been informed that the talks were centred on 10 points to be agreed on and so far the two parties had agreed on four and were discussing the fifth.
He said they had already agreed on Constitutional Amendment Number 18 which was approved unanimously by the three parties last month. They had also agreed to a new constitution, the electoral reforms and the amendment of POSA, AIPPA and the BSA. They were now discussing the issue of sanctions. The talks should have been concluded by the end of October to prepare for elections that should be held by next March.
Moyo said President Mugabe was likely to announce amendments to POSA, AIPPA and BSA before the EU-ACP summit to be held in Lisbon on 8-9 December because President Mugabe viewed the summit as a world stage where he can tell the world that his government is transforming. Several EU countries have threatened to boycott the summit if President Mugabe is allowed to attend. African countries have , on the other hand, insisted they will not attend the summit if Mugabe is barred.
“The amendments will not be about real change,” Moyo said. “ Mugabe wants to tell the world that there are African solutions to African problems. He wants to tell the world that he is transforming so that the international community can lift sanctions on Zimbabwe.”
“The danger is that the opposition and the people will be excited about the proposed changes but the changes will not shake the foundations of power of the executive. Mugabe will therefore have repealed oppressive laws without compromising the foundations of his power.
“A culture of fear has been engrained in the people over a number of years. He will still have traditional leaders, police and district administrators in place. The government can therefore allow the opposition and civic groups to hold meetings without seeking police permission but there will still be no go areas like Insiza, for example, because people will still be afraid of Andrew Langa.”
Moyo said the government could also allow new publications to be started, or even allow the Daily News to come back, but this will be left too late for it to have any influence on the elections. Already the government had appointed Chino Mararike to look at the Daily News licence application.
It might also allow private radio stations in areas where it feels it has already lost, like Matabeleland. “The whole thing is based on strategic deception. The government is prepared to bend a little but still hold on to the levers of power. You give in order to take. They give you one but they take 10.”
Moyo said ZANU-PF was the winner throughout. The talks were likely to produce a pact similar to the 1987 unity accord which saw ZANU-PF merging with ZAPU with ZANU-PF having an upper hand.
“For ZANU-PF an agreement will provide a soft landing for Mugabe. The opposition now appears to have been sucked in. They are also looking for a soft landing because they have realised that they have failed to unseat Mugabe. Now they are trying to find a way to work with him but without attracting the wrath of the people.”
Moyo said ZANU-PF was desperate to see the talks succeed because it realised that people had suffered enough. Any flicker of change would have a huge impact on the people. But the ruling party was not genuine in the talks because they were “singing halleluiah Hosanna with the opposition during the day, and ‘crucify them, crucify them’, during the night”, he said.