Zimbabwe’s political parties, outside of the coalition government, have come together to lobby for a greater role under the title of The Common Interests Platform. GREG NICOLSON met the group’s chairman.
Waiting in the car park of Phumulani Mall, Tembisa, Robert Matenga asks if we can sit down. He sits on a concrete block where cars rest their front tyres, facing a row of shacks. In a bone-coloured jacket, button up shirt, jeans and worn trainers, he explains the Common Interests Platform.
Matenga is the international relations head of Zimbabwe’s MDC-99 party. It is one of four minor parties pushing for a greater role in the country’s transition.
The government of national unity comprises Zanu-PF, MDC-T and MDC-M. Matenga, chairman of the Common Interests Platform, says smaller parties must be included if Zimbabwe is to avoid a repeat of the violent 2008 elections.
Those smaller parties are Zapu, the MDC-99, the Democratic Party and Zanu-Ndonga. They announced the joint initiative last month to lobby South Africa, the SADC’s chief facilitator in the Zimbabwean crisis.
After its inaugural meeting, “The Platform” indicated its concern that the government wouldn’t be able to curtail the intimidation tactics that had marred past elections.
The Platform made three demands: to be included in the roadmap towards elections, an audience with President Zuma, and inclusion in the Joint Implementation and Monitoring Committee (Jomic).
Matenga explained that if a member of Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC was abused or politically intimidated, they had the option of going to Jomic for some sort of intervention. But when members of smaller parties were abused, they had no recourse.
The minor parties appear to be banking on an audience with Zuma. “We are not going to accept a roadmap shoved down our throats without our inclusiveness, and we have put in place mechanisms to gain audience with Zuma,” said MDC-99 leader Job Sikhala.
In January, Sikhala declared that he would take the fight to President Mugabe through mass demonstrations. But he’s been in and out of jail, explains Matenga, once for announcing he’s prepared to take up arms.
The various charges have been dropped and the MDC-99 leader is back in the difficult position of trying to influence politics from the sidelines.
“We consulted the GNU principals, and with their misguided ‘big brother’ mentality, they refused to engage us in open discussion to address our grievances. So we have formed a common platform against them,” said Sikhala.
“We want to be allowed to put across our views. Failure to do so will result in us taking appropriate measures to gain audience with Zuma… We are going to storm the meeting where Jacob Zuma would be meeting the three principals in the inclusive government,” he added. “We are going to have our own convoy of cars and demand an audience with the facilitator to the Zimbabwean crisis.” Zuma may be in Harare after he attends the African Union summit in two weeks.
Lindiwe Zulu, Zuma’s international relations adviser, said SA had decided to expand its relations with Zimbabwe’s three principal parties, but also the smaller groups, in order to gain a broader understanding of the interests of Zimbabweans.
But she wasn’t confident The Platform’s demands could be met. She pointed out that only Zanu PF and two of the MDC parties were signatories to the global political agreement.
“It will be very difficult to start involving others (in the election roadmap and Jomic) because you must change the framework,” said Zulu. She welcomed the voice of the smaller parties, but said they should put their faith in the African Union and SADC.
She was doubtful the parties would get an audience with Zuma. “I’m not sure if they can at the moment. The president is open to discussions with whomever, but he really would like to focus on the three political parties. He has to focus on implementing the Global Political Agreement... The ones who have a mandate.”
Back in Tembisa, Matenga says only three political parties cannot design free and fair elections and a new constitution. He points out that the Convention for a Democratic South Africa included a broad range of organisations.
But the parties outside government face a difficult time having their voices heard. They don’t receive funding under the Political Parties Financing Act and, to add insult to injury, the MDC-99’s car was stolen in Johannesburg during their January visit.
Matenga is in South Africa to raise money for his party. He hopes SA’s equivalents will offer their support. But with SADC having recommended elections be held by June 2013 and Zuma unlikely to push for wider inclusion of political parties in the transformation process, Matenga’s group is likely to remain on the sidelines.
So far, the two MDC parties in government haven’t seemed to push for wider inclusion. But their reluctance might be fatal ahead of their upcoming clash with Zanu-PF. DM
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Photo: Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe (R) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai attend a joint meeting of senior members of their respective parties to discuss political violence in Harare. (REUTERS)