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Unity Govt Or Not, People Must Mobilise

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Stanley Kwenda interviews Joy Mabenge. This interview was originally published here

Following an extraordinary Summit of SADC heads of state in Pretoria on Jan. 26-27, it was announced that a unity government is to be formed in Zimbabwe, apparently resolving months of disagreement following a power-sharing agreement in September 2008. That agreement, signed by Robert Mugabe of the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Arthur Mutambara, leader of a smaller breakaway faction of the MDC, ran into immediate difficulties due to differences over how government posts should be distributed. Despite the SADC announcement, the MDC says that it will only make a final decision about joining a unity government after a high-level party meeting in Harare on Jan. 30.

Joy Mabenge is an Associate Fellow at the Johannesburg-based Institute for an Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe (IDAZIM), a think tank centred around the development of policy and democratic issues as well as the writing of development papers on the political transitition in Zimbabwe.

Mabenge spoke to IPS in his personal capacity.

IPS: SADC has announced that the two parties have agreed to form a new government, but MDC is insisting they are yet to make a decision . . . what should be the way forward?

Joy Mabenge: There seems to be no consensus, but if MDC gets into the unity government, they need to ensure that the monitoring mechanism is put to full use and strongly push for the resolution of their other concessions. Or they should just declare that the talks are over and come up with a Plan B.

What should this Plan B look like, in your view?

MDC will have to mobilise people to go against president Mugabe’s government, because obviously – with or without the MDC – he will move to form a government now.

What should be the response of civil society organisations, which have for a long time been involved in lobbying for the establishment of a fairly representative government? How should they move forward?

The original standpoint of the civic groups was the establishment of a transitional authority headed by a neutral person. They should revert to that position and push for pro-people concessions under this transitional authority. such as the establishment of a new people-driven constitution which will lead to an internationally-supervised election – ensuring that the bloodshed witnessed in June last year do not happen again. But if MDC gets into the new government, then it is the duty of the civic groups to make sure that the MDC doesn’t relax and end up being absorbed by Zanu-PF.

At the moment it appears the MDC may get into the government with a heavy heart. What sort of international support is needed to make sure that this experiment works for the better of ordinary Zimbabweans?

Its a tricky one. It will heavily depend on how international donors perceive the SADC proposal, since they have previously stated that they will not give support to an establishment where Mugabe retains all the significant power. I foresee inaction for the first six months of the implementation of the government, a sort of a wait-and-see depending on how Mugabe chooses to treat the MDC as partners in government.

SADC appears to view a unity government as the solution to Zimbabwe’s problems. Are there any alternative courses of action for the democratic movements in Zimbabwe?

In the event that MDC decide not to go into the government, then civil society organisations should continue what they have been doing, organising street protests, through Women of Zimbabwe Arise and National Constitutional Assembly’s (NCA) for example. They should coordinate and sustain civil disobidience, urging people to withdraw their loyalty to a Mugabe led government. There is a fertile ground for that, with all the long strikes in the education and health sectors. The key this time is to simply work out a plan to sustain these actions until the government is pressurised out of power.

Joy Mabenge’s views in this article are entirely his own, and do not necessarily reflect the those of the Institute for an Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe

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