BITTER political rivals, President Emmerson Mnangagwa and MDC’s Nelson Chamisa, again failed to meet face to face at a strategic national dialogue meeting convened by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches in Harare yesterday as the two leaders adopted hardline positions to talks.

Zimbabwe churches are seeking to broker talks between Mnangagwa and the MDC leader which would lay the basis for the recovery of an economy struggling from shortages of cash, fuel, medicine and some basic commodities including bread.

Disputed elections last year deepened the economic malaise, while a security crackdown on post-election protests in August and another ruthless suppression of demonstrations against fuel price increases of 150% last month drew comparisons with the dark days of former President Robert Mugabe’s regime.

Mnangagwa skipped yesterday’s prayer meeting after initially indicating that he would attend. He was instead represented by Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri.

Chamisa, who snubbed a meeting called by Mnangagwa at State House on Wednesday to discuss an agenda for talks aimed at tackling Zimbabwe’s crisis, attended and told the gathering that any talks without the MDC Alliance, would not solve the political crisis, which he said was at the centre of the current economic meltdown.

“I can assure you that there can be dialogue by any other party, but that dialogue will not resolve our issues because it’s a matter of what is the dispute. The dispute is a matter of the electoral result that was disputed. That electoral result that was disputed was not disputed by some of the political parties that are in agreement with President Mnangagwa. I disagreed with President Mnangagwa,” Chamisa said.

He told church leaders that he snubbed Wednesday’s talks because the convenor was not independent.

“Some would say, but Chamisa why didn’t you go to State House yesterday (Wednesday)? For a good reason, if we have to dialogue, we need an independent, respected and credible mediator between us. The church in this case is an appropriate convener,” Chamisa said to applause.

The MDC has maintained that unity and political stability will not be resolved unless the issue of Mnangagwa’s legitimacy is resolved. Chamisa’s dispute of the July 30 2018 electoral results has been backed by the European Union and Commonwealth elections observer reports which said the results were not traceable or verifiable.

“It should not be difficult for me to sit and meet with President Mnangagwa, and I am saying President not because our dispute has been resolved. He is president of his organisation, I am president of my organisation, so until that issue is resolved it becomes difficult for us to move things forward,” Chamisa said.

“I would have wanted him to be here. I have been ready yesterday, last year, I am ready today, tomorrow, the next hour if there is a room even at this hotel to meet with President Mnangagwa to resolve the issues affecting the people of Zimbabwe, because any minute longer is a life wasted, it’s time wasted.”

He added: “The bishops have acknowledged the source of the problem. The fundamental problem is that we need healing, we need peace, we need unity. We need to have a coming together of people and for that to happen, there has to be President Mnangagwa and myself.”

Mnangagwa, who was supposed to attend the prayer meeting, was represented by Muchinguri, who delivered a speech on his behalf.

The Zanu PF leader did not acknowledge the role of the church in leading the dialogue, but instead said the church should pray for peace and leadership in the country. Mnangagwa, in his speech, said the turbulence “was only temporary”.

“Therefore, the starting point and exception is that we must love ourselves, and our God-given country as a united people with a common destiny, government further perceives the church as the light that never wants, that guides our nation towards hope, optimism and a positive expectation,” he said.

Both Mnangagwa and Chamisa quoted from the same scripture as they concluded their speeches, calling on each other to repent from their wickedness.

“The healing of our nation rests in the prayers and supplications of the church for 2 Chronicles 2 verse 14 says: ‘if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land’,” Mnangagwa’s speech read.

Speaking after the meeting, Information deputy minister Energy Mutodi said Zanu PF and Mnangagwa did not need the current talks because they won the elections, but had only convened dialogue at the behest of Chamisa and his party.

“We don’t need that dialogue, we have not called for that dialogue in the first place, the opposition MDC is the one that has been petitioning the President to call all political parties for dialogue and this is the call that the President has replied,” he said.

Zion Christian Church leader Nehemiah Mutendi called on Chamisa and Mnangagwa to put aside their egos and put the nation forward.

He said they should take a leaf from Mugabe and the late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai who despite massive differences met and found a solution following a disputed 2008 poll, culminating in the formation of a unity government.

Meanwhile, political leaders who attended Wednesday’s meeting of presidential candidates who ran in the July 30 harmonised elections last year reportedly left the preparatory meeting more confused than they arrived with no binding decisions having been made.

Political leaders including Daniel Shumba, Divine Mhambi Hove of National Alliance of Patriotic and Democratic Republicans said the meeting was a shambles, did not have an agenda and left more questions unanswered and with a way forward generally unclear.

Shumba, a former Mnangagwa close ally and ex-Zanu PF parliamentarian, had no kind words for the meeting, saying he had no confidence in what had appeared to be a door into closing political instability in the country.

“A disappointingly unstructured discussion, which had no agenda nor outline. The moderator, Retired Justice Selo Nare (National Healing and Reconciliation Commission chairperson) was out of his depth as he failed to grasp issues and was not in control,” Shumba said.

“I have never seen so many cheerleaders with the exception of Nkosana Moyo, Noah Manyika and myself who spoke to the issues well, the issues which include human rights violations, the role of the military in civilian life and the electoral process. In short, I have no confidence in the process.”

Hove said the meeting was a platform for opposition leaders who cheered on the government with the exception of Shumba and Moyo.

“I must say Thokozani Khupe, Lovemore Madhuku were the first speakers on the panel and they came in with a tone of really forging forward with dialogue,” he said.

“Then came Shumba with strong words, talking about dissatisfaction and how people had to be genuine if talks are to work and how the army is ravaging the community.”

In the back and forth that characterised the meeting, Hove said there was agreement for need to dialogue, but the objectives and targets of what needed to be discussed remained elusive.

Build Zimbabwe Alliance leader Noah Manyika said the meeting was successful only in the sense that he was able to tell Mnangagwa directly what he thinks.

Mutodi said the talks were mainly to discuss the economic fortunes of the country, how sanctions can be dealt with and how Zimbabwe can get back on its feet.

He added that the Zanu PF government will not tolerate any talks about the legitimacy of Mnangagwa’s victory nor would they seek to revisit an issue closed by the ruling of the Constitutional Court.

“We are not going to have negotiations to determine the outcome of the elections. We are not going to have negotiations to determine who is legitimate and who is not legitimate, the issue of legitimacy has been solved by the people through the ballot,” he said. newsday