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Opinion Article:

Zimbabwe’s disputed elections cry out

for mediation


Barrister Paul Randolph , now a professional mediator for the Tutu Foundation UK charity and expert in the psychology of conflict, considers how a mediated political solution is so desperately needed in Zimbabwe.


Zimbabwe's main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, proposes to challenge the election results through the courts. This approach is futile, dangerous and positively counterproductive. The last thing Zimbabwe needs is a resolution imposed forcibly upon unwilling parties, particularly by a judge or judges almost certainly tainted by the old Zanu-PF party regime, and probably appointed by the Zimbabwe President himself.


The court is invited to decide the outcome of one of the most critical issues in the history of Zimbabwe. If Chamisa emerges the loser, he will have good grounds for further appeal, upon allegations of bias, collusion, dirty tricks, fraud and manipulation. If Mnangagwa wins in court he will feel doubly vindicated, gaining legal authority to underpin his legitimate mandate to govern.


What could a mediator do?


A professional mediator would first ensure that all relevant stakeholders are present or represented at the mediation.  He would encourage Zanu-PF and the MDC negotiators to concentrate their energies on looking to the future, rather than dwelling on historic grievances. Mediators enable opposing parties to ‘separate the problem from the people.’ This concentrates minds on seeing the problem as the joint enemy, rather than the individuals involved. In Zimbabwe’s case this is particularly pertinent: old injustices and resentments need to be cast aside, and a line drawn firmly under the past.


The Army


One factor that will render this mediation particularly difficult is addressing the needs of the Zimbabwe National Army, responsible for land-oriented military operations. With a total military personnel well in excess of 50,000, ZNF falls under the ultimate authority of the President of Zimbabwe and is directed by the Army Chief of Staff. Given the amount of power wielded by the Generals, their crucial role in ‘maintaining internal security’, and their potential to ‘meddle’ in any future administration, they will require exceptional, delicate and distinctive handling. Both sides are certain to stipulate pre-conditions and make stringent demands – and are unlikely to be ready to make generous concessions.  There are many past atrocities (massacres of civilians and similar reprehensible incidents) for which apologies, acknowledgments and reparations will be demanded, doubtless as pre-conditions before any mediation begins. These in turn are likely to be rejected immediately.


Public apologies are invariably difficult to extract from any party: mediators spend much time with the parties hammering out a subtle formula of wording that is acceptable to both sides, whilst circumventing complete humiliation or capitulation. Acknowledgments and reparations may also be offered in varied and subtle forms. If offered in return for reciprocal benefits, they can more readily be ‘sold’ to the followers. Such drafting issues are commonplace - ‘bread and butter’ - for experienced mediators!




It may be that some form of coalition or power sharing is the solution – in any event, it will involve a co-operative and collaborative approach, rather than anything confrontational, and certainly not a contentious, judge-imposed resolution. Mediation is an entirely flexible and informal process, and provides an ideal environment for finding common ground in the most intractable of disputes.


It is almost impossible to fathom the reasoning behind Chamisa’s decision to take the matter before the courts. Litigation can divide parties, leaving them bitterly hostile and in more deeply entrenched positions. Following litigation, this dispute will escalate into further violence on the streets, tribal armed conflict, and even civil war.


If the international community perceives that hope remains alive for a mediated peace settlement, direct inward international investment may start to flow, helping to develop businesses which are so vital to the country’s rehabilitation.


Mediation – not litigation - is needed now.


Paul Randolph


Paul can be reached at



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