S.Africa pressures Zimbabwe on unity deal

November 9, 2008 12:00 am

, JOHANNESBURG, November 9  – South African President Kgalema Motlanthe urged Zimbabwe’s political leaders to show "maturity" as they entered crunch talks on Sunday aimed at saving their troubled power-sharing deal.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai signed a unity accord on September 15, but disputes over which party will control the most powerful ministries now threatens to sink the deal.

The emergency summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is seen as a make-or-break effort to salvage the accord and end the turmoil that erupted after Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in presidential elections in March.

"The political leadership in Zimbabwe owe it to the people of Zimbabwe and the region to show political maturity," Motlanthe said at the opening of the summit in Johannesburg.

"The historic power-sharing agreement remains the only vehicle to help extricate Zimbabwe from her socio-economic challenges," Motlanthe said.

"It is however disappointing. It is two months since the signing of the agreement and parties have still been unable to conclude the discussions on the formation of an inclusive government," he added.

Under the agreement, 84-year-old Mugabe would remain as president while Tsvangirai becomes prime minister.

But the two have failed to agree on forming a cabinet, and the entire deal threatens to collapse over who will take the home affairs ministry, which controls the police.

Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) accuses the regime of orchestrating attacks against his supporters following the election in March, when he failed to secure an outright majority and was forced into a runoff.

The opposition leader pulled out of the runoff because of the violence, which Amnesty International says has left 180 dead and 9,000 injured since March.

Tsvangirai argues that his party should oversee the police to reassure his supporters against the threat of new violence. Mugabe has already claimed the defence ministry for his ZANU-PF party.

Both sides have taken a tough line ahead of the summit, with the MDC accusing the regime of stepping up its repression, and ZANU-PF blaming the opposition for its failure to agree to joint control of home affairs.

The deal brokered by former South African president Thabo Mbeki had been hailed as an end to the political turmoil and a step toward hauling Zimbabwe back from ruin: its economy has been shattered, with inflation estimated at 231 million percent.

Days after the accord was signed, South Africa’s ruling party forced Mbeki to resign over an entirely separate issue, but he remains SADC’s official mediator in Zimbabwe.

South Africa’s new leadership has taken a much tougher line on Zimbabwe, in a sharp contrast to Mbeki’s so-called "quiet diplomacy," which avoided overt criticism of Mugabe — an approach that Tsvangirai criticised on several occasions.

The government spokesman for Pretoria warned last week that Zimbabwe’s crisis was becoming a threat to regional stability, while the ruling party boss Jacob Zuma insisted that the summit would force the rivals into a deal.

Leaders from five of SADC’s 15 members showed up for the summit. Aside from Mugabe and Motlanthe, the presidents of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Namibia were seen at the opening ceremony.

The other 10 countries sent representatives to the talks.

The summit was also set to discuss the conflict in Congo, where the government is battling rebels in the eastern part of the country.

Motlanthe backed calls for a ceasefire in Congo, made at a separate summit Friday in Nairobi.

"We call for an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian assistance to the displaced people. We firmly believe that there is no military solution to the problem," he said.


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