JOHANNESBURG, November 25 – Zimbabwe’s humanitarian crisis has reached a "critical level" with cholera killing hundreds across the country, the opposition said on Tuesday ahead of political talks in South Africa.,
Negotiators for President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were due to meet in South Africa in a bid to revive a stalled unity accord signed two months ago.
"The situation on the ground in the country has reached a critical level (meaning) that an agreement has to be reached," MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told AFP.
But he warned: "It’s difficult to be hopeful when you are dealing with an insincere, deceitful and dishonest party like ZANU-PF.
"There are also challenges around the issue of facilitation" by former South African president and formal mediator Thabo Mbeki, Chamisa said without giving details.
Mbeki brokered the accord signed on September 15, calling for Mugabe to remain as president while MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai takes the new post of prime minister.
Tsvangirai won a first-round presidential election in March, but pulled out of the run-off accusing Mugabe’s party of orchestrating deadly attacks against his supporters.
The unity accord was meant to end the political crisis, but the deal has stalled over disputes about how to divide control of key cabinet posts and which powers to grant the new premier.
MDC’s chief negotiator Tendai Biti said that he had arrived in South Africa for the talks, but was still waiting to find out where the negotiations would take place.
"I have no idea" where the venue will be, he said.
The political vacuum has exacerbated Zimbabwe’s mounting humanitarian crisis, the cholera epidemic killing nearly 300 people across the country and spilling across the border into South Africa.
Nearly half the population is expected to need emergency food aid in January, while the economy has been shattered by the world’s highest rate of inflation, last estimated at 231 million percent in July.
South African President Kgalema Motlanthe warned on Monday that unless a political deal is reached, "the situation will get worse and will implode or collapse altogether."
Zimbabwe’s powerful southern neighbour has taken a tougher line on the spiralling crisis, freezing $30 million dollars in farm aid until a unity government is installed.
Mugabe’s regime has shown no sign of relenting, and on Tuesday accused former US president Jimmy Carter and ex-UN chief Kofi Annan of plotting to overthrow the government, after rejecting their humanitarian mission to the country.
Annan and Carter belong to a group of senior statesmen known as the Elders, but Mugabe’s spokesman accused them of seeking to bolster the opposition.
"The so-called ‘Elders’ are a creature of pro-Labour British corporate interests. There is nothing elderly about them," George Charamba said in the government mouthpiece Herald newspaper.
"The ‘Elders’ should not pretend to have Zimbabweans at heart when, in fact, they were fronting a regime change agenda being pushed by Britain and the US," the paper said.
Carter said on Monday that the humanitarian crisis was greater than feared, and urged regional leaders in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to act with more urgency.
"We all have a feeling that the leaders of SADC do not know what’s going on inside Zimbabwe," he told reporters.
"The entire basic structure… is broken down. These are all indications that the crisis in Zimbabwe is much greater, much worse than we ever could have imagined," Carter said.