S’Africa’s Zuma Heads For Zimbabwe To Ease Tensions

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South African President Jacob Zuma headed to Zimbabwe yesterday in a bid to ease tensions within the strained unity government, saying he would discuss problems faced by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Zuma met Tsvangirai in Johannesburg earlier this month to discuss continuing human rights abuses by President Robert Mugabe’s supporters, and the South African leader said he would raise the prime minister’s concerns during his talks in Harare.

“The fact of the matter is the prime minister had come here to raise certain issues,” Zuma told reporters in Cape Town before his departure. “Certainly I will also have to raise those issues with the leaders in Zimbabwe.”

Zuma was expected to dine with Mugabe and Tsvangirai last evening, and make a speech at a function in Harare today.

Six months after forming a unity government with Mugabe, Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says the party’s supporters are still harassed by police, despite guarantees of political freedoms in the February unity accord.

The new government has stabilised Zimbabwe’s shattered economy, but the former rivals remain deadlocked on a slate of issues, noteably the appointment of the Reserve Bank chief and the attorney general.

Mugabe, 85, faces pressure within his own ZANU-PF party to avoid any further compromises that would further erode the party’s power.

The party’s politburo earlier this month publicly called on Mugabe “to resist any pressures intended to prejudice the party.”

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa on Thursday called the MDC concerns a distraction, saying western sanctions were undermining the government.

“Our position is very clear. We hope our principal, President Robert Mugabe, tells President Zuma that the outstanding issues are that of sanctions and external interference,” Chinamasa told AFP.

“The so-called outstanding issues, which are the issues of the (Reserve Bank) governor and the attorney general, are nowhere in the Global Political Agreement,” said Chinamasa, who was Mugabe’s lead negotiator in the unity talks.

“This is meant to distract attention from the inclusive government,” Chinamasa added.

South Africa, Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner, is a key backer of the unity deal. Zuma’s findings will likely inform discussions at the next summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) next month.

“President Zuma will be determined to use the visit to solve the outstanding issues” in the unity government, political analyst Okay Machisa said.

“He has a road map on the issues of Zimbabwe and he would want the local politicians to address the welfare of the people and not address their selfish needs.”

The feuding has hindered Zimbabwe’s drive to win 8.3 billion US dollars in aid to revive the civil service and jump start the shattered economy.

To date the inclusive government has raised just over two billion dollars, mostly coming from continental organisations and China.

One South African government official, in Harare ahead of the trip, insisted Zuma was coming to seek compromise.

“There are issues which have to be addressed, but as South Africa we believe that every problem presents a new opportunity,” the official told AFP.

“Zimbabwe is far much better today than what it was last year, so we believe a compromise will eventually be found.”