Regional mediator and South African President Thabo Mbeki arrived in Zimbabwe yesterday for talks on the country’s disputed elections ahead of a possible run-off that has raised concerns of further violence.
The South African leader, whose “soft diplomacy” approach toward the crisis in Zimbabwe has triggered criticism at home and abroad, was scheduled to meet Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. It was not clear if he would discuss the post-election turmoil with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as well.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is currently out of the country. The MDC said it had not received any invitation from Mbeki to meet its leadership during his one-day visit to the Zimbabwean capital.
“We know he [Mbeki] is meeting President Robert Mugabe. But we have no official communication that he is going to meet with the MDC or its leadership,” said George Sibotshiwe, a spokesman for Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai says he won the presidential poll outright and his party says it is not planning to participate in a run-off. Tsvangirai has yet to give a final answer on whether he will contest.
If he does not, the 84-year-old Mugabe will automatically win. Mugabe has ruled since independence in 1980.
Regional heavyweight South Africa is heading efforts by the regional SADC grouping to defuse the tension in Zimbabwe, which suffers from 80 percent unemployment, chronic food and fuel shortages and the world’s highest inflation of 165,000 percent.
The last time Mbeki met with Mugabe after the election, he denied there was a crisis, a comment which was widely attacked by political rivals and the international community.
Western countries have called on African states to do more to end the standoff. A flood of refugees and concerns about instability and violence have taken their toll on the region.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been talking to African states about how the world body could help make a run-off credible and has expressed concern about the violence.
But Mbeki has said Zimbabwe’s problems should find an African solution instead.
Asked in an interview on al-Jazeera television this week whether it would be helpful if UN monitors were allowed into Zimbabwe as election observers to help calm the situation and instil trust in the process, Mbeki said: “I don’t like the idea that suggests that as Africans we cannot do the job.
The MDC, rights groups and Western nations have accused the ruling ZANU-PF party of launching a campaign of violence to ensure Mugabe wins a run-off. ZANU-PF denies the charge, has appealed for calm, and accuses the MDC of carrying out attacks.
The opposition and civic groups have also said soldiers beat civilians and armed militia groups.
The Zimbabwe National Army told the state-run Herald newspaper it was not behind the violence and was trying hard to ensure peace returns.
Army spokesman Alois Makotore “categorically distanced the army and any of its members from allegedly harassing, assaulting people and robberies,” the paper reported yesterday.
He said the army was concerned by a rising number of incidents in which soldiers were facing provocations, abuse and attacks by some members of the public “for no good reason.”
Mugabe’s government has repeatedly called for an end to the violence, in which the opposition says more than 20 people have been killed, thousands displaced and agricultural groups say 40,000 workers have been expelled from farms.