The hungry in economically shattered Zimbabwe can once again get international aid, humanitarian agencies said on Friday, the same day that on-again, off-again power-sharing talks resumed.
In separate statements on Friday, Oxfam and Save the Children said a government ban on their work in the field had been lifted almost three months after it was imposed. The government had ordered independent aid agencies to stop work before a presidential runoff, accusing them of supporting opposition activists. The groups denied the accusations, and the ban had been widely condemned as a ploy by the governing party to manipulate voters.
A month ago, the governing party agreed to lift the ban to help open the way to power-sharing talks. The delay in fulfilling the pledge had been cited as proof Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was not committed to the talks with the opposition, which had stalled over how much power Mugabe should surrender.
Earlier on Friday, South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad was quoted by South African media as saying “all relevant players are in South Africa” for a new round of talks. The talks, mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki, have been stalled over how much power Mugabe should surrender.
Mugabe opened an agricultural fair in Harare on Friday, while his aides were in South Africa for negotiations. The fair was once a major event, but it has deteriorated in recent years along with Zimbabwe’s farm-based economy. Foreign aid and investment could flow again if politicians can negotiate a settlement.
Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said: “We still remain confident that it’s possible for Zimbabweans to talk among themselves to resolve the impasse.”
But Chamisa said that “state-sponsored” violence against MDC members continued. Independent human and civil rights activists also have reported harassment — one group, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, said police broke up a meeting on Thursday.
“It will be tragic if Mr Mugabe continues to proceed unilaterally,” Chamisa said on Friday, accusing Mugabe of having “torn apart” the agreement that opened the way to the power-sharing talks.
Under that July 21 agreement, Mugabe had pledged to lift the ban on aid distribution. UN humanitarian agencies predict the number of Zimbabweans who will need help to stave off hunger will rise to more than 5 million by early next year.
In a statement late on Friday, Oxfam said it “cautiously welcomed” the lifting of the ban, but was worried it would still face restrictions. It said aid agencies had been called to a meeting with government officials tomorrow “to clarify operation modalities.”