Zimbabwe church leaders to visit SA, Nigeria

Zimbabwe’s top church leaders plan to visit South Africa and Nigeria as part of their bid to press their own country’s rival political parties to resolve the political crisis here, a clergyman said on Tuesday.

Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe president Trevor Manhanga said that after recent meetings with the heads of the country’s top political parties, church leaders planned to meet with the South African and Nigerian presidents, Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo.

The two African presidents last year brokered talks that have since stalled between the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

“We will also pay courtesy visits to the countries that have been involved in the dialogue to update them on the initiative ...and also to find out what had taken place so far,” Manhanga told reporters.

Manhanga and other top church leaders have met with President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and offered to mediate between the two rivals in the politically divided country.

Last year’s fledgling talks broke down after the MDC filed a legal challenge to Mugabe’s re-election in March 2002 polls, widely condemned as flawed.

The opposition wanted the issue of Mugabe’s legitimacy discussed in the talks, forcing Zanu-PF negotiators to break off their participation.

Obasanjo, Mbeki and Bakili Muluzi of Malawi held separate talks in May this year with Mugabe and Tsvangirai to try to resuscitate inter-party dialogue.

Mugabe has ruled out any talks unless the MDC recognises his legitimacy as president.
The MDC, which has for the past three years boycotted Mugabe’s parliamentary addresses, this year ended the action, saying they wanted to clear the air and end political tensions in the troubled southern African nation.

Manhanga said that now “there is a sense of urgency on both sides. Our country is bleeding, there is a lot of political polarisation, we must find a way of bringing the two parties back to the negotiating forum.”

The churchman was speaking after his organisation set up a peace and justice desk to help promote tolerance among Zimbabweans.

Manhanga said he had asked the two sides to put down their respective positions in writing. He said thereafter they “would like to move this process and set deadlines”.

Early this year South Africa’s most powerful church leader, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Njongonkulu Ndungane, held talks with the two sides to prepare for mediation efforts. He admitted, however, the process would be long and difficult. - Sapa-AFP

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