Prominent church leaders are expected to meet President Robert Mugabe next week to discuss Zimbabwe’s deteriorating political and economic situation as pressure mounts at home and abroad for him to quit.
This comes against a background of South Africa’s evident alarm this week at the deepening crisis in Zimbabwe. It also follows reports that United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan was working on a plan in search of a breakthrough to the problem.
The dramatic economic decline — which has seen inflation surging to a record 1Â 042,9% — is said to have created a new sense of urgency among all stakeholders.
Official sources said the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) and the All African Council of Churches (AACC) leaders were due to meet Mugabe for talks on a wide range of issues later in May. Mugabe has said he only intends stepping down in 2010.
The ZCC has stepped up criticism of government policies. The meeting has the blessing of the World Council of Churches, which is said to be deeply concerned about the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans.
Sources said ZCC president Bishop Peter Nemapare, his deputy Bishop Sebastian Bakare and secretary general Densen Mafinyane, as well as AACC secretary general Bishop Mvume Dandala would meet Mugabe in a bid to find a solution to Zimbabwe’s simmering seven-year crisis.
Nemapare confirmed the meeting but refused to give details, saying it was a “courtesy call on the president”.
Meanwhile, South African deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad said the increased number of Zimbabwean economic refugees fleeing the meltdown in their country called for an urgent solution. There are reportedly over two million illegal Zimbabweans living in South Africa, he said.
Pahad’s remarks on Wednesday broke Pretoria’s silence over the decline in Zimbabwe. South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been grappling with the Zimbabwean problem for the past six years, has hitherto stuck to a policy of quiet diplomacy in dealing with the situation.
Clergymen have been involved before in trying to resolve the crisis. Bakare led an initiative three years ago to broker talks between the ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
There have been several other church leaders who have been involved in the search for a solution to the now global Zimbabwe issue. Mugabe’s confidant Father Fidelis Mukonori, South African Council of Churches leaders and Cape Town Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane have also been involved.
Mukonori, like Mbeki and other foreign heads of state, has tried to arrange talks between Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Pahad said South Africa was anxious to get details of the Annan proposal. “We look forward to getting more information on the Annan trip. One assumes he won’t come unless he sees prospects of a breakthrough,” he said.
Professor Ibrahim Gambari, UN Under Secretary General for political affairs, held separate talks in South Africa last month with Mbeki and Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi to discuss the Annan plan.
Pahad said South Africa was talking to other Southern African countries and “further afield”, as well as to the African Union over the Zimbabwe issue.
“We have been concerned about the deteriorating economic situation, where inflation has now reached 1 000%, and the predictions are it can get worse,” he said. â€’ Zimbabwe Independent