Kasrils kick-starts Zim rescue mission

South African President Thabo Mbeki has relaunched his diplomatic offensive to engage President Robert Mugabe in a bid to resolve Zimbabwe’s escalating political and economic crisis, it emerged on Thursday.

Mbeki’s initiative comes at a time when Mugabe is under mounting pressure from several fronts, including the United Nations, local diplomats and churches, to give a firm timetable for his departure to pave way for the reconstruction of the country shattered by years of misrule.

A report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank run by retired statesmen, this week said Zimbabwe’s multifaceted problems have left Mugabe’s regime “increasingly desperate and dangerous”.

This, it said, is a recipe for disaster in a country that has virtually lost political direction and is hurtling towards a failed state.
The report said the international community needs to intervene to prevent possible instability and violence.

Official sources said Mbeki—who has been battling for six years to find a negotiated settlement in Zimbabwe—on Thursday dispatched Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils to meet Zimbabwe’s State Security Minister, Didymus Mutasa, for talks on a possible summit between their two leaders.

Sources said Kasrils flew into Harare on a private jet shortly after midday accompanied by a high-powered delegation comprising South Africa’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) chief Manala Manzini and South African Secret Service boss Dennis Hilton. The NIA deals with internal intelligence, while the secret service focuses on foreign intelligence.

After meeting officials from his embassy in Harare, Kasrils is said to have gone into a meeting with Mutasa for discussions on the state of affairs in both countries and their relations. Sources said the main issue on the agenda was to arrange a summit between Mugabe and Mbeki to address the local crisis.

The two ministers, who resolved the spy-saga deadlock between the two countries last year, had dinner on Thursday night at a local hotel. Kasrils was to return home on Friday morning.

An official source said the need for Mugabe to meet Mbeki has become urgent in view of the accelerating national decline and strained relations between the two leaders following a number of rebuffs from Mugabe.

South African ministers have of late been pointing out the need to resolve the local crisis to prevent a regional contagion. Mugabe in February suggested Mbeki must “keep away” from Zimbabwe. Mbeki’s spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga on Thursday said he was not aware of plans for a meeting between his boss and Mugabe. “I’m not aware of that,” he said when contacted for comment.

Ratshitanga told the Mail & Guardian Online on Friday: “What I know is what I’ve read in the press. I have not had the opportunity to speak to the president or anybody about it.”

Sources said Mbeki recently sent Kasrils to London to meet government officials and intelligence chiefs before his visit three weeks ago to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Mbeki and Blair have met twice this year to discuss the local problem.

Ronnie Mamoepa, spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, told the M&G Online that he was not aware of Kasrils visiting Zimbabwe. “I know nothing about it,” he said.

South African intelligence ministry spokesperson Lorna Daniels said the ministry has declined to comment on the matter.

Mbeki said in London three weeks ago he was hoping UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s expected visit would sort out the crisis. Annan is preparing to travel to Harare—despite Mugabe’s attempt to block him—to prevent Zimbabwe becoming a UN Security Council issue. Last week the UN boss recalled the world body’s ambassador to Harare, Agostinho Zacarias, for consultations over the issue.

A team of local diplomats and a think tank have already secured the services of former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa to mediate between Mugabe and Blair. Mugabe has said he wants to “build bridges” with Blair.

Tanzania is sending a new ambassador to Harare as part of its strategy to help resolve the issue.

The British ambassador to Harare, Andrew Pocock, said this week he has been “quietly exploring for room” to improve strained relations between Harare and London. Blair has given clear conditions for talks with Mugabe, including a timetable for Mugabe’s departure and political reform.—Zimbabwe Independent

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