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20 Sep 2007 08:54
The South African Cabinet has welcomed the recent breakthrough by the collective leadership of Zimbabwe on draft constitutional amendments.
“South Africa wishes to congratulate the Zimbabwean political leadership for this major step forward in addressing the challenges facing that country,” government communications deputy head Baby Tyawa said on Thursday in a statement after the Cabinet’s regular fortnightly meeting.
“Proceeding from the premise that the people of Zimbabwe are the ones best placed to find solutions to the challenges they face, we will continue to assist where we can, in line with the mandate of SADC [Southern African Development Community], to ensure that these processes result in a lasting settlement,” Tyawa said.
Zimbabwe’s main political parties have reportedly agreed that President Robert Mugabe should no longer be allowed to handpick members of the lower house of assembly.
The ruling Zanu-PF and the two factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) agreed this week to amend Zimbabwe’s Constitution to create a bigger Parliament of 210 elected members, the government mouthpiece Herald newspaper reported.
Currently the lower house of assembly has 120 elected members.
Thirty other seats are taken by chiefs, generally seen as loyal to Mugabe, as well as governors and non-constituency MPs directly appointed by the president.
If the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill is passed into law, the 83-year old president will only be allowed to appoint some members of the upper house of Parliament, the Senate.
The number of seats in the Senate will be increased from 66 to 93.
Sixteen chiefs will have seats in the Senate, as will 10 provincial governors who are chosen by Mugabe. The president will also handpick five more senators.
The Bill allows for joint presidential and parliamentary polls in 2008 and had been condemned by some as a means of entrenching Mugabe’s hold on power.
Mbeki alone can’t save Zimbabwe
Meanwhile, efforts to end the crisis in Zimbabwe cannot be left to South African President Thabo Mbeki alone and Africa as a whole must do more to prevent the collapse of the southern state, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said.
Wade called Mugabe, who denies foreign accusations that he has abused human rights and wrecked Zimbabwe’s once-prosperous economy, a “bad lawyer with a good cause” to argue.
Wade, who from his small West African country has often sparred with Mbeki in the past over leadership on African issues, said more African heads of state, including himself, should be involved in mediating with Mugabe.
“It’s a big mistake to always say that Zimbabwe should be left to Mbeki,” said the Senegalese president, who like Mugabe is in his 80s.
“Mbeki is a man who has a huge amount of goodwill but this is a situation which just one person cannot resolve alone, that much is clear,” he said.
Wade’s comments appeared to diverge from a recommendation by a leading international think tank this week which called on the world, including Western powers, to close ranks behind the Mbeki mediation for Zimbabwe.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report Western sanctions had failed and attacks on Mugabe by London and Washington were counter-productive.
ICG said the Mbeki mediation “offers the only realistic chance to escape a crisis that increasingly threatens to destabilise the region”.
But Wade, who has led peace and mediation missions in the past for Madagascar, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau and Liberia and is a strong advocate of continental initiatives, favoured a broader approach involving more than one African head of state.
“I think Africa has not helped Zimbabwe.
I’m convinced that we haven’t helped President Mugabe,” he said.
‘Share his cause’
Zimbabwe, once one of Africa’s most prosperous countries, suffers the world’s highest inflation, officially 6 592%, chronic food and fuel shortages, and 80%unemployment.
Mugabe denies destroying the economy with policies like seizing white-owned farms for landless black Zimbabweans, widely blamed for crippling the agriculture sector.
Wade said Mugabe could have done more to canvass African sympathy for his opposition to Zimbabwe’s best farming land remaining in the hands of a colonial-era white minority after the country’s independence in 1980.
“He could have made us share in his cause. We would have defended him,” he said.
Partly echoing Mugabe’s criticism of Zimbabwe’s former colonial ruler, Wade said Britain had a responsibility in the crisis because it failed to honour a 1979 accord on reforms to end land ownership imbalances between black and white Zimbabweans.
Wade said the British government had stopped compensating white farmers under the land redistribution reforms.
“But if African states had intervened, we could have changed things so that Britain continued to compensate the farmers and we could have established a climate of understanding between Mugabe and his opponents. That wasn’t done,” Wade said.
But he said it was not too late for Africa to get involved.
“It’s our own blood down there, our country,” he said.
Chronology of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis
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