Zim rivals 'should push on' with talks
Zimbabwe’s rival parties should push on with talks even if President Robert Mugabe and the opposition fail to clinch a power-sharing deal this week, South Africa’s deputy foreign minister said Tuesday.
“If there is a successful outcome to the talks it will be a plus,” Aziz Pahad told reporters as South African President Thabo Mbeki spent a third day in neighbouring Zimbabwe leading mediation. “But if no agreement is reached, the parties must be encouraged to continue talking until a solution is found.”
The talks come ahead of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit this weekend in South Africa, with Botswana threatening to boycott the gathering of the 14-nation bloc if Mugabe clings to power without a negotiated settlement.
“President Thabo Mbeki is of course expected to give a report to the summit on the mediation process because he has been mandated as the facilitator by SADC,” said Pahad.
Mbeki arrived in Harare late on Saturday, with Mugabe, opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, the head of a smaller MDC faction, holding hours of talks on Sunday and Monday.
A third day of negotiations was set for Tuesday.
Mbeki has been criticised for his quiet diplomacy approach to the country’s political and economic crisis.
Mugabe was re-elected in a June run-off poll after Tsvangirai boycotted the vote, despite finishing ahead of Mugabe in the March first round, citing rising violence against his supporters.
Mugabe marked Armed Forces Day on Tuesday by praising Zimbabwe’s army before going into the power-sharing negotiations with the opposition.
At a ceremony marking the public holiday, Mugabe made no reference to the talks but heaped praise on the military, which independent monitors and human rights activists accuse of being implicated in violence and intimidation targeting opposition supporters.
He thanked the army for keeping peace in Zimbabwe.
“It is a result of the alert, vigilant and patriotic manner they have conducted their day-to-day duties,” he said, promising more pay hikes and housing for soldiers.
Mugabe distributed medals to retired and serving military officers, including hard-line loyalists who now occupy top government posts.
Among them was a member of the joint operational command who, along with other senior military officers, vowed before the polls never to salute Tsvangirai if he won the presidency.
George Chiweshe, a retired brigadier general who heads the state electoral commission, received the medal of the Grand Officer of the Zimbabwe Order of Merit, the country’s second-highest award, alongside former general Happyton Bonyongwe, current head of the Central Intelligence Organisation, Mugabe’s feared secret police agency.
The awards came as Human Rights Watch said the ruling party and its allies were implicated in the killings of at least 163 people, and the beatings and torture of more than 5 000 others since the March elections.
Thirty-two were killed after the June 27 run-off, and two since Zanu-PF and the opposition signed a memorandum of understanding that paved the way for negotiations, the rights group said.
Mugabe’s security and police chiefs reportedly are worried that he will make too many concessions at the power-sharing negotiations and strip them of their privileges—and potentially their protection from prosecution.—Sapa-AFP, Sapa-AP