/ 16 August 2008

Zim talks: End is in sight, says Mbeki

There could soon be a long-awaited end to negotiations between Zimbabwe’s rival leaders, President Thabo Mbeki told the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Johannesburg on Saturday.

”This summit affords us the possibility to assist the Zimbabwean parties to finalise their negotiations so that together they can engage the work to achieve national healing and reconciliation,” Mbeki told the summit.

Finalising negotiations would allow the country to ”attend to the matter of reconstruction and development of Zimbabwe and in this way extricate the masses of the people from the dire straits in which they find themselves”, he added.

Zambia, the outgoing SADC chair, said the political situation in Zimbabwe had negatively affected the ideals of democracy and the integrity of the region.

Reading a speech prepared on behalf of Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Kabinga Pande, said: ”Zimbabwe has no doubt left a serious blot on the culture of democracy in the region.”

Mwanawasa remains in hospital after suffering a stroke in June. He has previously said it was ”scandalous for SADC to remain silent on Zimbabwe”.

Pande said the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa also ”dented” efforts to implement the free flow of people across the region’s various borders.

Zambia and Botswana have been among Mugabe’s harshest critics in the region.

Botswana President Seretse Khama Ian Khama stayed away from the summit after his government said it did not recognise Mugabe’s re-election.

Mbeki thanked
African Union Commission chief Jean Ping said he saluted Mbeki’s efforts in facilitating the negotiations between the rival Zimbabwean leaders.

”I express my gratitude to President Thabo Mbeki for the tireless efforts that he has shown in helping our Zimbabwean brothers overcome their differences and to take on in the interest of Zimbabweans the new challenges that confront their country,” Ping said.

Throughout the speeches, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe sat in silence, blinking a few times.

Leaders from the two factions of the rival Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, Arthur Mutambara and Morgan Tsvangirai, arrived at the summit shortly before Mugabe.

When Tsvangirai was asked by reporters if he was in high spirits, he simply said: ”I don’t whether there is a barometer for spirits.”

In his first official speech as SADC chairperson , Mbeki said that for many years the organ’s strength was its political cohesion and unity and this allowed the region to participate effectively as an important player in the continental and global forums.

”In recent times, however, we have had too numerous challenges that have tested the very cohesion that acted as a potent weapon against those forces that have an interest in our perpetual weaknesses and marginalisation.”

The same determination is needed to bring about the total liberation of the region in the struggle against marginalisation, poverty and unemployment, said Mbeki.

”Because in reality, our actions still define us as the front-line states,” he said. ”The masses of our people demand of us to do everything in our power to help pull the poor from the morass of wretchedness.”

Mbeki said the task of finalising and implementing the Regional Poverty Reduction Framework is even more urgent in the face of soaring food and fuel prices, and the general negative global economic climate has driven more people into poverty.

”We need extraordinary efforts to face the numerous challenges facing us even though the overall economy of our region has continued to grow at a steady pace. We are still far from achieving a better life for all,” he said.

”Not only were these events alien to our region, but they also brought into question in some quarters the integrity of SADC as an institution capable of promoting the rule of law and democratic governance,” he said.

Mugabe was re-elected in the June run-off poll widely condemned as a sham. Tsvangirai boycotted the run-off despite finishing ahead of Mugabe in the first round of the election in March, citing rising violence against his supporters. — Sapa-AP, Sapa-AFP, Sapa