Put lives before politics, SA tells Zimbabwe

South Africa has called for an end to political squabbling between Zimbabwe’s feuding political leaders amid growing international concern about the devastation being wrought by a cholera crisis.

The government said the situation across its border, where massive food shortages were being compounded by a cholera outbreak that has killed 565 people, was at crisis levels and ”the time for political point scoring is over”.

Government spokesperson Themba Maseko said South Africa was sending a team to assess how it could provide aid to Zimbabwe, which made a rare appeal for international aid after declaring the cholera outbreak a national emergency.

He said Zimbabweans were ”dying in the streets” as the country’s leaders failed to reach agreement on the formation of a unity government almost nine months after an election left the country in political limbo.

”The time for action is now and we believe the Zimbabwean government is on board and wants help from the international community,” he said, expressing hope the fresh crisis would help solve the political deadlock.

”I would be extremely surprised if the outbreak of cholera, the death of innocent Zimbabweans as a result of a failure of politicians to reach an agreement, does not spur them to more urgent action.”

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe remained intransigent on Friday, threatening to call early elections if the power-sharing agreement failed to work within the next two years as the international community stepped up its criticism of him.

‘Decisive action’
United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on the veteran leader to step down, saying power-sharing talks with the opposition were a ”sham process”.

”It is well past time for Robert Mugabe to leave,” said Rice during a brief visit to Copenhagen. ”I think that is now obvious.

”If this is not evident for the international community that it is time to stand up for what is right, I don’t know what would be.”

Foreign ministers from the European Union also plan to beef up sanctions against Zimbabwe, adding 10 names to its list of 168 members of the Zimbabwe regime who are banned from entering EU nations and whose European assets have been frozen.

A draft text seen by Agence France-Presse said the EU would stress ”its deep concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, particularly as a result of the cholera epidemic and the continuing violence against supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)”.

As the US and former colonial power Britain prepared hefty aid packages to rescue Zimbabwe from a food and humanitarian crisis, South Africa said it was key that aid be distributed in a non-partisan manner.

”Our interest as a government is to make sure any aid we give on behalf of the people of South Africa is given not to party officials, not to political parties, but to ordinary Zimbabweans,” said Maseko.

Maseko urged parties to ”put all political differences aside” as Rice expressed hope the cholera outbreak would lead neighbouring countries to pressure Zimbabwe into a speedy political solution.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga also told the BBC on Thursday that it was time for Mugabe to go.

”It’s time for African governments to take decisive action to push him out of power,” Odinga said.

”Power-sharing is dead in Zimbabwe and will not work with a dictator who does not really believe in power-sharing,” he said. — AFP



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Fran Blandy
Fran Blandy
AFP's deputy bureau chief for East Africa, based in Nairobi, Previously correspondent in Paris, Dakar and Johannesburg.

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