Clinton in SA seeking new start on Zimbabwe

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in South Africa on Friday on a bid for a fresh start in relations, seeking cooperation in pushing neighbouring Zimbabwe to carry out reforms.

Clinton, on a seven-nation Africa tour that takes up hotspots such as Zimbabwe and Somalia, plans to criss-cross South Africa and visit four cities in half as many days.

After talks in Pretoria, Clinton will visit anti-apartheid hero and elder statesman Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg.

She will also tour a clinic handling South Africa’s Aids epidemic and head on Saturday to the coastal city of Durban for talks with President Jacob Zuma.

Clinton — whose plane into South Africa on Thursday took her straight over Harare — said she would seek coordinated action on Zimbabwe, whose leader since independence Robert Mugabe faces intense Western criticism.

Speaking in Nairobi earlier, Clinton said she would talk to Zuma and his ministers ”about what more South Africa believes can be done to strengthen the reform movement inside Zimbabwe”.

She said she would ask South Africa to help ”alleviate the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe and try to use its influence to mitigate against the negative effects of the continuing presidency of President Mugabe”.

Under Mugabe, Zimbabwe has suffered from soaring inflation that has rendered the local currency virtually worthless.

A senior US official on Clinton’s plane said that she would call on Zimbabwe to end ”harassment” of the opposition, stop seizing white-owned farms and ensure freedom of the press, including of foreign reporters.

Clinton will also seek to coordinate efforts with South Africa on breaking the political deadlock in Madagascar, the official said.

Mugabe in February entered a power-sharing deal with opposition leader — now prime minister — Morgan Tsvangirai aimed at ending unrest after an election widely seen as rigged.

The accord was hailed as a triumph by South Africa’s former president Thabo Mbeki, who had scoffed at US and British-led attempts to punish Mugabe and supported an African-led approach of engagement.

Zuma, who took over in May, has in the past backed a tougher approach on Zimbabwe, raising hopes in Washington for a stronger relationship between the two countries.

Ties were uneasy under Mbeki and former US president George Bush due to sharp disagreements over Zimbabwe, the fight against Aids and the US-led invasion of Iraq.

The senior official aboard Clinton’s plane acknowledged that recent relations between Pretoria and Washington ”were not as warm and friendly” as hoped but eyed improvement.

”We have a new president in the United States and his reputation, his credibility, his openness are an incentive for a better relationship,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

”There is a new government in South Africa as well and I would argue that there is a large difference between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma,” he said.

President Barack Obama has made engagement with US adversaries a signature policy, reaching out to long-time foes such as Iran and Cuba.

The Obama administration has flirted with an engagement policy with Mugabe but with uncertain results.

Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for Africa, a month ago spoke with Mugabe on the sidelines of a conference in Libya, the highest ranking US official to meet with the Zimbabwean leader in recent years.

Zimbabwe’s official media later branded Carson ”an idiot”.

Clinton plans on Saturday to stop in Cape Town where she will hold more public events but also take a brief break before a busy week ahead that takes her to Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Liberia and Cape Verde. — AFP



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Shaun Tandon
Shaun Tandon
State Department correspondent @AFP. Formerly covering Japan, India

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