Clinton presses SA on Mugabe

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton encouraged South Africa on Friday to use its influence to bolster reforms in Zimbabwe, and said closer ties would be built with Pretoria after strains under the Bush administration.

Before meeting South Africa’s foreign minister on Friday, Clinton said she would urge the new government to get Zimbabwe to raise the pace of political reform, which has been too slow for donors to release substantial amounts of aid.

”There is no need for promises. South Africa is very aware of the challenges posed by the political crisis in Zimbabwe because South Africa has three million refugees from Zimbabwe,” Clinton told a news conference after meeting International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

”And every one of those refugees represents a failure of the Zimbabwean government to care for its own people and a burden that South Africa has to bear,” she added.

The US, troubled by what it sees as an absence of reform in Zimbabwe, has no plans either to offer major aid or to lift sanctions against Mugabe and some of his supporters.

Before any of that can happen, Washington wants more evidence of political, social and economic reforms by Mugabe and the government he shares uneasily with long-time rival and now Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Clinton did not say what specific reforms Washington wants in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, is blamed for plunging Zimbabwe into economic ruin. He argues that his country’s economic woes, which include hyperinflation and a collapsed infrastructure, are caused by sanctions.

”Now, we, as you know, are attempting to target the leadership of Zimbabwe with sanctions that we think might influence their behaviour without hurting the people of Zimbabwe,” said Clinton.

President Jacob Zuma, due to meet Clinton in Durban on Saturday, has taken a harder line on Zimbabwe than his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, but the US wants more.

Clinton hopes there will be a burst of goodwill due to the change of government in both South Africa and the US and that she will be able to kick off better relations with Pretoria than the Bush administration had.

”I know that the [foreign] minister and I are interested in making sure that our two countries not only lead, but demonstrate the kind of cooperation that results in positive results for the people of the world,” she said.

A senior official said earlier that ”US-South African relations were not as warm and friendly in reality as many people thought” when President Thabo Mbeki was in power.

The US had disagreed, for example, with Mbeki’s views on how to handle the HIV/Aids crisis, which the former South African president had been slow to grasp.

Walter Kansteiner, a top Africa diplomat for the Bush administration, said Clinton should work Zuma ”very hard” on Zimbabwe and follow up with him after their meetings.

”I think we left Pretoria off the hook too many times on Zimbabwe … but in our defence there were a lot of other issues on our agenda and the feeling was why jeopardise all these many other things that we were trying to get done,” he said.

While in Nairobi — the first stop of Clinton’s seven-nation African tour before she came to South Africa — the top US diplomat publicly lambasted Kenya’s government for corruption and poor governance.

Clinton visited South Africa several times when her husband was US president and she plans to visit Cape Town on Saturday to check on progress at a housing project named after slain anti-apartheid activist Victoria Mxenge.

On Friday she will meet former South African president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela. — Reuters

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