SA sees slow progress in Zimbabwe talks

Zimbabwe’s political rivals have agreed some outstanding issues of a power-sharing deal, but the pace of negotiations is slow, a South African official mediating in the talks said on Tuesday.

President Robert Mugabe and long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister, formed a unity government last year in February after disputed elections, but the coalition has been hobbled by disputes over power-sharing.

Lindiwe Zulu, international relations advisor to South African President Jacob Zuma, said while South Africa was not happy with the pace of talks, there was progress on some issues.

“I don’t think that we should be talking of escalating conflict at this point in time. We are not saying that we are happy with the speed at which they are working but we think there are a number of things they’ve agreed upon,” Zulu told South African Talk Radio 702.

South Africa is mediating in the Zimbabwe negotiations and Zimbabwean media reports say Africa’s biggest economy wants all outstanding issues resolved before it hosts the Soccer World Cup in June.

Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in October “disengaged” from Cabinet meetings with Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, accusing it of being an “unreliable partner” but rejoined after mediation by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Mugabe and Tsvangirai are haggling over the appointment of provincial governors and the veteran leader’s refusal to swear in Tsvangirai ally Roy Bennett as deputy agriculture minister.

The 85-year-old president has also refused to sack allies he appointed as central bank governor and attorney general without consulting Tsvangirai.

Mugabe says the MDC should call off Western sanctions against his party and ask its backers in the West to shut down what he calls pirate radio stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe from the United States and Britain.

Nestlé resumes operations
Meanwhile, Swiss food company Nestlé has resumed operations in the country, following assurances by the government that its business will not be interfered with, a company official said on Tuesday.

Nestlé shut its Harare factory last month, complaining of harassment by authorities after it cancelled a deal to buy milk from a farm taken over by Mugabe’s family.

Nestlé’s move was a setback to efforts by a new unity government set up by Mugabe and Tsvangirai, to attract foreign investors in a bid to fix Zimbabwe’s battered economy.

A senior company official told Reuters that Nestlé, which employs more than 200 people in the country, had reopened its factory after getting government assurances that its operations would not be interfered with.

Nestlé said its decision to shut the facility was prompted by an unannounced visit from government officials and police on December 19, after which the firm was forced to accept a milk delivery from non-contracted suppliers.

Two of its managers, including expatriate managing director Heath Tilley, were questioned by police and released without charge the same day.

Nestlé stopped buying milk from Gushungo Dairy Estate, owned by Mugabe’s family, in October following international criticism of a deal agreed in February. The farm had been seized under Mugabe’s controversial land reform programme.

At the time, Nestlé said its business with the farm accounted for 10% to 15% of its local milk supply and that it had a long-term commitment to Zimbabwe.

Critics say the veteran leader’s seizure of white-owned commercial farms to resettle landless black Zimbabweans has ruined the southern African country’s once-prosperous economy. – Reuters

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