Africa’s Journal

Your source for African news.

Mbeki to meet Mugabe in Zimbabwe

Posted by africasjournal on June 18, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) — South African President Thabo Mbeki is visiting Zimbabwe to meet with its embattled leader ahead of next week’s runoff election, the South African government said Wednesday.

Thabo Mbeki is under domestic and international pressure for his perceived conciliatory stance toward Mugabe.

Mbeki is visiting in his capacity as mediator with the 14-nation Southern African Development Community. The scheduled meeting with President Mugabe will take place in the southwestern city of Bulawayo, Mbeki’s government said.

Mbeki’s trip comes at an especially critical time in Zimbabwe. Mugabe faces a runoff June 27 with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, and Mugabe’s supporters have been accused of kidnappings, beatings and murders in an effort to influence the outcome.

Mugabe met Tuesday with top United Nations envoy Haile Menkerios, who is in Zimbabwe this week to try to resolve pre-election tensions.

Last week, Mugabe warned that veterans he commanded in his country’s liberation war nearly three decades ago would take up arms again if Tsvangirai were to win. Mugabe has been Zimbabwe’s only leader since the war ended in 1980.

Police have arrested Tsvangirai several times in the weeks leading up to the runoff, most recently on Saturday with 11 other officials and supporters from his party, the Movement for Democratic Change.

MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti remains behind bars after his arrest last week, and officials have said he will be charged with treason, although he has yet to have a hearing. The treason charge could carry the death penalty.

Mugabe has threatened to arrest more MDC officials, blaming the party for pre-election violence.

Nqobizitha Mlilo, an MDC spokesman, said the party expected little from Mbeki’s trip and that none of its officials planned to meet with the South African.

Tsvangirai has called on Mbeki to step down as mediator, accusing him of bias toward Mugabe. “We don’t even know what his (Mbeki) agenda is,” Mlilo told The Associated Press. “We can’t attach expectations to an agenda we don’t know anything about.”

Mbeki is under domestic and international pressure for his perceived conciliatory stance toward Mugabe, but the South African leader recently said he will continue his quiet diplomacy despite recent events.

The SADC appointed Mbeki in March 2007 to be the mediator in Zimbabwe, with a brief to ensure that the next elections in the country would not be contested. The two parties held talks for eight months, agreeing on various amendments to the country’s draconian electoral and security laws, and even drafting a constitution.

One of the most significant agreements was to post election results outside polling stations. The MDC later used those results to declare victory after the recent election and to contest the electoral commission’s results.

The Mbeki-mediated talks collapsed, however, after Mugabe announced the March 29 date for the runoff election before an agreement had been reached between the parties.

Human Rights Watch issued a report last week declaring the runoff to be dead on arrival because of violence and intimidation by Mugabe’s followers — including the war veterans — against opposition supporters.

There have been numerous reports from the opposition and church groups about kidnappings, torture and other violence, including the deaths of opposition party members. They say the violence targets opponents of Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Wednesday that 53 people have been killed, 2,000 wounded, and 30,000 displaced during the election campaign.

Brown said his government had asked Zimbabwe to allow observers in for next week’s vote. Hundreds have already been allowed in, he said, and more are expected.

“We demand that these observers come from the different parts of the world and not just from Africa,” Brown said in the House of Commons. “We demand that the proper monitoring of these elections take place. If that is not to happen, it will be difficult to justify elections as free and fair.”

Zimbabwe’s neighbors have acknowledged the problems that exist in the country and the need for proper elections, Brown said.

About Mugabe’s government he said, “It is a criminal regime run by a criminal cabal, and we must make that clear to the rest of the world.”

The MDC has called for Mbeki to step down as mediator, accusing him of not being an honest broker and of siding with Mugabe. While Mbeki continues to perform his mediating role with the SADC, his efforts do appear one-sided. Although his team of mediators recently met with the two parties to discuss resolutions to ending the violence in Zimbabwe, the last time Mbeki met with Tsvangiria was in April.

The MDC says that at that meeting it handed Mbeki documented proof that Mugabe was planning a military campaign of violence against the opposition. Mbeki promised to talk to Mugabe, the MDC says, but the violence has continued.

The South African government said Mbeki has no plans to meet Tsvangirai on Wednesday, and the MDC confirmed there has been no request for a meeting from the South African president since they last met in April.

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