SA keen to "understand" Zimbabwe's troubles

HARARE - Newly-appointed South African Deputy-President Pumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said yesterday her country was keen to understand the troubles faced by its northern neighbour, Zimbabwe, which is choking under its worst ever economic and political crisis.

Mlambo-Ngcuka told journalists after a meeting with President Robert Mugabe at his State House presidential palace in Harare that South Africa would assist Zimbabwe end its challenges. She had earlier met her counterpart Joyce Mujuru at the Sheraton Hotel.

"There is always a co-ordinated approach to assist Zimbabwe. We need to understand as well the extent of the challenges and the impact on the people," Mlambo-Ngcuka told reporters. "I was getting a global understanding of the challenge."

Mlambo-Ngcuka's arrival for the one day visit came in the wake of the government's widely condemned mass demolitions of illegal structures in towns and cities throughout the country.

Aid groups have said the clean-up campaign, which has seen mass demolitions of houses and other structures deemed illegal, has left an estimated 300 000 people homeless in the country's poor low-income suburbs but the opposition put the figure at 1.5 million.

South Africa has been criticised mostly by Western nations for its policy of 'quiet diplomacy' towards Harare.

Mlambo-Ngcuka, who succeeded graft-tainted Jacob Zuma as deputy president last month, was accompanied by South Africa's deputy finance minister, Jabu Moleketi.

"The deputy minister is the numbers' person. We need to understand what we are dealing with ... and have it confirmed," she said.

Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1980 but has worsened since the controversial March 31 parliamentary election which gave Mugabe's ruling ZANU PF party a two-thirds majority amid charges of vote rigging by the opposition. - ZimOnline