By Paul Simao
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe could collapse within months due to its political and economic crisis, South Africa's ruling party leader said on Monday, citing former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other prominent figures.
African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma said a cholera epidemic that has killed around 300 people in Zimbabwe and sent hundreds more fleeing into South Africa highlighted the need for urgent action by Zimbabwe's political rivals.
Zuma spoke to reporters after meeting Annan, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Graca Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela, part of a group called the Elders who were barred from visiting Zimbabwe at the weekend.
"They believe the situation is very bad. They believe things could collapse in a few months time in Zimbabwe," ANC leader Zuma told reporters.
The trio were barred from entering Zimbabwe last weekend on a humanitarian visit. Veteran President Robert Mugabe's government denied them visas, saying the visit was unnecessary.
A deepening economic crisis, marked by chronic food shortages and soaring hyperinflation, has prompted millions of Zimbabweans to flee the country. Those who have remained behind face rising malnutrition and disease, say humanitarian groups.
At least 294 people have died in a recent cholera outbreak. Hundreds of infected Zimbabweans have been streaming across the border to seek treatment, South African media reported.
Both Zuma and South African President Motlanthe said the cholera outbreak showed the need for Zimbabwe's political parties to resolve a two-month impasse that has blocked the establishment of a unity government.
Motlanthe, who also met with Annan, Carter and Machel, said the 15-nation SADC regional bloc was pushing for the quick establishment of a government in Harare.
Zimbabwean President Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change agreed to share power under a Sept. 15 deal brokered by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, but talks have bogged down over the control of key ministries.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai accuses Mugabe, who won a June presidential election boycotted by Tsvangirai because of violence, of trying to relegate the MDC to the role of a junior partner in the government.
Mugabe has raised the hackles of the opposition with a plan to push through a constitutional amendment allowing him to name a cabinet alone, a move that could wreck the power-sharing deal.
Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF, Tsvangirai's MDC and a smaller MDC faction will meet with Mbeki on Tuesday in South Africa to try to break the deadlock, Motlanthe told reporters.
The African National Congress, backed by Mugabe during its decades-long struggle to overthrow apartheid in South Africa, will also send a delegation to Zimbabwe to assess the situation, Zuma said.
South Africa's ruling party has been more critical of Mugabe's government since Zuma took over the party leadership from Mbeki in late 2007.
Critics have accused Mbeki of being too soft on Mugabe, 84, though supporters say his quiet diplomacy paved the way for the recent power-sharing agreement.
Zuma stopped short of blaming Mugabe for the cabinet impasse, saying all political parties in Zimbabwe had to put the interests of the people before their political considerations.
"The situation has just gone beyond a situation where we could say 'wait and see,'" Zuma said. "We are pleading for the leadership for the sake of the people to find a solution that would help them move forward."
(Writing by Marius Bosch; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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