Zimbabwe: MDC meets with Mbeki, ahead of AU summit

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
JOHANNESBURG, 4 July (IRIN) - The Zimbabwean opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), met with President Thabo Mbeki at the weekend, ahead of a meeting of African leaders in Libya.

Speaking to IRIN on Monday, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said, "We want to show we are part of the solution and do not want to become part of the problem."

Mbeki is attending an African Union summit, which opened in Libya on Monday, before leaving for the G8 meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, later this week.

The MDC leader asked for the meeting with Mbeki to brief him on the controversial demolition of informal settlements in Zimbabwe that humanitarian agencies say has left at least 320,000 people homeless. The government has argued that the exercise was meant to rid urban centres of criminal activities.

After South Africa's endorsement of the general elections earlier this year, which the ruling ZANU-PF party won by a landlside, the MDC declared that it did not consider South Africa "an honest broker" and would not participate in any initiative led by South Africa to end political tensions in Zimbabwe.

Chris Maroleng, a researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, told IRIN that the MDC had realised that "a solution to any crisis in the region [southern Africa] would always require South Africa's input; South Africa should now end its tacit support to the ruling ZANU-PF".

But divisions within the MDC over South Africa's possible role in finding a solution to the political crisis appear to have emerged.

Speaking from Zimbabwe, the MDC's secretary-general, Welshman Ncube, told IRIN, "South Africa has not done anything in the past five years, so I don't see the point [of a meeting with the South African authorities]. We do not expect them to do anything."

Tsvangirai acknowledged that the MDC did not expect any action from South Africa or the rest of the continent - even though it was likely that the crises in Zimbabwe would raised at the G8 summit - but added, "We are only asking them not shield [President Robert] Mugabe."

"The international community is willing to act [through the UN organs]; we do not want the African leaders to protect Mugabe and block actions against him," Ncube remarked.

Mbeki had assured them that he would meet with "his colleagues in the African Union and other international leaders to start negotiations" between the MDC and ZANU-PF, Tsvangirai said, "But it takes two to tango," he noted, adding that he was not "very hopeful" about ZANU-PF playing ball.

Maroleng pointed to the "international flurry" caused by the government's clean-up campaign, which had "put tremendous pressure on the Zimbabwean government to at least appear to be leaning forward towards the MDC".

Unofficial talks between the two parties have been 'on' and 'off' since the 2002 presidential election, which many poll observers rejected as flawed and marred by political violence. Earlier this year the clergy attempted to break the political impasse between the two parties, but failed.

Mbeki's spokesman, Bheki Khumalo, told IRIN the South African president had informed Tsvangirai that he had spoken to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan about the clean-up campaign in Zimbabwe. "The president said he was awaiting the UN special envoy Anna Tibaijuka's report on the situation".

Tsvangirai appealed for international aid to help the affected communities.

Meanwhile, the Methodist bishops of Southern Africa warned at a meeting in Johannesburg that a "potential genocide" could take place in Zimbabwe as a result of the demolition exercise.

Ivan Abrahams, the presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, explained the use of "genocide" by saying, "We are using strong language because we want the international community to sit up and notice. Thousands of people have been left homeless and without livelihood, yet the media focuses its attention on the Middle-East and Iraq".

The bishops also urged the AU and the Southern African Development Community to "abandon the policy of silent diplomacy" and "censure Mugabe".

The MDC is scheduled to meet Tibaijuka on Monday, after which the UN envoy is expected to travel to the Zimbabwean towns of Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.


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