June 14, 2003

SA seeks Tsvangirai’s release

The South African government has approached Harare about releasing Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and about the resumption of dialogue between the country’s main political parties, diplomats told the Daily News this week. They said Western countries were also pressing South Africa to use its influence to ensure that Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, was not detained for much longer. Tsvangirai, who is already charged with treason for allegedly plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe, was again arrested last Friday at the end of the five-day anti-government protests called by his party. He is facing fresh treason charges for allegedly making statements calling for the unconstitutional removal of Mugabe and is in remand prison pending a ruling on his application for bail.

The diplomatic sources said Malawi, Nigeria and South Africa, which are attempting to facilitate dialogue between the MDC and Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF party, were keen to secure Tsvangirai’s release. They told the Daily News that South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma had a telephone conversation with Mugabe on Monday morning, during which Tsvangirai’s arrest and continued detention were brought up. South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Zuma also had a telephone conversation with her Zimbabwean counterpart, Stan Mudenge, on the same issue, the diplomats claimed. The sources said Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo had also discussed Tsvangirai’s detention with Zimbabwean government officials. "There was contact between the South African Vice-President, Jacob Zuma, and President Robert Mugabe, which centred on Tsvangirai’s arrest," one diplomat told the Daily News. Zuma was Acting President on Monday while South African President Thabo Mbeki was on a visit to Switzerland. The diplomat added: "In the same breath, Foreign Minister Nkosazana Zuma also had a conversation with Stan Mudenge on the same issue."

However, South African Foreign Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said he was not aware of any contact between Zuma and Mudenge because the South African minister was in Congo-Brazzaville this week. He said: "I am not aware if any contact has been made with the Zimbabwean government over Tsvangirai’s arrest. In any case, even if any contact had been made, we would not divulge such information." Meanwhile, Mbeki’s spokesman Bheki Khumalo also said he was not aware of any communication between the South African government and Harare because he was also in Switzerland this week. He however said the South African president was closely monitoring the situation in Zimbabwe. "I am not aware if any contacts have been made regarding the MDC leader’s arrest. I have been with the president in Switzerland for the past five days," he said. Khumalo added: "What I know is that the presidency, through our mission in Zimbabwe, is fully briefed and has been kept fully informed of the developments taking place regarding the issue of Morgan Tsvangirai’s arrest. The issue is being closely monitored."

Western diplomats this week told the Daily News that their governments were closely monitoring the situation in Zimbabwe and were trying to work with the region to put pressure on Harare to reconsider Tsvangirai’s detention. The diplomats said Western governments feared that the MDC leader’s continued incarceration could affect attempts to broker talks between his party and Zanu PF. Negotiations between the two parties broke down last year in May when the MDC filed an application with the High Court contesting Mugabe’s re-election the previous March. Commentators say dialogue between the MDC and Zanu PF could begin a process that could lead to the resolution of the country’s political stalemate and worsening economic crisis. (Daily News, Harare)

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