June 26, 2003

ZIMBABWE: Powell urges pressure on Mugabe while Shamuyarira speaks out softly

The US has turned the full weight of its attention towards Zimbabwe ahead of President George Bush's inaugural visit to the continent and SA early next month, pointing out bluntly yesterday that President Robert Mugabe remains in office only because he has "stepped-up violence and vote-rigging".

In an unusually robust opinion piece in The New York Times, US Secretary of State Colin Powell presents the harshest criticism yet from Washington of Mugabe and the failure of African countries to put pressure on him. Powell also warns SA and other neighbouring countries that regional stability is at stake unless they step up their efforts to resolve Harare's worsening crisis. "South Africa and other African countries can and should play a more sustained role that fully reflects the urgency of Zimbabwe's crisis. If leaders do not do more to convince President Mugabe to respect the rule of law and enter into a dialogue with the opposition, he and his cronies will drag Zimbabwe down until there is nothing left to ruin and Zimbabwe's implosion will continue to threaten the stability and prosperity of the region."

Powell also promised aid from the US for the time after the retirement of Mugabe: "There is a way out of the crisis. Zanu (PF) and the opposition party can together legislate the constitutional changes to allow for a transition. With the president gone, with a transitional government in place and with a date fixed for new elections, Zimbabweans of all descriptions would, I believe, come together to begin the process of rebuilding their country. If this happened, the US would be quick to pledge assistance to the restoration of Zimbabwe's political and economic institutions even before the election. Other donors, I am sure, would be close behind."

In a first reaction, South African Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said there was no need for South Africa to change its policy of quiet diplomacy. "There are well-known, ongoing efforts by South Africa and regional leaders to help the people of Zimbabwe. Those will continue, but in the end the solution to the problems there lies with the Zimbabwean people themselves," said Mamoepa.

Zimbabwe's ruling party has reacted angrily to Powell’s statement. The official Herald newspaper on Thursday, June 26, reported that Minister of State for Information Jonathan Moyo had called Powell's statements false, and linked the US call for a regime change in Zimbabwe to its invasion of Iraq. "The use of lies and deception by Powell and [US President George W] Bush has not worked in Iraq, where he wanted to mix it with oil. It will never, ever work anywhere else, and will certainly not mix with land in Zimbabwe," Moyo was quoted as saying.

But ZANU PF party yesterday said also it had no objections to a government of national unity with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). In an apparent climb-down, ZANU PF spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira said to The Daily News: "We have had such governments in the 1970s and in 1987 with ZAPU. It is a tradition that we have always had and we are ready for that (with the MDC)." Shamuyarira's softer line was in sharp contrast to ZANU PF and President Robert Mugabe's official position that they would never form a government of national unity with the MDC which they label a puppet of Britain and the West. (Business Day, Johannesburg / The Daily News, Harare / IRIN)

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