25. November 2008

Collapse Warning as Harare Talks Resume

ZIMBABWEAN negotiators are due to meet in SA today in another bid to salvage their power-sharing deal, amid a warning by President Kgalema Motlanthe that the deteriorating humanitarian situation "will get worse and implode or collapse altogether".

Motlanthe warned that a representative government would have to be formed soon, while a delegation of the group of Elders described the situation in Zimbabwe as fast declining. Motlanthe, speaking after meeting with a delegation of the Elders, said the humanitarian and political crises were two sides of one coin and needed to be addressed simultaneously.

The Elders, comprising former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, former US president Jimmy Carter and human rights campaigner Graca Machel, yesterday urged the ruling Zanu (PF) and two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to urgently implement the power-sharing deal they signed in September.

The three were denied visas to visit Zimbabwe in a bid to assess the situation. Instead they met with relevant groups and individuals in SA and said the situation was dire. "We were expecting a gloomy situation, but the situation is far beyond what we could have imagined," Machel said at a press briefing in Johannesburg.

Zimbabwe needed $550m in aid next year to help shore up the agricultural industry, said Annan, while another $140m would be needed for farming this year to meet a funding gap.

Carter said the signing of the unity deal had raised hopes, but the "failure to implement it in good faith and create a good workable power-sharing government is leading to despair and accelerating the crisis". He said that -- regardless of the challenges -- all parties should make the welfare of the people their first priority and "put an end to unnecessary suffering of millions".

Machel said there was no possible solution to the humanitarian crisis before solving the political situation.

Last night the main MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai had resolved it would attend the talks after an emergency meeting. MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the MDC would attend on condition the talks dealt with all outstanding issues, and not just a constitutional amendment to facilitate the contentious sharing of the home affairs portfolio. "We are going there to insist that all issues must be dealt with seriously," he said.

The MDC wants the distribution of ministries, sharing of provincial governors, appointment of senior government officials and diplomats, composition of the national security council and correction of alterations in the power-sharing agreement resolved together with the amendment of the constitution to allow for the formation of the unity government.

At an emergency Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting recently, it was resolved that the home affairs ministry be co-managed between Zanu (PF) and Tsvangirai's MDC, and that the efficacy of this arrangement be reviewed after six months.

The Elders again appealed to SADC to be more assertive and urgently deal with the situation, adding that more could have been done to avert the crisis. However, Annan described as "delicate" any attempt to have the African Union (AU) take over the mediation since the 15-member SADC would first have to admit failure. "I don't see it happening tomorrow," he said.

But the Elders commended SA's decision last week to withhold R300m worth of agricultural assistance as a step towards more assertiveness by SADC member states. A "concerted" campaign of this nature could achieve results, Machel said. Services were close to collapse, they said.

School enrolment had fallen from 85% last year to 20% while textbooks were so scarce that one text was shared among 20 learners. All four of the country's major hospitals were closed, including a facility that treated women with birth-related complaints. Reported cases of cholera were about 6300 -- yet the disease was killing 10 times more than the average in similar outbreaks. Zimbabwean authorities had no clue or simply did not care as "anybody sensible" would do everything possible to stop the suffering, Machel said, emphasising that both the humanitarian and political crises needed to be approached with the same urgency.

Motlanthe said when Zimbabwean authorities refused to grant access to the Elders, SA tried but failed to make contact with the Mugabe government, despite assurances he would be in touch. "He didn't come back to us," said Motlanthe, who is also chairman of the SADC.

The Elders also met African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma who condemned Zimbabwe's failure to let them into the country. "Even in a war, a humanitarian situation is always given an opportunity," he said. Zuma said that an ANC delegation would seek to meet both Zanu (PF) and the MDC. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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