May 10, 2002

ZIMBABWE: Talks postponed

Talks in Zimbabwe between the government and the opposition to resolve differences over the presidential election appear to have collapsed. The semi-official Herald newspaper reported that the talks, scheduled for Monday 13 May, have been shelved pending the outcome of an opposition legal challenge to President Robert Mugabe's election victory. The talks, brokered by South Africa and Nigeria, were due to start up again after they were adjourned a month ago. But the BBC's Lewis Machipisa in Harare says there is little chance of them being resurrected. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change alleges that the polls were rigged and has demanded a re-run of the voting. Many Western observers agree that there was a "climate of fear" during the poll, with opposition activists being attacked by government supporters. The government says the reports of violence were exaggerated, fuelled by an international campaign against it.

MDC secretary general Welshman Ncube said the postponement was indicative of Zanu PF's "arrogance and determination to suppress our freedoms" according to the French news agency, AFP. "Zanu PF is not ready for talks," he told the agency. "They're gravely mistaken if they think MDC needs the talks. Zanu PF needs the talks." He said the MDC would now resort to various forms of resistance. "We'll use all means necessary to have our freedoms restored," he said. Mr Ncube said the MDC leadership was under pressure from members not to continue talking with Zanu PF. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who is leading the Zanu PF delegation to the talks, has written to the Nigerian and South African mediators in the dialogue "asking for the talks to be deferred because of a number of new development, said the Herald.

Meanwhile, the South African government has, for the first time, admitted that its "silent diplomacy" approach to the economic and political crisis in Zimbabwe was a failure. Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, addressing a Diakonia Council of Churches breakfast in Durban on Friday, spoke frankly about strong behind-the-scenes attempts to prevail on the Zimbabwean government to stop violence and looting. "We failed. The government of Zimbabwe would not listen to us. We asked them to do something to stop the looting of farms and not to follow the route of lawlessness, but we failed," he said. Lekota disclosed that in spite of undertakings made during several talks between South Africa and Zimbabwe at the height of the crisis, chaos was allowed to reign and the crisis to spiral out of control. (ZWNews / BBC News, Saturday Star)

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