x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Leaders under pressure over Zimbabwe

Regional heads urged to get tough with Mugabe Godfrey Marawanyika JOHANNESBURG // Southern African leaders were under pressure to get tough with Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, as they gathered yesterday for a last-ditch effort to save a stalled power-sharing deal. Ministers from the Southern African Development Community, a regional security organ, were due to meet in Johannesburg, one day before their leaders hold talks with Mr Mugabe and his chief rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader.

The emergency summit of the 15-country bloc, which has traditionally been divided on Zimbabwe, comes as Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai trade accusations over the impasse. A Zimbabwean government official said the summit was "make or break" for a Sept 15 power-sharing accord that would see Mr Mugabe, 84, remain as president and Mr Tsvangirai become his prime minister. "Tomorrow is make or break. Either there is a deal or no deal. If Morgan and his team continue to make outrageous demands, shifting goalposts, we will go it alone and we don't care what the world will say," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Hailed as a step towards ending months of political turmoil and halting Zimbabwe's descent into economic chaos, the deal became bogged down by disagreements over who would control the most powerful cabinet posts. Zimbabwe's state media, a mouthpiece of Mr Mugabe's ruling party, the Zanu-PF, blamed the opposition yesterday for the deadlock and called on Mr Mugabe to go ahead and appoint his new cabinet.

"Regrettably, the MDC-T [Tsvangirai] leadership, whose prevarication stalled previous rounds, is singing a different tune that appears designed to scupper tomorrow's talks," the state-run Herald newspaper said yesterday. The paper suggested the parties should commit to a Zanu-PF proposal, which it said had been endorsed by the SADC, and share control of the home affairs ministry - the most controversial portfolio with control over police and internal security.

But Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change accuses Mr Mugabe of handing all the key ministries to his own party. "Ideally we want this process to be concluded, but it might not be possible due to the attitude shown by Zanu-PF," said Nelson Chamisa, a party spokesman. Kgalema Motlanthe, the South African president, said all political parties in Zimbabwe should get serious and refrain from engaging in what he called "trivial issues", radio reports said.

Human Rights Watch, a New-York based advocacy group, said regional leaders must get tough with the veteran president, or ask the United Nations to step in. "The regional leaders in SADC need to get tough on the party leader, Robert Mugabe, or ask the United Nations to intervene," said HRW's Africa director, Georgette Gagnon, in a statement. South Africa's government came out strongly this week, warning it would take a harder stance with SADC leaders as the stalemate threatened regional stability.

"We believe South Africa and the region cannot be held to ransom by parties who are failing to reach agreement on the allocation of cabinet posts," Themba Maseko, a government spokesman, said last week. As the unity accord teeters on the brink of collapse, the country's economic decline worsens as Zimbabweans battle shortages of key food items. * Agence France-Presse