Sunday, May 28, 2006

SA running out of options over Zimbabwe crisis

Carole Landry | Johannesburg, South Africa
28 May 2006 08:04

South Africa is running out of ideas on how to pull Zimbabwe out of its crisis, turning to the United Nations to take the lead after a series of failures in tackling its biggest foreign policy headache.

President Thabo Mbeki is now pinning his hopes on outgoing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to resolve the Zimbabwean imbroglio, although Harare has rejected UN intervention.

"This reflects the growing frustration of President Mbeki in trying to address the crisis in Zimbabwe," said analyst Chris Maroleng of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies.

"It is a very opportune time for President Mbeki to try to hand over the reins to somebody else, given that there has been little progress with South African-led initiatives."

Mbeki seized upon his visit last week to London to disclose in a Financial Times interview that Annan would be visiting Harare in July or August to inject new impetus into efforts to help Zimbabwe.

"We all await the outcome of the intervention of the secretary general of the UN with regard to Zimbabwe," Mbeki said.

But President Robert Mugabe's spokesperson George Charamba flatly declared that "Zimbabwe is not a UN issue" and that an invitation to Annan to visit following last year's slum demolitions campaign was no longer valid.

A similar attempt last year by the African Union to enlist former Mozambican leader Joaquim Chissano as an outside mediator was also rejected out-of-hand by Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain 26 years ago.

South African attempts to mediate talks between Mugabe and the opposition have broken down, partly due to squabbling within the Movement for Democratic Change party which split into two factions earlier this year.

Mbeki's government late last year offered a $500-million loan to Zimbabwe on condition that Mugabe take steps to ensure economic recovery and political stability.

Harare refused to take the money and Mugabe instead announced plans to take a majority ownership stake in mines, including platinum ones partly owned by South African giant Implats, the world's second-largest producer.

Overall, South Africa has watched helplessly as Zimbabwe has descended into political and economic disarray.

Three elections since 2000 have been deemed undemocratic by Western governments which have slapped a travel ban on Mugabe and his inner circle and branded the regime as a pariah.

A seven-year economic recession has sent living standards in a freefall, with about 70% of Zimbabweans unemployed as inflation crossed the 1 000% threshold earlier this month.

About two million Zimbabweans, according to unofficial estimates, have crossed the border into South Africa in search of means to survive.

South Africa's failure to halt Zimbabwe's descent into hardship should serve as a message to Zimbabweans that they must seek their own home-grown solutions to the country's problems, said Sehlare Makgetlaneng, of the Africa Institute of South Africa.

"The resolution of Zimbabwe's problems is the task of the people of Zimbabwe. The opposition and civil society should not expect much from outside players," said Makgetlaneng.

The opposition has called for mass protests in June or July, blaming Mugabe for the country's economic meltdown that has resulted in severe shortages of basic goods such as maize, sugar and fuel.

Pretoria-based analysts see mounting pressure within the ruling Zanu-PF party for a leadership change that would pave the way for Zimbabwe to break out of isolation.

"There is a need for Mugabe to be replaced. There is no doubt about this," said Makgetlaneng.

"There is no quick fix," said Maroleng about prospects for a solution.

"This is going to be a long drawn-out process that will go into the next term of the South African presidency." - Sapa-AFP

Original source