SADC leaders locked in talks as Zimbabwe unity deal proves elusive

August 17th, 2008 - 8:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Johannesburg, Aug 17 (DPA) Southern African leaders were engaged in intense talks behind closed doors Sunday as a two-day summit in Johannesburg drew near to a close without any sign of the Zimbabwean settlement that hosts South Africa had been pushing for. At the opening of the two-day Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting Saturday, South African President Thabo Mbeki said Zimbabwe’s neighbours would “assist the Zimbabwean parties to finalize their negotiations” on a government of national unity.

But Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai dampened hoped he was about to sign on the dotted line with longtime leader President Robert Mugabe, telling South Africa’s Sunday Independent: “We are so near, yet so far.”

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” Tsvangirai told the paper, claiming Mugabe had not ceded any ground on the key sticking point - the division of executive powers between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, if the latter becomes prime minister as has been proposed. Tsvangirai is pushing for full control of government - even if Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party controls some ministries - while Mugabe is looking to share authority with Tsvangirai.

The deadlock has overshadowed the SADC summit, at which South Africa took over as chair of the 14-nation grouping from Zambia.

Talks between the Zimbabwean leaders, brokered by Mbeki as SADC mediator, continued on the sidelines of the summit after a first three-day round in Harare ended Tuesday with Tsvangirai storming out.

Minority MDC faction leader Arthur Mutambara, the third party to the talks, sided with Mugabe in the spat.

Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara are all attending the SADC summit, the latter two leaders as observers.

Mugabe’s attendance as head of state has been controversial.

Botswana’s President Ian Khama, who refuses to recognize Mugabe’s victory in a one-man June presidential election widely derided as a sham, boycotted the summit.

Several hundred protestors organized by South Africa’s Congress of Trade Unions marched on the summit venue Saturday to protest the lack of democracy in both Zimbabwe and Swaziland, another SADC member.

Zambia, whose ailing President Levy Mwanawasa has been openly critical of Mugabe, also had strong words for Zimbabwe on handing over the SADC baton to South Africa.

The events leading up to and including the June run-off election had “left a serious blot on the culture of democracy in our sub-region,” Zambian Foreign Minister Kabinga Pande told the summit on behalf of Mwanawasa, who is recovering from a stroke.

Zimbabweans are hoping a negotiated settlement will rescue the country from the brink of economic collapse. Mugabe’s populist policies over the past decade are blamed for inflation of several million percent and widespread hunger.

Western powers such as Britain and the United States have vowed to plough money into the country’s reconstruction if Tsvangirai head the unity government and Mugabe takes a back seat.

Tsvangirai took the most votes in the last credible presidential election in March.

Also under discussion at the SADC summit was the creation of a Free Trade Area between members and the inclusion of Seychelles as a 15th member.

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