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Zimbabweans Show Little Optimism Ahead of SADC Summit


South African President Thabo Mbeki's anticipated report to the Southern African Development Community summit on Thursday is unlikely to reveal significant progress toward resolving the crisis in Zimbabwe. The report, on the mediation between President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, began after a special summit on Zimbabwe in Tanzania five months ago. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA.

President Mbeki goes to this week's SADC summit in Lusaka, Zambia, unable to claim any significant progress in resolving the Zimbabwe crisis.

The South Africans were appointed by SADC in March to facilitate talks between the ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition MDC leading to elections next March.

So far there have been only two substantive sessions between President Mugabe's negotiators and the two secretary-generals of the divided MDC.

At first the two sides engaged on a draft constitution they negotiated in secret in Harare in 2004.

However, after Mr. Mugabe said last month he would never agree to a new constitution ahead of the elections in six months, the two sides have been discussing reforms of electoral laws.

Any reforms could be facilitated through another amendment to Zimbabwe's constitution.

President Mugabe already wants an amendment to allow presidential and parliamentary elections to be held simultaneously. He also wants the constitution amended so that if he retires or dies in office, parliament would choose his successor and not the electorate.

As it stands now, President Mugabe would be the ZANU-PF candidate for the presidential election due next March, and time is running out for any serious changes to Zimbabwe's electoral laws and processes, which the opposition claims were created to assist ZANU-PF at the polls.

President Mugabe told cheering crowds at a rally Monday to commemorate Zimbabwe's liberation war heroes, that the recent price cuts which saw retail prices cut below cost of manufacture, would remain.

He said nothing would stop Zimbabwe "from expressing our sovereign right to govern ourselves as we deem fit."

The Zimbabwean president described current hyperinflation as a "brazen conspiracy" and blamed former colonial power Britain, for the unprecedented economic crisis, which he said was "temporary."

Last week the U.S. Famine Early Warning Systems Network, or Fewsnet, issued an "emergency" report on Zimbabwe's food situation.

In addition to a poor agricultural season and the need for massive emergency feeding programs, Fewsnet commented on the empty shelves in Zimbabwe's supermarkets.

"The formal market can no longer maintain a regular supply of basic goods," Fewsnet said.

Meanwhile all SADC countries surrounding landlocked Zimbabwe report an upsurge of people fleeing the economic crisis.

The South African government says it has repatriated about 100,000 illegal Zimbabweans so far this year.

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