South African President Thabo Mbeki is meeting in Bulawayo with
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe before runoff presidential elections
next week. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our southern Africa
bureau in Johannesburg, the meeting backdrop is a deepening political,
social and economic crisis in Zimbabwe.
canceled a long-planned official visit to Sudan in order to meet with
Mr. Mugabe. The only official comment was a statement saying the visit
was in connection with his duties as the Southern Africa Development
Community facilitator for talks between the parties in Zimbabwe.
deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, Adam
Habib, tells VOA that at the top of Mr. Mbeki's agenda in his talks
with Mr. Mugabe is the ongoing violence against the opposition Movement
for Democratic Change.
"The immediate priority of [Mr.] Mbeki would be to try and quell the violence that is happening all over the place," said Habib.
Professor Habib adds that there is a growing acceptance among the
political elites in Southern Africa that Mr. Mugabe must go. The
question is how.
"But I think that there
is a broader realization that what is at play, is to work out a deal
that facilitates some kind of government of national unity," added Habib. "Their big
dilemma is how to effect that, with an autocrat in power, and that is
something they are grappling with on a day-to-day basis."
opposition won the Zimbabwe elections in late March, but MDC
presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai failed to achieve a simple
50-percent-plus-one majority in the presidential race, requiring a
Mr. Mbeki has since been the subject of severe
worldwide criticism for his interventions, much of the criticism
centered around incorrect reports he had said there was no crisis in
Zimbabwe during the lengthy wait for the result.
George Bush also discussed the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe early today
in a telephone conversation with Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa.
White House officials have not released details of the discussions, but
U.S. officials have been urging leaders in the region, especially Mr.
Mbeki to press Zimbabwe's president to allow independent observers to
monitor the upcoming election.
Habib says many Mbeki critics
fail to note that it was largely his intervention that led to a
successful poll in March. More than that he says, no one has offered
any meaningful alternative to engagement with Mr. Mugabe.
Mbeki can be much more critical than he has been. And that might be
welcomed by a whole range of quarters including myself, and a number of
other people, human rights activists around the world, even some
political leaders in the U.K. and the U.S. But would that have
contributed to breaking the logjam in Zimbabwe? It would have closed
the door for Robert Mugabe, and if we are arguing that the only game in
town is engagement; then you have just undermined the one influence you
may have had," continued Habib.
Habib says Mr. Mbeki may
be a lame-duck president at home, but he retains leverage with Mr.
Mugabe because the Zimbabwean leader knows there is no other leader in
the region with the same level of global influence.