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South Africa Warns Situation in Zimbabwe Dire

South Africa's two most powerful leaders, the president and head of the ruling party, have warned the situation in Zimbabwe is dire and that urgent steps are needed to avoid a collapse in the country. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from Johannesburg, where the leaders met with a delegation of individuals from a group called, The Elders, who were recently denied entry into Zimbabwe.

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe warned that Zimbabwe could collapse, unless the root cause of the political crisis in that country is addressed. He said Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change need to move speedily to establish an inclusive government under the terms of an agreement brokered by regional leaders in September.

"The parties agreed on the distribution of ministries, and once they pass this amendment 19, and established an inclusive government, that government would be a single government; it would be a government of Zimbabwe," said Motlanthe. "They are not going to establish a ZANU-PF government and an MDC government; it will be one government for all the people of Zimbabwe."

Despite repeated mediation efforts by regional leaders, the two sides have failed to agree on the composition of a unity government in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Motlanthe said that former South African President Thabo Mbeki, a key mediator in the Zimbabwe talks, will soon announce a date for a resumption of those negotiations. However, Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai has already indicated he may boycott the meeting.

Jacob Zuma, head of South Africa's ruling African National Congress party, said he will send a delegation to meet with the political parties in Zimbabwe in an attempt to move the process forward. Zuma said it was unfortunate that Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe had refused entry to a delegation from The Elders group to assess the current humanitarian crisis in the country. The delegation includes former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, and international rights campaigner Graça Machel.

On Sunday, the delegation visited a church in downtown Johannesburg, where hundreds of Zimbabweans have sought refuge. Mr. Annan offered a gentle response to Mr. Mugabe, who cited Zimbabwe's sovereignty in rejecting the visit by the delegation.

"But sovereignty also comes with the responsibility of looking after the people and protecting them, and this is a message that I don't think we on this continent have internalize," he said.

Mr. Carter said Monday he believes the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe is worse than he originally feared, especially due to the crumbling economy and collapsing health system.

Zimbabwe is currently experiencing a severe outbreak of cholera across the country. The World Health Organization said about 6,000 people have been infected, and about 300 have died.

Hundreds of people have fled to South Africa for treatment. The South African government is increasing health services at the border area, and warned hospitals throughout the country to be on the alert. South Africa is also sending a team to Zimbabwe to try and shore up medical services there.