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South Africa Leaves Door Open to Zimbabwe Opposition

The South African government has responded cautiously to reports that Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change no longer wants South Africa to facilitate talks with the ruling ZANU-PF party.

The South African government says it was surprised to learn that the MDC wanted another facilitator for negotiations with Zimbabwe's ruling party. The MDC was reacting to a South African cabinet statement last week which concluded that the result in last month's parliamentary election was credible in reflecting the will of the country's voters.

South African presidency communications director Murphy Morobe told VOA that the government had not concluded that there were no problems at all with the election in Zimbabwe. He said President Thabo Mbeki had made that clear to South Africa's parliament last week.

Mr. Morobe said the Pretoria government was always willing to hear what the Movement for Democratic Change had to say.

"I think that the statement was surprising, especially in the light of the fact that the president has made the point that to the extent that there are issues relating to the elections we will hear from the MDC the extent to which those things are of such a nature that they would warrant the conclusion other than the one that our government has arrived at," he said.

Mr. Morobe says the government has not yet received any reports from the Movement for Democratic Change or from independent organizations such as the Zimbabwe Election Support Network and hopes that these will soon be forthcoming.

Movement for Democratic Change supporters
Earlier MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi told VOA the Movement for Democratic Change had not issued a statement saying it would end dealings with South Africa. He said the Movement for Democratic Change has responded to direct questions stating that party leaders are angry with the manner in which South Africa dealt with the elections in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Themba Nyathi said the Mbeki government's statements and actions created the perception that the South African government and its ruling party, the African National Congress, were aligned with the government and ruling ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe. He said the opposition party would prefer a facilitator who was clearly independent.

Mr. Morobe told VOA his government has always been clear that its role was not to prescribe but to facilitate, as requested by Zimbabweans themselves.

"And in any case, the government has a very clear and principled position on Zimbabwe," he said, " which is that we would defer and let the Zimbabweans take the lead in attending to their problems, and our role is to help and facilitate where possible."

Mr. Morobe says South Africa stands ready to talk to the MDC whenever they indicate a desire to do so. Mr. Themba Nyathi told VOA they would be willing to once again view South Africa as an honest broker if it recognizes that there is an urgent crises in Zimbabwe.

He said his country has an unemployment rate of 80 percent. At least three million Zimbabweans have sought refuge outside the country, mainly in South Africa, and seven million people, more than half the population, require food aid to survive.