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Role For Senior Southern African Statesmen Mooted In Zimbabwe Crisis

While the Southern African development community summit that ended late last week did not produce a major breakthrough on the Zimbabwe crisis, it does seem to have stimulated new thinking about how the political standoff that has led to an economic collapse can be resolved: by getting senior African statesmen involved.

Zambian Finance Minister Ng’andu Magande told Reuters that SADC should recruit retired African leaders such as former South African President Nelson Mandela to pressure President Robert Mugabe to institute political and economic reforms. He suggested "things could be done differently without anybody losing out.”

From Pretoria, International Crisis Group Senior Analyst Sydney Masamvu told VOA English to Africa reporter Peter Clottey Monday that Magande’s proposal could open a potentially productive “track two” diplomatic pathway through the crisis.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai, meanwhile, was expressing its dissatisfaction with the summit outcome though others including the U.S. State Department interpreted the communiqué positively.

Tsvangirai faction International affairs spokesman Eliphas Mukonoweshuro said the South African-mediated crisis-resolution talks are moving too slowly with elections just seven months off, saying significant reforms needed be in place by March 2008.

A high-level delegation dispatched by the MDC to the sidelines of the Lusaka summit submitted a list of demands to the embassies of SADC members, among them the conclusion of the talks by October and a halt to political intimidation in Zimbabwe.

Reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe asked Mukonoweshuro how the Tsvangirai faction would now proceed in light of the summit outcome.

Mr. Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, meanwhile, was set to push ahead in parliament with a controversial piece of legislation that would amend the constitution for the 18th time, including provisions for major changes in the country's electoral landscape and potentially throwing the crisis resolution talks into disarray.

Tsvangirai faction spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the amendment bill could torpedo the talks being mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki for SADC.

Both MDC factions and many civil society organizations insist that constitutional and electoral issues must be at the top of the agenda for the crisis talks. The unilateral passage of the amendment by ZANU-PF using its two-thirds majority in parliament would, they say, show a complete disregard for the mediated negotiations.

Sources in Pretoria said Mr. Mbeki was trying to persuade ZANU-PF to at least let the opposition help to shape the constitutional amendment.

It would create many new seats in the lower and upper houses and give parliament the power to fill the presidency if a vacancy were to arise, so that Mr. Mugabe were to win re-election in March, he could choose his successor if he subsequently retired.

Despite such objections, ZANU-PF Chief Whip Joram Gumbo told reporter Blessing Zulu that notwithstanding the Pretoria talks the ruling party has work to do.

National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku said the ruling party’s pursuit of the constitutional amendment reflected ZANU-PF's true objectives.

Elsewhere, the South African branch of the Tsvangirai opposition was launching a voter education campaign to encourage Zimbabweans registered to vote in Zimbabwe to go home at election time if they could not win the right to file absentee ballots.

Treasurer Gift Sabamu of the South African MDC branch said the estimated 3 million Zimbabweans in South Africa have the power to effect change and that the party will do all that it can to revise the law so as to permit absentee ballots.

Sabamu told reporter Patience Rusere that it will take large numbers of voters to remove President Mugabe and ZANU-PF from power.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...