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S. African Mediator Thabo Mbeki May Return to Zimbabwe

If Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe does not soon agree to a fully inclusive Cabinet, it is likely that former South African President Thabo Mbeki will be in Harare before the weekend. Mr. Mbeki has remained in contact with the stumbling Zimbabwean peace deal he facilitated last month on behalf of the Southern African Development Community.

Sources tell VOA negotiations on forming a Cabinet are taking place almost continuously in Harare at various levels in the political hierarchy.

A source with a long and close knowledge of the negotiations tells VOA the Cabinet should have been formed two weeks ago.

He said President Robert Mugabe had wasted valuable time going to the U.N. General Assembly, when Zimbabwe needed to have a government in place to begin reconstruction. He says the country remains in financial chaos while facing many humanitarian crises.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who is also one of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF negotiators, said Wednesday Mr. Mbeki's presence in Harare was not necessary.

But the source says that ZANU-PF's demand that it wants all the significant Cabinet positions, including the ministry of finance, is utterly ridiculous and would not stand up to scrutiny by the South African mediation team.

VOA has learned that the South African team readying for travel to Zimbabwe will include all those involved when Mr. Mbeki began the SADC mediation in April 2007, even though some are no longer in the South African government since Mr. Mbeki's departure from office last month.

The source, who does not want to be named because of the fragility of the present impasse, said the ZANU-PF politicians standing in the way of a new Cabinet are President Robert Mugabe and senior ZANU-PF leader Emmerson Mnangagwa, often said to be Mr. Mugabe's successor. He warned the power-sharing agreement could become null and void if an agreement on Cabinet posts is not reached.

A senior western diplomatic source this week told VOA that he was concerned at the delay in appointing a Cabinet because people need to be fed and crops need to be planted.

In order for Zimbabwe to resuscitate food production this year, significant aid will be needed to import seed and fertilizer before the best planting deadline, which is toward the end of November.

The diplomat said the West could not possibly assist with finance for the next seasons' crops if ZANU-PF remains in control of the ministry of finance and the central bank.

In a communiqué, SADC said it had asked the South African government, which presently chairs SADC, to resume mediation of the Zimbabwe crisis. South African President Kgalema Motlanthe says he has asked Mr. Mbeki to resume mediation of the stalled power-sharing agreement.

The agreement was signed in Harare last month, and the then-opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai became prime minister-designate.