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Southern Africa Gears up for Zimbabwe Summit

Southern African leaders meet in Johannesburg Sunday in an attempt to resolve the impasse between Zimbawean leaders over the allocation of Cabinet posts in a planned power-sharing government. However, as Peta Thornycroft reports, a surge in state-sponsored political violence and continuing arrests of activists are threatening prospects the summit will be able to move the process forward.

The Movement for Democratic Change is gloomy about the future of the September 15 power-sharing agreement. Party spokesman Nelson Chamis says there are numerous violations of the agreement, citing in particular violence against party members and civil society activists. He said the agreement has become a corpse and it should now be buried.

The MDC has a narrow majority in parliament and party leader Morgan Tsvangirai decisively beat President Robert Mugabe in the first round of presidential elections in March. Tsvangirai withdrew from the second round citing violence against his supporters and President Mugabe's victory was widely condemned by African observers who said it was not a fair poll and failed to reflect the will of Zimbabweans.

In the September agreement, the party leaders agreed to the number of posts each party would hold but they did not agree on which ministerial posts would be allocated to which party. Last month Mr. Mugabe, who heads ZANU-PF, unilaterally assigned the portfolios, giving his own party all three security ministries - defense, police and intelligence.

Tsvangirai and Zimbabwe's civil rights activists say this is unacceptable. In addition they say that the home affairs ministry, which controls the police, should be an MDC position.

Several top civil rights and constitutional lawyers in Harare have written critiques recently of the power-sharing agreement and say it is massively defective and leaves ultimate power in Mr. Mugabe's hands, and that he can override the powers of the prime minister designate, Tsvangirai.

When it was signed, the agreement was guaranteed by former South African President Thabo Mbeki on behalf of South Africa and by the Southern Africa Development Community. However, no regional authority or mechanisms have been put in plaace, to police violations by a transitional power sharing
government if it is indeed established.

Insiders in the MDC say, if there is no resolution at the Sunday summit, they will also ask that the dispute be referred to the African Union, and if the AU is unable to resolve the deadlock that it be referred to the United Nations.

The 14 SADC member states at the summit appointed Mr. Mbeki to mediate the Zimbabwe crisis in April 2007, after Tsvangirai and scores of his colleagues were injured while in police custody. Apart from some reform to a handful of repressive laws, that mediation failed last December to produce a new constitution ahead of the March elections.

More than 120 MDC supporters were killed and thousands arrested, injured and displaced during the election period between March and June. Since then there has been a lull, which was broken last week when scores of people were attacked in Epworth, a Harare suburb where the MDC enjoys strong support. The party says more supporters and other activists have been arrested and beaten in rural areas north and west of Harare.

Two leaders from the Women of Zimbabwe Arise movement were released Thursday after three weeks in detention. They said they were held in inhuman conditions and that fellow prisoners were grossly malnourished.

The SADC summit also takes place against the background of an unprecedented food shortage in Zimbabwe. Humanitarian agencies are struggling to overcome bureaucratic delays hindering distribution of food aid. More than five million people, or nearly half the population, will need emergency food assistance by January.