The government of Zimbabwe has told a group of eminent individuals, including former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, to postpone a planned visit to the country. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg, the group will now convene in South Africa.
Annan, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and Graça Machel, the wife of South African elder statesman Nelson Mandela said they will now meet in Johannesburg on Friday. The group was due to travel to Zimbabwe to assess the ongoing humanitarian crisis in that country and to determine how the flow of assistance to needy Zimbabweans can be improved.
The Zimbabwe government did not issue a statement banning the visit. Instead, as is often the case, the state-controlled Herald newspaper reported that the government wanted to know who the group represented and reported to. The newspaper said a government source said the group was a clique of personalities hostile to Zimbabwe.
The Herald said the government had informed the group it appreciaties their humanitarian concern but was unable to handle the visit at this time of the year.
In a statement released Thursday, the group said they had hoped to meet with Zimbabwe's political leaders to hear their views without becoming involved in the country's ongoing political negotiations.
The three are members of The Elders, a group of 10 globally respected leaders who were convened in 2007 by Mandela and Graca Machel. Their aim is to bring what they say are experienced and independent voices in support of efforts to address global challenges.
In his statement, Annan said the group will now meet with individuals working on the ground in Zimbabwe. He said food shortages, a lack of seed and fertilizer for planting, and the breakdown in health services is prolonging the suffering of Zimbabweans. He added that urgent solutions are needed.
Meanwhile, doctors and nurses took to the streets of Harare this week to protest against the worsening conditions in Zimbabwe hospitals.
Two of the main hospitals in Zimbabwe have been shut down because of lack of drugs, money, water and resources in general. This comes at a time when Zimbabweans are experiencing a serious cholera outbreak in their country. More than 70 individuals have died from the disease so far.
Meanwhile two Zimbabweans have died, and 18 are currently being treated in South African medical facilities in the border town of Musina for cholera following an outbreak in their country. Dozens more have completed treatment.
The South African health services say they are adding two rehydration centers to the one already in the area and that one of the additional centers will be placed on the South African side of the border at Beit Bridge. They are also negotiating with Zimbabwean officials to locate a fourth in no-man's land between the two border posts.