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S. African Minister Meets With Government, Union Leaders in Zimbabwe - 2003-01-08

South Africa's labor minister is in Harare for what is seen as a visit to assess the political situation in Zimbabwe.

Minister Mdladlana said the purpose of his mission was to finalize a labor agreement between Zimbabwe and South Africa that is to be ratified in June.

But Mr. Mdladlana will be in Zimbabwe four days and he will be meeting with more than government officials. He is scheduled to hold talks with leaders of Zimbabwe's General Agricultural Plantation Workers Union, the union of Zimbabwe's farm workers.

Union leaders have made it known they plan to tell Mr. Mdladlana that the government's land reform program has been an abysmal failure, all but halting agricultural production and leaving hundreds of thousands of commercial farm workers jobless.

The South African labor minister's trip to Zimbabwe follows a meeting in Pretoria before Christmas between South Africa's foreign minister, Nkosozana Dlamini Zuma, and a government delegation from Harare.

South Africa has been widely criticized by Western countries for failing to use its position to pressure Zimbabwe to return to the rule of law. South Africa says it is engaged in quiet diplomacy.

Civil rights groups in Zimbabwe said they see no evidence of that diplomacy. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change recently said South Africa's support of the Zimbabwe government was hurting the human rights situation.

But political analysts in Zimbabwe said that Mr. Mdladlana will be in Zimbabwe long enough to see for himself, and to advise his government, that the crisis in Zimbabwe is deepening.