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SADC Holds Crucial Regional Summit on Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, April 14, 2011 (file photo)

Expectations are high among Zimbabweans ahead of a regional summit that many hope will result in a roadmap to free and fair elections. The summit follows a key regional meeting in Zambia two months ago, when without naming names, regional leaders blamed President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party for failing to implement key sections of the 2008 political agreement which brought the country's inclusive government to power.

Many Zimbabweans were either shocked or delighted when the Southern African Development Community's (SADC) "Troika" on politics, security, and defense blamed ZANU-PF for holding up progress towards free and fair elections.

ZANU-PF-aligned media were angry after the Troika statement and criticized South African mediators appointed by President Jacob Zuma.

Zimbabwe's majority party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was delighted as it believed, for the first time, that SADC had treated it with respect and had listened to its messages.

The communiqué from the SADC Troika will be presented to the heads of 156 member states in Johannesburg late Saturday.

ZANU-PF says it wants elections this year or early next year. The MDC says that it will take longer than that to implement political reforms, including a new constitution.

The present inclusive government has no time limit except that the present constitution insists new elections must be held before March, 2013.

Ahead of the Saturday summit, many civil rights activists in Zimbabwe are anxious about what will emerge. One of them is Virginia Mlambo.

"My expectations as from the SADC troika meeting, the SADC has to be very serious on the issues which they deliberated on in Livingstone[, Zambia]," said Mlambo.

She said Mugabe's activists are determined to persuade the summit that the MDC is a violent party, since a policeman was killed in Harare's Glen View suburb two weeks ago. There are now 20 people charged in connection with the murder.

"They should advocate for the release of those Glen View MDC supporters as soon as possible," added Mlambo. "ZANU-PF is taking this as a weapon to claim that MDC is a violent party."

In Johannesburg there are activists from ZANU-PF and MDC lobbying for support.

At one of the press briefings by Zimbabwean civil rights activists Thursday, a group of ZANU-PF loyalists caused a scuffle at a Johannesburg hotel, and one of the group was taken away by South African police.