Mbeki expected in Harare today as Zim pact looms

HARARE - South African President Thabo Mbeki is expected in Harare today amid growing optimism that power-sharing talks between President Robert Mugabe and the opposition could yield a positive result.

Mbeki is the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s chief mediator in the talks aimed at forming a government of national unity seen as the best way to resolve Zimbabwe’s long-running political and economic crisis.

South Africa’s Foreign Affairs department said in a statement on Friday that Mbeki would travel to Zimbabwe to meet Mugabe, main opposition MDC party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, head of the a breakaway faction of the MDC.

The statement did not disclose details of Mbeki’s trip but ZimOnline understands that the South African leader would first hold separate meetings with Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara before chairing what sources described as a make-or-break joint meeting of the three rivals on Sunday.

The meeting with all the three political leaders is scheduled for Sunday, said an opposition official who did not want to be named.

Zimbabwe’s political leaders began dialogue about two weeks ago in a bid to break a long-running crisis that took a turn for the worse following Mugabe’s disputed and violent re-election in June.

The SADC and the African Union have leaned heavily on leaders to bury their differences and form a power-sharing government to confront an unprecedented crisis that is seen in severe food shortages, deepening poverty, 80 percent unemployment and the world’s highest inflation rate of more than two million percent.

Reports that the Mbeki-led talks are nearing a positive end have evoked hope across Zimbabwe but analysts urged caution pointing out that there were key issues still to be tackled in Sunday’s meeting that had potential to delay or even derail the whole dialogue process.

Everything is still much in the air, nothing is concluded yet and this weekend’s meeting of the principals is either going to make or break this thing, International Crisis Group analyst Sydney Masamvu told ZimOnline.

Speaking to international media on Friday, University of Johannesburg political analyst Steven Friedman described reports that Mugabe’s ZANU PF party and the MDC were close to a deal as “just too good to be true”.

“You don’t go from a situation where two or three weeks ago people were being killed in the streets for being MDC, then three weeks later you have a nice power-sharing agreement in which everybody agrees to work with each other,” he said.

Key among issues that could yet prevent the Zimbabwean parties reaching settlement is the question of what roles Mugabe and Tsvangirai would assume in a unity government.

Our sources say there is high likelihood that the political rivals could share power in a French style government with Mugabe serving as an executive president and Tsvangirai coming in as an executive prime minister. But they say there is no agreement over exactly what powers or functions each should assume.

There is also disagreement over the during of the transitional period with ZANU PF preferring the unity government to serve for five years while the MDC says it should last only 24-30 months. – ZimOnline

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