Thursday, November 27, 2008

(NEWZIMBABWE) Mbeki, Tsvangirai trade barbs as Zimbabwe talks threatened

Mbeki, Tsvangirai trade barbs as Zimbabwe talks threatened
By Lebo Nkatazo
Posted to the web: 27/11/2008 00:11:12

FORMER South African President Thabo Mbeki’s uneasy relationship with Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai exploded into a crisis on Wednesday and threatened to derail talks to find agreement on a power sharing government in Zimbabwe.

Mbeki – mediating among Zimbabwean parties -- uncharacteristically snapped after Tendai Biti, the secretary general of Tsvangirai’s MDC, wrote him a letter saying the resolutions of a recent regional summit on Zimbabwe were “a nullity”.

Previously, Tsvangirai had branded leaders of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) “cowards” for calling on him and President Robert Mugabe to form a unity government “forthwith”, and recommending that the two men’s parties share control of the Home Affairs Ministry in charge of the police.

In a 10-page response which has been leaked to the media, Mbeki fell just short of labelling Tsvangirai a puppet of powerful western countries – an accusation the MDC leader is highly sensitive to after years of trying to rebut the same charge made against him by Mugabe.

Mbeki’s letter immediately drew sharp criticism from Tsvangirai, accompanied by a demand that he immediately recuse himself from chairing discussions over a draft constitutional amendment that Zimbabwe’s three main parties have been deliberating on since Tuesday.

“His partisan support of Zanu PF, to the detriment of genuine dialogue, has made it impossible for the MDC to continue negotiating under his facilitation,” Tsvangirai declared in Johannesburg.

In his letter, Mbeki said Tsvangirai had used “offensive” language in his criticism of SADC leaders. Mbeki said the MDC must “take responsibility for the future of Zimbabwe, rather than see its mission as being a militant critic of President Mugabe and Zanu PF”.

He added: “All that is now required is that these leaders must remain true to their word. They must implement the Agreement they signed. In this regard, they (MDC-T) have absolutely no need to refer to their external supporters for approval, whoever they might be, and however powerful they might seem, including any and all South African formations.

“Realistically, Zimbabwe will never share the same neighbourhood with the countries of Western Europe and North America which have benefited especially from the migration of skilled and professional Zimbabweans to the North.”

Mbeki – for long goaded by the MDC and its international friends over his policy of privately engaging Mugabe instead of public condemnation -- was also piqued by the MDC’s public denunciation of SADC leaders.

“Because leaders in our region did not agree with you on some matter that served on the agenda of the SADC Extraordinary Summit Meeting, you have denounced them publicly as cowards,” the former president said. “It may be that, for whatever reason, you consider our region and continent as being of little consequence to the future of Zimbabwe, believing that others further away, in Western Europe and North America, are of greater importance.

“All of us will find it strange and insulting that because we do not agree with you on a small matter, you choose to describe us in a manner that is most offensive in terms of African culture, and therefore our sense of dignity as Africans, across our borders… Such manner of proceeding might earn you prominent media headlines. However, I assure you that it will do nothing to solve the problems of Zimbabwe.”

In response, Tsvangirai demanded that Mbeki must step down – not the first time he has made a similar call.

“He does not appear to understand how desperate the problem in Zimbabwe is, and the solutions he proposes are too small,” Tsvangirai said in a statement issued as Mbeki chaired a new round of mediation talks.

“He is not serving to bring the parties together because he does not understand what needs to be done.”

Mbeki brokered a power-sharing deal signed by Tsvangirai and President Mugabe two months ago, but the plan to form a unity government has run aground over disputes on the balance of power between the two parties.

Tsvangirai said he had written to South African President Kgalema Motlanthe “detailing the irretrievable state of our relationship with Mr Mbeki and asking that he recuse himself.”

The statement appeared to signal the end of two days of talks presided over by Mbeki in South Africa aimed at saving the deal.

The MDC leader said he remained committed to the unity accord, but accused Mbeki of siding with Mugabe’s Zanu PF party in the negotiations.

Attempts to remove Mbeki, appointed to mediate in the Zimbabwe crisis by SADC, will likely trigger a new stand-off between the MDC and Zanu PF, further delaying a push to agree on a constitutional amendment that will pave the way for a unity government.

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