SOUTH African President Thabo Mbeki has assured his United States counterpart George Bush that President Robert Mugabe will soon quit to make way for fresh elections, diplomatic sources said
Mbeki and Bush also discussed an American reconstruction package that would be released once Mugabe leaves office.
Bheki Khumalo, Mbeki’s spokesman, said the two leaders discussed the package but no details were put on the table.
Reports from Pretoria yesterday said Mbeki indicated to Bush that Mugabe has promised to give up the Zanu PF leadership in December during Zanu PF’s annual national conference. A fresh presidential poll would then be held in March in tandem with a parliamentary election.
Mugabe is said to be pressing for a June poll, but the South Africans want it out of the way before their own general election which is scheduled for June but might be brought forward to April.
Some of these arrangements were discussed when Mugabe attended an Aids conference in Lesotho last week, it is understood.
Mugabe has already hinted he is preparing to go and declared his succession debate open during a television interview in April.
Bush, who despite combative remarks prior to his arrival in South Africa on Tuesday has agreed to follow Mbeki’s lead on Zimbabwe, in return promised the generous package for Zimbabwe’s recovery in the post-Mugabe era.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change will today meet members of Bush’s team to sell its road map to the restoration of legitimacy and democracy in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe’s exit is also expected to feature at the meeting.
Sources said an opposition team comprising party deputy secretary-general Gift Chimanikire, spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi and secretary for legal affairs David Coltart will meet a high-level US delegation either in Pretoria or Johannesburg this afternoon to exchange notes on crucial issues.
The US group is likely to include Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner and other senior officials.
After his meeting with Mbeki, Bush said he had “no intention of second-guessing his (Mbeki) tactics” because “we share the same outcome”.
Mbeki said he had agreed with Bush on the way forward on Zimbabwe.
“President Bush and myself are absolutely of one mind about the urgent need to address the political and economic challenges of Zimbabwe,” he said. “It’s necessary to resolve this matter as quickly as is possible.”
Sources close to the Bush/Mbeki talks said Mbeki had expressed the view that the MDC leadership lacked political maturity and wasn’t ready to take over. The South Africans are thought to prefer Zanu PF national chairman John Nkomo as a successor to Mugabe rather than Mugabe’s nominee, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Bush is currently on a whirlwind African safari to meet continental leaders over a wide range of political, economic, and social issues. His swing across the continent has already taken him to Senegal, South Africa and Botswana.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has said that his party’s position is that there has to be a three-phased transitional plan in Zimbabwe.
The first stage of the plan involves working out an exit strategy for Mugabe who is seen as a stumbling block to the resolution of the local crisis.
Then a transitional authoritytasked with introducing fundamental democratic reforms would be set-up.
The last and final stage would be the holding of fresh elections under a new electoral system and under international supervision.
Observers say Bush’s ready compliance with Mbeki’s stance on Zimbabwe suggests he has been given firm assurances on Mugabe’s exit. But the details could not be confirmed yesterday.