Mbeki presses to meet Mugabe over crisis

Dumisani Muleya


SOUTH African President Thabo Mbeki has relaunched his diplomatic offensive to engage President Robert Mugabe in a bid to resolve Zimbabwe’s escalating political and economic crisis, it emerged yesterday.

Mbeki’s initiative come

s at a time when Mugabe is under mounting pressure from several fronts, including the United Nations, local diplomats and churches, to give a firm timetable for his departure to pave way for the reconstruction of the country shattered by years of misrule.

A report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank run by retired statesmen, this week said Zimbabwe’s multi-faceted problems had left Mugabe’s regime “increasingly desperate and dangerous”.

This, it said, was a recipe for disaster in a country that has virtually lost political direction and was hurtling towards a failed state. The report said the international community needed to intervene to prevent possible instability and violence.

Official sources said Mbeki — who has been battling for six years to find a negotiated settlement in Zimbabwe — yesterday dispatched his Intelligence Services minister Ronnie Kasrils to meet State Security minister Didymus Mutasa for talks on a possible summit between their two leaders.

Sources said Kasrils flew into Harare on a private jet shortly after midday accompanied by a high-powered delegation comprising South Africa’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) chief Manala Manzini and South African Secret Service (Sass) boss Dennis Hilton. NIA deals with internal intelligence while Sass focuses on foreign intelligence.

After meeting officials from his embassy in Harare, Kasrils is said to have gone into a meeting with Mutasa for discussions on the state of affairs in both countries and their relations. Sources said the main issue on the agenda was to arrange a summit between Mugabe and Mbeki to address the local crisis.

The two ministers, who resolved the spy saga deadlock between the two countries last year, had dinner last night at a local hotel. Kasrils returns home this morning.

An official source said the need for Mugabe to meet Mbeki had become urgent in view of the accelerating national decline and strained relations between the two leaders following a number of rebuffs from Mugabe.

South African ministers have of late been pointing out the need to resolve the local crisis to prevent a regional contagion. Mugabe in February suggested Mbeki must “keep away” from Zimbabwe. Mbeki’s spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga yesterday said he was not aware of plans for a meeting between his boss and Mugabe. “I’m not aware of that,” he said when contacted for comment. 

Sources said Mbeki recently sent Kasrils to London to meet government officials and intelligence chiefs before his visit three weeks ago to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Mbeki and Blair have met twice this year to discuss the local problem.

South African Intelligence Services ministry spokesperson Loran Daniels said she would “check” on Kasrils’ visit to Harare. “I have to check on that issue. Are you not able to check on your side, while I check this side?” she said. Efforts to contact Mutasa were unsuccessful.

Mbeki said in London three weeks ago he was hoping UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s expected visit would sort out the crisis. Annan is preparing to come to Harare despite Mugabe’s attempt to block him to prevent Zimbabwe becoming a UN Security Council issue. Last week the UN boss recalled the world body’s ambassador to Harare, Agostinho Zacarias, for consultations over the issue.

A team of local diplomats and a think-tank have already secured the services of former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa to mediate between Mugabe and Blair. Mugabe has said he wants to “build bridges” with Blair.

Tanzania is sending a new ambassador to Harare as part of its strategy to help resolve the issue.

British ambassador to Harare Andrew Pocock said this week he has been “quietly exploring for room” to improve strained relations between Harare and London. Blair has given clear conditions for talks with Mugabe including a timetable for Mugabe’s departure and political reform.