SADC is understood to be pushing for a government of national unity as a solution to Zimbabweâ€™s political crisis, arguing that the anticipated presidential election run-off will not end the impasse.
The run-off is expected next month.
Regional diplomatic sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that the bloc had mandated South African President Thabo Mbeki to open dialogue on the proposal between bitter rivals President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC.
Sadc, the sources said, also wanted independent presidential candidate Simba Makoni to be involved in the talks given his appeal among regional leaders who consider him neutral in a crisis worsened by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commissionâ€™s failure to announce the outcome of the March 29 presidential poll.Â
Tsvangirai has since claimed victory in the election while Zanu PF insists that there is need for a run-off because the opposition leader and Mugabe failed to garner the mandatory 50% plus votes to assume office.
â€œPresident Mbeki has been mandated by Sadc to facilitate dialogue between Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Makoni,â€ a diplomatic source said.
â€œThe dialogue should culminate in the formation of a government of national unity. Sadc believes that such a government will be a solution to the crisis in the country.â€
Mbeki was in March last year appointed by Sadc to facilitate talks between Mugabeâ€™s Zanu PF and both factions of the MDC to ensure undisputed elections.
The sources said regional leaders were opposed to the presidential run-off, arguing that its outcome would be disputed, especially if Mugabe won.
â€œIt was felt among the leaders that if Mugabe wins, Tsvangirai will reject the outcome. The MDC has since questioned the credibility and impartiality of the electoral commission,â€ one of the sources pointed out.
When Mbeki met Mugabe a fortnight ago, the sources said, he reportedly made the proposal but there was no response from the 84-year-old leader. Hawks in his ruling Zanu PF were reportedly against getting into bed with Tsvangirai.
The sources said Mbeki was expected next week to facilitate high level talks between Zanu PF, the MDC and Makoniâ€™s group.Â
During an extraordinary Sadc summit two weeks ago on the Zimbabwe crisis, Makoni â€” believed to have come a distant third in the presidential race â€” proposed a government of national unity to the regional leaders on the sidelines of the meeting.
Makoni reportedly said he wanted to head the transitional government but Tsvangirai shot down the proposal.
â€œIn the presentation they made to the leaders, he (Tsvangirai) contradicted Makoniâ€™s reasoning behind a government of national unity,â€ another diplomat said. â€œTsvangirai was of the opinion that Makoni had no role to play given that he reportedly got less than 10% of the presidential votes.â€
Tsvangirai last week said Zanu PF approached the MDC soon after the harmonised elections and proposed a government of national unity, but the talks collapsed when hardliners in the ruling party called them off.
He said he was prepared for a government of national unity in which he would be the president.
But the Sadc transitional government talks, the sources said, would have to reach a consensus on who should lead it.
Makoniâ€™s movement has since endorsed the formation of a transitional government.One of the top members of the movement, former Zanu PF politburo member Dumiso Dabengwa, last week said: â€œWe as Kusile (the Makoni project) have appealed to all parties to engage in dialogue.
This was also the call from President Mugabe in his (Independence Day) addressâ€¦ when he said he hoped for dialogue.â€
The diplomatic sources said Sadc leaders were last week irked by Tsvangiraiâ€™s call for Mbeki to be relieved of his mediation duties and replaced by Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa who is the blocâ€™s chairperson.
Tsvangiraiâ€™s call, the sources said, revealed his shortcomings on the diplomatic front.
â€œInstead of rallying the Sadc leaders together to rein in Mugabe, Tsvangirai wanted to divide the regional leaders,â€ a source said.
â€œThe humiliating response from Mauritius where the heads of state were meeting on Saturday and the announcement from Zambia that Mwanawasa was not interested and that he trusts Mbeki have dealt a fatal blow to any hope that Sadc can be persuaded to see things the way Tsvangirai does.â€
Tsvangirai last week told a news conference in Johannesburg that Mbeki needed to be relieved of his duties.
â€œI made a specific request to President Mwanawasa to say that he needs to lead a new initiative, an initiative that will expand beyond that of Mbeki,â€ Tsvangirai said.
But Sadc leaders on Saturday said they wanted Mbeki to continue mediating in the Zimbabwe crisis.
Mauritian Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam confirmed that the Sadc summit had asked Mbeki to carry on mediating.
Ramgoolam said: â€œWe have complete faith in President Mbeki. We have renewed our confidence in him by asking him to continue the work of mediation and find a solution to the situation in Zimbabwe.â€
Mbeki has been under fire for his â€œquiet diplomacyâ€ approach on Zimbabwe but last week defended it saying â€œloud diplomacyâ€ was no diplomacy and that the ZEC should be allowed to do its work without undue pressure.
South Africaâ€™s ruling ANC party president Jacob Zuma this week also defended Mbekiâ€™s approach, saying his mediation had not failed.