Mail and Guardian
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA Nov 24 2008 13:10
Zimbabwe could soon collapse due to a political and economic crisis, African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma said on Monday, setting out the opinion of prominent figures including former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.
“They believe the situation is very bad. They believe things could collapse in a few months’ time in Zimbabwe,” Zuma told reporters after meeting Annan, former United States President Jimmy Carter and other prominent figures.
Annan, Carter and human rights champion Graca Machel, who is Nelson Mandela’s wife, are part of a group of prominent figures and former statesmen called the Elders. They were barred by Zimbabwe from visiting to assess a humanitarian crisis there this weekend.
A cholera outbreak that has killed at least 294 people has seen hundreds of Zimbabweans infected with the disease streaming across the South African border to seek treatment, South African media reported on Monday.
The power struggle between President Robert Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai has overshadowed daily hardships, including food and fuel shortages and hyperinflation, that have driven millions of Zimbabweans out of the country and strained regional economies.
Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, the MDC and a smaller MDC faction will meet former South African President Thabo Mbeki on Tuesday to seek a breakthrough in stalled power-sharing talks, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe said.
“The agreement is they will meet as of tomorrow and the facilitation team is working on that basis,” Motlanthe told reporters after meeting Annan and Carter.
Zuma said it was clear that Zimbabwe’s crisis had deteriorated to such an extent that there was an urgent need for action.
“The situation has gone [beyond] where we could say ‘wait and see’,” he said, adding the ANC will be sending a delegation to Zimbabwe to assess the situation in the country.
“We are pleading for the leadership [of the ruling party and opposition] for the sake of the people to find a solution that would help them move forward,” Zuma said.
Doubts have grown over Zimbabwe’s September 15 power-sharing agreement and Mugabe is trying to push through a constitutional amendment allowing him to name a Cabinet alone, which could lead to the unravelling of the deal with the opposition.
Tsvangirai has refused to enter the government, accusing Mugabe of trying to grab the powerful ministries. The main obstacle in talks is the issue of who runs the Home Affairs Ministry, which oversees the police.
Meanwhile, Annan, Carter and Machel visited a church housing Zimbabwean refugees on Sunday as they continued efforts to ease Zimbabwe’s humanitarian crisis.
On Sunday, the three talked to men, women and children who have fled Zimbabwe and sought refugee at the Central Methodist church in downtown Johannesburg.
Carter spoke to 14-year-old Kennedy Manyani, an orphan who crossed the crocodile-infested Limpopo River into South Africa by himself three months ago.
“I came because my grandmother could not afford to buy me clothes, food,” he told Carter.
More than 1 600 people are squeezed into the church with many more sleeping on the pavement outside. An estimated three million Zimbabweans live in South Africa and millions of others have fled to neighbouring countries in search of jobs and security.
While Zimbabwe’s political crisis occupies politicians, the humanitarian crisis is deepening.
Annan said at the church it was extremely important for Southern African countries to realise that regional efforts were needed to control the cholera epidemic.
The three were met with cheers as they made their way through the cramped building.
“Their visit boosts morale. It shows us that we are not alone,” said Herbert Nedi (24) who helps at the school and adult education centre the church has started.
Zimbabweans, who were the targets of anti-foreigner violence in South Africa this year, daily face the risk of arrest, beatings, harassment and sexual assault.
The church was raided by police this year and a number of refugees — most of whom are undocumented migrants — were deported.
“We are very vulnerable here,” said Bishop Paul Verryn. — Reuters, Sapa-AP