South African President Jacob Zuma was due in Harare on Thursday to engage its three unity government principals as his ruling African National Congress party signaled that Mr. Zuma intends to be "more vocal" on Zimbabwe than his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki.
ANC Secretary General Gwede Manthashe said Mr. Zuma will address what he considers to be "deviant behavior" by some parties in the unity government, and the systematic harassment through the judicial system of members of Parliament of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Sources in Pretoria said Mr. Zuma's scheduled trip was on despite reports President Mugabe has been dealing with serious health issues in recent days.
South Africa's Times newspaper reported that Mr. Mugabe, who returned to Harare Tuesday from Dubai, flew to the Gulf for medical attention after a “serious scare.” Officials in Harare dismissed the reports saying Mr. Mugabe took a week's vacation with his family.
President Zuma's spokesman, Vincent Mangwenya, said his boss was traveling to Harare as planned and no communication from Harare as to Mr. Mugabe's health had been received.
Mr. Tsvangirai sought Zuma's help in mediating the so-called outstanding issues troubling the unity government. Responding, the ZANU-PF politiburo charged that the MDC has not campaigned energetically enough for the lifting of Western sanctions.
Mugabe spokesman George Charamba told the state-controlled Herald newspaper that Mr. Zuma was coming to open the Harare Agricultural Show, not to mediate.
But Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube, secretary general of the MDC formation of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, shot down this version.
Spokeswoman Nomfanelo Kota of the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs also confirmed that President Zuma would be conducting mediation in Harare.
Johannesburg-based international affairs expert David Monyae cautioned against expecting too much from this first visit by Mr. Zuma as South African president.
Minister of State Gorden Moyo, attached to the prime minister’s office, told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that Thursday’s talks will focus on the disputed offices of Reserve Bank governor and attorney general among other issues.
Civic groups were also hoping to meet Mr. Zuma to outline their concern at the slow pace of reform. Various groups led by the Civil Society Monitoring Mechanism which tracks progress by the unity government, have requested a meeting with Mr. Zuma.
Spokesman Fambai Ngirande of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that NGOs hope to impress on Mr. Zuma the need to resolve divisive issues so the country can move forward.
Diaspora branches of the MDC formation of Prime Minister Tsvangirai also weighed in to urge strong mediation by Mr. Zuma, Benedict Nhlapho reported from Johannesburg.
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