South African President Thabo Mbeki has asked to take part in the meeting between United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and President Robert Mugabe set to be held on the sidelines of an African Union summit opening Saturday in Banjul, the Gambia. But U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said it was too early to comment because the details of the meeting were still being worked out.
South African Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad was quoted in his country’s press Tuesday as saying Mbeki felt he should be involved in the talks by virtue of South Africa's geographical proximity and the role that he has been playing for several years in trying to resolve Zimbabwe’s crisis.
Diplomatic sources said the meeting could decide if Annan will make a long-delayed visit to Harare that was first proposed in late 2005 after the UN issued a condemnation of the government’s slum clearance campaign, Operation Murambatsvina, or "Drive Out Rubbish." A U.N. special envoy estimated that the forced eviction and demolition drive left 700,000 people homeless or deprived of their livelihoods, or both.
But Harare expressed reservations more recently when Annan’s visit was linked to an initiative for a U.N.-brokered solution to the Zimbabwe crisis – one which might involve an early retirement for Mr. Mugabe. The government has said its invitation to Annan remains open – but that Mr. Mugabe’s tenure would not be on the agenda.
Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe asked Johannesburg-based analyst Obri Matshiqi about the political implications of the Gambia meeting.