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Purported S. African Memo On Zimbabwe Chills London-Pretoria Relations

The South Africa government has denied authorship of a report circulating among the region's movers and shakers in Lusaka, Zambia, ahead of a regional summit there, which assigns significant blame to Great Britain for Zimbabwe's economic woes.

Reports from Lusaka quoted the document and identified it as the draft of a report that South African President Thabo Mbeki, the Southern African Development Community's mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis, was to present to SADC leaders this week.

The report is said to accuse Britain of plotting to "strangle" Zimbabwe's economy and quotes the South African president as complaining that Britain "continues to deny its role as the principal protagonist in the Zimbabwean issue.”

An official in Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London declined to comment, saying Britain only reacts to official documents, not leaked ones.

But VOA reporter Delia Robertson in Johannesburg, briefing VOA Africa editor Joe De Capua, said Pretoria issued a statement Tuesday disavowing the report.

Some see the hand of Zimbabwe's Central Intelligence Organization in the affair, as the positions outlined in the memo tend to comfort Harare's own stance.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Tony Leon of South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance party told De Capua that he hoped the reports were false - but he added that Mr. Mbeki's government had issued statements of similar tenor in the past.

Editor Patrick Smith of the London-based Africa Confidential newsletter told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye that the report could damage relations between Britain and South Africa, suggesting this is why Pretoria has disclaimed responsibility for it.

Alongside the diplomatic row over what Mr. Mbeki said or did not say in the document, Pretoria is scolding journalists for calling Mr. Mbeki’s role one of "mediation," when the SADC communiqué issued in March said his brief was to “facilitate dialogue.”

But Bulawayo Agenda Director Gordon Moyo told reporter Brenda Moyo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that President Mbeki’s role had always been that of a mediator, and that Pretoria’s semantic advisory suggest it wants to lower expectations.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...