The office of South African President Thabo Mbeki said he would travel to Zimbabwe on Thursday for brief meetings with representatives of the ruling ZANU_PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change as those parties to crisis talks mediated by Pretoria move closer to a comprehensive agreement.
Observers said Mr. Mbeki is under pressure to bring the negotiations on Zimbabwe's future to a successful conclusion by early next month,. as the European Union-African Union summit will open on Dec. 8 and the Zimbabwe crisis is expected to be one of the top issues discussed though it may not officially figure on the agenda.
They also noted that after stopping in Harare Mr. Mbeki will proceed to Kampala, Uganda, for a meeting of the Commonwealth heads of state and government where the possibility of Zimbabwe rejoining the organization has been mooted.
A statement from Mr. Mbeki's office said his impending visit to Harare was "aimed at deepening the process of dialogue" between the ruling party and opposition. He was named mediator in the talks by the Southern African Development Community at an extraordinary summit called to examine political clashes in Zimbabwe.
Despite seeming progress in the Pretoria talks, MDC founding president Morgan Tsvangirai warned this week that his opposition formation is keeping open the option of boycotting next year’s elections if the ruling party continues, as he maintains, to negotiate in bad faith in the talks by not implementing terms in practice.
Tsvangirai laid out the quasi-ultimatum in in a public debate organized by the Royal Commonwealth Society in Kampala before the opening of the summit.
Tsvangirai told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that although his opposition formation is threatening an election boycott, he and other opposition officials hope Mr. Mbeki will persuade ZANU-PF to embrace reform.
It was unclear whether Mr. Mbeki would meet during his stop in Harare with President Robert Mugabe, whose acceptance and endorsement of electoral reforms hammered out in the Pretoria talks could decide whether they have any effect in practice.