South Africa President Thabo Mbeki met on Thursday in Harare with President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and leaders of both factions of the political opposition, pressing the parties to crisis talks he is mediating to wrap them up in the next two weeks.
Sources close to the Pretoria negotiations said they have bogged down in the details of Zimbabwean electoral reform and the repeal or redrafting of security laws.
But Mr. Mbeki told reporters at State House in Harare after meeting with Mr. Mugabe that the talks have gone well so far and that he is confident a solution is in reach.
“They (the talks) have gone very well. I came to Harare today to see the president and the leadership of the MDC so we can reflect on where we are and to report to them as facilitator how the talks have gone," Mr Mbeki told the news conference
Mr. Mbeki was to continue on to Kampala for a weekend summit of the Commonwealth heads of state, whom he was to brief on his Zimbabwe mediation efforts. A European-African summit looms in early December in Lisbon, at which, no doubt, Mr. Mbeki will be called upon to deliver an account of his efforts to bring peace to Zimbabwe.
But opposition officials said they won't sign an agreement without a firm commitment to serious democratic reforms by Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. They said the talks are at a strategic turning point and further delay will jeopardize the March 2008 date set by the Harare government for parliamentary and presidential elections.
Sources in the ruling party said Mr. Mbeki related opposition concerns to President Mugabe, who promise to consult his party on how to move things forward.
Secretary General Tendai Biti of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change faction led by MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai told reporters that his party remains fully committed to the talks despite the “process's challenges and its slowness.”
Biti said the opposition raised its concerns about political violence against its members with Mr. Mbeki, reported Harare correspondent Thomas Chiripasi.
But Mr. Mugabe in his meeting with Mr. Mbeki dismissed charges of a state crackdown on the opposition and obliquely accused Mr. Tsvangirai of playing to the gallery.
"It’s the usual accusation which the MDC makes," President Mugabe told reporters. "It is one basis they have for raising allegations against us," he said, adding, "I wonder if he also raised the matter of the violence in his party." The Tsvangirai faction of the opposition has seen considerable internal turmoil since last month in reaction to a reshuffle of the leadership of its women's wing, including internecine violence.
Deputy Secretary General Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga of the MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara told reporter Blessing Zulu that President Mbeki in discussions with the opposition voiced concerned about the pace of the negotiations
Meanwhile, some 400 members of the National Constitutional Assembly, a pressure group, staged a demonstration on Julius Nyerere Avenue in Harare along Mr. Mbeki’s travel route to express opposition to a constitutional amendment agreed upon in the Pretoria talks. They were dispersed by riot police who arrested 10 protesters.
NCA Chairman Lovemore Madhuku, who led the demonstration, said his organization wanted to express displeasure with how Mr. Mbeki has handled the crisis talks.