Southern African leaders have taken an uncustomarily tough stance on Zimbabwe calling for an end to political violence and expressing “grave concern” about the resurgence of violence and arrests ahead of elections sought by President Robert Mugabe.
In a communiqué issued late Thursday following a mini-summit of the Southern African Development Community, SADC's troika on politics, security and defense said that it was disturbed by developments in the country, rebuking the governing parties for failing to fully implement the 2008 Global Political Agreement for power sharing.
Zambian President Rupiah Banda, chairman of the panel, opened the meeting with a warning to regional leaders to embrace democratic reforms or risk rebellions similar to those which have been witnessed in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab nations.
SADC Secretary Tomaz Salomao told reporters that SADC wants to see a peaceful environment in Zimbabwe ahead of elections which have yet to be scheduled.
Salomao called on President Mugabe's ZANU-PF and the two branches of the Movement for Democratic Change to put a new constitution in place before such elections.
He said SADC will help Harare draw up a road-map to ensure a free and fair vote.
"There must be an immediate end of violence, intimidation, hate speech, harassment, and any other form of action that contradicts the letter and spirit of the GPA," he said.
Taking part in the meeting were Mr. Mugabe, Mr. Tsvangirai, Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara and the head of the smaller MDC faction, Welshman Ncube.
Minister of State Jameson Timba, attached to Mr. Tsvangirai’s office, told VOA reporter Blessing Zulu that Mr. Tsvangirai was pleased at SADC's tougher stance.
But ZANU-PF spokesman Rugabe Gumbo said his party took exception to the position laid out by the regional leaders. Mr. Mugabe told the ZANU-PF central committee Friday that Zimbabwe is a sovereign state that will not accept outside interference.
“There is a line of thinking in SADC that a body should be created to point certain things to us, but Zimbabwe will not tolerate any group to prescribe to us what to do,” he was quoted as saying. “We will not brook dictation from any source... We will resist interference from any source, even from our neighbors."
Political analyst Brilliant Mhlanga told VOA Studio 7 reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that it is clear that after years of equivocation, SADC is finally getting tough on Mr. Mugabe.
There was a smaller controversy at the summit after the MDC formation led by Ncube demanded that the troika refuse to recognize Mutambara, but the leaders refused.
Ncube MDC spokesman Nhlanhla Dube told reporter Chris Gande that reports in the state-controlled Herald newspaper suggesting that Ncube crashed the Livingstone meeting and was snubbed by the SADC leaders were without foundation.