Arrests and abductions should not delay unity deal – South African regime

HARARE – Under-fire South African government said on Monday that abductions and the arrests of a leading human rights campaigner Jestina Mukoko and scores of MDC suppoters should not delay the formation of a unity government, despite opposition threats to pull out of a power-sharing deal over the issue.

Jestina Mukoko, head of a local rights group, and eight other activists were last week charged with recruiting or attempting to recruit Zimbabweans to undergo military training to topple the government.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has said he will ask his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party to suspend negotiations with President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF if abductions of MDC members continue and if the arrested activists are not brought to court by Thursday.

"We think the most important step is to form a unity government," South African Presidential spokesman Thabo Masebe told Reuters. "There are many issues that need to be addressed by a unity government. This is one of them."

Influential South Africa is the continent’s biggest economy and current chair of regional group of nations SADC.

Zimbabwe has appealed to its highest court against a High Court ruling ordering the release of Mukoko and her co-accused to a local hospital. The court also ordered 23 other mainly opposition activists to be freed from police custody because their detention was illegal.

The activists’ lawyers said police were using delaying tactics to keep them in custody.

South Africa has reversed an earlier decision to hold back $30 million in agricultural aid to Zimbabwe until a unity government is formed, said Masebe. 

He said a humanitarian crisis made worse by a cholera epidemic that has killed over 1,500 people had become too serious and agricultural and other supplies were badly needed.

SADC has failed in mediation to pressure Zimbabwe’s rival parties to implement the power-sharing deal seen as the best chance for easing an economic crisis marked by hyper-inflation and severe shortages of basic goods.

Tsvangirai won the first round of voting in March but fell short of the majority needed to become president, triggering a run-off which Mugabe won after the MDC leader pulled out citing violent attacks on his supporters.