"The conception is that these elections would be a watershed like the 1980 elections that happened when the old Rhodesia became Zimbabwe," Motlanthe said during question time in the National Council of Provinces.
"There would be a need for an international presence of the same scale, to ensure a bridge with the past."
Motlanthe called on all political parties in South Africa’s troubled northern neighbour to ensure the elections are free and fair.
"The next elections are viewed by all parties as watershed elections, and therefore they have to prepare for them thoroughly to ensure that there will not be not any more violence, intimidation during the course of the election campaign."
President Robert Mugabe has threatened to call elections regardless of whether the country’s new constitution has been completed – a pre-condition for polls in Zimbabwe’s power-sharing Global Political Agreement.
This earned him a veiled rebuke from South Africa’s Deputy Minister for International Relations, Marius Fransman, who insisted this week that all parties were bound by the agreement.
Becomes our problem
Motlanthe sent the same message, saying an election date could only be set once all parties had agreed to a political blueprint paving the way for the next elections.
He said a facilitation team from South Africa was due back in Zimbabwe at the end of the month to check on progress in this regard.
"According to their work plan the facilitation team is due to go back to Zimbabwe at the end of March, so that they pull together this road map. And it is only in the face of that road map that the election date can be set."
Motlanthe warned that Zimbabwe could only hope for a full economic recovery if it stuck to political stability. Heavy-handed foreign intervention could have disastrous consequences that would also impact directly on South Africa, he added.
"It is the will of the Zimbabwean people which must determine the future of Zimbabwe as a country, and it is in our interest as a country that indeed we proceed in that direction.
"Because if we fail and Zimbabwe implodes, literally the border between Zimbabwe will disappear and we will sit with all the problems.
"We already know. We’ve had a taste. That’s why our approach is one that ensures that steadily they move in the right direction.
"We would not ourselves employ methods that would undermine the will of the Zimbabwean people."
Questioned about ongoing violence in Zimbabwe, Motlanthe conceded there were still complaints of abuse by the country’s security forces.
"Of course sometimes old habits die hard. The law enforcement units… are used to dealing with citizens a bit harshly. This was confirmed in meetings with the various political parties, including Zanu-PF."
He said the Zimbabwean Human Rights Commission was trying to ensure "Zimbabwe as a country bucks the trend of election campaigns that are characterised by violence and intimidation".- SAPA