Tensions are rising in the resource rich state as an uneasy unity government comes apart at the seams and as President Robert Mugabe, 87, pushes for elections this year.
"There must be an immediate end to violence, intimidation, hate speech, harassment, and any other form of action that contradicts the letter and spirit of dialogue," the leaders from the regional bloc said in a statement after meeting in the Zambian resort of Livingstone.
The meeting of SADC’s security organ was attended by Zambia’s President Rupiah Banda, South African President Jacob Zuma and their Mozambican counterpart Armando Guebuza.
Mugabe and Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai were also in attendance.
SADC has been criticised in the past for being too soft on Mugabe but the tone of its leaders has been stiffening as the country lurches from crisis to crisis. What this ultimately means on the ground in the troubled country remains to be seen.
Mugabe, who was forced into a unity government with rival Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) two years ago, is pushing for an early election this year before agreed democratic reforms.
Friction is heating up between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the MDC over political violence, the cancellations of opposition rallies and the arrest of MDC officials on what the party sees as trumped-up charges.
The Southern African Development Community also called for the completion of constitutional amendments and a referendum.
The government of Zimbabwe should undertake “all the steps necessary for the holding of elections,” SADC’s executive- secretary, Tomaz Salomao, told a press conference in Livingstone, Zambia, today following a summit of the 15-nation group.
While the power-sharing government of President Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, formed two years ago after a disputed election, helped end a decade of recession, it has often come close to breaking down. Tsvangirai said on March 18, after the arrest of Energy Minister Elton Mangoma, a top MDC official, that the country risks “sliding back into chaos.”
The MDC accuses Zanu-PF of preventing it from holding rallies before elections that Mugabe wants this year. Lawmakers haven’t yet drafted a new constitution that is meant to precede the vote.
SADC called for an “immediate end of violence, intimidation and hate speech” in Zimbabwe, Salomao said.