Zimbabwe rivals to meet Mbeki in South Africa

HARARE – Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition will meet in South Africa next week to review President Robert Mubabe's plan to unilaterally form a unity government, an opposition official said on Thursday.

The state-run Herald newspaper also reported the meeting.

Mugabe’s ZANU-PF is trying to push through a constitutional amendment allowing him to name a cabinet, a move that could lead to the unraveling of a September 15 power-sharing agreement with the Movement for Democratic Change.

The MDC has refused to enter the government, accusing Mugabe of trying to take the most powerful ministries and freeze out the MDC. Negotiations have led to a two-month deadlock over formation of a cabinet.

The draft amendment bill was completed this week by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and sent to the MDC and Mbeki.

Edwin Mushoriwa, an official with a smaller MDC faction, confirmed that representatives of ZANU-PF and the MDC will attend a meeting next week with former South African President Thabo Mbeki to discuss the matter.

Mbeki has been mediating Zimbabwe’s crisis since early 2007.

"We got our copy of the draft constitution from the South African embassy yesterday. All the parties will meet in South Africa next week for deliberations after studying the documents," he said.

The power-sharing agreement, signed after intense mediation by Mbeki, is seen as Zimbabwe’s best chance of reversing a deep economic slide, highlighted by inflation of 231 million percent and chronic food and fuel shortages.

Critics accuse Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, of ruining the country, but the 84-year-old leader says the economy has been sabotaged by forces opposed to his nationalist stance.

The MDC has said it plans to offer its own amendment to Mugabe’s draft bill at the meeting in South Africa. It also has called for the reconvening of parliament to oversee the executive in the meantime.

The opposition won a parliamentary election in March.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai won a joint presidential election but without the majority to avoid a run-off with Mugabe. Tsvangirai boycotted the second round because of violent attacks on his supporters and Mugabe breezed to an easy victory.

The key area of contention in the deadlocked cabinet talks is control of the home affairs ministry, which oversees the police. The 15-nation regional group SADC said at a summit earlier this month the post should be shared, but the MDC refused that suggestion. Reuters