SOUTH African President Thabo Mbeki has been energetically trying to break the political deadlock at the heart of Zimbabwe’s current crisis following his visit to Harare this week with his Ni
gerian and Malawian counterparts for talks with President Robert Mugabe.
High-level sources said Mbeki has been in touch with Mugabe, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Malawian President Bakili Muluzi after Monday’s talks, which failed to crack the current political impasse.
The three leaders saw opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai after their talks with Mugabe.
“We understand that Mbeki has telephoned Mugabe, Obasanjo and Muluzi after the talks,” a diplomatic source said. “He has been consulting and working hard to break the stalemate.”
The source said Mbeki on Wednesday night spoke to Mugabe in a bid to convince him to meet Tsvangirai without pre-conditions. Mugabe is thought to be softening his initial hardline stance.
Sources said Mbeki and Muluzi were stepping up pressure on Mugabe to come to the negotiating table. The two are said to have agreed during their meeting with Tsvangirai that Mugabe should compromise.
Obasanjo, who reportedly suggested Monday’s talks after his recent meeting with Commonwealth secretary-general Don McKinnon in Abuja, initially tried to defend Mugabe’s stance but was prevailed upon by his counterparts to accept the no-preconditions formula, an informed source said.
“What happened was Obasanjo started the meeting (with Tsvangirai) by almost accusing the MDC of scuttling last year’s talks with Zanu PF by going to court. He said it was a mistake for the MDC to go to court,” the source said.
“After the MDC had explained its position, Mbeki and Muluzi were quick to appreciate it. They then said it was better for them to go back to convince Mugabe on the need for talks without pre-conditions.”
The source said Mbeki and Muluzi had confronted Obasanjo after he tried to impose the burden of responsibility for the talks entirely on MDC shoulders.
“At that point in time the dialogue shifted to the three – Mbeki, Muluzi and Obasanjo – and they ended up agreeing Mugabe had to change his stance because, after all, he was the one they were trying to rescue.”
Muluzi is said to have offered to invite the MDC for further talks in Malawi. At State House the visiting leaders are understood to have tackled Mugabe head-on.
Appearing to confirm this, Muluzi told the BBC World Service on his return home that “we didn’t just go there for a cup of tea. We were very serious.” He said he told Mugabe that a “bad economy is bad politics”.