As regional ministers met in Harare on Monday to assess Zimbabwe's compliance with agreements on land reform and the rule of law, analysts said the key question was whether southern African leaders could act decisively to end the country's political crisis.
Members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) task team met in Johannesburg on Sunday ahead of the two days of talks. South African newspapers reported official sources as saying that after an "unsuccessful summit" in Harare on 10 and 11 September, SADC was "determined" to ensure that Zimbabwe adhered to agreements on a transparent land reform programme and free and fair presidential elections next year.
South African Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana, representing Pretoria at the Harare meeting, was quoted in the Sunday Times as saying that an "illegitimate" presidential election could have serious consequences for the region. His comments followed a similar warning by President Thabo Mbeki last week, underlining an apparent shift from the government's policy of "quiet diplomacy".
South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) researcher Ross Herbert said there had been a "definite hardening" of SADC's position in response to President Robert Mugabe's hostility towards international election observers, and as Western countries move closer to imposing sanctions.
He told IRIN that a presumption by SADC that Zimbabwe's elections could be unfair under current circumstances would be an important point to establish.
"There is pressure [for SADC] to go in there and declare that Mugabe has failed to keep his promises in previous rounds of talks," Herbert said. "Whether they have the guts to do that is another matter".
Meanwhile, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Sunday called on Mugabe to sign a "non-violence pact" ahead of the presidential poll, the independent Daily News reported. But he said he doubted the ruling party's commitment to ease the political tensions in the country. Tsvangirai was quoted as saying that ZANU-PF was instead trying to draw the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) into acts of violence.
Speaking at a rally in the sprawling township of Chitungwiza outside Harare, he again accused the police of being partisan. Tsvangirai said that at least 83 people had died since last year "due to acts of lawlessness and not a single person has been convicted for the murders. This is despite the fact some of the murderers are known to the police".
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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