Mbeki: Zimbabwe elections must be fair

July 31, 2007 - 0:0

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Only free and fair elections in Zimbabwe next year will produce a government capable of leading an economic recovery in the troubled country, South Africa's president said Sunday.

President Thabo Mbeki heads the regional mediation process between Zimbabwe's government and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Mbeki said elections scheduled for March 2008 are a central focus of the talks.
""So it is important that when those elections take place the results should not be contested,"" he told reporters in Pretoria.
""You must have elections in Zimbabwe that are free and fair and therefore produce a government that will be accepted by all the people of Zimbabwe as a legitimate government emerging out of a democratic process.""
Mbeki has long been criticized for advocating a policy of quiet diplomacy toward neighboring Zimbabwe, while others have called for more forceful action. But he received a mandate earlier this year from the Southern African Development Community to head talks following a brutal clampdown on opposition leaders by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's government.
The negotiations, however, are under a media blackout and little detail of the process has emerged.
Earlier this month, South Africa denied talks had collapsed following reports that Mugabe had dumped Mbeki as a mediator and ordered his two key negotiators to boycott negotiations.
Zimbabwe is reeling under the worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1980, with official inflation of 4,500 percent, the highest in the world.
Mugabe, 83, blames Western sanctions and rejects criticism that the meltdown is the result of mismanagement and the often-violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms he ordered beginning in 2000.
A government edict to slash all prices by around 50 percent last month has left shelves bare of staples like corn meal, bread, eggs and milk and led to acute gasoline shortages.
Some 5,000 executives, businessmen and managers — only one of them a member of the ruling party, and a minor one at that — have been arrested and fined for defying the edict.
Mbeki said Zimbabwe's economic recovery was a ""major challenge"" and ""would have to be led by a government whose legitimacy is not contested.""
Concerns have been raised about a flood of Zimbabweans crossing into South Africa and other neighboring countries to flee the economic collapse. An estimated 2-3 million Zimbabweans have immigrated to South Africa since the downturn began seven years ago.
Mbeki acknowledged that South Africa was affected by the situation in Zimbabwe.
""Zimbabwe is our neighbor. So indeed, we, South Africa, inevitably would carry the biggest burden of the consequences of any negative development in Zimbabwe,"" he said.
Tafadzwa Musarara, chairman of the Grain Millers Association, told the government mouthpiece The Sunday Mail many members of his group, responsible for processing 75 percent of the nation's grain supplies, faced ruin.
The government's fixed price for the cornmeal staple was half the cost of producing it, causing buying sprees and worsening shortages when cornmeal stocks became available, he said.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change has described the price cuts as a ploy to shore up ruling party support before national elections next year.
One faction of the divided opposition announced Saturday it abandoned plans to fight a unified election campaign with its rival group led by founder Morgan Tsvangirai, dealing another blow to embattled opposition supporters facing a split vote