SA insists on Mugabe invitation

Posted in Africa | 06-Jul-07 | Author: Paul Simao| Source: Mail & Guardian Online

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
South Africa and other African nations will insist that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe be allowed to attend a long-delayed summit between the European Union (EU) and Africa later this year, the government said on Thursday.

Mugabe and more than 100 other Zimbabwean officials are banned from travelling to EU nations under sanctions imposed in 2002, a restriction that threatens to derail an EU-Africa summit scheduled for December in Portugal.

The African Union has said its 53 members should decide who to send to the meeting.

"I think Africa will not move on its position of what constitutes the African delegation," South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said at a news briefing in the capital Pretoria.

"Today, it is Zimbabwe [under pressure], tomorrow it could be us."

Pahad said he was encouraged by comments from senior Portuguese officials, including its foreign affairs minister, suggesting the political crisis in Zimbabwe and Mugabe's presence should not block a summit.

Portugal holds the rotating six-month EU presidency, giving it additional sway over how to approach the problem of Mugabe's invitation. The Portuguese term will expire in early 2008.

Widely accused of abusing human rights, suppressing political opposition and driving Zimbabwe's economy into the ground, Mugabe became persona non grata in much of Europe in 2002 after winning an election described as rigged by international observers.

South African President Thabo Mbeki is brokering talks between Mugabe's government and representatives of Zimbabwe's main opposition Movement for Democratic Change under a mandate granted to him earlier this year by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Pahad said he believed Mbeki had briefed other SADC nations on the talks, but gave no further details.

The issue of the 83-year-old Zimbabwean leader, who has vowed to run for another term as president next year, is the main reason the EU and Africa have not held a summit since their first effort in Cairo seven years ago.

Britain, which ruled Zimbabwe under its former name Rhodesia until independence in 1980, is believed to be among the EU members most opposed to inviting Mugabe to Portugal. Under EU rules, any member can veto the invitation.

The summit would likely focus on areas requiring closer cooperation between Europe and Africa, notably trade, migration and the establishment of an energy partnership.

Spain, Italy and other southern European nations are struggling to cope with illegal immigration from Africa.

Consumer shortages
Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, the most basic goods are disappearing from shop shelves.

Long queues of shoppers now form early in the morning at many Harare supermarkets and shops, hoping to grab essentials such as sugar and oil amid a price crisis that has sharpened already desperate consumer shortages.

Zimbabwe's latest shopping nightmare comes after the government last week ordered a 50% cut in prices to fight galloping inflation, a move critics say is bound to worsen the country's economic problems.

On Wednesday, Zimbabwe state media reported manufacturers, state firms and some retailers had agreed to cut prices in compliance with the government order, but privately many grumble the drive is unsustainable.

The official move to exert price controls came after a wild week that saw the price of many basic goods jump by more than 300%. - Reuters