South African President Meets with Mugabe Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who is attempting to hold on to power after a contested election, skipped a meeting of southern African leaders about the problem on Saturday, so South African President Thabo Mbeki brought the talks to him.
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South African President Meets with Mugabe

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South African President Meets with Mugabe

South African President Meets with Mugabe

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I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, victims of clergy sexual abuse in Boston want the Pope to visit there.

But first, leaders of southern African nations are in Zambia today to discuss possible solutions to the continuing election standoff in Zimbabwe. But one key leader is missing, and that's Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who is attempting to hold onto power in the wake of a strong election showing by the election leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

With Mr. Mugabe absent, one leader decided to try to bring the talks to him. South African President Thabo Mbeki went to Harare and he met with Mr. Mugabe for an hour.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us now from Harare. Ofeibea, thanks very much for being with us.


SIMON: And can you tell us what's going on?

(Soundbite of laughter)

QUIST-ARCTON: I wish. But all we know is that two weeks - and it's exactly two weeks today - after the four elections that were held here in Zimbabwe, we've got the results of the parliamentary, we've got the results of the senate election. But the most important one - the presidential election results - we don't have.

And southern Africa, the leaders of southern Africa, are clearly worried about this political impasse. And that's why they've called this emergency summit across the border in Lusaka, Zambia. But President Mugabe is not going. He said this is not a snub to his brother leaders but he's got other business, and that he is sending his ministers.

So, President Mbeki, who's been trying to mediate between President Mugabe and the main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, came here to talk to him. He says there's no crisis in Zimbabwe after the election and that people should await the election results from the bodies that is allowed to give the result, the election commission. So everyone is still in limbo.

SIMON: What sort of leverage do the regional leaders have?

QUIST-ARCTON: They should have enormous leverage here. Because, after all, they are the ones who are trying to absorb the millions of Zimbabweans who, because they don't have jobs here, don't have money, don't have food, don't have fuel, are crossing their borders looking for jobs and a better life.

But because, I think, the regional leaders are all younger than President Robert Mugabe - he's 84 years old, he is a veteran of the liberation struggle, he's seen as a freedom fighter - and it's as if everybody's is slightly nervous about annoying this old man.

So while Zimbabweans and many in the region feel that the regional leader should be really rapping him over the knuckles and saying, look, this is not right, they're playing this softly, softly, quite diplomacy that President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has used this past year or so in mediation. And Zimbabwe is (unintelligible) it's not working.

SIMON: Now, I'm told Mr. Tsvangirai is in fact in those meetings in Zambia.

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. We're told that he is going, even if President Mugabe is not going. So he's going to put his side. But, of course, everybody is saying the person who needs to be spoken to, whether it's gently or whether it's stridently, is President Mugabe.

But, you know, he is a political survivor. He's been in power for 28 years, since independence from Britain in 1980s. Zimbabwe is about to celebrate its anniversary next Friday and he is still here. So the government says that there's going to be a runoff, but no one candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote.

The opposition says its candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, won outright and it won't be taking part in a runoff.

SIMON: Ofeibea, recognizing it can be difficult to get around, what insights can you give us about how many Zimbabweans seem to feel now?

QUIST-ARCTON: Most Zimbabweans are absolutely frustrated. Frustrated because this is a country where the economy does not work. We're talking about inflation of more than 100,000 percent. Supermarket shelves have been empty. Nobody can afford anything. I mean, to buy a loaf of bread, you need 20 million Zimbabwean dollars.

There's a new bill of 50 million Zimbabweans dollars because people are carrying around huge bundles of money. It's a situation that many feel cannot go on. They feel that Robert Mugabe has contributed to the economic breakdown of this country, although he helped, of course, liberate the country and that it's time for him to step down.

SIMON: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Harare. Thanks so much.


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