CAPE TOWN Southern African leaders must force Zimbabwe's sparring parties to break the deadlock over a power-sharing agreement at a summit this weekend, the leader of South Africa's ruling ANC said Friday.
"As far as I'm concerned SADC must make those Zimbabweans reach an agreement," Jacob Zuma told Reuters after a speech to the Cape Town Press Club. "They must force them."
The 15-Nation SADC (Southern African Development Community) is due to meet in Johannesburg Sunday to try to solve an impasse between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai over allocating cabinet posts under a power-sharing deal they reached in September.
"I believe that the Zimbabwean matter does not end within the borders of Zimbabwe, it impacts on all of us and for that reason we must force them to stop making us feel the impact," said Zuma, who is front-runner to become the president of South Africa in an election next year.
Past meetings of regional heads of state have failed to produce a breakthrough and there were new signs that the parties may face another round of difficult negotiations.
Tsvangirai's MDC said Thursday Mugabe's ZANU-PF party had put a "full stop" to negotiations on forming a government by carrying out what it said was widespread violence.
South Africa's government said Thursday it would take a tough stand at the summit. This was a sharp change from the style of former President Thabo Mbeki, whose softly-softly approach as official mediator was criticised as ineffective.
Zimbabwe's parties face pressure from South Africa but it is not clear what practical steps SADC could take to force an agreement.
Mark Schroeder, sub-Saharan director of risk analysis firm Stratfor, said any threats from SADC members will be empty unless the group is willing to take tough action like imposing sanctions to pressure Mugabe.
"The way that they are fighting over the Home Affairs Ministry, I really don't see ZANU-PF yielding on that one. That's a big factor in their ability to control their destiny and how they do that is basically using the police and other security services," Schroeder said.
Zimbabwe's economic crisis has forced millions of its citizens to flee the country, with an estimated three million Zimbabweans in neighbouring South Africa alone.
Ties between Zimbabwe and neighbouring Botswana have also become strained after Botswana's President Seretse Khama Ian Khama said a new election was the only solution to the crisis.
Botswana said Friday that Zimbabwean authorities had accused it of interfering in its affairs and training opposition supporters to destabilise the country.
"The government of Botswana dismissed the Zimbabwean allegation as false, baseless, and completely unfounded. The government of Botswana further requested that the government of Zimbabwe provides documented evidence on the allegations," Botswana government spokesman Jeff Ramsay said in a statement.
Establishing a unity government is seen as critical to reversing economic meltdown in Zimbabwe, where inflation is officially 231 million percent. Even under government price controls, the cost of bread is doubling every week.
Zimbabweans are struggling to survive amid widespread shortages of meat, milk and other basic commodities as a result of the collapse of the agricultural sector. The country is dependent on food handouts and malnutrition is on the rise.
Tsvangirai, who would become prime minister under the power-sharing deal, has accused the ZANU-PF of trying to seize the lion's share of important ministries in order to relegate the MDC to the role of junior partner.
(Writing by Marius Bosch; Editing by Michael Georgy and Angus MacSwan)