July 20 2008 at 11:32AM
By Fiona Forde
African Union commissioner Jean Ping held a round of secret talks with President Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara in Harare on Saturday in a bid to secure agreement on power-sharing talks due to get under way in the coming days.
In his separate meeting with each of the party leaders, Ping appealed to them to sign a memorandum of understanding that will guide a two-week round of intensive talks to negotiate a political solution to the crisis.
The signing ceremony would take place in Harare and pave the way for the talks to move immediately to a secret location in South Africa.
Although Zanu-PF and the Mutambara faction of the MDC reiterated their willingness to sign, Weekend Argus understands Tsvangirai outlined a number of concerns that continue to pose problems for his participation.
"There are still a number of things we asked for that aren't there," he said.
However, he would not say when he would be in a position to join his rivals at the table.
Ping told the party leaders he was meeting with them in his capacity as AU commissioner and as the AU representative to the newly-appointed reference group which Thabo Mbeki constituted on Friday.
The group is also made up of special representatives from the SADC and the UN and is intended to interact with Mbeki's facilitation at a strategic level on an ongoing basis as talks proceed.
Should the talks produce a negotiated settlement, Harare stands to attract billions of rand in the near future from Zimbabwe's main donors.
Weekend Argus understands Britain has committed R15 billion, America has pledged R11,4-billion, the United Nations Development Plan a further R6bn and the European Union R3-billion, with more in the offering from a number of other sources, all under the guise of a rescue plan.
From those four sources alone, Harare stands to attract at least R35-billion in the near future, an enormous amount of money for a country that has been miraculously staving off economic collapse for a number of years.
It is a sum that will be hard to ignore in the future talks.
The bulk of the money carries stringent conditions, however, and the ultimatum that it will not be released until Mugabe steps down.
US officials have repeatedly said they are only willing to lend a hand in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe.
When the EU chief for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel, announced his package some weeks back, he stipulated a similar condition, saying that while the money would be available, it would only be committed vis-a-vis "a post-Mugabe assistance plan in union with our African partners".
However, it remains to be seen whether the world's superpowers would consider a power-sharing authority of some sort, which seems increasingly likely, rather than veto the prospect of stability.
What is also unclear are the intentions of the incoming US administration and whether the future US president would be willing to assist Zimbabwe, even with Mugabe in some ceremonial role.
- This article was originally published on page 2 of Cape Argus on July 20, 2008