- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 29, 2009

HARARE, Zimbabwe | In a bid to end feuding between Zimbabwe’s coalition partners, South African President Jacob Zuma met with President Robert Mugabe and other leaders Friday and appeared cautiously optimistic that their differences could be resolved.

Mr. Zuma, making his first visit to the neighboring country as South Africa’s president, was greeted warmly Thursday by Mr. Mugabe, 85, who looked healthy despite rumors that he’s ill.

Mr. Mugabe has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980, and his anti-colonial credentials are seen as one reason fellow African leaders have failed to criticize his autocratic rule.

In February, Mr. Mugabe entered into a unity government with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who became prime minister. However, ongoing differences have hamstrung the new administration, and a number of important posts have not been filled.

Mr. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party accuses Mr. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) of stalling on reforms and continuing to attack and harass its activists. ZANU-PF says its coalition partner should be pushing harder to get the international community to lift sanctions against Mr. Mugabe and his top aides.

Speaking at the Harare Agricultural Society Show on Friday, Mr. Zuma said there were signs Zimbabwe is on the road to recovery. Inflation is under control, and there is food back on supermarket shelves, he said.

“We are encouraged by what we have seen during the show, particularly given the importance of agriculture in Zimbabwe and the entire region,” he said.

He said the country’s leaders had agreed that differences needed to be resolved speedily to “help restore confidence in the country and the economy.”

Mr. Zuma called on the international community to remove any remaining hindrances to Zimbabwe’s recovery. Western donors have been reluctant to hand over cash until they see strong signs of reform.

“The achievement of an effective recovery is also dependent on the removal of sanctions and other measures that hold back economic development,” he said.

Mr. Zuma also called for better governance and the “promotion of democracy and human rights.”

At a dinner for Mr. Zuma on Thursday night, Mr. Mugabe painted a sunny picture, saying the unity government is “alive and well” and Zimbabwe’s leaders are “committed to its success.”

Mr. Zuma said the unresolved issues facing the unity government are “not insurmountable.”

“The most difficult path has already been traveled,” he said.

Mr. Zuma, who was elected president in May, is a far more popular figure than his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki. Mr. Mbeki, who helped broker the unity government deal, was seen as favoring Mr. Mugabe. Mr. Zuma will report on progress made in Zimbabwe to a regional summit early next month.

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