The Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, a network of church and civic bodies, says it no longer has any hope that inter-party peace talks brokered by South African President Thabo Mbeki will achieve any results before Zimbabwean elections scheduled for 29 March 2008.
The talks were initiated by the Southern African Development Community at its heads of state summit in the Tanzanian commercial capital, Dar-es-Salaam, in March 2007. The inter-party talks were intended to promote dialogue between the ruling Zanu-PF party and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party.
"As a Christian alliance, we welcomed the SADC-initiated talks," said the ZCA. "However, our excitement turned to scepticism due to the lack of clear objectives and accountability on the part of those involved," the ZCA said in a pastoral letter released on 18 February. "The exclusion of civil society and churches meant that there was no one at the table to act as watchdog."
Zimbabwe's problems include human rights abuses blamed on the government, and perpetrated mainly against opposition party leaders and their followers or those perceived to be opposed to the government. The government of President Robert Mugabe accuses the MDC of bringing hardships on the people by calling for international sanctions in order to assist a regime change.
Other problems facing the southern African country include soaring inflation which the government states was 66 000 percent as of December 2007, but which the International Monetary Fund says has surpassed 150 000 percent. Unemployment is more than 80 percent. Mugabe, in power since the country's independence from Britain in 1980, has denied running down the once prosperous nation, blaming sabotage by Western countries and the local political opposition.
While Mbeki says he remains optimistic about a negotiated solution, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai says the South African president has failed to confront Mugabe on his "dictatorship and repressive policies" which were likely to render the March elections not free and fair.
"The SADC talks failed to produce tangible results in terms of creating a conducive atmosphere for free and fair elections," said the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance. "There were many international figures who were interested in assisting in solving our crisis. President Mbeki kept them out by confidently claiming that his soft diplomacy was working and that the talks were on course and would yield the desired result."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]