JOHANNESBURG Zimbabwe's political rivals meet in South Africa on Tuesday for talks to end a political deadlock, amid mounting pressure from regional leaders for a deal to prevent the humanitarian crisis becoming still worse.
Negotiators from President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and a breakaway MDC faction will meet former South African President Thabo Mbeki to discuss a draft constitutional amendment paving the way for a new government.
Mbeki has been reviewing the draft law, which many in the southern African country hope will usher in a new government to end a crippling economic crisis that has seen inflation soar to more than 230 million percent.
The MDC has refused to enter government, accusing ZANU-PF of trying to take the most powerful ministries and freeze it out, violating a September 15 power-sharing deal. Talks on forming a cabinet have been deadlocked for two months.
The power-sharing agreement may unravel if Mugabe names a cabinet without MDC agreement, jeopardizing what is seen as the best chance of reversing a decade of gradual economic collapse.
The MDC had threatened to boycott Tuesday's meeting, but said on Monday it would attend the talks and aim to address all the issues stalling an agreement.
"Our team, consistent with the duty and obligation to represent the people, will attend tomorrow's meeting in South Africa," spokesman Nelson Chamisa told Reuters.
"We will not accept any parochial and reductionist approach that seeks to impose only one item, the constitutional amendment on us. We all know there is a basket of issues that have to be tackled collectively."
Pressure has grown from regional leaders and international aid agencies for an end to the political stalemate, which has created a huge humanitarian crisis.
Chronic food shortages and hyperinflation have led millions of Zimbabweans to flee their country. A cholera epidemic has killed nearly 300 people and sent hundreds into South Africa to seek treatment.
Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and other prominent world figures described Zimbabwe on Monday as close to a humanitarian disaster.
Annan urged Southern African Development Community leaders to put more pressure on Mugabe and the MDC to break the impasse.
"SADC must bring its full weight to bear," Annan, flanked by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and human rights campaigner Graca Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela, told a news conference.
The three, part of a group called the Elders, were barred from entering Zimbabwe last weekend on a humanitarian visit. The government said the trip was unnecessary and denied them visas.
Carter said the crisis was worse than he had imagined and he felt southern African leaders did not fully understand the extent of the misery in the once-prosperous nation.
He said the United Nations, African Union and SADC should send teams into Zimbabwe to report on the crisis properly.
South African ruling ANC party leader Jacob Zuma and President Kgalema Motlanthe have urged a quick end to the crisis.
"The situation has just gone beyond a situation where we could say 'wait and see,'" Zuma told reporters on Monday, saying the Elders had told him Zimbabwe could be months from collapse.
South Africa's cabinet said last week it would hold back 300 million rand ($28.3 million) earmarked for agricultural aid to Zimbabwe until a representative government was in place.
Many critics accuse Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, of ruining the country through his controversial policies. Mugabe, 84, says forces opposed to his nationalist stance have sabotaged the economy.
(Reporting by Muchena Zigomo; editing by Tim Pearce)