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Zuma has dim view of Zimbabwe

Mugabe complains of sanctions but South African leader says restore law and agriculture.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, left, points out to South African President Jacob Zuma the displays at the Harare Agricultural Show in Harare on Aug. 28, 2009. Zuma looks unimpressed. He told Mugabe that he must get Zimbabwe's agriculture to return to productivity. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Jacob Zuma had a dim impression of this capital city when he arrived on his first visit as South Africa's president.

The airport lights were out due to a power cut so vehicles on the runway were pressed into service to provide illumination for Zuma’s welcome by President Robert Mugabe. It was too dark for an inspection of the guard of honor so that had to be cancelled.

Zuma had been warned what to expect. Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba, in a crude case of agenda-setting ahead of the visit, had said: “The one thing that is going to hit President Zuma in the face is the continued sanctions on Zimbabwe.”

Every shortage in the country is ascribed by Mugabe’s followers to sanctions in a bid to duck responsibility for 30 years of misrule. More recently there has been a concerted attempt by Charamba and other Mugabe officials to refute the claim by Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai that there are still outstanding issues to be resolved in the government of national unity. There is only one thing left to be resolved and that is sanctions, Mugabe’s politburo has declared.

Tsvangirai has asked Zuma, as chair of the Southern African Development Community which backs the Zimbabwean agreement, to challenge Mugabe on his arbitrary appointments of top officials, selective application of the law and lack of progress on reforms such as opening up the media. Up until the day of Zuma’s arrival last week, Mugabe’s ministers were chanting the sanctions mantra. A cartoon in an independent newspaper showed Mugabe in the back of his limousine rambling on about sanctions while Zuma snoozed.

MDC concerns were a “distraction,” Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa said. “We hope President Mugabe tells President Zuma that the one big issue here is that of sanctions.”

His colleague, Didymus Mutasa, who has in the past described Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s “king,” said Mugabe’s appointment of a pliable attorney-general and Reserve Bank governor were “not for negotiation.”

“The MDC must grow up,” he said. “What they are saying is absolute nonsense. They are behaving like small babies.”