By Independent foreign Service
Southern African leaders were battling on Sunday night to get Zimbabwe's political leaders to nail down a deal that would allow a still-born, two-month-old power-sharing deal to come into effect.
Six leaders and other representatives of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) were determined to take as long as necessary to persuade President Robert Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai to agree, essentially, on who should get the contested Home Affairs Ministry.
SADC's failure, after several summits and meetings, to get a Zimbabwean deal has evidently become an embarrassment to the organisation. Chairperson, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, chastised the rival Zimbabwean leaders at the start of the summit by telling them they owed it "to the people of Zimbabwe and the region to show political maturity, by putting the interest of Zimbabwe first."
He said it was "disappointing" that two months after Mugabe, Tsvangirai and leader of a smaller MDC faction Arthur Mutambara, had signed a power-sharing agreement on September 15, they had not been able to conclude negotiations on establishing an inclusive government.
Motlanthe also noted that the rainy season had started in Zimbabwe, adding to the challenges of helping Zimbabweans to feed themselves. This referred to SA's offer of R300-million to help Zimbabweans to get food crops planted this season - provided they first established an inclusive government.
Former president Thabo Mbeki briefed the leaders on his efforts, as SADC mediator, to secure a Zimbabwe deal. While his successor Motlanthe addressed the summit, Mbeki sat in the audience between Tsvangirai and Mutambara.
Motlanthe noted that the summit would address the outbreak of serious fighting in the eastern DRC.
DRC President Joseph Kabila briefed the summit on the outcome of a summit of Great Lakes leaders in Nairobi on Friday, held to seek a solution to the renewed fighting between his government troops and those of renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda.
Motlanthe echoed the findings of the Nairobi summit when he said SADC was calling "for an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian assistance to the displaced people."
He said SADC was also calling for the full implementation of the November 2007 Nairobi communiqué and the January Goma agreement as well as the Amani processes relating to the eastern DRC conflict calling for the disarming and demobilisation of all militias and rebel groups fighting in the area and persecuting civilians.
Despite the avowed importance of Sunday's summit, only six of SADC's 15 heads of state or government attended, the rest leaving it to their ministers. Apart from Motlanthe, Kabila and Mugabe, others present were Hifikepunye Pohambo of Namibia, Armando Guebuza of Mozambique and Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
Sources said Mugabe was making a major issue of his government's accusation - at a SADC defence ministers' meeting last week - that Botswana was training MDC youth to destabilise Zimbabwe.
Botswana has strongly denied the accusation and demanded proof.
Tensions have been rising between the two governments since Botswana's new president Ian Khama - who was not at Sunday's summit because of a prior engagement in the US - began strongly criticising Mugabe, refusing to recognise him or his government since his re-election in a June 27 poll which even SADC rejected as flawed.
Outside the summit venue, two groups of protestors hurled insults, pamphlets and stones at each other. The larger group comprised MDC supporters plus opponents of Kabila and the Rwandan government's alleged military incursions into the eastern DRC in support of Nkunda's rebels. Across the road was a much smaller group comprising Mugabe and Kabila supporters.