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By Fiona Forde
As Zimbabwe's crisis talks get underway outside Pretoria on Thursday, South Africans have issued a damning verdict on President Thabo Mbeki's so-called "quiet diplomacy", with every other one suggesting it was not the right road to pursue, while an equal number raise the issue of poor leadership in dealing with the consequences of it.
In a survey carried out by TNS Research Surveys and made available to Independent Newspapers, the views of 2 000 South African adults from the country's seven metropolitan areas were recorded last month about the years-long facilitation efforts of Mbeki and the impact they have had on South African life.
Exactly 50 percent of those surveyed disagreed with the view that "The government's policy of quiet diplomacy towards Zimbabwe has been the right way to handle the issue", while only one-third of all those polled supported the facilitation efforts of the president. Just over 21 percent responded "don't know".
When the information was extrapolated across the country's four race groups, 38 percent of black respondents agreed with the statement, while only 14 percent of white, 19 percent of coloured and 17 percent of Indians/Asians shared that view.
With quiet diplomacy now in its eighth year and Thursday's talks the first sign of any real progress, although they too have yet to bear fruit, it is the slow pace of the policy that contributes most to the prevailing negative views, the pollsters argue.
Since Mbeki adopted the diplomatic channel in 2000 to deal with Robert Mugabe's wayward style of governance, inflation has soared from 60 percent then to the incalculable rate of 2,3-million percent.
"The Zimbabwe meltdown, economic and socio-political, adding to both massive poverty and violence, has been in pro-gress for some time and has led to a major influx of refugees into South Africa," says the survey's director, Neill Higgs.
With that in mind, the pollsters posed the question of whether Zimbabwean refugees ought to be allowed to stay here. Almost three out of every four respondents nationwide felt they should not, with only 29 percent saying that they should.
When examined geographically, residents of the Johannesburg metropole (excluding Soweto) appeared most tolerant with almost half (42 percent) expressing tolerance for Zimbabwean refugees in their midst.
Just over a third, or 34 percent, of Capetonians shared that view while only a quarter of all Durbanites did. However, folk in Bloemfontein responded with a resounding no, with only 15 percent agreeable to Zimbabwean ref-ugees remaining in the country.
Higgs said the study revealed "the vast majority of people don't want these refugees in South Africa and that sensitivities towards them are high".
He said the findings suggest that people feel the government does not have the situation under control and the situation will "probably get worse".
A stark reminder of the so-called xenophobic violence in May.
He says government needs to look at the "potentially very serious consequences" that another flood of refugees into SA might have.