*Zimbabwe’s neighbours to launch humanitarian campaign *South Africa hopes Zimbabwe government to be formed this week *South Africa will not back calls for Mugabe to step down
By Nelson Benya
HARARE, Dec 17 (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s neighbours will launch an urgent humanitarian campaign in the hope of saving the country from economic collapse and a cholera epidemic, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe said on Wednesday.
Almost 1,000 people have died in the cholera outbreak, piling more agony on Zimbabweans already suffering runaway hyperinflation and shortages of food and fuel.
The cholera has intensified Western calls for President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980, to step down.
Regional mediation has failed to persuade the ruling ZANU-PF and opposition to implement a September power-sharing agreement, seen as the best chance of easing an economic crisis that has driven millions of Zimbabweans to neighbouring countries.
But a deadlock over ministries has blocked progress in negotiations as Zimbabwe descends further into chaos.
Motlanthe expressed hope that a Zimbabwean government will be formed this week. But the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) did not share his optimism.
“Maybe the President (Motlanthe) knows something we don’t know, but we are not aware of any plans to form a government this week. It’s certainly news to us because the oustanding issues we have outlined remain,” said spokesman Nelson Chamisa.
Motlanthe told a news conference in Pretoria that the parties have not raised the issue of Mugabe stepping aside and he should stay on under the terms of the power-sharing pact.
Motlanthe added he expected MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai to accept the prime ministerial role.
“He has always committed himself, he regards himself as the prime minister-designate, therefore I think once appointed he will accept,” he said.
Mugabe and his old foe Tsvangirai should both step aside to allow a neutral administration to tackle Zimbabwe’s crisis and prepare for a new election, a thinktank has proposed.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group described the power-sharing talks as “hopelessly deadlocked” and said no new formula based on Mugabe remaining president and Tsvangirai becoming prime minister looked workable.
“There is a possible negotiated way forward that could avoid Zimbabwe’s complete collapse,” the group said in a report on Tuesday.
“The core idea is to establish a transitional administration, run by non-partisan experts, in which neither Mugabe nor Tsvangirai would have any position.”
Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in a presidential election but fell short of the necessary votes to avoid a run-off poll which the 84-year-old veteran leader won after Tsvangirai pulled out of the race citing violence.
(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: http://africa.reuters.com/)