Zimbabwe's main opposition leader will return home this weekend after more than two months out of the country, and planned to meet with Robert Mugabe in an effort to resolve the stalemate over a power-sharing agreement.
Morgan Tsvangirai told reporters in South Africa on Thursday that he was under no illusions a simple conversation would be enough to persuade Mugabe to cede some of the power he has held for nearly three decades. And Tsvangirai said he would be bringing his own conditions to the meeting, among them a call for the release of supporters and peace activists being tried on what Tsvangirai called "trumped up" charges of plotting to overthrow Mugabe.
In the Zimbabwean capital Thursday, one of the most prominent of those accused sobbed on the stand as she told a judge she had been beaten by unknown men who took her from her home Dec. 3. Human rights activist Jestina Mukoko was held at an undisclosed location until Dec. 23, when she was taken to a jail.
"I was abducted, kidnapped, tortured, assaulted," she said, pleading with the judge to allow her to see her doctor. Her hearing was to continue Friday.
A day earlier, Zimbabwean Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausika ordered that all the defendants be taken to a hospital for medical examinations to investigate charges they were tortured. Lawyers said Thursday that order had not yet been carried out.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International on Thursday called for the release of Mukoko and other detained activists.
'We have to deal with him'
Tsvangirai said he wanted to meet Mugabe despite the Zimbabwean government's beating and detention of dissidents, and attempts to violate a power-sharing deal that has been stalled since September.
Tsvangirai has been out of Zimbabwe since Nov. 10 in a now resolved dispute over the Zimbabwean government's failure to issue him a passport. The passport dispute had illustrated the deep gulf of mistrust between two men who are expected to lead their country together out of its economic and political morass.
Tsvangirai said his Movement for Democratic Change was committed to the power-sharing deal, which calls for him to take the new post of prime minister and the 84-year-old Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980, to remain president.
"We have to deal with him," Tsvangirai told reporters. "It doesn't mean that I trust him wholly.
"I regard Mugabe as part of the problem, but also part of the solution."
Attempts to reach Mugabe's spokesman were not immediately successful.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai have been enemies for a decade, and Tsvangirai has been jailed, beaten, tortured and tried for treason — charges that were dismissed in court.
Tsvangirai said he had requested a meeting through South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, the current head of the Southern African Development Community, the regional bloc that oversaw the negotiations that led to the power-sharing deal.
The South African government said the meeting will be Monday in the Zimbabwean capital. It will be followed by a session of the various negotiating teams.
Attempts at unity government
South Africa said Motlanthe was leading a delegation that included former South African President Thabo Mbeki and President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique. The Zimbabwean opposition has expressed frustration with Mbeki's previous mediation, saying his diplomatic approach amounts to appeasing Mugabe.
Tsvangirai accuses Mugabe of trying to keep too many of the most powerful Cabinet posts in the proposed coalition government. Tsvangirai said that must be resolved before a unity government can be formed.
Tsvangirai adds his powers as prime minister must be clearly defined and enshrined in the constitution before he can govern with Mugabe.
Increasingly, questions are being raised in and outside Zimbabwe about whether Mugabe would sabotage a unity government.
Britain and the United States in December said they would not support a coalition that included Mugabe, presenting the possibility the unity government would be denied crucial aid and international cooperation.
Zimbabwe's state media have hinted Mugabe would name a government unilaterally by the end of this month.
"We have been in a struggle for these last 10 years," Tsvangirai said Thursday. "We have met so many frustrating moments. Should this deal collapse, the MDC will have to find alternative ways of continuing the struggle."
Zimbabwe is suffering a hunger and health crisis and economic meltdown amid the political impasse. A cholera outbreak that has spread because of the crumbling health care system and water supply infrastructure has killed more than 2,000 people since August.
Teachers, doctors and nurses in a country facing the world's highest official inflation are demanding to be paid in foreign currency. Even state newspapers and the Zimbabwe soccer federation have asked to be able to charge in hard currency.