JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – South Africa's President Jacob Zuma moved Sunday to rein in his top envoy on Zimbabwe's political crisis following complaints by President Robert Mugabe about her.
A statement from Zuma's office called "unfortunate" the remarks made by a member of his mediation team on Zimbabwe ahead of a crucial July 31 election.
It comes a day after Mugabe called on Zuma to stop his special advisor, Lindiwe Zulu, from speaking on problems around the vote, in which the veteran Zimbabwean president is seeking to extend his 33-year rule.
Zuma is leading the Southern African Development Community (SADC) mediation team on Zimbabwe, which brokered the current power-sharing deal between Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in 2009, a year after a violent and disputed election in which around 200 opposition members were killed.
Zuma is assisted by a three-member "technical team" that includes Zulu, who is not named in the statement but has been the target of Mugabe's ire.
"A number of statements have been made during the facilitation process which have been unauthorised and which are regrettable and unfortunate," said Zuma's office.
"Only President Zuma has the mandate to speak on Zimbabwe on behalf of SADC on facilitation issues."
On, Friday, after a chaotic special vote by members of Zimbabwe's security services, Zulu had said: "The process has got challenges, we can't deny that because we've seen what info has been coming out during the special vote."
Her remarks prompted an angry warning to Zuma from Mugabe to stop Zulu -- whom he called "this woman of theirs" -- from commenting on the crisis. He said only Zuma's voice was welcome.
Mugabe has in recent weeks made disparaging comments against Zulu, calling her a "streetwoman".
The statement from Zuma's office said that "the technical team supports the facilitator and cannot impose its views on Zimbabwe nor make public pronouncements."
"Some of the utterances have also been inaccurate," it added.
On Saturday, leaders from SADC, a 15-nation regional bloc, warned after a special meeting in Pretoria that organising the Zimbabwe vote would be "tough" given the time constraints.
The crunch elections will end the uneasy power-sharing government between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, but the SADC had urged Zimbabwe to delay it to allow more time to apply a raft of reforms to ensure a free and fair vote.