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SA envoys had 'no obligation' to meet anyone other than Mnangagwa

President Emmerson Mnangagwa rebuffed a South African attempt to help end his nation's economic and political crisis, and downplayed the problems it's facing, two people familiar with the matter said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa dispatched special envoys Sydney Mufamadi and Baleka Mbete to Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, on Aug. 10 to explore ways South Africa could help its neighbor address its challenges. Mnangagwa told them there was nothing to discuss, and dismissed reports of a crackdown on government opponents as a fabrication, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren't authorized to comment publicly.

When the envoys noted that anti-government protests had been banned and scores of the state's critics detained, Mnangagwa responded that large gatherings weren't allowed because of the coronavirus and the arrests were an internal matter, the officials said. The envoys were also told they had no business interfering in Zimbabwean politics because they carried no brief from either the African Union or the Southern African Development Community, they said.

Zimbabwean government spokesman Nick Mangwana didn't answer three calls to his mobile seeking comment.

Clayson Monyela, a spokesman for South Africa's Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation, referred requests for comment to the presidency. Tyrone Seale, Ramaphosa's spokesman, said the envoys would brief the president this week. Mufamadi, a former local government minister, and Mbete, an ex-head of the National Assembly, didn't answer calls to their mobile phones or respond to messages seeking comment.

South Africa is Zimbabwe's biggest trading partner. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki mediated in Zimbabwe's post-election crisis in 2008 between former President Robert Mugabe and then-opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, which resulted in the formation of a five-year power-sharing government.

Zimbabwe is now facing shortages of fuel and food, mass unemployment, a 737% inflation rate and a collapse in the value of its currency. At least 2 million Zimbabweans currently live in South Africa and fears are rising that a further deterioration of the economy could trigger a fresh wave of immigration.

The envoys stressed they had been dispatched to help Zimbabwe and were frustrated by Mnangagwa's refusal to engage them on possible solutions to its problems, according to the officials. Attempts by the envoys to meet opposition leaders, and church and civil rights groups were blocked, with Mnangagwa telling them their visit was strictly a government-to-government one and they had no business discussing issues with anyone else, they said.

Addressing the opposition's "trivial interests" didn't form part of the envoys' mission, Obert Mpofu, the administrative secretary for Zimbabwe's ruling party, said in an interview Thursday.

The envoys had "no obligation" to meet anyone other than Mnangagwa, Mpofu was cited as saying by the state-controlled Herald newspaper.

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