Page last updated at 08:40 GMT, Thursday, 27 August 2009 09:40 UK

S Africa leader heads to Zimbabwe

President Robert Mugabe on 26 Aug 2009
Robert Mugabe, pictured here on 26 August, has ruled for three decades

South African President Jacob Zuma is to make his first visit to neighbouring Zimbabwe since being elected in May.

Activists hope Mr Zuma will push for an end to continued alleged human rights abuses against political opponents of President Robert Mugabe.

Mr Zuma's two-day visit comes amid renewed speculation about the health of Mr Mugabe, who is 85.

Zimbabwe officials have denied reports that Mr Mugabe is ill, labelling them the product of "sick and evil minds".

Mr Zuma is the current chair of the Southern African Development Community, the body which helped to broker a power-sharing deal which saw Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) join President Mugabe in government in February.

President Zuma will be more vocal in terms of what we see as deviant behaviour
Gwede Mantashe
ANC spokesman

The MDC has accused Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party of bad faith over a range of issues connected to the deal, including most recently the unilateral appointment of the central bank governor and attorney general.

It wants Mr Zuma to put pressure on Mr Mugabe to end the alleged attacks and harassment of MDC activists which have continued since the party joined the government.

'On track'

Mr Zuma's spokesman Vincent Magwenya said everything was "on track" for him to meet the veteran Zimbabwean leader.

Jacob Zuma (file photo)

"There are no concerns because we have not received any official communication on the state of President Mugabe's health."

A spokesman for Mr Zuma's ANC party said he planned to be more outspoken about Zimbabwe's problems - a contrast to the "quiet diplomacy" of his predecessor Thabo Mbeki.

"President Zuma will be more vocal in terms of what we see as deviant behaviour," Gwede Mantashe told reporters.

"If there is deviant behaviour, we will be more vocal... but we will still engage," he said.

"What we want to see in Zimbabwe as the ANC, is to see what in our view is an economic and humanitarian crisis reversed."

Mr Zuma is also to see Mr Tsvangirai and open the Harare Agricultural Fair.

'No visible ill-health'

South Africa's Times newspaper on Wednesday claimed Mr Mugabe had been "secretly" whisked away to a hospital in the United Arab Emirates for specialist treatment.

But Zimbabwean officials strongly dismissed the claims and said Mr Mugabe was in good health and had been away on holiday.

Reuters news agency reported that apart from meeting a special Venezuelan envoy on Wednesday, Mr Mugabe visited the family of a senior Zanu-PF official who died last week and "delivered a 20-minute speech while on his feet, showing no visible sign of ill-health".

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