Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai broke off talks with the ruling Zanu-PF to launch his recent abortive mass action campaign, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said on Thursday.
Tsvangirai's "unfortunate" move had weakened South Africa's position as a mediator in the conflict, Lekota, who is also national chairman of the African National Congress, told the Cape Town Press Club.
"After we had prevailed on Zanu and themselves to have the discussions, he now leaves the discussions and calls this mass action thing, that now puts him in jail.
"Why do you leave the talks when the people agree let's go and talk?" an animated Lekota said in reply to questions on South Africa's stand on Zimbabwe.
"He must go with his own position to the talks, and then Zanu must come with their own position.
"But when he left that, we felt he weakened our position. We really felt he weakened our position, but we'll continue, even now, we continue to say to Mugabe, they've got to go to the talks."
Tsvangirai is nearing the end of his second week in jail on treason charges for allegedly inciting the violent overthrow of President Robert Mugabe's government during rallies ahead of the planned mass action.
The protests were thwarted by a massive show of force from the Zimbabwean security forces.
The opposition leader was arrested on June 6, the last day of the planned mass action.
Lekota told the press club South Africa had played a "principal role", along with Nigeria, in encouraging the talks.
"Now unfortunately of course Tsvangirai called...." he said, but was interrupted by an interjection of: "He's in jail.
"I've read that also in the newspaper: I know it, sir," Lekota said.
"Let me say something.... we got arrested in this country persuading the government here that we must go to the talks."
Reminded that the ANC itself had staged anti-government marches in the years before the transition to democracy in 1994, he said: "But that was saying to the government, let's to go the talks; the government was refusing to go to the talks.
"When Zanu has agreed to go to the talks with them....
"When President Thabo Mbeki and (Nigerian) president Obasanjo were there, an agreement was reached that they must go to the talks.
"It doesn't matter that there are conditions. We went to the talks with conditions.
"Nobody goes to the talks without conditions. We went to the talks when some of our comrades were sitting in jail on Robben Island.
"But when you want to negotiate and sort issues out, you can't have a total ideal solution before the talks."
Treason carries a possible death penalty in Zimbabwe.
Tsvangirai already is on trial on a separate treason charge that accuses him of plotting to assassinate Mugabe two years ago.
By sarah park