Former U.S. president and prominent Baptist Jimmy Carter expressed his shock on Monday at the extent of Zimbabwe's humanitarian crisis, saying that it appeared to be far worse than he had imagined.
Speaking to the press after talks with South African leaders, Carter said that Zimbabwe's basic structure had "broken down" and that Mugabe "does not want to admit that there is a need for assistance."
"These are all indications that the crisis in Zimbabwe is much greater, much worse than we ever could have imagined," he said.
Carter had been scheduled to take part in a humanitarian visit to the country over the weekend with former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan and human rights activist Graca Machel, but the group – known as the Elders which was formed by former South African President Nelson Mandela to help foster peace - were refused entry visas by Robert Mugabe's regime.
The Elders met with charity, donor and civil leaders from Zimbabwe in neighboring South Africa, according to The Associated Press.
The former U.S. president warned that cholera was hitting the population particularly badly because Zimbabwe's hyperinflation had left many hospitals in short supply of basic drugs and medical supplies. Hundreds of Zimbabweans have already been killed from a cholera epidemic which has spilled across the border into South Africa.
The Elders said in a joint statement that the crisis "must be acknowledged and addressed by Zimbabwe's leaders."
Annan chided the Southern African Development Community for not doing more to address the crisis. He warned that the international community would need to come up with an additional $140 million to cover the scale of the present crisis, compounded by the failure of this year's crops, and raise $550 million by next year.
"We have a sense that either the leadership doesn't have a clear picture of how deep the suffering is of their own people, or they don't care," Machel said.
Their comments come as talks between Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on sharing power have stalled. Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had won in the March presidential election, but the election commission said he failed to win the majority of votes needed to be declared president without a run-off election. Mugabe claimed victory in the runoff in June after Tsvangirai dropped out to protect his supporters from violence.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki will host talks between the ruling Zanu PF and opposition MDC aimed at ending the deadlock over appointments to key ministry positions within their power-sharing government.