Jacob Zuma, the leader of South African's dominant ANC party, called for face-to-face talks between Robert Mugabe and his challenger Morgan Tsvangirai to rescue Zimbabwe from the threat of genocide.
Mr Zuma in London on a tour of Europe with ANC leaders said he shared the fears of the churches in Zimbabwe that the country could descend into tribal warfare unless some action was taken quickly to avert a civil war.
"You cannot just sit and wait and the tension is getting to the point which could explode," he said on Channel Four News. "Let us not reach that point. We need a situation where the two parties, the two leaders must be met and we should discuss options as to what we can do to save Zimbabwe."
Mr Zuma's remarks ahead of a meeting with Gordon Brown are likely to disappoint London and Washington who have been seeking tougher intervention by the South African leadership of the ANC to force Mr Mugabe to step down. But British Government sources said they were encouraged by the grassroots pressure in the past 48 hours in Zimbabwe for a resolution of the crisis.
Mr Zuma criticised the Zimbabwe electoral commission rather than Mr Mugabe for delaying the result of the presidential elections before meeting Gordon Brown to discuss the crisis. "I am not certain whether I should stand there and really condemn people and make myself a judge," Zuma said on BBC. He also rejected claims that South African President Thabo Mbeki has failed to adequately press Mr Mugabe on the issues.
Mr Zuma and Mr Brown later issued a joint statement opposing violence in Zimbabwe. But Mr Zuma sidestepped questions about the Chinese shipment of arms to the Mugabe regime, which was blocked last week by South African port workers.
Earlier, Mr Brown called for an EU and US arms ban on Zimbabwe to be widened to cover other countries such as China, who have sent a shipment of arms to the Mugabe regime.
"Because of what has happened in South Africa, where there is an arms shipment trying to get to Zimbabwe, we will promote proposals for an embargo on all arms to Zimbabwe," Mr Brown said during Prime Minister's questions.Reuse content