South Africa's government, in a major change of stance, called today for the rapid release of results from Zimbabwe's presidential election, saying it was concerned by a delay that has increased fears of violence.
"The situation is dire," said government spokesman Themba Maseko in Cape Town. "When elections are held and results are not released two weeks after, it is obviously of great concern."
President Thabo Mbeki has previously said the electoral process must take its course and there was no crisis following the 29 March elections.
His stance was seen as backing Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe over the delay. Although Mugabe's ZANU-PF party lost control of parliament for the first time in the vote, no results have been released from a presidential poll.
"The Zimbabweans need to be informed about those reasons for holding the results. But the most important thing is that the results need to be verified and released as soon as possible," Maseko said, briefing reporters at a Wednesday cabinet meeting.
The government of regional power South Africa had previously hesitated to join international expressions of concern about the delay in issuing the result of the vote, in which the opposition says Mugabe was defeated.
But ruling party leader Jacob Zuma, who toppled Mbeki from the head of the African National Congress last December, has made several statements calling for release of the results.
Maseko used similar language to Zuma in expressing concern about the results delay.
Mbeki is under criticism at home for his insistence on quiet diplomacy in dealing with the crisis in Zimbabwe, where the economy has collapsed, bringing hyper-inflation, shortages of food and fuel and 80 percent unemployment. Millions of people have fled to South Africa.
"South Africa, like the rest of the world, is concerned about the delay in the release of the results and the anxiety that this is generating," Maseko added.