Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa rebuffed a South African attempt to help end his nation’s economic and political crisis, and downplayed the problems it’s facing, two people familiar with the matter said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa dispatched special envoys Sydney Mufamadi and Baleka Mbete to Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, on Aug. 10 to explore ways South Africa could help its neighbor address its challenges. Mnangagwa told them there was nothing to discuss, and dismissed reports of a crackdown on government opponents as a fabrication, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to comment publicly.

When the envoys noted that anti-government protests had been banned and scores of the state’s critics detained, Mnangagwa responded that large gatherings weren’t allowed because of the coronavirus and the arrests were an internal matter, the officials said. The envoys were also told they had no business interfering in Zimbabwean politics because they carried no brief from either the African Union or the Southern African Development Community, they said.

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