Harare ‘no’ to key loan condition

Zimbabwean officials have rejected a crucial South African condition for a financial bale-out for the troubled country, saying they will not resume negotiations with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Zimbabwean officials have rejected a crucial South African condition for a financial bale-out for the troubled country, saying they will not resume negotiations with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The rejection set the scene for tense talks between Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and his Zimbabwean counterpart, Herbert Murerwa, which began last night as the two men sought to work out the details of a $1bn bale-out of Zimbabwe.

The Harare government’s rejection of the conditions for the bale-out, if carried out, seems to suggest that SA and President Thabo Mbeki’s last real chance to influence events in Zimbabwe could be in danger of evaporating, and could lead to a fundamental change in relations between the two countries. Nathan Shamuyarira, chief spokesman for the ruling Zanu PF and a confidant of President Robert Mugabe, said yesterday that Zimbabwe would not relent to pressure for a negotiated political settlement with the MDC.

“We will not have talks with the MDC. We have been saying this over and over again. Why are we being forced to talk to them? Why should they talk to us?” Shamuyarira said. His comments echo Mugabe’s announcement last weekend that Zimbabwe would not succumb to pressure “from whomever” to accept talks with the MDC. Mugabe’s angry remarks were apparently directed at Mbeki, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who want him to talk to the MDC.

Last week Mbeki impressed on the nation the need to help Zimbabwe. A meltdown in the country would have disastrous effects on SA and neighbouring countries, Mbeki said. He said any assistance given to Zimbabwe must be part of a package aimed at normalising the situation in that country.

On Wednesday, SA’s cabinet approved “in principle” the loan to Zimbabwe. Asked about last night’s talks, SA’s finance ministry spokesman Logan Wort said government would make an announcement only “once the sensitive talks have been concluded”. Government spokesman Joel Netshitenzhe said: “We don’t want to give running commentary (on the meeting).”

SA, keen not to appear as a “big brother”, has nonetheless set strict conditions in return for the lifeline.

These include a restoration of the rule of law, economic reforms, the repeal of repressive laws and, crucially, the resumption of talks with the MDC. However, Shamuyarira said there would be no multiparty talks. He said: “Those who have been trying to promote the MDC have failed in their agenda. We are not going to talk to the MDC.” Government sources in Harare said yesterday that Mugabe had also told Zanu PF and his ministers that his government would not accept funds with strings attached. However, South African analysts said the Zimbabweans were posturing ahead of last night’s meeting, and that it was unlikely SA would drop its conditions.

Political analyst Nic Borain said: “It’s likely to be posturing before negotiations start. SA have the leverage as things have clearly hit rock bottom (in Zimbabwe).” Mugabe, who is expected to meet Mbeki on the sidelines of an African Union (AU) summit currently taking place in Ethiopia, has reportedly also said that SA can keep its money if it “wanted to behave like Western countries”.

But pressure is mounting on Mugabe. Borain said the AU and the Southern African Development Community felt the situation in Zimbabwe had gone “too far” and were supporting Mbeki’s efforts to help end the crisis.

At the same time, the US has stepped up pressure on Mugabe, adding 24 Zimbabwean commercial farms and two Zimbabwean companies to the list of entities now under targeted US sanctions.

Zimbabwe desperately needs money to settle its $295m arrears to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which meets on September 9 to discuss its possible expulsion. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s major cities continued to suffer from power cuts and chronic shortages of energy and food.

Karima Brown, Vukani Mde and Dumisani Muleya, The Star, August 5, 2005

Categories: Africa, Odious Debts, Zimbabwe

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