Mbeki told to trade loans for Zimbabwe reforms

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The Independent Online

A desperate Mr Mugabe dispatched Gideon Gono, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe,with a begging bowl to South Africa at the weekend as the embattled southern African country faced total collapse.

No fuel imports have been made into Zimbabwe in the past three weeks due to a severe foreign currency crisis. Power cuts are frequent, forcing companies to scale down operations. This has in turn worsened a dire food situation with supermarket shelves now empty of basic foodstuffs, and at least four million Zimbabweans in need of food aid.

With the Mugabe regime having completely destroyed the tobacco export sector through the violent eviction of more than 4,000 white farmers, and with virtually no prospects of foreign currency trickling in after the IMF and World Bank rejected Mr Gono's pleas for new loans, the country desperately needs foreign help to avert collapse.

Analysts said Mr Mugabe's plea for help from South Africa provided Mr Mbeki with the best-ever opportunity to demand a package of reforms.

South Africa has already set some conditions, including a demand that a demolition blitz of informal settlements in opposition strongholds be stopped. The blitz, which has earned the ire of many including former US President Bill Clinton who is visiting South Africa, has left hundreds of thousands homeless.

After South Africa's intervention, Mr Mugabe's government announced at the weekend that the demolition campaign was being temporarily stopped. But analysts said Mr Mbeki should make more demands before considering any help.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said Mr Mbeki should demand that Mr Mugabe restore the rule of law and engage the opposition and civic society for a settlement of the political crisis before considering help to Zimbabwe.

MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi said Mr Mbeki should address the real causes of the crisis in Zimbabwe instead of its symptoms.

South Africa's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has vowed to resist attempts to use South African taxpayers' money to bail out a "rogue regime" unless strict conditions were put forward.

Mr Mbeki's cabinet confirmed the bail-out request from Mr Mugabe.

The Zimbabwean government also confirmed it needed help. President Mugabe leaves for China on Saturday to beg for more loans.