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South Africa Encouraging as to Zimbabwe Loan

The South African government has confirmed that it is willing in principle to financially assist Zimbabwe, including through the provision of a loan facility to help it address its overdue obligations to the International Monetary Fund.

Spokesman Joel Netshitenzhe said Pretoria is basing the commitment on the premise that assistance should benefit the people of Zimbabwe as a whole “within the context of their program of economic recovery and political normalization,” alluding to ongoing efforts to promote discussions between Zimbawe's government and its opposition.

Mr. Netshitenzhe added that South Africa will work with the United Nations to provide humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of the slum-clearance program that Harare carried out with “disastrous” effects, according to the United Nations.

He said Pretoria meanwhile will continue its discussions with Harare about its financial needs. The size of the loan being contemplated, he added, is only about a tenth of the amount of $1 billion cited in news accounts – that is to say around $100 million.

The African Union, meanwhile, said it has appointed Joachim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique, as its special envoy to Harare. African Union spokesman Desmond Ojiako declined, though, to provide details on Mr. Chissano’s remit.

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said Nigerian President and AU Chairman Olusegun Obasanjo, who has long had a hand in efforts to bring about a political settlement in Zimbabwe, had notified him of Mr. Chissano's appointment.

There is considerable pressure in South Africa for President Thabo Mbeki to make the most of Harare’s desperate need for a loan to force a resumption in talks between the ZANU-PF ruling party and Mr. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change.

The South African Council of Churches, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and some senior African National Congress officials want Mr. Mbeki to put the United Nations report on Operation Murambatsvina, Harare’s controversial urban “clean-up” program, at the center of loan discussions with financially strapped Zimbabwe.

That report by U.N. Habitat Director Anna Tibaijuka urged talks between Zimbabwe’s ruling and opposition parties, and an unhindered flow of assistance to the estimated 700,000 people displaced by Harare’s two-month spree of home demolitions.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe asked political analyst Percy Makombe of Leicester University in Britain about the significance of Mr. Chissano’s appointment as high-level mediator in the prolonged Zimbabwe political crisis.