Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Monday reiterated his objections to sitting down with his political opposition for talks on co-existence, despite pressure from the South African government for dialogue as a key condition for an emergency loan.
Mr. Mugabe told a crowd commemorating the 1970s war for independence that he was under pressure to hold such talks, stating in a reference to South Africa that “we tell all those calling for such ill-conceived talks to please stop their misdirected efforts.”
The president added that he would view it as more constructive to sit down with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his favorite rhetorical target, this being another swipe at the Movement for Democratic Change, which he dismisses as a British creation.
South African and Zimbabwean financial officials have concluded talks related to a loan package of several hundred million U.S. dollars which Pretoria has put on the table with conditions believed to include not only the inter-party discussions but also restoration of the rule of law, constitutional reform and a stop to slum clearances.
Mr. Mugabe’s broadside at the MDC came amid reports former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano is working in the background to facilitate inter-party talks, which not only South Africa but the African Union has been trying to encourage.
Thomas Chiripasi of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe filed a report from Harare.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa and Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono, who negotiated the bailout package with their South African counterparts, were to meet with Mr. Mugabe in an effort to persuade him to accept the conditions. After consulting with the president, they were to present the matter to the full cabinet.
For additional perspective on the dilemma facing President Mugabe and the desire by South Africa to use the loan to promote a solution to the long-deadlocked political crisis in Harare, reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe interviewed Dr. Peter Kagwanja, Southern African director for the International Crisis Group.
With speculation rife as to how much South Africa will be willing to lend Zimbabwe, and on what terms, one leading Zimbabwe economist says the $400 million to $500 million widely believed to be on the table is essential for any meaningful economic benefit.
But Bulawayo-based economist Eddie Cross, an advisor to the MDC, says Zimbabwe is in desperate need of such a loan given the moribund state of the national economy.
He tells reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyele of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the $400 million thought to be on offer beyond a $100 million payment on Zimbabwe’s debt to the International Monetary Fund could make a difference – under the right conditions.