An International Monetary Fund technical team arrived in Harare on Monday for what Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa has described as a routine follow-up to an annual economic assessment the lender of last resort conducted in June. The IMF team met right away with Mr. Murerwa and Zimbabwe Reserve Bank Governor Gideo Gono.
Many observers believe, however, that the IMF team has come to collect information to help higher-ups in Washington determine whether Zimbabwe is to be expelled from the IMF for failure to service its debt or if it will be bailed out by South Africa.
The IMF board is scheduled to meet on September 9 to discuss Zimbabwe’s arrears in servicing its debt which have piled up to some $295 million dollars.
Harare is asking South Africa to lend it several hundred million U.S. dollars to at least partially liquidate the IMF arrears – as well as to buy fuel to turn over an economy that has essentially stalled, and food to nourish millions of Zimbaweans in dire need.
Complicating matters is an apparent deadlock between President Robert Mugabe and South African President Thabo Mbeki, over conditions which Pretoria reportedly has proposed to attach to the loan Harare has been negotiating for some weeks.
The South African government is believed to have demanded that Mr. Mugabe undertake democratic reforms and open a dialogue with the opposition.
Instead, Harare has rejected mediation lined up by the African Union and proposed to amend Zimbabwe’s constitution to significantly bolster state powers to seize farm land and to allow the government to restrict foreign travel by opposition members.
This does not seem to be going down well with Mr. Mbeki. He signaled impatience with Mr. Mugabe in an editorial on the Web site of his ruling African National Congress.
Mr. Mbeki, in a thinly veiled reference to Mr. Mugabe, declared that “all of us must understand that what we do in any one of our countries has an impact on the rest,” clearly alluding to last week's summit of the Southern African Development Community during which appeals by his peers, including Mr. Mbeki, left Mr. Mugabe unmoved.
Elsewhere, South Africa’s ambassador designate to Ireland, Devikarani Jana, told the press that that Mr. Mbeki is increasingly frustrated with Mr. Mugabe’s intransigence.
For insight into these issues, reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to Harare-based economist Tony Hawkins, asking him what he sees as the link between the IMF assessment team visit and the loan talks with South Africa.
Despite indications Mr. Mbeki is losing patience with Mr. Mugabe, his opposition is not convinced he will move firmly. Democratic Alliance Chief Whip Douglas Gibson tells Blessing Zulu that he doubts Mr. Mbeki will match his words with action.