International Monetary Fund officials in Harare for consultations just weeks before the IMF board considers whether to strip Zimbabwe of its membership have been told by senior government officials that the outlook is positive for South Africa to help the strapped country by paying down its IMF debt arrears, sources said.
Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa and Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono briefed the cabinet and the IMF delegation on the status of discussions with Pretoria about the desired loan, assuring the multilateral officials that the talks remained on course, a senior official at the central bank said.
Some observers express doubt as to whether South Africa will bail out Harare given President Robert Mugabe’s adamant refusal to open discussions with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change as one of the conditions for the loan.
Harare has in fact accelerated its efforts to ram sweeping constitutional amendments through with the two-thirds parliamentary majority it claimed in the March general elections (the legitimacy of which the opposition questions), some of which further restrict civil rights or strengthen Mr. Mugabe’s grip on power.
Doubts about the likelihood of Harare obtaining a loan increased further after the state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa as saying Harare had not sought the loan from Pretoria, but been approached by South Africa at the IMF’s behest. His intention in making these comments was unclear.
One local economist who met with the IMF delegation this week said the officials were not positive on the economic outlook, adding that it seemed likely to him that the team would recommend to the IMF board that Zimbabwe be expelled from membership.
Reporter Blessing Zulu sought perspective on Zimbabwe’s economic situation from Iraj Abedian, chief executive of Johannesburg-based Pan-African Advisory Services.
While turning to South Africa for a loan, the Zimbabwean government has rejected a United Nations proposal to conduct an emergency fundraising drive aimed at collecting $30 million to relieve some of the many thousands made homeless by the government’s May-July slum clearance campaign, Operation Murambatsvina.
UN emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland told journalists at the U.N. in New York that he was announcing with regret that “we have failed to reach agreement.”
Mr. Egeland added: “I regret that because as humanitarian workers, we see massive misery in Zimbabwe. We should not spend endless hours disagreeing on the description of the problem.”