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Harare Back In Pretoria Seeking No-Strings Mega-Bailout Loan

Despite signing high-profile industrial agreements with China, Harare remains strapped for cash and has re-opened discussions with South Africa as to securing a major loan of $500 million to $1 billion.

Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa led a delegation to South Africa late last week in an effort to restart talks that ground to a halt some months ago because the government of President Robert Mugabe refused to accept political conditions which Pretoria insisted be attached to such a loan. Murerwa confirmed the new approach to Pretoria in an interview with Harare's Sunday Mirror newspaper, but declined to provide further details, saying he first had to brief President Mugabe.

A senior South African Finance Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he doubted such a deal could be concluded at this point, as Harare remained unwilling to accept conditions including opening a dialogue with the opposition.

The official said Pretoria still insisted on such conditions, which were in line with South African President Thabo Mbeki's stated position that Zimbabwe needs an extensive economic recovery plan that will be sustainable over the long term.

Isolated politically and economically from the West, President Mugabe has shaped a so-called Look East policy of developing commercial relations with China. The nations recently announced a venture to develop coal-fired electric power generation plants in Zimbabwe and a parallel project to exploit chromium resources. But such longer-term ventures apparently have not spun off the immediate cash that Harare needs.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe sought the perspective of chief economist Prosper Chitambara of the Harare-based Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe.

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