Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer on Tuesday pledged A$3.5 million (US$2.9 million) additional food aid to Zimbabwe in an announcement made soon after meeting with Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Officials of Tsvangirai's faction of the divided Movement for Democratic Change were at pains to insist Tsvangirai had not gone to Australia to solicit aid or encourage the Canberra government to further stiffen sanctions aimed at President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF elite. Last week, Australia said it would revoke the visas of dependents of ruling party officials such as children enrolled in university there.
World Food Program spokesman Richard Lee in Johannesburg said the WFP has not received notice of the added funding, which will boost resources available to feed the estimated 4 million Zimbabweans expected to require food aid by early 2008.
A statement from the Australian government statement said it had provided A$6 million (US$5 million) in 2006-07 through the Australian Fund for Zimbabwe for humanitarian aid and to support civil society organizations promoting democracy and human rights. "The government expects to contribute double this amount in 2007-08," it said.
Speaking to reporters soon after his meeting with Downer, Tsvangirai thanked Canberra for its support to “the struggling people of Zimbabwe.”
He urged Australian authorities to monitor the Southern African Development Community’s crisis resolution initiative including crisis talks guided by South African president Thabo Mbeki in the aim of ensuring free and fair elections in 2008.
Downer ruled out imposing general economic sanctions because they would hurt ordinary Zimbabweans. He quipped that President Mugabe himself is already enough of a sanction on the longsuffering people of Zimbabwe.
In Harare, the state-controlled Herald newspaper countered that Tsvangirai in Australia was “celebrating the hurting sanctions that Australia and other Western countries have imposed on Zimbabwe”.
Policy and Research Secretary Sekai Holland of Tsvangirai's MDC faction told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Tsvangirai was in Australia to engage a broad cross-section of the society, not for political reasons.