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South Africa blocks aid until new government formed

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-21

South Africa has blocked nearly 30 million dollars of aid to Zimbabwe until the creation of a new government there. The agricultural aid to Zimbabwe was approved last month, subject to conditions, to help short-term food needs.

South Africa said Thursday it will hold back nearly 30 million dollars of aid to Zimbabwe until a new government is formed there, as it prepares to host new power-sharing talks next week.
The failure of President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to form a unity government means that "a window of opportunity" for aid had passed, said South African government spokesman Themba Maseko.
South Africa last month approved 300 million rand (22.6 million euros) in agricultural aid to Zimbabwe, subject to conditions, to help short-term food needs.
"However, this aid will not be transferred until such time (as) a representative government is in place," Maseko told journalists.
"Our major concern is that we missed the planting season," he added.
Foreign ministry spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa confirmed Thursday that South Africa will host a fresh round of talks next week under former president Thabo Mbeki, who brokered Zimbabwe's power-sharing deal more than two months ago.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai have yet to form a unity government, despite several failed attempts by regional leaders to implement the agreement aimed at ending the country's political turmoil and economic meltdown.
Mamoepa said the exact date has not yet been set for the talks.
The parties will discuss an amendment of the Zimbabwe constitution to allow the creation of a prime ministerial post, designated to Tsvangirai. Mugabe, 84, would remain as president under the deal.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing deal on September 15.
South Africa's conditional withholding of economic aid follows that of several foreign donors who have refused bail-out packages until a unity government is in place.
Zimbabwe's economy has been in free-fall for years, leaving 80 percent of the population in poverty and nearly half the country in need of emergency food aid by January, according to the United Nations.
The country suffers the world's highest inflation rate, last estimated at 231 million percent in July, causing a breakdown in water and sanitation that has sparked an outbreak of cholera that has killed 294 people in recent weeks, according to the US ambassador.
"There are over 1,200 confirmed cases of cholera and another 2,500 unconfirmed cases," American ambassador to Harare James McGee said by way of contrast to an official Harare toll of about 90.
South Africa's new leadership has taken a much tougher line on Zimbabwe, in sharp contrast to Mbeki's so-called "quiet diplomacy" that avoided overt criticism of Mugabe -- an approach that Tsvangirai repeatedly criticised.
"We are finding it totally unacceptable that at this stage we have this impasse on one or two outstanding matters that in our view are matters that could be resolved by mature leadership around the table," Maseko said Thursday.
But the withholding of the aid package was not sanctions, he said.
"We need to make sure that it will be used properly... It will be difficult for us to simply transfer your money, the taxpayers money, to a non-existing government."
Former UN chief Kofi Annan, former US president Jimmy Carter and Graca Machel, wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, will travel this weekend to Zimbabwe to assess the humanitarian situation for their Elders organisation.
The visit comes despite objections by Mugabe's government which branded the trip a "partisan mission," claiming that they were trying to support the opposition in power-sharing talks.
The power-sharing deal was meant to end the turmoil, but Mugabe has moved to unilaterally to appoint cabinet ministers to his ruling ZANU-PF.
Tsvangirai has refused to join the government until the parties reach an agreement on the cabinet make-up and on his powers as prime minister.

Date created : 2008-11-21