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South Africa Considering Line of Credit for Zimbabwe

South Africa is considering providing a line of credit of hundreds of millions of dollars to Zimbabwe, following that country's request for assistance last week. This may provide South African President Thabo Mbeki with some leverage to demand political change in Zimbabwe.

Officially, the South African government has only acknowledged that recent discussions with Zimbabwean officials may have been about a loan. Government spokesman Joel Netshitenzhe says there is no agreement yet, and that, if any financial help is given to Zimbabwe its purpose will be in his words, "economic recovery" and "political normalization."

Mr. Netshitenzhe's comments follow a meeting last week between South Africa's deputy president, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. The Reserve Bank has also confirmed that a Zimbabwean delegation met with bank Governor Tito Mboweni last week.

Sources say that Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka carried a very strong message to Mr. Mugabe from South African President Thabo Mbeki about the forced removal recently of hundreds-of-thousands of Zimbabweans from their homes and businesses. On Saturday, Mr. Mugabe announced the crackdown would be suspended for 10 days.

Political analyst John Stremlau says that Zimbabwe's request for financial assistance will give Mr. Mbeki leverage he has not had in the past in his dealings with Mr. Mugabe. But he says the South African president should use it to demand real political change in Zimbabwe, in addition to ending the current forced removals of Zimbabweans.

"Sanctions wouldn't work," he said. "Military intervention is not an option. So, where are we? We are either making the megaphone diplomacy, or the quiet diplomacy. Maybe with this loan, there will be a new opportunity for leverage, but that leverage ought to be directed at changing the constitution and getting a political process to work."

Following the meeting with South Africa's deputy president, Mr. Mugabe said the crackdown was actually a reconstruction program, and that he aimed to build two million new homes for Zimbabweans by 2010.

Mr. Stremlau, the analyst dismisses this as posturing by Mr. Mugabe.

"But when he talks about building two million news homes by the year 2010, given the shape of the Zimbabwean economy, and given the question of what do you do with 300-thousand people in the interim, you realize what nonsense this commentary out of the presidency in Zimbabwe has come to," said Mr. Mr. Stremlau.

In a separate development, a delegation of South African church leaders, who recently visited Zimbabwe to assess the situation, met Mr. Mbeki last week to brief him on the impact of the forced removals. Mr. Mbeki said the government would contribute toward an emergency assistance program being developed by the churches.