Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has asked South Africa for short-term financial assistance to get his government and the public service working again.  Mr. Tsvangirai first unsuccessfully sought assistance from Western donor nations.

Speaking at a media briefing in Cape Town following his meeting with South African president Kgalema Motlanthe, Mr. Tsvangirai said he was seeking emergency assistance to kick-start essential public services.

"At the moment our real focus is to look at those short term interventions, in the reopening of schools, in the reopening of the health situation and the food situation in the country," he said.

Central to these plans, is to get teachers back in school, health workers back in the clinics and hospitals, and farmers back in the fields.

And so, earlier this week, new Finance Minister Tendai Biti promised to pay public servants a $100 allowance in foreign currency.  However, he was unable to tell reporters the source of the funds - saying he would "kukiyakiya," or scrape the money together here and there.

But clearly, much more than "kukiyakiya" is needed if the new unity government is to pay public servants their full salaries in foreign currency.

"But let me say that the issue of paying them in [foreign] currency was the first step to intervene to help them with an allowance in the first place, and as we move forward create the necessary facility for payment in foreign currency; for a while until the real value of the Zimbabwean dollar is reestablished," said Tsvangirai.

Sources told VOA, Mr. Tsvangirai first sought emergency assistance from Western donors to pay the salaries of the country's public servants and for other government programs, but was turned down.

Diplomats confirm that existing policies toward providing funding to Zimbabwe have not changed.  Countries like the United States will continue to fund humanitarian programs but will not bail out the unity government or offer development assistance until abductees are released; progress is made toward restoring the rule of law; and,  a comprehensive macro-economic policy framework is worked out.

The assistance to Zimbabwe will be billed as a Southern Africa Development Community initiative, but it seems clear most, if not all, the funding will come from South Africa.  To this end, the Zimbabwean and South African finance ministers will meet next week with the director of the African Development bank, to work out the details.

It is understood that Mr. Tsvangirai is seeking about $600 million but neither he nor President Motlanthe was willing to say how much is being asked, or indeed given.

"No, there are no figures to speak of, those are going to be crunched by the technical people and [they will] emerge by end of next weekend, with a clearer picture of what the needs and requirements are," Motlanthe said.

Already some South Africans - feeling the effects of the world economic crisis and of some 3 million displaced Zimbabweans in their country - are grumbling about funding such a large bailout.

Mr. Motlanthe said there is no need to worry.

"There are no implications for the budget that [the South African finance minister] announced last week," he added.

With an economy that is all but collapsed, and official inflation at 231 million percent, Mr. Tsvangirai said it will take as much as $5 billion to get Zimbabwe fully back on its feet.