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African nations pledge to press for aid to Zimbabwe

At a meeting in South Africa, regional nations refrain from promising funds. Western countries are reluctant to commit funds, concerned that President Robert Mugabe is still wielding all the power.

February 28, 2009|Robyn Dixon

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — The headline in Zimbabwe's Herald newspaper Friday measured the disconnect between hopes and reality: Southern African nations were "to invest $US 2 Billion in Zim," it screamed.

But after a meeting of regional finance ministers in Cape Town, South Africa, later in the day, Zimbabwe left with nothing but vague promises.

Instead of pouring in money to support the unity government brokered by southern African leaders, the region will press donors and international financial institutions to bail out Zimbabwe.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader sworn into office this month, has called on Western governments to support the fledgling transitional government, which includes members of his Movement for Democratic Change and President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

But Europe and the United States have been reluctant to commit funds amid concerns that Mugabe and his hard-line security chiefs remain firmly in charge despite the power-sharing arrangement.

Several days ago, Tsvangirai, who said the government is broke, said it would take $5 billion to rebuild Zimbabwe. The government needs $100 million a month to pay salaries and other operating expenses, according to MDC sources, but is bringing in only $10 million to $11 million a month.

At Friday's meeting the Zimbabwean government sought $2 billion for schools, hospitals, infrastructure repairs and economic revival.

But though Southern African Development Community finance ministers promised to press donors for help, there was no firm pledge of assistance.

"The ministers responsible for finance and investment undertook to pursue measures in support of Zimbabwe's economic recovery program," South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said at a news conference. "We are all, as SADC, determined to help Zimbabwe mobilize the resources. But I can't guarantee how much will be raised. . . . The economic environment globally is difficult, so we will do our best."

She said the money would come from donors, international lending institutions and SADC member countries.

"Donor countries are known worldwide, but which ones will agree to support Zimbabwe, we don't know," Dlamini-Zuma said. "We haven't started, we just decided at this meeting that we will be talking to donor countries."

Tsvangirai and Zimbabwean Health Minister Henry Madzorera visited Harare Hospital on Friday to highlight one element of the country's severe economic problems: the crisis in healthcare. Doctors, who earn only $200 a month, are leaving the country in droves, medicines are in short supply and only about 30% of state health staff positions are filled.

As Tsvangirai entered the main doors, hospital staff members broke into applause and cheered. He strode through the corridors, surrounded by a throng of cameras.

Nearby, a skinny young woman sat in a battered wheelchair with no tires, a fly crawling on her forehead. Under a yellow scarf, her face was pocked and her skin sallow. Her cheekbones protruded sharply and her wrists and legs were like twigs.

Diagnosed with HIV and tuberculosis, Mary Musvazvi, 23, has never been offered lifesaving antiretroviral medicines. She has to buy TB medicine privately because there is none at the hospital.

Her mother, Lucy Munetsi, 53, was in despair Friday. She had no money to buy the TB medication required to complete her daughter's course.

Musvazvi spent a week in hospital recently to get fluid drained from her lungs. But she went home, returning Friday only in search of medication. She said she was afraid of the nurses.

"If you want to go to the toilet, the nurses abuse you and tell you to just do it in your sheets where you are lying," she said. "Sometimes you have no choice. But if you do it, they abuse you again for making a mess.

"Once at night I asked them to make me comfortable so I could sleep. They just laughed and said, 'Let's go and get our food,' and they walked out."

Musvazvi looked dully ahead as the cameras and journalists swirled around her, chasing the prime minister.

She did not notice him pass. And he did not notice her.

--

robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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