South Africa denies handing over withheld aid, refuting Zanu PF claims

HARARE – South Africa reiterated on Sunday it would only hand over $30 million in agricultural aid to Zimbbabwe after a unity government is formed, denying a Zimbabwe media report it had reversed a decision to hold back the help.

While South Africa and other southern African countries are helping Zimbabwe deal with a spiralling cholera epidemic, the regional power said last month it would only provide farming aid to its neighbour after a coalition government was formed.

The move was seen as South Africa’s first punitive measure against Zimbabwe, which is battling acute food shortages, and as a sign of frustration at its neighbour’s failure to enforce a stalled power-sharing agreement and stem an economic crisis.

Some analysts believe South Africa and other African nations have been too soft on President Robert Mugabe and want to see more regional pressure on him to break a political impasse.

Zimbabwe’s state-owned Sunday Mail newspaper quoted Agriculture Minister Rugare Gumbo as saying farming inputs like staple maize seed, fertiliser and fuel forming part of the 300 million rand South African package had arrived in Zimbabwe.

"The South African government has sent a consignment of agricultural inputs to Zimbabwe under its 300 million rand farming support facility," the paper said.

But Thabo Masebe, spokesman for South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, said South Africa had not reversed its stance.

"We said we would be able to help with agricultural assistance worth about 300 million rand once a new government has formed, and that has not changed," said Thabo Masebe, a spokesman for South African President Kgalema Motlanthe. 

"In parallel, there have been efforts to assist with the humanitarian crisis so that may be what they are referring to."

Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai signed the power-sharing pact on September 15 but the deal has been unravelling over disagreements about the control of key ministries.

Meanwhile Zimbabwe has sunk deeper into crisis. Hyper-inflation means prices double every day and a cholera epidemic has killed more than 1,100 people.

South African is leading the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) in providing urgent humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe.

Western leaders blame Mugabe for the crisis and have called on him to step down but he says economic sanctions are at fault, and has vowed "never to surrender" to what he says are efforts to topple him.