South African government slammed for funding Robert Mugabe's regime

Earlier in 2008, the government earmarked R300m in agricultural assistance for the ailing nation but said the money would only be released if a unity government was formed in accordance with the power-sharing agreement.

In light of the worsening situation, however, a decision was reached in Harare last Monday to begin to roll out the aid with immediate effect and through the Zimbabwe Humanitarian and Development Assistance Framework (ZHDAF), a structure that was established by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to ensure that all aid falls into the right hands. Short season grains and fertilisers were dispatched from Pretoria.

The Movement for Democratic Change said the move by South Africa "legitimises the illegal regime that is currently in de facto control of Zimbabwe", according to MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti, "and violates the global agreement" of September to which all parties were signatories.

"We are not giving them money," presidency spokesperson Thabo Masebe assured on Saturday, "but we are using the money to purchase the things they need which is being administered through ZHDAF mechanisms on the ground".

However Biti says ZHDAF exists "only on paper and not in practice" and that his party has not been consulted.

Although SADC Executive Secretary Tomas Salomao insists otherwise, George Tadonki, the Zimbabwe country director for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, says he, too, has been kept in the dark about the new ZHDAF structure.

"Several South African teams visited Zimbabwe in the past few months," Tadonki said. Later there was a call "for an independent SADC body to monitor humanitarian assistance, but we are not yet fully informed about it.

There are no offices in place. We are not aware of any SADC staff administering assistance".

Although Biti recognises that aid is badly needed, he said it can only be extended in line with the September agreement brokered by former president Thabo Mbeki "which SA has now decided to violate".

An estimated five million people are now in need of food aid, according to Tadonki’s office.

However, in the run-up to the March elections in 2008 there were widespread reports of food aid being used as a political weapon and being withheld from non-Mugabe supporters unless they crossed the divide.

"But now they wouldn’t even do that. It will go straight to themselves. Because patronage is no longer part of their lexicon. Now (the regime) just abducts people," said Biti.

However, Masebe said he was confident the assistance would reach the intended beneficiaries.