Saving Zim economy will be test for unity govt – Motlanthe

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA – Rescuing Zimbabwe's shattered economy will be the test of the unity government due to be installed next week, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe said in an interview Wednesday.

 Motlanthe led the latest round of talks among Southern African leaders to press Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe and opposition chief Morgan Tsvangirai into a unity deal.

After marathon talks last week, they agreed to form the government to end months of political strife following disputed elections in March.

Critics have questioned whether Mugabe and Tsvangirai would be able to work together effectively, after years of deep mistrust and political violence that has targetted mainly opposition supporters.

Motlanthe said that he saw the unity government as a transitional power whose main job would be to salvage the economy that has crumbled under the world’s highest inflation rate, last estimated at 231-million percent, but believed many times higher.

"Essentially the inclusive government is a transitional authority," he said in an interview.

"Depending on how it goes, and whether by agreement this inclusive government decides to call early elections … that’s a matter that they would be able to resolve as Zimbabweans," he said on the sidelines of the African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital.

"The main tasks were really to stabilise the political situation and embark on economic recovery for the country," he added.

Zimbabwe once boasted one of Africa’s most dynamic economies, but since Mugabe began resettling black farmers on white-owned lands in
2000, his country has fallen into a seemingly endless spiral of decline.

Mugabe told the summit on Tuesday that Western sanctions — which consist mainly of a travel ban and asset freeze on him and his inner circle –had destroyed Zimbabwe’s economy.

"Our condemnation, our isolation is because my government took the necessary measures to create conditions for equal opportunities, for decolonisation, for creating conditions in which our people could regain their lost resources," he said.

No-one has disputed the need for land reform in Zimbabwe, but Mugabe’s programme left black farmers with little experience and little support to maintain the vast commercial farms that were the backbone of the economy.

Now a country that once exported food is dependent on food aid, with nearly seven million people — more than half the population — facing hunger.

Hyperinflation has left the local currency worthless, forcing Zimbabweans to pay trillions of dollars for a loaf of bread.

With little foreign currency, basic services have broken down.

Crumbling sanitation systems have sparked the world’s worst cholera outbreak in over a decade, claiming more than 3 000 lives.

"Once the inclusive government is in place, part of the
responsibility will be to go and try to attract investments, particularly in the infrastructure," Motlanthe said.

"The telling part in terms of the implementation of the economic recovery plan would be to get investment in infrastructure," he said.

Western countries last year promised billions of dollars in aid if Mugabe were to leave power. So far, donors like the United States and Britain are waiting to see if the unity government succeeds before taking out their chequebooks. – AFP