Regional ministers seek donor help for Zimbabwe

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – Southern African finance ministers agreed on Friday to push for donor help to rebuild Zimbabwe after economic collapse and put the initial need at $2 billion, South Africa's foreign minister said.

Zimbabwe’s new unity government of old rivals President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is heavily reliant on donors to revive the country suffering hyperinflation, food shortages and 90 percent unemployment.

South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said the finance ministers would try to normalise Zimbabwe’s status in the International Monetary Fund and regional bloc SADC plans a summit to consider financing proposals presented by Zimbabwe.

"The ministers responsible for finance and investment undertook to pursue measures in support of Zimbabwe’s economic recovery programme, namely, collectively engaging bilateral and multilateral donors through SADC and the African Union," she said after the meeting of Southern African Development Community (SADC) ministers.

Western donors and foreign investors are cautious, however, and want to see concrete signs that a democratic government is created and economic reforms implemented before money will flow to the once relatively prosperous country.

"Of course we think the money will be used properly, there is a government there and the minister of finance seems to be in charge of the issues," Dlamini-Zuma told reporters.

Zimbabwe’s new finance minister, Tendai Biti, is from Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change but control of economic policy is a point of friction between the two camps in the government.

The prime minister has said Zimbabwe needs $5 billion to recover from years of decline, but Western countries are still waiting to see if the new government will bring about real change.  

In Harare, Mugabe dismissed as "nonsense" Western demands that he free up Zimbabwe’s media in order to get sanctions lifted.

Mugabe — who turned 85 last week and will officially celebrate his birthday at a huge rally on Saturday — said his government wanted friendly relations with all nations and was still assessing new U.S. President Barack Obama’s policies.

"We are open. We want to discuss. We have never closed our doors," he said.