The finance minister Trevor Manuel used an interview with the Observer to demand that Britain and other donors urgently inject cash into Zimbabwe’s treasury rather than give it exclusively to foreign humanitarian agencies.
"You have to support the government," Manuel said. "Zimbabwe’s foreign friends are opposed to the notion that prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his ministers are just puppets. But if you just have outside agencies running the show, then that notion is amplified. And people will say Tsvangirai is not even trusted by his friends."
Tsvangirai and several ministers from the Movement for Democratic Change were sworn in over a month ago. But faced with a bankrupt treasury, they are struggling to raise the £35m-a-month payroll for the country’s civil servants, as well as for the politically-crucial police and army.
Britain, which spends £45m on humanitarian aid in Zimbabwe every year, maintains the government is too corrupt to merit direct aid. Other donors share Britain’s position and the EU and US have sanctions in place.
But Manuel, 53, said the new unity government is running out of time. "There is a fundamental set of issues that needs to be addressed. But they (the government) have to be afforded the opportunity to make a difference."
Manuel claimed his call for direct aid is supported by Mugabe’s staunchest critics in Africa, including Botswana’s president Ian Khama and Kenyan prime minister Raila Odinga.
Manuel’s call came after Mugabe made a speech on Thursday in which for the first time he spoke explicitly in the name of the "inclusive government" that includes former political prisoner Tendai Biti as finance minister.
At the launch of an economic policy document drafted by Biti, the president said: "I, on behalf of the inclusive government and the people of Zimbabwe, say, ‘Friends of Zimbabwe, please come to our aid’." He appealed for £3.5bn, promised to "arrest" farm invasions and called for an end to sanctions.
The US immediately rejected the call. "We have not yet seen sufficient evidence that they are on a path to inclusive and effective governance as well as respect for human rights and the rule of law," said state department spokesman Robert Wood.
Australia, Norway and Sweden have recently announced expanded humanitarian aid programmes to Zimbabwe, but all of them are earmarked for international agencies, such as Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Red Cross.
Even though the unity government was brokered as a result of a mediation led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, Zimbabwe’s regional neighbours have not stumped up cash to support it. Manuel said the African nations could not be expected to pay: "You have to understand this is a region in poverty. If large hearts and deep pockets be the measure of goodwill, you couldn’t be asking at a worse time."
Western countries held a donor meeting in Washington on Friday to take stock of their position but there was no indication they intended to extend funding to Zimbabwe’s treasury.
Teams from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank are currently in Zimbabwe to study how to resume relations with the country.