Zimbabwe’s government continues to explore avenues of attracting lines of credit from neighbouring South Africa after the continent’s most prosperous nation rebuffed an earlier request by Harare for a R16 billion (US$1,129 billion) rescue facility, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube has revealed.
South Africa has emerged as the only hope for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration for a financial lifeline after several countries, including China, spurned its approaches, citing Harare’s tendency to default on debt repayment.
Ncube confirmed in an interview this week that several meetings he held with his South African counterpart Tito Mboweni have so far failed to convince the regional economic giant to commit itself to rescuing Zimbabwe.
“There is no commitment, but we have ongoing discussions,” Ncube said, adding government would welcome any form of financial assistance from south of the Limpopo.
“We are in constant talks with South Africa, they are our neighbour, biggest trading partner and we have a bi-national commission. So we have been interacting with them, to see whether they can be of help and support us whenever we need it,” he said.
The Treasury boss said government remained hopeful in the face of shrinking sources of credit.
Although there remains a possibility of South Africa extending a US$7 million credit facility to clear part of Zimbabwe’s World Bank arrears, the neighbouring country appears reluctant.
Mnangagwa told private media journalists a fortnight ago that: “We started engaging South Africa earlier this year when we had the cooking oil shortage. Then because of the nature of relations between us and South Africa, we said to South Africa can you give us lines of credit. So this is why discussions between the South African minister of finance, our own finance minister and the governor of Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe started.”
“Talks are therefore underway for a line of credit from South Africa Botswana has also given us line of credit worth 70 million Pula. What it means is that Zimbabwean businesses can get goods from those two countries worth that amount. We are then given a grace period and then we could be able to repay the credit within an agreed period of time, say to or five years. It is different from a bailout package in that it does not come with certain conditions attached to it,” he added.
While critics in South Africa say lending to Zimbabwe would be a waste of money, President Cyril Ramaphosa has over the past week said there is need to support Harare.
However, he has not qualified the kind of support he would prefer.
Zimbabwe is desperate for lines of credit which could go a long way in fixing a tattered economy, which is on the verge of total collapse. Foreign currency shortages continue to haunt industry while the cost of living has soared.
To worsen the situation, Harare’s biggest Western cheerleader Britain pulled the plug on Mnangagwa’s re-engagement drive when London dissociated itself from the regime last week following the killing of an estimated 17 people during the suppression of violent protests which rocked the country last month while 78 others were injured and more than 1 000 were arrested.
Britain, a key Mnangagwa ally after the toppling of former president Robert Mugabe in the November 2017 coup, had also emerged as the only Western power supporting Zimbabwe’s re-engagement with IMF, World Bank and re-joining Commonwealth.
Although Mnangagwa has denied that the country is seeking a bailout package, former finance minister Patrick Chinamasa revealed on a trip to China last year that government was seeking a rescue package of US$2,5 billion to support the productive sectors which include tourism, mining and manufacturing.
Acting Chinese ambassador Zhao Baogang said that they will not give Zimbabwe a bailout package, focussing instead on sponsoring infrastructural development.