SA said no to Zim request for R17bn loan

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Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Picture: Natalia Fedosenko/Reuters
Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Picture: Natalia Fedosenko/Reuters

As protests continue in Zimbabwe following a dramatic petrol price hike, news has emerged that South Africa turned down a request from its cash-strapped neighbour for a R16.7 billion loan in December, a spokesperson for the finance ministry said on Monday.

“South Africa doesn’t have that kind of money,” National Treasury spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane said.

Zimbabwean officials were not immediately available for comment.

Zimbabwe was hit by anti-government protests last week after a hike in fuel prices stoked anger over an economic crisis.

Police say three people died during demonstrations that turned violent in the capital Harare and second city Bulawayo. But human rights groups say evidence suggests at least a dozen were killed.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Sunday that he would return home from a European tour and skip the World Economic Forum in Davos to address the crisis.

But the crackdown last week on protests in Zimbabwe is a taste of how the government will respond to future unrest, the president’s spokesperson said, fuelling concerns that the southern African country is reverting to authoritarian rule.

“The government will not stand by while such narrow interests play out so violently. The response so far is just a foretaste of things to come,” Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba told the state-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper.

Charamba said authorities would review some provisions of the constitution adopted in 2013, which he said were being abused by proponents of democracy.

He was accompanying Mnangagwa on a four-nation European tour. The president had been expected to fly on to the World Economic Forum in Davos this week and pitch for foreign investment to revive Zimbabwe’s crippled economy.

Meanwhile, lawyers and activists say hundreds of Zimbabweans are in custody accused of public order offences, including at least four lawmakers from the opposition MDC party and Evan Mawarire, a pastor who rose to prominence as a critic of former leader Robert Mugabe and led a national shutdown in 2016.

Local rights groups say security forces, accused of night raids at beating suspected protesters in their homes, were on Sunday trying to track down people who have gone into hiding.

A partial internet blackout was still in force on Sunday, two days after mobile networks sent messages to customers saying they had been ordered to keep social media sites shut until further notice.

Before winning a contested election in July, Mnangagwa promised a clean break with the 37-year rule of Mugabe, who used the security forces to quell civilian protests before being forced out in a de facto coup in November 2017.

But the MDC says former Mugabe ally Mnangagwa, whose nickname is ‘Crocodile’, is now overseeing a reversion to authoritarian rule by using the same tactic.

Charamba said the MDC leadership and affiliate organisations would be “held fully accountable for the violence and the looting.” The MDC denies fomenting unrest.

UN rights officials denounced last week’s crackdown, while an independent inquiry found that the army used excessive force when it stepped in to stop post-election violence last August, during which six people were shot dead.

Zimbabweans, who have seen their purchasing power eroded by soaring inflation, also say Mnangagwa has not delivered on pre-election pledges to kick-start economic growth after Mugabe’s exit. - Reuters

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