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Last Updated: Friday, 22 July 2005, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Report puts pressure on Zimbabwe
United Nations envoy Anna Tibaijuka may have sounded diplomatic when she arrived in Zimbabwe three weeks ago - but anyone who thought that her report would tread softly around President Robert Mugabe would have been wrong.

Demolition scene in Zimbabwe
The clearances have been condemned in the UN's report
Her report declares that recent evictions and housing demolitions in Zimbabwe were performed "in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering".

Mr Mugabe's critics in the West - notably Tony Blair - will see the report as confirmation of what they already believe, while African leaders who have been hesitant to condemn Mr Mugabe may now feel it is time to speak out.

South Africa can attach some political leverage to providing financial assistance to Zimbabwe
Goolam Ballim
South African economist
When Ms Tibaijuka began her visit, Mr Blair said that the UN Security Council ought to debate Zimbabwe once the UN envoy had presented her report.

The content of the report is such that Mr Blair is unlikely to change that point of view. The United States is likely to support the British position.

South African reaction

Less predictable, and more crucial, will be the reaction from South Africa - the regional economic and political powerhouse - to Ms Tibaijuka's condemnation of its troubled northern neighbour.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has been under fire both from the Zimbabwean opposition and from critics at home, who argue that Mr Mbeki's approach of "quiet diplomacy" amounts to nothing more than the appeasement of a despot.

Indications are that images of the widespread demolition of homes and the suffering of thousands of poor, black civilians have finally pushed the limits of South Africa's tolerance
Previously, analysts have attributed Mr Mbeki's behaviour to his desire not to upset a man who is the last liberation-era leader still in office in Southern Africa.

The South African president did not join in the Western condemnation of the expropriation of white farmers, beginning in 1999, which Mr Mugabe sought to portray as a plan to empower landless black peasant farmers.

Now, however, indications are that images of the widespread demolition of homes and the suffering of thousands of poor, black civilians have finally pushed the limits of South Africa's tolerance.

Three weeks ago, Mr Mbeki's spokesman told the BBC that it was wrong to think that the South African president had been silent on the issue of Zimbabwe, and that South Africa would be considering Ms Tibaijuka's report once it appeared.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan's involvement may strengthen Thabo Mbeki's hand

The fact that the report was commissioned by Ghanaian Kofi Annan and authored by Tanzanian Ms Tibaijuka will make it easier for Mr Mbeki to associate himself with its findings without appearing to have climbed onto a Western-led anti-Mugabe bandwagon.

But since then, another development has raised the stakes for Mr Mbeki.

South African officials confirmed that only last week, Zimbabwe sought a substantial loan from South Africa in an attempt to rescue an economy that is on the brink of complete collapse.

More recently, Zimbabwean officials were quoted as saying that the two countries had signed a memorandum of understanding regarding a loan agreement.

There has been speculation in South Africa that Mr Mbeki will attach conditions to any possible loan: perhaps a demand for an end to housing evictions, and talks between Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

"South Africa can attach some political leverage to providing financial assistance to Zimbabwe - and in this manner possibly fashion a constructive political and economic path for our neighbour," economist Goolam Ballim told Business Day newspaper.

China factor

But the increased leverage that South Africa may gain through such a deal is weakened by the fact that Mr Mugabe has other options for a bail-out.

Mr Mugabe is expected to visit China shortly, where he is also expected to seek a loan.

Reports that a shortage of aviation fuel could delay his visit are a sign of just how bad things have become in his country, where fuel for cars and public buses has been almost unavailable for months.

But China - a country where ethical considerations appear to count for little in foreign policy - is keen to access metals such as chrome and platinum that are mined in Zimbabwe.

The question is whether cash from a major economic power on the other side of the world will count for more than Mr Mugabe's relationship with his closest neighbour.

See footage of the slum clearances

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