File Image: IOL

JOHANNESBURG - Former  finance minister Tendai Biti said on Thursday that Zimbabwe needed to mend relations with foreign donors to help kickstart an economy critics say was run into the ground by long-time President Robert Mugabe.

Mugabe, 93, who had been at the helm of the southern African country since independence from Britain in 1980, stepped down earlier this week, succumbing to pressure from within his own ruling party, the military, as well as angry citizens grappling with high unemployment, chronic cash shortages and crumbling infrastructure.

Biti, a key opposition leader who was finance minister during a short-lived unity government from 2009 to 2013, told a forum in Johannesburg that 95 percent of Zimbabweans were unemployed, while 87 percent lived on less that 35 U.S. cents a day.

Zimbabwe’s economic woes have been exacerbated by foreign donor institutions and governments withholding financial support over differences with Mugabe, including his controversial seizure of white-owned commercial farms and charges that he rigged elections since 2000 to keep his 37-year grip on power.

"I am very hopeful. I am very optimistic. We have removed the baobab tree that is Robert Mugabe," Biti said on Thursday.

“We have to make peace with London, Brussels and Washington. We have to find the boys and girls with money.”

On Thursday, global news agency Reuters quoted a senior International Monetary Fund (IMF) official as saying Zimbabwe’s economic growth was threatened by high government spending, an untenable foreign exchange regime and inadequate reforms.

“The economic situation in Zimbabwe remains very difficult,” Gene Leon, the IMF’s mission chief for Zimbabwe said in a statement to Reuters.

A copy of the statement was not immediately available.

-ANA