Pretoria, under mounting international pressure to act on Zimbabwe and itself increasingly irritated by events in its northern neighbour, would also want to give part of the US$1 billion requested by Harare to "buy more leverage on Mugabe and his ruling ZANU PF party," they added.
But University of Zimbabwe political commentator, Heneri Dzinotyiwei, said Mbeki was likely to approve the financial rescue package chiefly because he would rather have a reformed ZANU PF - minus Mugabe - continuing in charge in Harare than an opposition he remains suspicious of and regards as an unknown quantity.
"For Mbeki the way out of the Zimbabwe crisis is to rehabilitate Mugabe and hope that he will gradually leave the political scene (on his own)," Dzinotyiwei told ZimOnline.
Mbeki, designated the point-man on Zimbabwe by United States President George W Bush and other key world leaders, has repeatedly refused to publicly flog Mugabe over his excesses while his Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has ably blocked censure against Harare at international fora such as the United Nations (UN).
Zimbabwe's main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party two months ago pulled out in a huff from a Mbeki-driven mediation process accusing the South African leader of open bias in favour of Mugabe and ZANU PF. But communication has since been resumed between Pretoria and the MDC with Mbeki meeting the opposition party's leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, two weeks ago.
Pretoria insiders however insist Mbeki remains strongly unconvinced that the MDC, a coalition of trade unionists, civic rights activists, student leaders, lawyers and other intellectuals, could keep Zimbabwe together, let alone pull the crisis-sapped country from the brink were Mugabe and ZANU PF to go.
But Dzinotyiwei said Mbeki's strategy of shoring up Mugabe bidding for the day the Zimbabwean leader will give up power to reformists in his ZANU PF party was hurting ordinary Zimbabweans, shouldering the burden of a severe and uninterrupted six-year economic recession.
He said: "That (Mbeki's time buying strategy) is of course at the expense of the majority."
Zimbabwe's crisis has deteriorated in recent months with government officials admitting that targeted sanctions imposed by the West were hitting the country hard.
Annual inflation surged by nearly 20 percentage points to 164.3 percent last month effectively throwing state economic policies off the rails while a burgeoning HIV/AIDS pandemic is killing at least 2 000 Zimbabweans every week at a time public health institutions have collapsed after years of under funding and mismanagement.
A fuel crisis that began six years ago after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cut financial support citing Zimbabwe's poor fiscal record and bad policies has reached critical levels, grounding public and private transport and forcing many people to walk to and from work.
The IMF board, which meets today, might recommend Zimbabwe's expulsion from the fund for nonpayment of a US$306 million debt and the UN is within weeks expected to strongly censure Mugabe's controversial urban clean-up drive that left thousands of families homeless.
The US$1 billon loan sought by Harare is equivalent to about nine months of Zimbabwe's total annual foreign currency earnings and if granted could go a long way to ease pressure on Mugabe and his government.
Harare-based economic consultant John Robertson said there were no economic or financial conditions South Africa could attach to the loan that a broke Mugabe could meet, adding Pretoria might and should instead seize the moment and set political conditions for the loan.
"There are no economic conditions that Mugabe will be able to meet, South Africa needs to set political conditions," said Robertson. "There is need for a strong message that if you are behaving badly nobody will lend you money," he added.
But South Africa, which has advanced smaller loans to Zimbabwe before, has in the past resisted calls by Tsvangirai to use its economic and political clout to pressure Mugabe into line.
Meanwhile, Mugabe is expected to visit old ally, China, later this week to seek a similar financial rescue package and Beijing might oblige to whittle down Pretoria's growing leverage on Harare. -ZimOnline