By Lovemore Ranga Mataire
HARARE-CLOSE regional allies Zimbabwe and South Africa this week sought to deepen political and economic ties by holding an inaugural Bi-National Commission (BNC) in Harare.
The BNC discussions, which started on November 3, were expected to end on November 5 after the signing of several bilateral agreements.
Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said the meetings started with a ministerial session before Presidents Robert Mugabe and Jacob Zuma assumed joint chairmanship of the indaba.
President Zuma was leading a delegation of eight ministers to the BNC, which is a successor to the Joint Commission for Cooperation signed between the two countries on March 2, 1995.
Zuma took with him to Harare the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane; Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula; Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies; Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba; Transport Minister Dipuo Peters and their Labour counterpart Mildred Oliphant.
Zimbabwe’s Foreign Ministry said at a meeting of the Political and Diplomacy Committee of the Zimbabwe-South Africa Bi-National Commission in Harare on October 21, 2016, the committee “emphasised the importance of political and diplomatic consultation as a forum to enhance bilateral cooperation and an effective mechanism to track progress on the implementation of decisions taken at the BNC and other consultations”.
South Africa’s department of international relations and cooperation said the two countries have to date signed more than 38 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) and agreements, which were coordinated through the then Joint Commission for Cooperation (JCC) and the Joint Permanent Commission on Defence and Security (JPCDS) established in 1995 and 2005, respectively.
The MoUs and agreements cover a broad range of areas that include, among others, trade and investment, immigration and consular matters, defence, agriculture, the environment, energy, health as well as arts and culture.
South Africa and Zimbabwe share strong historical ties, which are further cemented by economic cooperation that makes their two economies inextricably linked.
Over 120 South African companies are doing business in Zimbabwe in various sectors, including mining, aviation, tourism, banking, property, retail, construction and the fast-food industry.
The visit by Zuma follows President Mugabe’s visit to South Africa last year, which culminated in the establishment of the BNC.
South Africa is Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner in Africa. Besides trade, South Africa has stood by Zimbabwe at various international forums believing that the stability and prosperity of its neighbour augurs well for its own sustainability.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki has in the past revealed that some Western nations had threatened to use military force to install their preferred leaders over President Mugabe.
The Western nations, particularly Britain, viewed Mugabe as a stumbling block to their neo-imperial machinations in the country especially after Zimbabwe embarked on the fast-track land reform programme in 2000.
South Africa has in the past mediated in Zimbabwe’s domestic political disputes, notably in 2008 when a government of national unity comprising Zanu PF and two major opposition parties – the MDC-T and MDC-M – took over in a power sharing arrangement that lapsed in 2013. South Africa hosts up to a million Zimbabweans. Minister Gigaba has in the past raised concerns over pressures on the social services and crime leading to tensions between locals and foreigners.