From Mabasa Sasa in TSHWANE, South Africa
ZIMBABWE and South Africa yesterday signed three landmark agreements and two memoranda of understanding that are expected to steer bilateral relations and development of the two neighbours to greater heights.The agreements were the culmination of President Mugabe’s historic, second State visit here, during which his closed-door deliberations with host President Jacob Zuma opened a new chapter in the already warm relationship.
While some sections of the media kept themselves busy speculating that President Mugabe was in South Africa to “beg” for a “bailout”, the two leaders and their delegations were hammering out arrangements of a long-term nature for the development of their countries.
The key agreement was on the establishment of a Bi-National Commission, which Zimbabwe Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi and South Africa International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane signed off.
The two ministers also signed a memorandum of understanding on Diplomatic Consultations; while Finance ministers Patrick Chinamasa and Nhlanhla Nene signed the agreement on Mutual Assistance Between Customs Administrations.
The agreement on Co-operation on Water Resources Management and establishment and functioning of the Joint Water pact were signed off by Environment, Water and Climate Minister Saviour Kasukuwere and his South African counterpart.
Zimbabwe Industry and Trade Minister Mike Bimha and South Africa’s Rob Davies signed an MoU on Economic and Trade Co-operation.
Presidents Mugabe and Zuma both hailed the agreements, MoUs and talks as notable milestones in the development of the two countries’ relations, expressing their desire to see these reflected in greater regional and continental integration for the betterment of citizens’ lives.
President Mugabe said there was much the two countries could learn from each other.
“We of Zimbabwe, being the younger economic partner and President Zuma and South Africa being the elder brothers with a more advanced system … we look at our resources and see how joined efforts could bring about in that integrated manner better, quantitatively more and qualitatively better products to transform to add value.
“Sure South Africa is advanced but there is still more to do in transforming those resources and that is why we decided to bring together 10 ministers from President Zuma’s side and 10 from President Mugabe’s side.”
He went on: “We are part of Africa, part of the region we call Sadc, Southern Africa and what we do between us is to the benefit of our Sadc region, is to the benefit of Africa, is to the benefit of our people.
“If we fail we are failing those people but in our environment we also want a political environment of freedom political environment in which we are not interfered with by outsiders and we become masters of ourselves.”
President Zuma said, “Our deliberations of today put great emphasis on the importance of signing the Agreement on the Establishment of the Bi-National Commission, whose objective is to take our relations to a higher level and to be led by the Heads of State of our respective countries.
“We have also witnessed the signing of other agreements to further enhance relations. The Memorandum of Understanding on Diplomatic Consultations will establish a mechanism for regular diplomatic consultations on issues of strengthening bilateral relations, security and co-operation in Africa and issues of mutual interest.”
He added: “The agreement on Co-operation on Water Resources Management and the establishment and functioning of the Joint Water Commission are intended to enhance co-operation in water resources planning, development and management in the spirit of mutual understanding and benefit.
“The agreement regarding Mutual Assistance Between Customs Administrations will enhance co-operations between our customs and is a crucial milestone towards the establishment of a one-stop border post.”
President Zuma said ministers from the two countries would work together to ensure implementation of the agreements.
He said in cognisance of the historically strong trade relations, the South Africa Business Forum would meet today to explore untapped opportunities in mining, eater, energy, infrastructure development, transport, ICTs and other areas.
President Zuma said because President Mugabe was also Sadc and African Union Chair, he had taken the opportunity presented by the State visit to discuss matters relating to regional and continental integration and development
The finalisation of the agreements and clinching of the MoUs, President Mugabe’s spokesperson Mr George Charamba told this publication earlier in the day, would bring long-term changes to the way the two countries did business and would have ramifications on the regional and continental development and integrations agendas.
Contrary to private media claims about the visit being centered on “aid”, President Mugabe – Mr Charamba said – was primarily concerned with resolving four issues affecting Zimbabwe and South Africa.
“The first is an upgrading of bilateral relations beyond the traditional joint permanent commission on the basis of Zimbabwe historically being South Africa’s largest trading partner in Africa.
“Second, we want a fair, just and reciprocal trade relationship bereft of barriers so that just as South African goods cross over into Zimbabwe, our goods should cross into South Africa and this is not about assistance but about fair trade.
“The third is that we want recognition that Zimbabwe is a serious mining proposition and that the Zimbabwe mining sector has a bearing on the sector in South Africa. So we want to build our capacity and do value addition through joint ventures and not aid.
“Fourth, our people working in South Africa are imparting vital skills and should be regarded as value adders who deserve to be treated with dignity,” Mr Charamba said.
This was in apparent reference to rising xenophobic sentiment that has expressed itself violently time and again and resulted in deaths of fellow Africans at the hands of black South Africans.
Another official said President Mugabe was keenly interested in establishing a bilateral trade relationship that could be replicated across Sadc and ultimately the African Union.
The official quoted President Mugabe saying, “Some in South Africa want us to have open mouth into which they pour their Ceres.”