Zimbabwe land issue strains talks with South Africa

The signing of the agreement was abandoned at the last minute in March after Harare vehemently objected to a clause about land.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who entered into a coalition government with the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change in February, has nationalised land. But South Africa wants its citizens and entrepreneurs who have invested in land and other natural resources to be covered under the agreement to prevent disruption of their investments.

“We are scoring own goals, serious own goals,” said minister Tendai Biti, in reference to the stalled agreement. “The delays are straining relations between the two countries. The South African government is trying to help us, but we are refusing to help ourselves.”

Biti, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s chief negotiator in the Global Political Agreement (GPA) with Mugabe brokered by SA’s former president, Thabo Mbeki, recently held trade discussions with minister of finance Pravin Gordhan and minister of trade and industry Rob Davies on bilateral issues.

“In our discussions, it was evident that the delays are affecting our relations. But it is us who are suffering as a country because we are losing out on credit lines and other business and trade opportunities,” Biti said.

He added that Harare was investigating the pros and cons of joining the Southern African Customs Union. “We are engaging experts to study the advantages and disadvantages of joining the rand union. It is part of the government’s preparations to determine the route that it will take if we decide to abandon the current multiple currency system.

“If we do join the rand union, we might as well get the total package and get the full benefits, including those of the customs union. ”

Zimbabwe abandoned its worthless dollar in February in favour of the multiple currency system.

Biti revealed that Harare was presently negotiating for 50-million in lines of credit from South Africa on behalf of its tottering businesses and industries. It was also pursuing the restoration of a R2.65-billion facility made available to Zimbabwe for 20 years, but discontinued last year because of the political and economic mayhem in the country.

South Africa is Zimbabwe’s largest trading partner and is the major supplier of most goods sold in the country.

Zuma , chairman of the Southern African Development Community, is expected in Harare on Thursday for a two-day visit.

Apart from bilateral issues, Zuma is expected to hold discussions with Mugabe, Tsvangirai and deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara on outstanding issues threatening the six-month-old coalition government. Tsvangirai recently wrote to Zuma in his capacity as SADC chairman, complaining bitterly about Mugabe’s alleged violation of the GPA.

He accuses Mugabe of making arbitrary appointments and decisions, while Mugabe accuses him of failing to have sanctions removed by the West.