EDITORIAL COMMENT: BNC consolidates Zimbabwe-South Africa ties

The Chronicle

High-level meetings between senior government officials from Zimbabwe and South Africa started in Harare yesterday, ending today to lay the groundwork for the Bi-National Commission (BNC) on Tuesday next week.

In between, ministers from both sides will meet before President Mnangagwa and his South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa chair Tuesday’s BNC at which a number of agreements are expected to be signed to advance the already vibrant bi-lateral relations between the two countries. This year’s will be the third session of the BNC after the neighbours held the first BNC in Harare in October 2016, the second one in 2017 and missing the 2018 one.  Before they elevated their co-operation to BNC level, their relations were guided under the Joint Commission for Cooperation framework since March 2, 1995.  

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ambassador James Manzou said Wednesday:

“We note with conviction that the convening of these BNCs – the highest cooperation framework between two countries — is testimony of the Second Republic’s quest to position the country back to its former glory and the willingness of our neighbours to assist us in our development efforts.”

Zimbabwe and South Africa are one.  Their histories are intertwined. Zimbabwe greatly helped South Africans in their fight for independence from apartheid. Many top African National Congress (ANC) officials, among them former President Thabo Mbeki once lived here in the 1980s, directing blacks’ resistance against apartheid.  Scores of other ANC freedom fighters were trained in Zimbabwe or staged joint operations with their colleagues in our country in the 1970s.  Based on this shared history, the ruling parties of both countries — Zanu-PF and ANC — are very close.      

Their national economies are also tightly connected with South Africa being Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner and one of Harare’s largest sources of foreign direct investment.  Zimbabwe imports from down south machinery, clothing, food and vehicles among a range of products. In terms of exports, Zimbabwean companies sell some processed foods to South Africa as well as unprocessed minerals.  

South Africa counts Zimbabwe among its largest and most lucrative export destinations.  Also, South Africa imports a significant pool of its skilled and semi-skilled labour from here.

As an indicator of the closeness of ties between the two countries, the Zimbabwe-South Africa BNC is the first BNC Zimbabwe had with any country before a similar arrangement with Botswana was launched this year.

Indeed, co-operation between the two nations must be intensified for them to be able to face emerging challenges individually and collectively for the mutual benefit of their peoples.

At this critical stage of our history, Zimbabwe will look to South Africa for greater assistance to be able to fight and defeat the ruinous Western economic sanctions. South Africa is among the leading voices in Africa’s campaign against the embargo. President Ramaphosa, like his predecessors, Cdes Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, has spoken strongly, denouncing the sanctions and calling for their unconditional removal.  During the November 2018 7th South Africa European Union (EU) Summit in Brussels, Belgium President Ramaphosa had a pointed message at the EU against the embargo on Zimbabwe.  He reiterated the message at a higher profile platform, the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, in January this year. Ministers in his Cabinet have been on it as well, saying Zimbabwe cannot develop economically if it continues to be in stocks and neck irons, which the sanctions truly are.  

The Government and the ordinary people of Zimbabwe who have suffered indescribable pain under the unwarranted punitive measures are very delighted by the continuing campaign against them by President Ramaphosa and his team. 

In addition to the South African government’s calls for the lifting of sanctions, their support in making available or arranging credit lines for our country will be welcome. South Africa ranks among the top two largest African economies and easily the most efficient, thus by far larger than ours that has contracted sharply under the crushing force of sanctions. Because of that, South Africa has, in our view, enough capacity to arrange the much needed credit for our industry.  There has been speculation lately that a package of that nature might be in the offing from down south. The BNC is a platform at which such packages can be discussed, agreed upon and announced.

It is understood that the long-delayed $400 million investment by Transnet of South Africa and the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group into the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) will be discussed during the BNC. There is much concern that there has been little forward movement on the deal since the delivery of of 200 coaches and 13 locomotives at the rail utility in February last year.  We are keeping our fingers crossed for a big announcement to be made on Tuesday on the planned investment to revive the NRZ.  

We know that Presidents Mnangagwa and Ramaphosa will review the progress that has been made since the last BNC in 2017. One of the key joint projects agreed on then is the operationalisation of the Beitbridge One-Stop Border Post. Two years on, we still do not have such an arrangement at southern Africa’s busiest inland entry point.  Yet if there is any border post in Africa that must operate as a one-stop border post it is Beitbridge in the light of the tremendous amount of business transacted there and the number of people who pass through it.

Therefore, we are keeping our fingers crossed for a big announcement to be made on this on Tuesday.