PRETORIA, October 3 – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, whose wife Grace remains at the centre of a legal storm over an alleged assault of a 20-year-old South African, arrived in Pretoria on Monday evening on an official visit.
Sources in Pretoria told African News Agency (ANA) that Mugabe and his delegation were welcomed at the Waterkloof Air Force Base on Monday evening, but Zimbabwe’s First Lady was not part of the entourage.
Grace Mugabe was granted immunity from prosecution by the South African government for allegedly whipping Gabriella Engels with an electric cable in a Johannesburg hotel room last month. She denies the allegations. Instead, Grace, 52, says an “intoxicated and unhinged” Engels attacked her with a knife.
The South African Presidency last week said President Jacob Zuma will on Tuesday, host Mugabe, during his official visit to South Africa to attend the second session of the South Africa-Zimbabwe Bi-National Commission (BNC) scheduled to take place in Pretoria.
The agreement establishing the BNC was signed in April 2015 and inaugurated in October 2016 in Harare, Zimbabwe, and it stipulates that the BNC should meet on an annual and rotational basis.
The current BNC session, which will be co-chaired by Zuma and Mugabe, will afford the African leaders an opportunity to review the state of the bilateral relationship between the two neighbouring countries.
“It will further provide a platform to strengthen and deepen the warm and cordial bilateral relations between the two countries as well as to review and determine the actual progress made on bilateral undertakings and commitments made during the inauguration Session of the BNC last year,” Presidency said at the time.
Zuma and Mugabe are also expected to deliberate and exchange views on regional and global issues of mutual concern, particularly peace, security, stability and development in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and some parts of the continent.
South Africa and Zimbabwe have good bilateral political, economic and social relations underpinned by strong historical ties dating back many years. The two countries do not only share strong historical relations but also economic cooperation.
Zimbabwe is one of South Africa’s top five trading partners on the continent, with trade statistics showing annual growth. In 2016, South Africa’s exports to Zimbabwe amounted to approximately R29.3 billion.
There are over 120 South African companies doing business in Zimbabwe in various sectors including mining, aviation, tourism, banking sector, the property sector, the retail sector, construction sector, and the fast food sector and many more.
To date, the two countries have signed more than 40 Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) and Agreements. The Agreements and MoUs cover a broad range of areas, which include among others, trade and investment, immigration, defence, transport, agriculture, environment, energy, health, labour, water management, taxation, as well as arts and culture.
Zuma will be supported by several ministers including International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nkqakula, Trade and Industry Minister Dr Rob Davies, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, Home Affairs Minister Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize and Transport Minister Joseph Maswanganyi.
An advance team of high-level Zimbabwe’s ministers including Defence Ministers Sydney Sekeramayi, Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Health and Child Care Minister David Parirenyatwa, Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo and the country’s Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira.
Ministers and other top government officials from South Africa and Zimbabwe spent the day on Monday, holding preliminary discussions which precede President Robert Mugabe’s official visit to Pretoria.
“We meet here today to assess progress in the implementation of bilateral projects since our last BNC [Bi-National Commission] in Harare, in November 2016. The senior officials have met for the past two days in preparation of our meeting of today. We trust that they have utilised this platform optimally to explore new areas of mutual opportunity,” South Africa’s International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said addressing the ministerial session.
On Tuesday, President Jacob Zuma will host Mugabe in Pretoria, and the two leaders will co-chair the BNC session.
Nkoana-Mashabane said the people of South Africa consider Zimbabwe “a great friend and neighbour”.
“This Bi-National Commission provides us, once more, the opportunity to renew and strengthen the historic bonds between our countries, solidified during the liberation struggle. Today the struggle we wage is not for liberation but against the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment,” she said.
“South Africa is determined to continue to expand efforts towards ensuring socio-economic development, joint prosperity and the mutual benefit of our people and in this regard. Our partnership can contribute towards this noble goal, if we work together with single-mindedness.”
Since the signing of the BNC Agreement in 2015, during Mugabe’s State Visit to South Africa, officials from the two countries have been consistent in holding the bilateral meetings between as stipulated.
A “successful” mid-term review was also held last month to monitor and assess progress made since the last BNC meeting hosted in Harare, in 2016, as well as to prepare for the current BNC meeting.
“In this regard, this second session of the BNC will allow our principals, His Excellency’s President Zuma and President Mugabe an opportunity to meet and discuss important issues of mutual interest and to further deepen relations between our two countries,” said Nkoana-Mashabane.
Foreign Affairs Minister of Zimbabwe, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, said the Southern African two governments should wrap up issues which have long been on their agenda, particularly the establishment of a one-stop Beitbridge-Musina border post between the two nations.
“Our two countries stand to benefit immensely from the smooth movement of people and goods through the Beitbridge-Musina border post. A one-stop at the busiest border post in the African continent will bring harmonised processes, improved infrastructure and smiles to many of our compatriots and others who regularly traverse through this border. It will produce impacts that will extend beyond our two countries and region,” said Mumbengegwi.
“The establishment of the one-stop border post at Beitbridge-Musina is an urgent issue that needs our dedicated attention.
On behalf of the government of Zimbabwe, Mumbengegwi took the opportunity to thank Pretoria authorities for the new permit regime for almost 200,000 Zimbabwean nationals, whose permits were due to expire in December.