Speculation over reasons for Mugabe's state visit

2015-04-07 14:05
(City Press)

(City Press)

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Harare - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is due to arrive in South Africa on Tuesday afternoon, his country’s biggest trading partner, three days after his spokesperson suggested he would "soon bow out".

The 91-year-old leader will arrive at 15:00 on board a plane from the struggling Air Zimbabwe state carrier. He will be accompanied by business leaders, government ministers and his wife Grace, who has recently been ill.

This is the first state visit Mugabe has paid to South Africa since 1994.

An official statement from the department of international relations said the visit will focus on “bilateral and economic co-operation” as well as “regional and continental matters”. 

The Zimbabwe Independent newspaper reports that Mugabe may ask President Jacob Zuma to help fund a Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit on industrialisation, which is due to take place in Harare on April 26. 

“He could be looking for some [financial] reprieve of some sort,” Pedzisai Ruhanya, of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute told News24. 

Twenty months after elections that returned Mugabe to power, Zimbabwe's economy is shrinking. A tightly-stretched budget means he is struggling to pay civil servants and pay for commitments Zimbabwe has taken on after Mugabe’s election to the chair of both the SADC and the African Union.

Ruhanya told News24 that Zimbabwe’s failure to address concerns over indigenisation, which requires foreign-owned firms to part with majority shares, continued to be a deterrent for foreign direct investment, including from South Africa. 

“There are no fundamental reforms in our politics,” he said.

Zimbabwe is still a major market for South African-produced goods. Critics, including some cabinet ministers, insist this is to the detriment of local industry. Zimbabwe’s ageing factories haven’t been able to recapitalise and they struggle to compete with their more efficient competitors in South Africa.

“As a political concern, Zimbabwe is no longer an issue in South Africa,” said MacDonald Lewanika, the director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

“I think this has been demonstrated through various inactions they have taken since they relinquished their role as facilitator [in the Zimbabwe political crisis].”

“Their [South Africa’s] interest seems to be more economic than it does around values and political issues. All of these things are part of what inform the environment ahead of the president’s official visit to South Africa,” Lewanika told News24.

Zimbabwe's political scene is currently dominated by bitter infighting within Mugabe's Zanu-PF party. The party last week finally expelled former vice president Joice Mujuru, who was sacked in December when her growing popularity appeared to threaten Mugabe and his family's hold on power.

State media at the weekend carried a suggestion that Mugabe would soon "bow out". A column in the official Herald, widely believed to be written by Mugabe's spokesperson George Charamba, said Mugabe had "discharged a key assignment to do with succession" in what appeared to be a reference to his placing of new Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa in direct line to succeed him. 

Grace, 49, also appears destined for high-level politics following her election to the post of Zanu-PF women's league chair in December.

Read more on:    zanu-pf  |  robert mugabe  |  jacob  |  south afica  |  zimbabwe

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