South African tourism to Zimbabwe has declined sharply by about half – and the weak rand was to blame, Zimbabwe’s tourism minister Walter Mzembi has said.Mzembi told News24 in an interview on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Kigali, Rwanda over the weekend that Zimbabwe used to have about 2.1 million tourism arrivals in the country, of which almost 1.5 million were South African.“It went down by almost 50%, and that is not assisting (the struggling economy),” he said of the economic situation in the country.“The bullish US dollar has made Zimbabwe as a destination uncompetitive for South Africans and anyone not using US dollars,” he said. He said Zimbabwe’s economy “has been gliding through a recession some time” on the back of declining productivity as well as the “bullish” US dollar – which is the main currency in use in Zimbabwe.He said 70% of Zimbabwe’s imports were from South Africa, and 77.8% of its exports went through the country, and about two million lived in South Africa “as part of our diaspora”.“You can’t disregard or wish away umbilical relations between South Africa and Zimbabwe,” he said.Mzembi said recent measures by Zimbabwe to curb imports from South Africa were adopted to arrest the country’s decline in productivity, but he admitted the measures “could have been conceived better”.He said, for instance, the ban on the importation of South African goods that were also being manufactured in Zimbabwe also counted for ordinary travellers carrying household goods, and these have now been exempted.“You want to allow space for the travelling public to be able to import within duty remit,” he said. Unintended consequencesOther issues related to the ban, including the concerns raised by small traders who protested against it earlier this month, would be discussed “on a bureaucratic” level with South Africa’s trade and industry department, he said. Asked how the country would deal with traders exporting goods from South Africa to other countries via Zimbabwe, Mzembi said the implementation of this still needed to be finalized. “All the unintended consequences have been acknowledge. The current exercise is to review and smoothen the implementation,” he said. “If there are any issues that need to be escalated at a political level, politicians will be engaged,” he said, adding that it wasn’t at this stage yet. Mzembi dismissed the #ThisFlag protests in the country in the past two weeks as “a political fringe” trying to take advantage of the economic issues in the country.The women who beat their pots in protest over the weekend were mobilized by the MDC, he said, pointing out that they wore red, which is that party’s colour.HullabalooMzembi dismissed the possibility that the 2018 elections would be brought forward. The government would “never call an election unless it is due,” he said. He also said the government would never be brought to a fall. “It will never go in that direction because we know the cost of division for Zimbabwe,” he said, “so we emphasise unity and cohesion”. He drew parallels between Zimbabwe and Libya and Iraq, “where the world have made interventions and are now apologizing”. Foreign intervention in both these countries led to a regime change and a subsequent near-collapse of both countries. Mzembi also dismissed the “hullabaloo” around the 10 days’ late payment of salaries to civil servants, saying the government was like any business which sometimes experienced cash flow problems.He said the late payment affected everyone in the civil service, including himself. He also emphasized that all civil servants, from President Robert Mugabe down to himself received the $100 transport allowance that was paid out to civil servants to help them get to work while they waited for their pay.