Mugabe on official state visit to SA after 21 years

2015-04-05 15:00

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Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is set for a “historic” official state visit to South Africa this week – the first in 21 years – amid economic problems in his country.

So depleted is the Zimbabwean fiscus that Mugabe has reportedly asked South Africa to host a Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit on industrialisation that starts on April 26.

South Africa has reportedly refused, meaning that Mugabe has extended a begging bowl to local companies and banks instead.

Zimbabwean media also reported that Mugabe’s international travel costs for the year so far have been $10?million (R120?million) at a time when government was planning to lay off civil servants.

On the formal agenda for next week is the state of bilateral relations between South Africa and Zimbabwe, but department of international relations spokesperson Clayson Monyela hinted that the economy would also feature.

“A lot of South African companies are investing in Zimbabwe, and we will receive reports from Zimbabwe in terms of investment,” he said.

“It is a historic visit for us, and the timing is good.

“At the moment, President Mugabe is chairperson of the African Union and of the SADC.

“It is a good time for a state visit so we can look at the status of our bilateral relations and explore ways of enhancing them and taking them a lot further...”

The state visit marks a return for Zimbabwe to a measure of respectability after its 2013 elections returned Zanu-PF to power following a mediation process led by South Africa.

Mugabe visited South Africa in 1994, but the subsequent expulsion of white people and farmers from their land, and the fights with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change meant a state visit would not have been possible.

Unlike the silent diplomacy under former president Thabo Mbeki, Zuma has been more vocal and tougher on Mugabe to an extent that the relationship has been strained at times.

“We put silent diplomacy aside because if you don’t do this, you won’t make any progress in Zimbabwe,” said an official.

It is likely then, that some difficult issues could be raised, such as Zimbabwe’s anger at South Africa for refusing to sign the SADC Protocol in Trade in Services during August’s summit – an issue that will feature again at this month’s summit. Namibia was the only other country that refused to sign.

Mugabe had harsh words for Zuma after the summit, saying South Africa should work with Zimbabwe “and not just regard the whole continent as an open market for products from South Africa”.

City Press has established that South Africa felt the SADC was trying to slip in restrictions on South African companies investing in the region.

“The countries are complaining about South Africa’s dominance and our hegemony.

“They believe we are pushing in the region where our companies move in, we build malls, we bring SA brands, and the money comes back to SA. So they feel it is SA only that is benefiting from the economic boom in the region,” said a South African official.

Zimbabwe’s governing Zanu-PF promised that the economy would improve and it would create 2.2?million jobs after its elective congress in December last year.

Mugabe has often visited South Africa on business. He attended an SADC meeting on Lesotho in February.

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