Sisulu urges EU to lift Zim sanctions ahead of March bi-national meeting

International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has called on the European Union (EU) to give the Zimbabwean government and its people a chance to start afresh.

She has called on the EU to urgently lift sanctions ahead of South Africa's bi-national meeting with Zimbabwe in March.

"I thought by now sanctions imposed on the Zimbabwe government and its people would be lifted to enable the country to start afresh after all the challenges they have gone through.

"We call on the EU, and particularly the United Kingdom, to give the government and the people of Zimbabwe a chance to change their situation by urgently lifting the sanctions," Sisulu said at a briefing after meeting members of the diplomatic corps in Tshwane on Tuesday.

The EU imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2000 after former president Robert Mugabe was accused of trampling on human rights, rigging elections and repressing press freedom - accusations that the nonagenarian denied. The sanctions led to devastating economic challenges. The country has an 85% unemployment rate, News24 reported earlier.

Sanctions were extended after allegations that President Emmerson Mnangagwa's administration deployed soldiers to fire live ammunition at unarmed protesters, followed by a series of human rights abuses.

ALSO READ: EU slams 'disproportionate' use of force in Zimbabwe

This came after nationwide protests over a steep increase in fuel prices. A litre of petrol there is the most expensive in the world.

"The escalation of violence in Zimbabwe over recent days has been aggravated by the disproportionate use of force by security personnel," European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said in a statement.

"We expect the government of Zimbabwe to uphold human rights and the rule of law, as enshrined in the constitution, and ensure due legal process for those detained," the statement added.

ALSO READ: 'Remove illegal sanctions against Zimbabwe,' Mnangagwa pleads with the West

In her statement, Sisulu expressed concern about how the sanctions would affect Zimbabwe's chances at addressing its economic challenges.

"Without lifting the sanctions, the government of Zimbabwe will never be able to address its economic challenges and this is compromising the political gains achieved since the coming in the of the new president,” she added.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation also noted all decisions President Mnangangwa had taken.

"We remain available to support the Zimbabwe government and its people whenever they need us. We are neighbours and the ties that bind us are very deep," she said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to lead a delegation to Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, on March 12, 2019.

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