South African President Cyril Ramaphos aarrives in the country today to co-chair the Bi-
National Commission (BNC) with President Emmerson Mnangagwa whose administration is desperate for a cash injection to jump-start the country’s stuttering economy.
Those close to the South African presidency told the Daily News yesterday that Harare should not expect a bailout from its northern neighbour, which is facing a tricky election this year.
Ahead of the visit, South Africa’s minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu said ending sanctions against Zimbabwe will top Ramaphosa’s agenda.
Ramaphosa’s arrival comes hard on the heels of another high-profile visit by the President of Botswana Keabetswe Masisi, who signed several memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with Mnangagwa.Masisi disappointed his host by refusing to extend a $600 million loan to Zimbabwe, only providing $94 million for businesses in Botswana to invest in the troubled country.
In a statement, Pretoria said the two heads of State will review the bilateral cooperation between their countries as well as review progress made with the implementation of bilateral agreements.
“To date, the two countries have signed 45 agreements, which cover a wide range of fields, including trade and investment, health, labour, migration, defence, taxation, tourism, scientific and technological cooperation, water and environment,” reads part of the statement.
When Zimbabwe and South Africa last held the BNC they were led by Robert Mugabe and Jacob Zuma respectively but both men were pressured to resign before completion of their terms.
The men who succeeded them are bosom buddies and will be seeking to cement ties between their two countries.
Ramaphosa will be accompanied by a high-powered business delegation.
Several senior South African officials have been in the country since last week ahead of the structured BNC, first established in 2015.
Zimbabwe and South Africa share a lot in common from their liberation history, cultural linkages and the commonality of their people.
The neighbouring country keeps the largest number of Zimbabweans, estimated at over three million.Its companies are the biggest investors in Zimbabwe.
South Africa ranks as Zimbabwe’s second export destination after China (US$844 million), with exports into that country amounting to US$189 million.
The neighbouring country tops the list of imports origins at $2,01 billion, followed by China at $442 million, India ($149 million), Zambia ($133 million) and Hong Kong ($57,8 million).
The BNC comes as Zimbabwean businesses are fragile and in desperate need of protection in their recovery phase.
After countries such as China chose to keep their wallets closed after approaches from Harare, those in the corridors of power expect South Africa to give Zimbabwe the much-needed lift. But Zimbabwe also has a lot of work to do to convince that there has been adequate progress onaddressing its financial and governance delinquency challenges.
The permanent secretary in the ministry of Information Nick Mangwana said that the BNC comes on the heels of another engagement with Botswana is a vindication of their engagement policy. “We can’t be a country pushing for great relationships with countries afar when we have poor relations with those countries with which we share so much including borders,” he said. “Regarding MoUs or bailouts, let’s not be pre-emptive about the outcomes of the interactions between our countries’ leadership. Announcements will be made in their due season”.
Mangwana, however, said Zimbabwe is not in the business of receiving bailouts but seeks to have mutually beneficial relations with its neighbours, the nature of which will be revealed after negotiations have taken place.
Ibbo Mandaza, a political analyst, said the whole hullabaloo was about nothing.
He said: “These are routine meetings so it is nothing out of the ordinary.”
Another analyst, Stephen Chan, said Ramaphosa cannot be seen to be bailing out an unpopular regime in an election year. Chan said the Zimbabwean economy needs fundamental restructuring, not just a kick-start from its neighbour. “The South Africans have already made it clear they have not much to give. It’s Ramaphosa’s
election year. He can’t be seen by his voters to be giving billions to Zimbabwe when the South African economy itself needs a kick-start,” said Chan.
International Crisis Group consultant Piers Pigou said while Africa’s biggest economy may be in a position to help improve liquidity through the extension of credit facilities or even lend its weight to support efforts to build the refinancing necessary to cover debt arrears, South Africa has limited options and other priorities in terms of available funds.
“It provides an opportunity for Ramaphosa to see how best South Africa could help move reform and recovery options forward. But this requires Ramaphosa excavating the full picture, not a selective sanitised version of developments, as evidenced from minister Ncube’s recent reform progress report to the IMF,” said Pigou.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme believes it’s significant as South Africa said the visit is timely as Zimbabwe is in an economic and political bedlam.He said Ramaphosa is also likely to encourage dialogue to get a solution to the political logjam.
“He is likely to talk to both Mnangagwa and (Nelson) Chamisa. Whatever his intervention will be, at the end solutions to our problems are found from within.
“He is a neighbour; he can only recommend but will never solve our problems. We have to sort out our mess.”
Lawyer Obert Gutu said Ramaphosa’s visit to Zimbabwe is more important in more ways than one. “Ramaphosa is Mnangagwa’s ally. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to appreciate that both leaders enjoy a cosy political relationship. Africa doesn’t want to be perceived as a puppet of either the West or the East. As such, solidarity amongst key African countries is crucial in modern international relations,” said Gutu