South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Mzwandile Masina is leading a delegation of 37 company representatives to explore business opportunities in Zimbabwe.
The team has already engaged their counterparts in Harare and Gweru and on Wednesday arrived in Bulawayo. They were involved in serious business discussions yesterday and will do the same today.
Zimbabwe welcomes them. We hope that their interactions with local businesspeople and executives will yield solid investment and trade deals.
Zimbabwe and South Africa enjoy excellent relations based on mutual respect and co-operation. Their bilateral relations were formalised in 1994 when South Africa achieved her liberation from apartheid.
South Africa is among Zimbabwe’s top two trading partners. Last year South African exports to Zimbabwe amounted to R25,6 billion while imports were recorded to be R4,3 billion.
Structured co-operation took place through the Joint Commission for Co-operation (JCC) which was established in 1995, and the Joint Permanent Commission on Defence and Security (JPCDS) was established 10 years later.
Zimbabwe and South Africa have over 35 memoranda of understanding and agreements and a Bi-National Commission Agreement signed during President Robert Mugabe’s State visit to South Africa in April last year has elevated the relations to a Heads of State level.
Between 2003 and last year South Africa invested about R20 billion in Zimbabwe’s mining, agriculture, banking and retail sectors.
Masina said in Gweru on Wednesday: “Today I’m pleased to announce future investment estimated at about $8,85 million by Tongaat Huletts around issues of agro-processing and also the Panasonic Business Systems, which has also committed to investing about $1,2 million in the advance manufacturing as well as the $501 million to be invested by New Coal in the coal and gas sector here in Zimbabwe among other investments.”
This is a lot of money that, if the investments are consummated as we hope, will create job opportunities for our people and help the economy recover.
But the relationship is not only about dollars and cents. It is cultural and political as well.
Many communities on either side, particularly in Matabeleland South and South Africa’s Limpopo Province are one culturally, only separated by the river. They, and tens of thousands of others elsewhere in both countries, are related through marriage. Many Zimbabweans are employed in that country as well.
Politically, Zimbabweans and South Africans supported each other’s liberation struggles. Zipra fought some battles here jointly with some Umkhonto Wesizwe elements. A number of South African liberation fighters fell in those battles and after our independence. Joe Nzingo Gqabi, who was a representative of the ANC in Zimbabwe, was assassinated here on July 31, 1981.
Therefore relations between the two countries are full spectrum.
South Africa has politically and economically stood by us during our worst times, as we have done during our neighbour’s worst times.
So the South African delegation is indeed at home when on Zimbabwean soil.
We are encouraged by the visit by Masina and his delegation and are confident that it will be a fruitful one. They have nothing to fear and they know the environment.
They know that Zimbabwe is open for trade and investment and has been working very hard in recent years to recover her economy despite the continuing illegal western sanctions.
They know the legislative framework governing foreign investment in Zimbabwe. They know that our political environment is stable because they live it, which is different from potential investors from overseas who tend to rely on media reports to build opinions on our politics.
Masina’s remarks that some firms in his country are in negotiations with Zimbabwe over the revival of the railways is great news to us.
The National Railways of Zimbabwe has been discussing the possibility of a $750 million bailout package from the Development Bank of South Africa. Knowing the centrality of a working NRZ to economic revival efforts, we pray that the negotiations will soon materialise.
It is not only the railways that need that support, but many other sectors — manufacturing, food processing, and mining, banking and so on.
We encourage foreign investment here because it creates jobs locally, widens the tax base and stimulates the recovery and growth of the entire economy in a much wider sense.
Trade is critical too. However, given the small size of our economy, South Africa benefits more trade-wise as it exports more to Zimbabwe than it imports. We mentioned earlier that our neighbour exported goods worth R25,6 billion last year and imported R4,3 billion worth of the same.
The trade deficit is too wide thus we encourage our government and local business to work to ensure that the economy recovers and we export more. In the same vein, local business must consider investing in South Africa for a reciprocal relationship.