An illegal currency dealer holds a wad of Zimbabwean bond notes and rands outside a bank in Harare, Zimbabwe. Pictue: REUTERS/PHILLIMON BULAWAYO
An illegal currency dealer holds a wad of Zimbabwean bond notes and rands outside a bank in Harare, Zimbabwe. Pictue: REUTERS/PHILLIMON BULAWAYO

After having his calls to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe rebuffed by the US earlier this week, on Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa will visit his northern neighbour to discuss possible financial assistance.

Senior SA government officials are already in Zimbabwe to engage their counterparts on issues affecting the two countries. They will be joined by cabinet ministers over the weekend before welcoming Ramaphosa on Monday.

Key among the issues to be discussed is Zimbabwe’s request for financial assistance and the ongoing political and economic instability in that country. Last year, it was reported that Zimbabwe asked SA for a $1,2bn bailout, but Pretoria said it did not have the money.

Zimbabwe has been blacklisted from accessing funding from international creditors and has now turned to East Asian countries and its African neighbours for lines of credit. Last week, Botswana provided a $95m credit facility to Zimbabwe, although the figure was a far cry from the $500m Harare initially requested.

Business Day has seen minutes of the draft agenda of the bi-national commission showing that the economic committee will discuss a “financial co-operation framework and arrears clearance roadmap”.

Other matters on the agenda include political, and social developments between the two countries; a proposal for a one-stop border post at Beitbridge; a partnership between an SA-based consortium and National Railways of Zimbabwe; mining and energy; as well as permits for Zimbabweans living in SA.

Trump said that while Zimbabwe’s elections in 2018 had offered the country an opportunity to turn the corner, it had failed to do so

A top Zimbabwean official who spoke to Business Day on condition of anonymity also confirmed that possible financial support from SA was also on the agenda. “Zimbabwe has made its intentions to seek financial assistance from SA before. Obviously Zimbabwe sees SA as a bigger brother and its most important partner,” the official said.

Asked about the amount and nature of the possible financial assistance, the official said: “I cannot discuss the specific amounts because nothing has been confirmed as yet. I can only say that the Zimbabwean government is seeking a financial package that will help to ease the impact of sanctions. It is generally felt that the sanctions do not affect Zimbabwe alone and that SA is also negatively affected.”

On several occasions, Ramaphosa has called for the lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe alongside other African leaders, but this Monday, US President Donald Trump ignored this call by extending sanctions on Harare by a year. The sanctions were introduced by the Western countries on Zimbabwe at the height of its land redistribution programme.

Trump said that while Zimbabwe’s elections in 2018 had offered the country an opportunity to turn the corner, it had failed to do so. “While the election itself was an improvement over past elections, post-election violence, credible reports of intimidation, and clear bias of the electoral commission kept it from being fully free and fair,” Trump said on Monday.

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has yet to implement the political and economic overhaul needed to rebuild its reputation within the international community and dramatically improve its relationship with the US, Trump added.

‘Brave the challenges’

In his opening remarks at the senior officials meeting, SA director-general for the department of international relations and co-operation Kgabo Mahoai said the bilateral was being held earlier than scheduled.

He said SA was committed to working with Zimbabwe “to brave the challenges meted out by exogenous factors”. Although he did not mention what these factors were, the statement was interpreted by his Zimbabwean counterparts to mean the sanctions.

Mahoai said the bi-national commission will take stock of 45 agreements that exist between the two countries and also enter into new ones.

“Our relationship with Zimbabwe covers a wide scope of fields summed up in 45 bilateral agreements that exist between the two countries, if we take into account those that pre-existed our two republics and post-liberation,” he said. “Based on our geographical proximity with [Zimbabwe] and the importance of our bilateral relations, there is an urgent need to accelerate the implementation of the agreements.” 

Earlier this year, Mnangagwa revealed that he hoped to get financial assistance from SA under the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) fund.

Mnangagwa said then, “We have the Nepad fund, which is structured to assist member states that find themselves having problems and is administered by SA. So you can apply to the fund there for a line of credit to be advanced to you, and you will pay back later.”