The Sunday Mail
Zimbabwe and South Africa last week agreed to prioritise implementation of projects that will deepen socio-economic relations between the two countries.
The third edition of the BNC, which President Cyril Ramaphosa described as “the most successful BNC so far” pinpointed crucial projects that need urgent attention and have direct impact on the livelihoods of people on both sides of the Limpopo.
Prior to this year’s BNC, there were 45 existing bi-lateral agreements between the two countries, which had been signed over several years.
At this year’s BNC, only two new agreements were signed as the two countries agreed not to put signatures to a host of new agreements, but give priority to implementing the existing ones.
The motto at the BNC, was “implementation, implementation and more implementation” as the two parties agreed to bend their backs to produce tangible results from the meetings.
It was in this spirit that some of the closed door meetings lasted well into the night, with South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ms Lindiwe Sisulu revealing that one ministerial meeting ended at 1:30 am as the two parties engaged in comprehensive deliberations.
Beitbridge One Stop Border Post
Most notably, one of the topmost items on the agenda was the upgrade of Beitbridge into a one-stop-border-post.
It was noted during the meeting that Beitbridge Border Post was one of the busiest inland ports in sub-Saharan Africa and links the northern and southern corridors with a record 500 vehicles and 10 000 travellers passing through daily during peak periods.
However, the border is one of the most porous in the region, which means both countries are losing millions of dollars in potential revenue.
The meeting agreed to implement improvements on customer depot processes, electric cargo tracking, pre-clearance systems and the separation of traffic into specific categories.
It was decided that a joint technical committee, which was already in place since the last BNC in 2017, would be seized with the technicalities of implementing the project.
It was also agreed that South Africa had approved the framework for the OSBP and had made it “a priority project”.
According to finalised minutes from the BNC, “South Africa agreed to convene the Joint Technical Team meeting by end of June 2019 to deliberate and finalise activities on the roadmap and to report progress.”
National Railways of Zimbabwe revitalisation
The two countries approved an arrangement to clear all challenges delaying finalisation of the US$400 million National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) recapitalisation deal by September this year. This means that the two countries will now focus on critical issues that will allow for implementation of the massive project.
A South Africa based consortium that includes Transnet and the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group are behind the deal.
It is earmarked that the venture will bring NRZ to its former glory, create new jobs and provide a new lease of life for the company’s long-suffering employees who have at times gone for months without pay. According to minutes from the BNC, it is clear that better days are in store for NRZ.
Deliberations from the meeting show that the objective is to increase the capacity of the NRZ from the current three million tonnes per annum to 14 million tonnes. As an interim solution, Transnet and DIDG provided rolling stock to assist in increasing the existing capacity.
This move has produced positive results, but the main challenge now is the movement of spare parts which require at least two weeks from Transnet. The main decision made was for Zimbabwe to extend the framework agreement and the relevant ministries to finalise all outstanding issues to enable commencement of the project within six months of the extension period.
Mozambique-Zimbabwe South Africa (MOZISA) power transmission
This initiative entails construction of the Mozambique-Zimbabwe-South Africa power transmission line that is expected to improve connectivity and electricity trading in southern Africa.
It is being implemented by Zesa and Eskom on the Zimbabwe-South Africa part of the project. During the BNC, it was noted that the report on progress made in undertaking an Environmental Impact Assessment, basic designs, heads of arguments and servitude acquisitions, had been made.
It was acknowledged that these studies and progress made will provide guidance on the feasibility of an interconnector. The meeting noted that Zesa was in the process of strengthening its current network to enable integration of this power line.
As such, the two countries directed Zesa and Eskom to report progress on the feasibility study by end of December 2019.
Permits for Zimbabweans living in South Africa
With thousands of Zimbabweans believed to be resident in South Africa, the issue of resident permits was also on the agenda. South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs Siyabonga Cwele told The Sunday Mail that the two countries had agreed to establish teams that regularly engage on this issue.
“These teams are, among other things, expected to carry out awareness campaigns to enlighten the people on what they need to do, to qualify for the permits,” he said.
“So we believe that constant engagement between our two ministries will help us to continue giving out more information and also listen to the concerns and make necessary changes where these is need.”
According to minutes from the BNC, the two countries recognised significant progress with the registration of Zimbabweans residing in South Africa.
The Commission further noted that out of the 180 112 applications received 179 256 had been processed with 176 319 approved. The permits will be valid for four years and will expire on 31 December 2021.
On the issue of migration, the two countries noted with concern an influx in the number of unaccompanied minors who are facilitated from either side of the two countries.
During the press conference held at the closure of the BNC, President Ramaphosa was asked about a possible financial facility to Zimbabwe.
President Ramaphosa was frank in his response as he stated that the matter had been discussed in great detail and that the deliberations were ongoing.
“The matters that you are raising, that you referred to as financial assistance, we discussed that in great detail and our discussions are ongoing; and our various teams are busy,” he said in his response.
“Because of the strength of our relationship we have no doubt whatsoever that we are going to find solutions that are going to strengthen our two respective economies so that we can address the challenges that both our countries are facing at this point in time,” he said
Crucially, the two countries spoke at length about Zimbabwe’s debt and arrears. The Commission was informed that Zimbabwe’s total debt stands at US$18 billion, 50 percent being external debt.
It was noted that it was critical for Zimbabwe to expedite clearance of its arrears to the International Financial Institutions the Paris Club and other creditors. The BNC called for the immediate and urgent clearance of the IFI arrears, estimated around US$2,4 billion saying this should be prioritised given the “pari passu” rule that calls for equal footing in clearing debts.
Zimbabwe’s arrears include US$1,3 billion (World Bank), US$650 million (AfDB) and the European Investment Bank for the balance.
According to minutes from the meeting, it was agreed that South Africa would lend support to Zimbabwe at various international forums for the clearance of Harare’s debt and arrears. Also the two countries agreed to hold mid-term review meetings to take stock of progress on all matters and ensure full implementation.
It was noted that the mid-term review meetings would also serve as a preparation to the next BNC that will be held in South Africa next year.