Africa Moyo Deputy News Editor
Zimbabwe and South Africa will work together to find a common solution on the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP that are due to expire at the end of this year.
This emerged yesterday during the mid-term review meeting of the third session of the Bi-National Commission (BNC) between Zimbabwe and South Africa. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister, Ambassador Frederick Shava and South African International Relations Minister Dr Naledi Pandor, and their delegations, met to assess performance in the implementation of agreed decisions, and to prepare for the meeting of heads of State at the fourth session of the BNC.
Ambassador Shava said the expiry of the exemption permits “has been on the cards for some time” since South Africa pronounced the new measures.
“The Zimbabwe Exemption Permit will expire at the end of this year. Its expiry is naturally causing much anxiety to the holders of this permit,” he said.
“Our two governments must work closely in the implementation of this decision. We are ready to receive our nationals back home.
“At the same time, I would like to reiterate our appeal to Zimbabweans in South Africa to observe and respect the laws of South Africa. It is a must for each and every Zimbabwean to promote and protect the good image of Zimbabwe wherever they are. We condemn all and any form of criminality on the part of our nationals in South Africa and elsewhere in the world.”
Ambassador Shava said Harare does not yet have figures of Zimbabweans that have responded to the request by South Africa for everyone to renew their permits, but encouraged them to regularise their paperwork.
Those who fail to renew their permits are welcome back home and logistics of receiving them would be crafted, he said.
“We hope we can establish a special line for them as they come so that they don’t distort the normal traffic between Zimbabwe and South Africa,” said Ambassador Shava.
Anyone with specific requirements would be attended to.
Minister Pandor said she appreciated that Zimbabwe was encouraging its citizens to regularise their stay.
“I really would encourage all holders of the ZEPs to take the step to regularise. Time is running short, it’s up to end of December this year and it’s important to apply so that applications are appropriately considered so that appropriate permits would then be properly processed,” said Minister Pandor.
She also expressed concern over the Afrophobic attacks that occur in some parts of South Africa and said the government was keen to “do more” to minimise, if not eliminate the attacks.
Turning to the mid-term review of performance in the implementation of agreed decisions of the Third Session of the Bi-National Commission (BNC), both ministers conceded that while progress had been registered in some areas, some challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic had affected progress.
“A closer look at our performance since the Third Session which we hosted in Harare in March 2019 portrays a mixed picture,” said Ambassador Shava.
“In some areas we have shown progress, in others not so much. It is not helpful to continue citing the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant strict lockdown regulations that were instituted to curb the spread of the virus for the lack of progress in areas where such progress is lacking.
“As we know, we innovated and managed to get business and other things done, thanks to modern communication technologies.”
Ambassador Shava said one of the lessons gained from the Covid-19 pandemic was that cooperation in health matters was “urgent and vital”, as the disease brought to the fore the weakness in the two countries health systems and Africa’s over-dependence on imported medicines and vaccines.
“The call for us to come together and develop local pharmaceutical industries can never be louder and stronger,” he said.
On the economic front, Ambassador Shava said the two countries have not applied themselves fully to ensure that joint infrastructure projects were implemented in full and on time.
“You may recall that the decision to implement a One-Stop-Border Post (OSBP) at Beitbridge/Musina was made by our Heads of State in 2007 to remove the bottleneck and ensure the smooth movement of goods and people between our two countries and beyond.
“I have noted that in spite of the presence of a Joint Technical Committee in the development of the One-Stop-Border Post, there are asymmetrical actions in the rolling out of this strategic project. It needs no recalling that the Beitbridge/Musina border post is a strategic crossing point for our two countries.
“It is an arterial link on the African Union’s North-South Transport Corridor. The success of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to increase intra-African trade is dependent partly on a good transport network linking African countries. We have a major responsibility in contributing to this continental project through the expeditious completion of this One-Stop-Border Post,” said Ambassador Shava.
South Africa is Zimbabwe’s largest trading partner as well as a source of foreign direct investment. Pretoria has historically enjoyed a favourable trade balance in these relations, and Ambassador Shava wants the two countries to continue to work together to address some enduring issues and promote more mutual benefit in trade exchanges and the resolution of these enduring issues is expected to increase economic activity between the Pretoria and Harare.
Minister Pandor said Zimbabwe and South Africa have established strong relations which “grow each day”.
“Underlining this relationship is the decision which our leaders took in 2015 to change the Joint Commission for Cooperation to a higher level, and that is to a Bi-National Commission,” she said.
“We collaborate in a range of areas; trade and investment, immigration, defence and security, education, science and technology, conservation and agriculture.
“I am really thrilled to announce that the memorandum of understanding on agriculture has now reached the stage of finality and would be ready for signature soon. I am also pleased that a new memorandum of understanding on basic education is at the final stage of negotiation.”
Minister Pandor said these increased efforts at collaboration were testimony of the mutually beneficial relations that the two countries continue to enjoy.
She said the mid-term review gives the two countries a chance to reboot their targets and programmes to better respond to the challenges they face.
Despite Covid-19 and other challenges, total trade between Zimbabwe and South Africa increased from R38 billion in 2020 to R47,5 billion in 2021, a development that Minister Pandor could be accelerated.