Zimbabwe, SA Bi-National Commission kicks off
THE inaugural session of the Bi-National Commission between Zimbabwe and South Africa started in Harare yesterday amid calls for officials to ensure all outstanding agreements are finalised and implemented.
The BNC kicked off with a meeting of senior officials, which will be followed by a ministerial session tomorrow ahead of official opening on Thursday.
President Mugabe and his South African counterpart Mr Jacob Zuma, will open the commission.
President Zuma is bringing with him a delegation of eight Cabinet ministers.
The BNC, agreed during President Mugabe’s visit to South Africa last year — elevates the two countries’ political and economic relations to presidential level from the ministerial rank where they reposed for years.
Opening the meeting of senior officials, Foreign Affairs secretary Ambassador Joey Bimha, said the implementation of the agreed deals would strengthen the existing relations.
“Some plans and agreements have not progressed beyond the signed documents,” he said.
“That must change in the new dispensation of the BNC. BNC is no more than a mechanism, it is an instrument which on its own cannot deliver on our cooperation. We have agreements that are still under negotiation, we have signed agreements that await implementation. It is us who have to use it to achieve the planning and implementation of our programmes of cooperation.”
BNC requires that the Presidents meet annually to monitor progress of the agreements meant to cement relations.
Ambassador Bimha said the commission, which has four clusters namely diplomatic, economic, social and security — was a successor to the Joint Permanent Commission of Cooperation that has been in existence since 1995.
“This state of affairs further serves to confirm that the establishment of the BNC has not terminated the work of the Joint Commission,” he said.
“We must continue to implement that which we had started or were already undertaking under the Joint Commission.”
Over the years, Zimbabwe and South Africa have signed 38 bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding covering a broad range of areas such as trade and investment, immigration and consular matters, defence, agriculture, energy, health and taxation among others.
While some agreements have been implemented, others are pending at varying stages of readiness.
A number of agreements are expected to be signed at the end of the meetings being held.
Said Ambassador Bimha: “The establishment of the BNC represents a significant qualitative upgrading of our two countries’ already solid relations. Zimbabwe does not have this type of forum of cooperation with any other country. The BNC with South Africa is a first and speaks volumes about the nature and character of the close and cordial relations we have and we are committed to strengthen to greater heights.”
Head of senior officials from South Africa Mr Xolisa Makaya said the establishment of the BNC came after the realisation that relations between the two countries could no longer be managed at a level below that of Heads of State.
“Our deliberations over the two days should afford us the opportunity to conclude our negotiations so that these agreements can be signed in the not so distant future,” he said.
“Undue delays will work against our historical and cultural ties. The BNC creates an opportunity for both sides to examine the scope of our relations over a wide range of issues. The four clusters will allow us the platform to deliberate on sector specific matters to highlight and underscore our successes while on the other hand, interrogate whatever impediments that work against our desired outcomes.”
Mr Makaya added: “We should identify the key sectors and the scope of our sectoral cooperation in order to deepen and strengthen our relations for the mutual benefit of both countries. Our deliberations need to be outcomes based, measurable and achievable given that BNC is convened on an annual basis. We should be able to monitor and evaluate progress.”
Apart from promoting cooperation in the various sectors of Government, the BNC also seeks to facilitate contact between the public and private sectors of the two countries.
During President Mugabe’s visit last year, memoranda of understanding were signed on diplomatic consultations; customs administrations, water resources management and trade cooperation.
Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Ambassador Joey Bimha (left) shares a lighter moment with South African head of delegation to the Zimbabwe-South Africa Bi-National Commission Mr Xolisa Makaya in Harare yesterday