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Africa

Mugabe and Zuma sign agreements, pledge closer ties

Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe is visiting South Africa, where he is looking for investment to reinvigorate his country's moribund economy - but not at the expense of his controversial indigenization policy.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has called for more South African investment in his country, especially in the mining sector, but is insisting that foreign investors should not have controlling interests in Zimbabwean companies.

Mugabe was speaking during a visit to South Africa at a joint press conference in Pretoria with South African President Jacob Zuma.

While saying he would welcome increased economic cooperation with South Africa, Mugabe defended his country's policy of indigenization, which demands that foreign companies cede 51 percent of their shares to black Zimbabweans.

"The capital that is aimed at mining, for example, is draining from my country resources that cannot be replaced tomorrow, leaving holes in my country," Mugabe told reporters.

Indigenization has been blamed for frightening away foreign investors.

Zimbabweab president Robert Mugabe and his South African opposite number Jacob Zuma

Mugabe (front left) and Zuma (front right) signed three agreements and two memorandums of understanding

91-year-old Mugabe was on his first official state visit to South Africa since 1994, although he has visited the country on other occasions, such as the state funeral for South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela, in 2013.

Mugabe is the current chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU).

'Economy as well as trade that favors both countries'

Mugabe and Zuma signed three agreements, on water resources management, cooperation over customs administration and on the setting up of a bilateral commission to monitor all the agreements.

Two memorandums of understanding were also signed on diplomatic consultation and economic and trade cooperation.

"Our desire of all of us, both countries, is that we should have the economy as well as trade that favors both countries. That is what we are looking for," Zuma said.

South Africa's exports to Zimbabwe amount to about $2 billion (1.84 billion euros), while in contrast Zimbabwe exports goods worth about $170 million to South Africa.

Joy Mabenge, a Zimbabwean analyst who works for the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition civil society network in South Africa, said South Africa was a strategic economic player for Zimbabwe.

"The bulk of goods and services that are consumed in Zimbabwe come from South Africa. South Africa is the second biggest economy in Africa; its importance cannot be overlooked," he told DW.

Two million Zimbabweans in South Africa

Mabenge also pointed out that this was the first meeting between Zuma and Mugabe since the Zimbabwean elections in July 2013, which reinstated Mugabe's ZANU-PF as the sole ruling party and ended a power sharing government formed with the opposition MDC party in 2008.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe tasking the oath of office in August 2013

Western countries have witheld financial aid to Harare in protest over President Mugabe's policies and charge that he has rigged election to stay in power

The meeting was a chance to "touch base" and "it must give South Africa the opportunity to impress upon President Mugabe critical things that his government or Harare must do to ensure the country returns to stability," Mabenge said.

South Africa's minister of international relations and cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, said the focus of Mugabe's visit would largely be on "consolidation of our bilateral ties."

Zimbabwean overtures

Late last year Zimbabwean Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa led a team of officials on a visit to South Africa to try to convince potential investors that the country was finally on the mend.

The Zimbabwean officials said it was in the interest of South Africa to help grow its neighbor's economy to stop the tide of economic refugees who have crossed the border seeking work.

Mabenge said South Africa was "home to some two million Zimbabweans who fled Mugabe's misrule."

Mugabe expressed gratitude to South Africa for accommodating them.

"Our people have really offended your system by jumping the border and disturbing even the social system here, but where they have come as workers, well and good, we say thank you," he told President Zuma.

Zimbabwe's economy entered a tailspin after the launch of controversial land reforms 14 years ago and is still struggling.

Last month the International Monetary Fund said Zimbabwe faced a "difficult outlook" for 2015 with negative growth. The country's arrears to the IMF stand at $152 million and it owes the World Bank another $1.2 billion. The IMF has urged a review of Zimbabwe's indigenization policy, which Mugabe defended on Wednesday

Mabenge believes that any South African financial assistance for Zimbabwe should be tied to a commitment from Harare to respect human rights.

"Mr Mugabe's government must respect the rule of law and uphold the dignityof the people of Zimbabwe and ensure that human rights are not trampled upon," he said.

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