By Bridget Mananavire
The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) US$400 million deal will be one of the key items on the agenda during the South Africa-Zimbabwe bi-national commission meetings when South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visits Harare on March 12, the Zimbabwe Independent can report.
Official sources said the NRZ recapitalisation project has been accorded priority status, meaning it will now directly receive attention from the presidency of the two countries and the ministers responsible.
The deal will be discussed with a view to clear outstanding issues and accelerate the implementation of the project, the sources said.
This comes after a recent high-level meeting that was held at Meikles Hotel in Harare on February 11, which agreed that there was a need to clear outstanding issues and speed up the implementation of the project.
Representatives of the South African and Zimbabwean governments, South Africa rail utility Transnet officials, NRZ executives and Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group
(DIDG) directors attended the meeting. Those who were there include South African ambassador Mphakama Mbete, and Transnet officials including board chairman Popo Molefe,
chief executive Tau Morwe, board members Louis Van Zoner and Mpo Letlape, as well as Transnet International Business Divisional chief executive Petrus Fusi.
DIDG was represented by executive chairman Donavan Chimhandamba, group CFO Washington Mashanda, infrastructure director Rob Mhishi, operations director Frank Thema, and mineral processing director Tayarudza Mutongoreya.
NRZ officials included acting board chairman Kenias Mafukidze and general manager Lewis Mukwada. Other officials were from Transport, Finance and Defence ministries, as well as labour unions, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and State Enterprises Restructuring Agency.
Transport minister Joel Biggie Matiza and his permanent secretary Amos Marawa, as well as Angeline Karonga, their legal counsel, also attended the meeting. In the meeting,
the three parties involved in the deal, the NRZ, Transnet and DIDG, jointly presented to Matiza a case for the extending of the framework agreement by about six months.
The framework agreement came to an end mid-February and is currently subject to an extension process.
Sources said Matiza was supposed to have taken the matter to cabinet this week, but did not do so as consultations were still underway. He will, however, take the issue to
cabinet next week.
Already in the February 11 meeting all parties agreed that there was a need to urgently extend the framework agreement and get on with the implementation of the deal.
Although there were initially legal consultation hitches and acts bordering on sabotage, the process is now back on track after a number of developments in the background.
Sources said the project has now been elevated to priority status, dealt with at the presidency and ministerial level of Zimbabwe and South Africa, as well the bilateral commission.
South African minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan and the newly-appointed Transnet board are now prioritising the Zimbabwe railway project, which in the past few months had appeared to be stalling because of Zimbabwe Transport ministry’s legal representatives and external legal consultants’ tardy, convoluted and time-consuming approach.
The project is also now being supported by Zimbabwe’s minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Sibusiso Moyo. Moyo’s ministry has held meetings with relevant parties to the deal to help to speed up implementation. The South Africa-Zimbabwe bi-national commission signed about 40 memoranda of understanding and agreements which cover trade and investment, immigration, defence, transport, agriculture, environment, energy, health, labour, taxation arts and culture among other areas.
South African International Relations and Cooperation minister Lindiwe Sisulu told the media this week that the bi-national meeting, where Ramaphosa will be accompanied by a business delegation, will also focus on sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the European Union and the United States.
“Lifting international sanctions imposed against the (Robert) Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe is central to this, which is why sanctions will feature prominently in bilateral talks between presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Ramaphosa in Harare on March 12,” Sisulu said.
South African banks have already promised funding for the deal to the tune of US$700 million with Standard Bank expressing readiness to shell out between US$100 million and US$317 million; Absa (US$200 million); Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa (US$100 million); Ecobank Kenya (US$100 million) and CBZ (US$50 million).
Official sources say Mnangagwa and Ramaphosa want the NRZ deal to be expedited in order to step up bilateral cooperation between Zimbabwe and South Africa, while in the process also enhancing strong working relations between the new administrations on both sides of the Limpopo.