Southern Africa: Newest President in the Region Chairs SADC, Visits Neighbours

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe meet in Harare on March 17, 2018.

The visit to Zimbabwe by the new South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, is part of a series of working visits with counterparts in neighbouring countries that has taken him to Angola, Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique.

President Ramaphosa is visiting his neighbours both as the newest President in the region and in his capacity as chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

This comes at a time of many leadership changes in SADC member states and many opportunities for building new economic partnerships from longstanding historical relations.

The regional integration agenda in SADC is advancing rapidly, rooted in a policy of industrial development and aimed at facilitating closer cooperation across borders, including the movement of people and goods.

South Africa experienced challenges during the recent transition in the leadership of the party and the country, but after stepping down, former President Jacob Zuma returned to his village in KwaZulu Natal and pledged support for his party, promising to campaign actively for ANC in the 2019 elections.

Ramaphosa is one-month-old in office having been sworn in on 15 February this year, and his country was elected as the current chair of SADC at last year's Summit in Pretoria.

President Mnangagwa is a few months older in office than Ramaphosa having been sworn in on 24 November last year. Both were elected as substantive leaders of their respective parties, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) and the African National Congress (ANC), at party Congresses in December 2017.

Before coming to Zimbabwe, President Ramaphosa visited Mozambique on Saturday morning for a courtesy call on President Filipe Nyusi, who is one of the oldest in office having begun his term on 15 January 2015.

A statement by the presidency in Mozambique said the visit aimed "to strengthen and deepen the historical ties of solidarity, friendship and political, economic, social and cultural cooperation between the two countries, as well as assess the stage of bilateral cooperation."

President Ramaphosa is accompanied on the regional visits by his new Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Hon. Lindiwe Sisulu, and the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Hon. Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, as well as other government officials.

He began his regional visits earlier this month in Luanda with a call on the new Angolan leader, President João Lourenço, who was sworn in as President on 26 September 2017 following national elections in August. Angola uses an electoral-college system similar to South Africa, in which the President is not directly elected by voters but is the candidate of the majority party in Parliament.

Lourenço was selected by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) to replace José Eduardo dos Santos, who had been Head of State since 1979 and who remains leader of the party.

Angola was chosen as the first country for President Ramaphosa to visit due to the "very special and historical relationship" since the 1970s and 1980s when Angola hosted military training camps for the ANC during the armed struggle against apartheid in South Africa, a system of "separate development" that isolated citizens by race and facilitated deeply unequal development that remains entrenched to date.

Angola is also the current chair of the Troika of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation. This is the system used between Summits for a committee of leaders to meet and discuss issues that cannot wait for the annual SADC Summit, which normally takes place in August.

While South Africa is the current chair of SADC, Namibia is the incoming chair, meaning that Namibia will chair the regional organization after hosting the next SADC Summit, likely to take place in August this year. Windhoek was therefore the second regional capital for President Ramaphosa to visit in early March.

The Namibian President Hage Geingob was elected party leader at the 6th SWAPO Party Congress in late November. He is already President of the country having won the 2014 elections and was sworn in as President on 21 March 2015.

President Ramaphosa said it was a very special courtesy visit "to come and renew our friendship, to consolidate it and to also look back where we have come from because we have been comrades in arms, and comrades in struggle and we move forward now as comrades in development, developing our countries."

He acknowledged the close relations between the former liberation movements that worked together "against the common enemy but because we had so many things that connected us, that bound us together.

"We had the same vision, same perspective, progressive forces, bound together by a need to develop our people. In many ways we chose each other but as countries we are neighbours that are joined together as well," he said.

"We are also all new because I have got two of my colleagues who are ministers. We just reshuffled our cabinet so you are looking at part of a new executive of the Republic of South Africa. For us this is a very very special moment and we look forward to serious engagements at a bi-national level."

President Ramaphosa said that they would engage later in serious matters of the economy, trade, cultural connections and political relations and to deal with "issues that are obviously aimed at developing our two countries, growing our economies and when it comes to that we will know that we are doing the right thing to take our countries forward."

After visiting Namibia, President Ramaphosa went on to Botswana to call on President Seretse Khama Ian Khama.

In welcoming his South African counterpart, President Khama emphasised that "we are one people," and this was echoed by President Ramaphosa who said they are one people separated only by colonial boundaries.

President Khama also spoke about the uniqueness of the visit as President Ramaphosa had been sworn into office only a month earlier, while he, the President of Botswana, would be stepping down in two weeks, at the end of March. He has served as President since 1 April 2008 when his predecessor stepped down and, as Vice-President, he moved into the top office.

The governance system in Botswana facilitates a change in Head of State between elections, thus President Khama is preparing to handover to Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi, and he wanted to introduce him to his South African counterpart.

Botswana also hosts the headquarters of the SADC Secretariat and it is usual for the SADC chair to embark on a familiarization visit where he was hosted by the SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax.

SADC has welcomed the peaceful transition in Zimbabwe and the African Union also issued a statement welcoming the former President's decision to resign, adding that, "Today's decision will go down in history as an act of statesmanship that can only bolster President Mugabe's political legacy."

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