South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma who has already visited most regional countries has postponed indefinitely an invitation from President Lt Gen Ian Khama for a state visit to Gaborone, which was scheduled for March this year.
Zuma was initially slated to visit Botswana last year after Khama’s State visit to South Africa in 2010, but the return leg was put off to March. He recently postponed the March visit indefinitely under questionable circumstances.
The South African president was last month on a state visit to Mozambique, honouring an invitation from President Armando Guebuza believed to have been made long after that of President Khama.
Guebuza is believed to have extended the invitation to Zuma in May 2011 while attending the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, South Africa. Khama on the other hand invited Zuma in September 2010 while on a visit to South Africa. While Zuma has only been to Botswana on SADC business, he was in Namibia in March 2010 for the 2nd inauguration of President Hifikepunye Pohamba.
He has also been to Namibia twice after Khama invited him to Botswana. Zuma left for Namibia last month (December) “to strengthen ties with his counterpart in that country,” the ANC reported on Monday. Zuma was also in Namibia in November 2010 for the annual Namibia / South Africa head of state economic bilateral talks.
While on his visit to South Africa in October 2010, Khama and Zuma agreed to set up a similar platform to that of Windhoek and Pretoria. The plan, however, has also been put on ice. During their talks, which included one on one exchanges between Khama and Zuma, it was agreed to upgrade the institutional basis of the Botswana-South African bilateral relationship through the establishment of a Bi-National Commission.
Unlike the two current Joint Cooperation Commissions in which Ministers meet to discuss sector specific issues, the Bi-National Commission was to be co-chaired by the Heads of State and meet at least annually to discuss any outstanding matters. The venue for the Commission’s meetings was to alternate between the two countries. A statement from the Botswana office of the president hailed the establishment of the new body as “a reflection of the importance that both Governments attach to nurturing the special relationship that exists between them arising from economic interdependence as well as shared experience”. The first meeting of the Bi-National Commission was supposed to take place in 2011. To this day nothing has happened.
Immediately after ascending to the presidency, Zuma rushed to Angola in 2009 to try and save what appeared to be strained relations. Zuma arrived in Angola for his two-day visit, with a delegation of more than 150 South African businessmen. Pretoria billed the trip as the biggest business delegation to take part in a state visit abroad since the end of apartheid in South Africa in 1994.
Zuma, however, does not seem keen to normalize relations with Botswana after remarks made by estranged ANC youth President Julias Malema despite concerns raised by a number of South African institutions among them the country’s national assembly last year.
Responding to an oral question in Parliament last year, which touched on media reports that the ANC Youth League planned to send a team to Botswana to “consolidate opposition parties,” Zuma told the National Assembly that SA relations with neighboring Botswana were set to deepen. Zuma said Khama visited SA in October 2010, and he would be visiting Botswana early 2012 following an invitation. The visit to Botswana, it appears, is not high on Zuma’s to do list. This is believed to be in line with the ANC resolution adopted in Polokwane in December 2007 where Zuma was elected party president.
The Polokwane conference resolved that, “party to party relations amongst former liberation movements like SWAPO, MPLA, FRELIMO, ZANU PF, PAIGC, CCM, SPLM etc must be prioritized by the ANC and structured support of the former liberation movements in the region must be pursued”.
Botswana is perceived to be led by a right wing party while the ANC and other liberation movements are believed to be leftist. It is believed that this perception was not helped by the position the Khama administration took during the Libyan incident. Khama broke ranks with Zuma and the African union and took sides with western powers against the Gaddafi regime. Zuma, on the other hand, was so passionate about the AU position that he snubbed French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s invitation to Paris five months ago to discuss the future of Libya after the fall of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. He visited Tripoli more than twice during the revolution in his attempts to broker a ceasefire between Gaddafi and the then revolutionary fighters.
Zuma’s attitude towards Paris underscored tensions between North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the African Union over the invasion of Libya and the subsequent ousting of Gaddafi.
It looks likely that Botswana may have been caught in the crossfire.
The Libyan issue came up in Parliament when Zuma was talking about his planned visit to Botswana, and the South African president said South Africa was part of the African Union and likewise would not recognize the newly formed National Transition Council (NTC) set up following the fall of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
He condemned the bombing of Libya by NATO, saying that some countries, including the Arab League, had “abused” the 1973 UN Security Council resolution. Botswana on the other hand recognized the NTC.
Another sticky issue between the Khama administration and the Jacob Zuma regime is the planned Botswana and Mozambique oil and coal habour with a railway line and oil pipeline which will pass through Zimbabwe. South Africa has started speaking out against the planned multi-billion Pula project citing unnamed critics who claim that the project “could scupper the success of the tri-nation Lubombo trans-frontier conservation project signed 10 years ago by the governments of South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland.”
According to the South African media, the ponto Techobanine plan “involves digging a deep water port inside the Maputo Elephant Reserve and neighboring Ponta do Ouro marine reserve, and running a 1 100kn railway line through the centre of a newly proclaimed elephant migration corridor to South Africa.”