President Zuma rolls out red carpet for President Mugabe

Pretoria - Despite the dreary weather on Wednesday morning, visiting Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has been given the royal treatment at the Union Buildings.

The red carpet was rolled out and President Jacob Zuma and his wife Thobeka Zuma were on hand to receive their visitors.

Access around the Union Buildings is strictly controlled with police patrolling the area.

The motorcade carrying Mugabe and his wife Grace arrived at the Union Buildings shortly after 9:30am at the west wing of the buildings. The two had had touched down in Pretoria at the Waterkloof Air Force Base on Tuesday evening for the two-day state visit.

But due to the weather, the other parts of the welcoming ceremony - including the national ceremonial guard of honour by members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) - were moved indoors.

To welcome the Mugabes, the SANDF band played the anthems of Zimbabwe and South Africa, and the two Presidents took the salute from the national ceremonial guard, which was marked by a 21–gun salute.

President Zuma then proceeded to introduce President Mugabe -- who is also the current chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) -- to a number of his Cabinet Ministers and deputies at the Union Buildings, which is framed by the national flags of both countries.

President Zuma also shook hands with senior officials from the Mugabe administration. He then ushered his counterpart away from the red-carpeted and flower-bedecked amphitheatre for bilateral talks.

The two Presidents are expected to discuss issues around strengthening economic relations and matters of mutual interest, among others. Stability in the region and the continent, industrialisation and economic development of the SADC region are also expected to feature in talks.

According to the official programme, President Zuma and President Mugabe will address the media just after 12pm on the outcomes of their talks.

They will also witness the signing of several agreements including the Bi-National Commission (BNC) Agreement, whose objective is to elevate the bilateral relations between the two countries.

Others include the Memorandum of Understanding on Diplomatic Consultations, the agreement regarding mutual assistance between the customs administrations of the two countries as well as an agreement on water resource management and the establishment and functioning of the Joint Water Commission. The agreements will be signed by relevant ministers from both countries.

South Africa and Zimbabwe already share common historical and cultural bonds anchored on Zimbabwe’s support for South Africa’s liberation struggle.

Economic cooperation between the two countries has grown well over the past decade as evidenced by the presence of a large number of South African companies in Zimbabwe as well as the increasing trade volumes.

In 2014, South Africa’s exports to Zimbabwe amounted to R24.8 billion, while Zimbabwe’s exports to South Africa reached R2 billion.

After the media briefing, President Mugabe will receive a courtesy call from Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at his hotel before being treated to a state banquet at the Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guesthouse.

On Thursday, a South Africa-Zimbabwe Business Forum will be held at the Sheraton Hotel. The forum will highlight trade and investment opportunities.