Zimbabwe and South Africa have signed a long delayed trade deal, which Harare hopes will boost Zimbabwe's beleaguered economy. A last minute attempt by South African farmers to stop the agreement from being signed was settled late Thursday.
South African farmers whose land was seized under President Robert Mugabe's land reforms starting in 2000 were seeking a court order on Thursday from the Pretoria High Court to stop the two countries from signing the investment agreement.
Shortly before the court was to hear the case, South Africa and the farmers' unions reached an agreement.
The farmers wanted the South African government to recognize a ruling last year by the Southern African Development Community's Tribunal, a court of last resort for the region's citizens. The Tribunal found that Zimbabwe's white farmers, including several South Africans, had suffered racial discrimination during the land seizures. It ordered that Mr. Mugabe's government should pay compensation to those who were evicted from their farms.
Both Zimbabwe and South Africa are members of SADC, but the Mugabe government says it does not recognize the Tribunal's ruling.
South African Industry Minister Rob Davies, who was in Harare for the signing ceremony, explained the nature of the agreement with the farmers.
"There was a reference to the SADC Tribunal judgments and an undertaking on our side that we would respect those particular judgments. That is the essence of the agreement," he said.
He said the investment protection agreement gave previous and future South African investors security in Zimbabwe, with the exception of seized land.
Davies also said the South African government was committed to the political agreement signed in September last year by Mr. Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change party, which won elections earlier that year. That agreement led to the formation of a power-sharing government in February.
Elton Mangoma, Zimbabwe's economic planning and investment promotion minister, who signed Friday's investment protection agreement on behalf of the government, said the agreement made it possible for Zimbabwe to trade on equal terms with the rest of the world.
He said the deal could not have been reached before the establishment of the power-sharing government.
"Negotiations started in 2004 and it has now taken the inclusive government to conclude that process," he explained. "For those who do not believe that the inclusive government has got a life of its own, which is different from the previous government, this is one testimony that they can see that clearly things are different," he said.
Both ministers said the bilateral Investment Promotion And Protection Agreement would strengthen regional trade and help rescue Zimbabwe's shattered economy.