17th November 2005
South Africa and Zimbabwe signed an agreement to strengthen defence and intelligence ties at a ceremony Thursday, further emphasizing the solidarity between the two neighbours in the face of growing international condemnation of Zimbabwe.
South African Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils praised Zimbabwe’s “advances and successes” in the 25 years since its independence from Britain. He said the two countries shared a “common world view” and would “march forward shoulder to shoulder.”
The comments contrasted with the criticism heaped on Zimbabwe by Western governments and many others, accusing Robert Mugabe of bringing his country to the brink of economic and social collapse and trampling on human rights.
Zimbabwe has repeatedly accused its Western critics, the United States and Britain in particular, of plotting against Mugabe’s regime. Mugabe has found allies among movements in the region such as South Africa’s ruling African National Congress. Mugabe supported the ANC in the fight against apartheid.
President Thabo Mbeki maintains that his policy of quiet diplomacy is the only way to bring about economic and political reform.
At a press conference following the signing ceremony the South African Intelligence Minister was asked about Zimbabwe’s civil liberties record.
Kasrils responded “We have very strong ties with our neighbour, and we are indebted to our neighbour for achieving freedom and liberty,” he said. “This will never ever be forgotten by the people of South Africa.”
The agreement signed Thursday provides for a Joint Permanent Commission on Defence and Security to boost military, police and intelligence cooperation, and to tackle specific areas of concern such as cross-border crime and illegal immigration.
There are an estimated 3 million Zimbabweans living in South Africa, many of them without papers, seeking refuge from political repression and economic collapse at home.
Under a separate agreement, Zimbabwe also promised to send flying instructors to train South African air force pilots and technicians.