President Robert Mugabe arrived in South Africa ahead of his meeting with President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria. Picture: Reuters/Rogan Ward

Pretoria - President Robert Mugabe arrived in South Africa late on Monday ahead of his meeting with President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria on Tuesday.

He arrived without his wife Grace Mugabe, accused of assaulting local model Gabrielle Engels, 20, last month when the first lady found her and others at her sons’ rented flats in a five star Sandton hotel. 

Grace Mugabe had been in South Africa the previous week for medical reasons. 

Although she was on a private trip, and had not checked in to South Africa officially to generate formal diplomatic immunity, she was granted it subsequently by Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, minister of International Relations and Co Operation, 
after the alleged assault. 

Mugabe is in South Africa to visit President Jacob Zuma for the second round of the Bi-National Commission, which allows the two countries and neighbours to renew and strengthen bonds to ensure socio-economic development. 

Read more: Mugabe arrives in South Africa without Grace

The Commission was established in Pretoria in 2015 and today’s event will also include Rob Davies, trade and industry minister. 

Ahead of his arrival, Zimbabwe says it paid R156 million off its bill to Eskom against the R570 million it owes which Harare now says it will pay off at about R65 million a month in addition to current usage. 

When Zimbabwe became critically short of foreign currency early last year, it banned importation of a wide variety of imported goods, most from its largest trading partner, South Africa, including items such as coffee creamers, cooking oil and wheel barrows. 

In today’s meeting, some aspects of those restrictions, are likely to be further discussed and also the long delays many South Africans exporters to Zimbabwe endure before they receive payment. 

Zimbabwe is in an ongoing and ever-deepening fiscal crisis and two weeks ago there was a sudden surge of buying in most urban areas for fuel and groceries. 

This brief panic buying episode saw Zimbabwe’s national electronic funds switch, Zimswitch freeze, not least because Zimbabwe is overwhelmingly reliant on plastic transactions as there is little cash in notes, either US dollars which Zimbabwe chose to use after its own currency collapsed in 2008, or its own temporary new-ish currency, known as Bond Notes. Cash is hard to find in Zimbabwe, on the streets or in the banks. 

So many people also shop using transactions on their mobile phones and this surge also affected  ZimSwitch Instant Payment Interchange Technology, ZIPIT,  a payment solution that enables financial transactions using mobile banking platforms. 

It too became flooded and overwhelmed. Many believe this sudden buying spree was spurred by memories of 2008 when there was no fuel and supermarkets were empty and no currency at all as years of hyperinflation made the Zimbabwe dollar worthless, and it was abandoned. 

Zimbabwe is South Africa’s fifth largest trading partner in Africa, and prior to Zimbabwe’s clampdown on imports, South Africa exported more then R230 billion a year to Zimbabwe. 

The Mugabe family has ever closer personal links to South Africa. Since being forced to leave United Arab Emirates last year, on allegations of bad behaviour, the two Mugabe sons, Robert Jnr, 25 and Chatunga Bellarmine, 21,  relocated to Johannesburg allegedly to study, 

Within a few months they had established a lavish lifestyle and spent long periods in Sandton’s top night clubs where they drank some of the most expensive liquor. 

In addition to their mother’s R200 000 pcm residence she rented in Sandhurst, Sandton, where the two were meant to stay,  they rented a flat in Rivonia and were evicted from it earlier this year after a drunken brawl and had to spend R70 000 on repairs. 

They then rented a further two flats for about R60 000 pcm within 20 West Street, which their mother did not know about last month when she arrived in Johannesburg looking for them, just a day after she had returned home to Harare after a week of medical treatment in Johannesburg for her foot

She has bought a mansion in Sandhurst earlier this year for a total cost of about R48 million which was paid for via Zimbabwe’s foreign cash strapped Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. Recently Grace Mugabe and her son Russell Goreraza, from her first marriage, bought several luxury vehicles, including three Rolls Royces. 

Independent Foreign Service