Zuma steps on Mbeki’s toes with Angola visit

Hajra Omarjee, Business Day, Johannesburg, 25 March 2008

African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma has ventured into President Thabo Mbeki’s terrain by announcing that his four-day visit to Angola this weekend not only yielded a high-level meeting with Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos but also laid the groundwork for future foreign relations and trade agreements between the countries.

Addressing the media at OR Tambo International Airport shortly after landing in Dos Santos’s private aircraft last night, Zuma, flanked by several ANC national executive committee members, said the party had agreed to “step up” economic investment in Angola.

“We will discuss, in the ANC, how to move forward with this agreement,” Zuma said.

It is understood that a Zuma presidency intends paving the way for South African business to invest in Angola in the mining, agricultural and construction industries.

Zuma’s overtures signal a departure from Mbeki’s approach, which was characterised by frosty relations between Pretoria and Luanda.

“It will enhance existing business that has been going on between the countries, to ensure it moves in a particular direction,” Zuma said.

Steven Friedman, senior political analyst at policy think- tank Idasa, said that it was clear Zuma was “playing president”.

As head of the ruling party Zuma is first in line to take over when Mbeki steps down next year.

“The level of discussions is not what political parties usually discuss. Political parties usually discuss political co-operation and solidarity,” Friedman said.

He predicted that the ANC’s discussions in Angola were also likely to create further “irritation” between the Union Buildings and (ANC headquarters) Luthuli House.

During the media briefing Zuma said it was important for the ANC to play a “critical role in the socioeconomic and political development” of Angola.

“Oh yes, that what we mean by socioeconomic development. We are very much in agreement, we need to step up economic investment,” Zuma said.

Racked by almost 30 years of civil war, public infrastructure in Angola is weak. But because the country is abundant in natural resources it is seen as an untapped investment opportunity.

Although SA has an existing bilateral agreement with Angola, Zuma has seemingly capitalised on gaps in the political repertoire between the two countries.

“To us it was important that we pay this visit to strengthen relations. In the past, party to party meetings have been accidental. We have agreed to change this,” Zuma said.

Speaking after the media briefing, ANC spokeswoma n Jessie Duarte said that while no formal agreement had been reached between the parties, the ANC as the ruling party had the authority to hold such talks.

Zuma, accompanied by several high-ranking ANC leaders including Thandi Modise, Ayanda Dlodlo, Ebrahim Ebrahim, Billy Masetlha and Angie Motshekga, made the trip to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the battle of Cuito Cuanavale.

The 1988 battle changed the political landscape of the region by speeding up Namibia’s independence and SA’s liberation from apartheid. More than 4800 people died during the conflict.

During his visit, Zuma paid tribute to the heroes and heroines of Angola, Cuba and Namibia who fought in the battle. He announced that a monument would be set up in Angola so tourists would be told the story.

“A committee will be established that will identify the graves of our fallen Umkhonto we Sizwe soldiers. This will give way for monuments and possible repatriation of our human remains," Zuma said.

“We also took this opportunity to thank the Angolans for the support they gave us (the ANC) during the struggle against apartheid. It was unequalled,” Zuma said.

Among other issues discussed, Zuma said mention had been made the controversial “Special Browse report” during his closed-doors meeting with Dos Santos.

The report contained allegations that Zuma, the then ANC deputy president, was being funded by Dos Santos and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in a plot to overthrow Mbeki.


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