It is no ordinary state visit as President Ian Khama yesterday led one of the most powerful delegations to get neighbour South Africa to change its stance and policies that threaten to throttle Botswana’s investment prospects.
Under normal circumstances, it should have been a state visit by only the President and a few staff, just to go and cement relations with a neighbour. But this one is a difficult one, headed by the President and with countless pressing issues that need to be resolved, especially by South Africa.
Khama is accompanied, by among others, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) chairman Daniel Kwelagobe (DK) .Then there is another respected negotiator in Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Phandu Skelemani, the Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Lesego Motsumi; the Minister of Trade and Industry, Dorcas Makgato-Malesu, the Minister of Transport and Communications, Frank Ramsden; the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Peter Siele, the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Kitso Mokaila.
As President Khama, and his entourage began their visit to South Africa yesterday, questions abound as to how far he will be able to get Pretoria to eventually commit itself to helping Botswana realise its Mmamabula Power Station Project dream.
The Mmamabula Power Station initially scheduled to be a mega project supplying South Africa with electricity is currently in the doldrums after South Africa failed to sign on the dotted line. However, there has been some glimmer of hope for the Mmamabula project.
The end of September 2010 resurrected that slim hope. South Africa’s target date to gazette the final Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2010) was end of September 2010 and they could not commit to any Power Purchasing Agreement (PPA) with CIC, the sponsors of the Mmamabula project, before then. Khama’s visit to South Africa comes exactly at the right time when tenders for the power purchase agreement, which would definitely benefit the CIC project, is about to be floated. Initially, the Mmamabula project was to supply electricity to South Africa and Botswana by as early as 2013. However, the delays by South Africa will postpone it by a couple more years, if it eventually takes off. The Mmamabula power project is not the only project currently being stifled by South Africa’s dragging of feet. A similar project, Aviva, in the Kgatleng District has also been waiting for a time when South Africa will sign the power purchase agreement with Botswana after years of frustration.
Khama’s entourage to South Africa is one of the high-powered presidential delegations ever, consisting of ministers responsible for the problem areas that South Africa, in the spirit of good neighbourliness and SADC regional integration is yet to decide for Botswana to realise her dreams of prosperity and attracting foreign direct investments (FDIs).
It is a mirage of problems that include the refusal of Botswana’s Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) by South Africa since July resulting in hundreds of citizens getting frustrated.
Currently Botswana companies trying to export goods to South Africa are finding it hard to penetrate that market because of a law there that says South African companies should do business only with Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) registered companies, according to the Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM), Machailo-Ellis. However, South African companies smoothly do business in Botswana.
In July this year South Africa secretly issued a memorandum informing the Kazungula-Martin’s drift bound trucks to divert their routes to Zimbabwe, in what was read as a secret ploy to divert the P2 billion annual trade to Zimbabwe, at the expense of Botswana. Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) officials, as well as Vice-President Mompati Merafhe were called to reign in the emergency that resulted in business coming to a halt that weekend.
Botswana is also not happy with new South African laws that demand that overseas tourists bound to countries like Botswana should first process transit VISAS after landing at the OR Tambo International Airport, in Johannesburg, a process that takes seven days. Botswana feels the law is a great inconvenience to tourists bound for Botswana.Another new South African law that is understood to have irked Botswana involves long distance truck drivers who are demanded by the law to have South African residence permits.