Presidents Robert Mugabe and Jacob Zuma arrived on Wednesday at a plush hotel in Harare for a South African Development Community (SADC) summit that has been overshadowed by recent xenophobic violence in South Africa.
The South African president was seen striding along the red carpet at the Rainbow Towers Hotel flanked by Zimbabwe’s foreign minister SimbarasheMumbengegwi and other top Zimbabwe government officials.
Press reports have forecast that Zuma will have a “rough ride” when faced with regional leaders whose nationals have been killed or forced to flee in the xenophobic attacks that hit Durban and Johannesburg earlier this month.
A choir was at the hotel to serenade the arriving heads of state. Mugabe, who is the current chair of SADC, arrived at the crowded conference room soon after 10:00.
The summit has been convened officially to plan industrial growth in the region. But an official from Zimbabwe’s foreign affairs ministry Joey Bimha told the official Herald newspaper this week that the heads of state attending the summit could alter the agenda. That means that xenophobia is likely to be discussed and perhaps a resolution on the issue made.
The Herald said in an editorial on Wednesday: “What has taken place in the past few weeks goes against the spirit and letter of regional integration and people hope that it becomes an agenda item.”
But as SADC executive secretary Lawrence Tax delivered her opening speech with a call for a “concrete action plan” and partnerships with the private sector, it was clear that the spotlight was still firmly on encouraging industrial growth in the region.
Zimbabwe’s minister for war veterans Chris Mutsvanga told state TV: “You create prosperity by industrialisation and [that is why] this summit is spot on. We need to have global goods and services originating from southern Africa on the same scale as Brazil, Germany… and the US.”
Ten heads of state were supposed to be attending the meeting. But it emerged early on Wednesday that Malawi President Peter Mutharika was not able to attend.