Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980. Relations between the two all weather friends began in 1979 when the late Vice President Simon Muzenda visited Tehran to meet leaders of the Islamic Revolution of Iran.
After the victory of the people’s revolution in 1979, a high-powered delegation led by Cde Muzenda called on the then leader of the Islamic Revolution Hazrat Imam Khomein and conveyed a message of support towards the revolution.
President Mugabe confirmed the formal engagement of Iran in bilateral relations during the State visit to Zimbabwe by Iranian President Khatami.
He said: “Our relations date back to the days of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, when the late Muzenda established contacts with leaders of the Islamic Revolution on Iran”.
Although modern day relations can be traced to 1979, historian and Higher and Tertiary Education Minister Stan Mudenge traced the relations to the 16th Century when Arab merchants traded with the Munhumutapa Empire.
Iranian ambassador Hamid Moayyer collaborated Mudenge’s assertions, saying archeological evidence showed that Great Zimbabwe was the centre of trade and that Iranians participated in that trade.
Relations between the two countries are shaped by a coterie of commonality of interests, shared values, aspirations and perceptions.
Leaders of both countries have taken the slightest opportunity to express support for each other against the common enemy of imperialism.
During the Khatami visit, President Mugabe condemned foreign interference in the internal affairs of the two countries.
Zimbabwe and Iran share similar views on most international issues as the two countries fulfill obligations in various organisations to which they are members.
During various sessions of the UN General Assembly, President Mugabe has spoken in support of Iran while Iran has reciprocated.
According to a Reuters report of 11 December 2009 President Mugabe voiced his support for Iran’s nuclear programme, saying that only countries without nuclear weapons could make an informed decision about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities.
During talks with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran in 2006, President Mugabe pledged support for Iran and denounced Western intervention in Iranian affairs, saying that
Non-Aligned countries must, “have a fight to put up against these evil men and their evil systems. Countries who think alike must come together and work out mechanisms to defend ourselves”.
In a follow up meeting in September 2007, President Mugabe met President Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of a United Nations General Assembly to discuss their shared opinion that developing nations unite against Western “domination” and United States and British neocolonialism.
The Iranian president expressed appreciation for Zimbabwe’s participation in the Non-Aligned Movement ministerial session on human rights held in Tehran the same year.
Zimbabwe and Iran came together later that week to announce their collaborative “coalition of peace” following negative statements about the two regimes from US former President George W. Bush.
Presidents Mugabe and Ahmadinejad discussed the idea as a, “need to come up with a coalition for peace in response to the aggression of global bullies.”
The relations are made stronger by the common views that the two countries share. Zimbabwe and Iran both agitate for the reform of the United Nations in order for the world body to reflect on the
new realities of the 21st Century. Both countries say the current composition of the United Nations Security Council need to be completely overhauled to reflect and ensure equitable representation of the members.
To illustrate the importance given to relations between the two countries when Khatami visited in 2005 he was given a red carpet reception that was accompanied by a 21 gun salute and he inspected a guard of honour, the highest honour that can be accorded to a visiting head of state.
President Mugabe put the relations into context when he described the Khatami visit as an eloquent testimony of the excellent relations between Zimbabwe and Iran.
“It is a gesture of friendship, solidarity and goodwill between our two peoples. We therefore attach great importance to this visit as it will enable us to work towards further strengthening and diversifying our relations”.
According to Iranian ambassador to Zimbabwe in 2005 Hamid Moayyer the State visit by President Khatami was to show Iran’s support for Zimbabwe that was suffering under economic sanctions. (Herald 13 January 2005).
“The purpose of the visit by our President is to show solidarity as Zimbabwe is under sanctions from its enemies and the other purpose is to expand our relations especially in the economic field”.
To bolster the relations, Zimbabwe and Iran formed a friendship association (Herald 7 October 2005).
Under the association the two countries are involved in cultural exchange programmes. Iran went a step further by setting up a cultural course at the University of Zimbabwe to promote dialogue.
Both countries have seen the sphere of co-operation expand by the day.
In 2005 (Sunday Mail 16 January 2004) an Iranian minister visited Zimbabwe to sign a communications bilateral agreement that saw the Asian country advancing a US$5 million loan to re-equip Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings. Technicians from ZBH were seconded for training in Iran.
As the issues of common interest took centre stage, state institutions in the two countries buttressed the relations. The Iran Export Bank (Herald 17 May 1999) pledged to advance a US$190 million credit facility to assist exporters from Zimbabwe and Iran intending to enter markets in the respective countries
Iranian tractor manufacturers and assemblers have set shop in Zimbabwe.
The two countries have signed multiple agreements covering political ties and economic relations in the technology and infrastructure fields. The two countries also cooperate in various fields such as agriculture.
Iran has in recent years advanced financial assistance to Zimbabwe’s land reform programme.
According to The Herald issue of January 13, 2004 Zimbabwe acquired 400 tractors from Iran under a US$15 million facility.
Agriculture Minister Joseph Made has been to Tehran on several missions to source agriculture implements and inputs such as fertiliser.
In 2008 the two countries also signed a joint venture deal to manufacture tractors in Zimbabwe. According to the agreement, Iran’s Foreign Investment Company would control 55 percent of the venture whereas Zimbabwe’s Industrial Development Corporation maintained the balance. Iran invested US$ 4 million in the deal further illustrating the commonality of interests between the two countries.
Relations were further strengthened when Zimbabwe appointed its first ambassador to Iran in 2002. Then foreign affairs minister Stan Mudenge announced in Teheran during the Zimbabwe-Iran economic cooperation commission that Zimbabwe had seconded its first ambassador. Iran followed suit by opening its embassy in Harare the following year, which came with the extra package of a cultural centre.
To show that relations between the two countries are multifaceted a visiting Iranian foreign minister remarked after his meeting with President Mugabe at Zimbabwe House in March 2000: “Our discussions centred on economic, political as well as social issues”. The extent of the relations was further highlighted
The strengthening of economic ties between Harare and Tehran continued in 2006 when President Mugabe visited Iran and signed six accords with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. According to (IRNA 19 January 2005) the agreements clarified high-level cooperation between the two countries in agriculture, the oil industry, education, and humanitarian aid with both countries reaffirming their intention to increase cooperation between their private sectors and facilitate trade between the two nations.
The illegal Western sanctions on Zimbabwe have actually helped to shape its foreign policy with Iran under Government’s “Look East Policy”. The growth of relations between the two countries is partly driven by the deterioration of relations between Zimbabwe and the West.
Chigora and Goredema writing about Zimbabwe-Russia relations point out that a commonality of ideologies, foreign policy principles and objectives as well as common interests help to shape relations. The same principles define relations between Zimbabwe and Iran.
Zimbabwe’s problems and lack of domestic energy sources and oil refinery capabilities have seen the country adopting a more accommodative stance towards Iran which has promised to revamp the Feruka oil pipeline in addition to supplying plant and equipment suitable for the effective operations of the country’s fuel industry. Because Zimbabwe in 2000 did not have foreign currency to purchase imports essential to maintain a steady fuel supply that year, Iran pledged to send fuel technicians to Harare to attend to the Feruka oil pipeline.
Zimbabwe entered 2009 under the weight of economic sanctions. President Mugabe sought economic aid from several countries, including Iran. The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding to renovate Feruka oil refinery in addition to arranging long-term fuel supplies in exchange for giving Iran exclusive mining rights of “strategic” minerals such as uranium.
Consistency, fearlessness and rock solid principles have helped define relations between the two countries. Both countries have never missed opportunities to condemn western machinations on the third world countries to which the two nations belong.
For example last January Iran followed its condemnation of the sanctions with batches of humanitarian food assistance to the people of Mhondoro. In fact the assistance has been forthcoming on many occasions such that writing about each and every instance would require acres of space.
In March 2010, the two countries announced plans to collaborate in the energy sector. Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Didymus Mustasa met with Iranian Oil Minister Masoud Mir Kazemi in the wake of the extension of United States sanctions against Zimbabwe.
Iran offered oil supplies and to upgrade Feruka Oil Refinery. President Mugabe was to later invite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to open a trade exhibition in Bulawayo on April 23, 2010. Such is the relationship between Zimbabwe and Iran.
According to (People’s Daily Online, November 26, 2006) cultural interests and humanitarian aid comprise a significant component of Iran-Zimbabwe relations. The publication gave an instance during which President Mugabe and President Ahmadinejad issued a joint communiqué signed following their Fifth Joint Commission meeting where both countries emphasised their goal of expanding political, economic, and cultural cooperation and developing unified positions on issues of mutual interest.
The two countries have on several occasions enjoyed reciprocal cultural visits as a show of the robust relations existing between the two nations born out of historic revolutions in 1979 and 1980.
Common interests and the quest by the leaders of the two countries to fight western imperialism and hegemony help to shape relations between Zimbabwe and Iran. To achieve the mutual relationship the two countries have entered into a number of agreements ranging from political and economic cooperation to social and cultural exchanges.