Meetings of the inaugural Zimbabwe-South Africa Bi-National Commission (BNC) has opened in Harare with senior officials of the two countries deliberating on several issues aimed at cementing all-round ties between the neighboring States.

The two countries signed an agreement to establish the BNC last year, upgrading their co-operation to Head of State level from the Joint Commission led by Ministers, which had been the forum for interaction since the 1990's.

The BNC, which will be held on an annual basis, is made up of four clusters namely diplomatic, economic, social and security. The meeting of senior officials on Monday and Tuesday will be followed by that of Ministers on Wednesday and that of the two Heads of State on Thursday.

Zimbabwe and South Africa have in their history signed 38 bilateral agreements and Memoranda of Understanding covering a host of areas such as trade and investment, immigration, defence, agriculture, energy, health and labour.

Zimbabwean Foreign Affairs Ministry permanent secretary Joey Bimha said here Monday it was

imperative that the BNC ensured progress in implementation of signed agreements.

"Zimbabwe does not have this type of forum of co-operation with any other country," said Bimha, who co-chaired the senior officials meeting.

"The BNC with South Africa is a first and speaks volumes about the nature and character of the close and cordial relations we have and we are committed to strengthen it to greater heights."

Bimha said the commission should ensure that some agreed plans and programmes "progress beyond the signed documents".

"Our Heads of State have decided that, from now on, our two countries will pursue strategic partnerships," he said. "At base, we must have the mind-set of promoting reinforced linkages

between us through joint ventures among other modalities."

South Africa's Xolisa Makaya, who is the co-chair of the senior officials meeting, said strong ties between the two countries meant relations could no longer be managed at levels below the Heads of State, leading to establishment of the BNC.