Britain’s High Commissioner to South Africa Nigel Casey Casey says that while UK Prime Minister Theresa May's visit last week included an important Brexit component, there was a lot more to it than that.
Cyril Ramaphosa’s succession as President has restored South Africa’s relations with Britain which had gone sour under Jacob Zuma. That became clear when Theresa May made the first visit to this country by a British Prime Minister since 2011.
Britain’s High Commissioner to South Africa Nigel Casey says it’s a “misperception” that May’s visit to Africa – she also visited Nigeria and Kenya – was mainly about Brexit. In fact May’s predecessor David Cameron had been planning a major African tour in July 2016 but circumstances intervened. He lost the Brexit referendum that same month and resigned.
Casey said the benefit in the delay was that it meant that South Africa was enthusiastically added to the itinerary. Cameron would not have come to South Africa in 2016. “It is no secret that South Africa was struggling in 2016, and the relationship was suffering as a reflection of that,” Casey said.
In the changed political environment in 2018, Casey said he had no difficulty persuading May not only to visit South Africa but to make her major new Africa policy speech in Cape Town.
By visiting South Africa May and the group of “significant” current and potential investors she brought with her, were able “to hear from the horse’s mouth” about issues that were concerning them. These included property rights; the need for greater policy certainty; regulation in particular sectors; crime; corruption; and the efficiency of government bodies, particularly at the local government level in managing contracts and paying people for their work.
And “there’s no more persuasive salesman for South Africa than Cyril Ramaphosa,” Casey said. On land and property rights, Ramaphosa repeated the assurances he had given before publicly, that land reform would be done constitutionally, transparently and without damaging the economy or food production.
The visit and the participation of the investors “was to show we are right behind President Ramaphosa’s investment drive, we mean that, we share the ambition to help South Africa woo back investors and to address the business environment issues that have been deterring investors in recent years”.
Ramaphosa invited them to come to his investment conference and repeated that the dates are now fixed for the 25 to 27 October.
May and the investors responded well. Just a few days after US President Donald Trump had infuriated Ramaphosa by tweeting that he had asked his Secretary of State to investigate the South African government’s expropriation of land and the murder of farmers, May instead publicly endorsed the broad policy of land reform, provided it was taken forward in a way which was legal, transparent and had the effect of supporting economic growth.
When it was put to him that this apparently fulsome endorsement had surprised some observers, Casey said: “We took a conscious decision that we should in public express support for the broad policy of land reform. That is not new. We have supported land reform, which is a broad programme, ever since it began in 1994.
“The PM endorsed it in the terms and within the parameters you have seen. Partly to help stabilise the debate here, conscious that we don’t want to contribute to the slightly hysterical reactions to this debate from elsewhere. And partly to help those who want to see land reform taken forward through a measured, constitutional, soundly legally based, clear, political process.
“Our interest is in supporting a business environment where investors feel confident in the security of their existing investments and incentivised to add to their investments here, not to detract from them.”
Although Casey insists May’s visit was not primarily about Brexit, he says it did include an important Brexit component.
The most important thing the UK government wanted to do in South Africa was to “send a message of confidence that Brexit is not going to disrupt our trade with SACU and Mozambique.” The five countries of SACU – the Southern African Customs Union – comprising SA, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and Mozambique are now in the SADC Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union. That EPA only came into force two years ago. It is mainly a free trade agreement which increased the volume of particularly agricultural products which SA could export to the European Union.
Casey said the UK and the African EPA countries had been negotiating over the past two years to basically replicate the terms of the EPA in a parallel UK-SACU-Mozambique deal that would kick in from the moment the EPA no longer applied to Britain.
That would be at the end of December 2020, the end of the transition period which is foreseen after the UK leaves the EU, if the UK manages to negotiate a Brexit deal with the EU. Or, if no deal is negotiated with the EU, the new trade deal with SACU and Mozambique would have to kick in on 29 March 29, next year.
So Casey said the statement which had been signed among all the trade ministers involved was to underscore that the substantial work on the post-Brexit deal had now been done. It was also a signal to the negotiators to finish the job quickly.
The SACU-Mozambique negotiations were more advanced than any of the other 40 similar post-Brexit trade agreements the UK had in the world. He praised Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies for leading the process, saying he had understood quickly that the UK was going to be stretched, because of all the other similar negotiations it would need to conduct with other trade partners around the world.
Like Davies, he confirmed that the new SACU-Mozambique trade deal with the UK would include export quotas that reflected historic trade between the two formations. So, for example about 40% of the wine which SA sells to the EU goes to the UK. This would mean, in principle, that SA’s wine quota under the new trade deal with the UK would also be about 40% of the annual quota of over 110-million litres of wine which SA now has under the EU-SADC EPA. Casey stressed though that the actual figures still had to be worked out.
Casey also said that the SACU countries and Mozambique had not yet realised the full potential of the EPA. ”Two sectors have done brilliantly out of it, automotive and agriculture, especially wine, fruit and veg. But lots of other sectors haven’t yet taken advantage of the potential.”
To encourage these, the UK would be providing about eight-million pounds of technical assistance to the SACU states- mainly the four smaller members – and Mozambique to help them take advantage of the trade opportunities.
It was also evident from what Casey said, that with the improvement in relations with the UK under Ramaphosa, South Africa would also be able to benefit more from the UK’s wider new Africa policy which May spelt out in her keynote speech in Cape Town.
To revive relations with the continent, the UK will post hundreds more diplomats to its missions in Africa, and open new embassies in Lesotho, Eswatini, Mali and Chad. The latter two will be part of Britain’s effort to boost support for African countries fighting terrorism.
Economically, Casey said that while the UK still has the largest accumulated investment stock in the three countries May visited, it realizes it cannot compete in respect of state-directed investment with the likes of China and Dubai which have massive sovereign wealth funds which can be directed to invest, say, 10 to 14-billion dollars in a particular country for political reasons.
Instead the UK’s “unique selling point” is the private sector. “We have to persuade private companies to go into quite risky places.” So May had announced a four billion pounds increase in funding for institutions like the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) – “the private equity arm of the British government” – and the
Private Infrastructure Group. These institutions provided credit risk and other financing to encourage private companies to invest in these riskier markets which in turn provided anchors and assurances to crowd in other private sector investors.
Casey noted that the CDC already had about 250 million pounds invested in South Africa, much of it for onward investment into the rest of Africa.
Being unable to compete with the likes of China, May had set a target of the UK becoming the largest G7 investor in Africa by 2022. Britain is now second to the US and ahead of France, Casey said.
May and Ramaphosa also discussed several international issues. One was Zimbabwe, on which Ramaphosa had said in public in Harare at Mnangagwa’s recent inauguration that he urged all the Zimbabwean parties to accept the July 30 election results and move on. Mnangagwa has invited international participants in the commission of inquiry into the post election violence including a South African and a Brit.
US diplomatic sources have hinted that the US will probably not rescind its sanctions legislation against Zimbabwe in the wake of the elections. That would mean Washington would not lift its bar on the US approving an IMF loan to Zimbabwe.
That would be a major obstacle to getting the economy back on track which really requires a debt relief programme which would have to start with the IMF underpinning the programme, diplomatic sources say. Asked about the UK’s approach, Casey noted the importance of the outcome of the commission of inquiry into the post-election violence.
May and Ramaphosa are also understood to have discussed the crucial 23 December presidential, parliamentary and local elections in DRC and their strong shared interest in the elections going ahead.
British officials are concerned about the prospects for successful elections because of the Kinshasa authorities barring a number of strong potential presidential candidates like Moise Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba from standing. And also because of concerns that the electronic voting machines which DRC has insisted on using might fail and because DRC had refused any outside help in funding the elections.
Many doubt that Kabila, who recently announced that he would not run himself, is really sincere about being prepared to relinquish power “as opposed to just having his puppet installed” as one diplomat put it, referring to Emmanuel Shadary, the presidential candidate of Kabila’s ruling party.
Casey noted that dealing with the situation in the DRC could be an early issue for the UK and SA to work on together when SA goes onto the UN Security Council in January. SA officials have indicated that if the elections fail- largely because of the electronic voting machines they fear – Kabila should be given a short period to conduct new elections, using manual voting.
Casey said the UK had put proposals to SA for other areas in which they might form an effective partnership during SA’s two-year stint at the Security Council, drawing on SA’s experience in areas like Mediation and Women, Peace and Security.
May had also raised the need to uphold the rules-based international system, citing the Salisbury incident and asking for SA’s support for the implementation of the international decisions reached in June to grant additional powers to the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
In the Salisbury incident, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for the UK’s intelligence services, and his daughter Yulia Skripal were poisoned in Salisbury, England in March this year, with the Novichok nerve agent. The UK blamed Russia and imposed sanctions on it.
In June the Special Conference of States Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention voted to increase the OPCW’s powers, giving it the mandate to determine who was responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria. Before that the OPCW could only determine that a chemical weapons attack had occurred but not who was responsible.
Casey noted that in November the OPCW would hold its five-yearly review conference, and it expects opposition to the implementation of the June decisions from some of those countries who sought to block the decisions then.
Overall, Casey said Ramaphosa’s visit to London in April and May’s visit to South Africa last week “really helped to revitalise and reboot a relationship which has suffered in recent years from an absence of top-level contact. They had good conversations about what we could do together on education, skills, health. The SA side expressed particular interest in how SA can learn from the UK’s NHS experience in designing its NHI”. Ramaphosa was particularly enthusiastic about big science cooperation, notably through the SKA project.
May also handed over to Ramaphosa the brass bell of the SS Mendi, the ship which sank in the English Channel in 1917, drowning some 600 mainly black South African soldiers heading for World War l.
Casey recalled how the anonymous diver who had illegally salvaged the bell from the wreck of the Mendi had handed it over to a BBC journalist after his conscience had been pricked by hearing Cabinet minister Jeff Radebe’s moving tribute to the Mendi victims at a centenary service in the UK last year. DM
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