South Africa

CHANCELLOR AND PRESIDENT

Economic power in Pretoria: Merkel and Ramaphosa meet

Economic power in Pretoria: Merkel and Ramaphosa meet
German Chancellor Angela Merkel receives South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (L) in Berlin, Germany, 30 October 2018. (PHOTO: EPA-EFE/KAMIL ZIHNIOGLU)

The talks will focus on international, regional political and economic issues as well as on bilateral cooperation in civic and educational areas.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with President Cyril Ramaphosa in Pretoria on Thursday 6 February, lending him her country’s powerful – and badly-needed – support at a precarious moment in his efforts to reform South Africa’s economy and polity.

For Ramaphosa, the endorsement of the leader of Europe’s most powerful economy is very important, particularly in his drive, launched in 2018, to boost investment by $100-billion in the five years to 2023.

Conversely for Germany, which has more than 600 companies and hundreds of millions of euros invested in this country, and which exported about R127-billion worth of goods to South Africa in the year ending November 2019, the success of Ramaphosa’s reforms is not just a matter of altruistic concern about South Africa’s future but also of vital self-interest.

Steffen Seibert, spokesperson for the German federal government in Berlin, said when he announced the visit: “South Africa is our most important economic partner in Africa. South Africa is on a course of economic reform. The visit’s goals include the support of the reform course of the Ramaphosa government, as well as the further intensification of our economic relations.”

Underscoring the economic priority of the visit, Merkel will be accompanied by a large business delegation. Ramaphosa and Merkel will participate in a “business roundtable” with German and South African company representatives and Merkel will meet with students for an exchange at the Future Africa Campus of the University of Pretoria.

“The talks in South Africa will focus on international, regional political and economic issues as well as on bilateral cooperation in civic and educational areas,” Seibert said.

After South Africa Merkel will travel to Angola where President Jose Lourenco is also, perhaps not coincidentally, facing political resistance from the old guard as he tries to reform an economy and political system corrupted and mismanaged by his predecessor. 

Solid and vibrant ties

“It’s a great – and the right – time for the German chancellor to visit South Africa,” Germany’s ambassador to South Africa, Martin Schaefer, said this week.

“Centre stage will take, of course, her meetings with President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday. The ties between our countries, the biggest democracies and economies of our sister continents, are strong – politically, but also economically. South Africa is by far our most important economic partner on the African continent. More than 600 German companies are active in South Africa, creating jobs, providing training and contributing to transformation. The goal of the visit is to further intensify these solid and vibrant ties.

“There is a lot of interest from and expectations in Germany in President Ramaphosa’s economic reform drive… We cooperate closely on the international agenda. Germany and South Africa share the same values and interests in a rules-based multilateral order that we both have every reason to defend.

“That’s why we work closely together as non-permanent members on the UN Security Council and at the G20. This year will be an important one for the world, and for both our countries – with South Africa taking over the African Union chairmanship right after the chancellor’s visit and Germany taking over the presidency of the Council of the European Union later this year. These come with so many important and urgent issues for the chancellor and the president to discuss, on the African continent and beyond.”

Ramaphosa’s office said total trade between the two countries reached R235-billion in the year ending November 2019. It added that South Africa’s exports (at R108-billion) exceeded R100-billion for the first time, narrowing the trade deficit. And it said Germany was the third-largest source of overseas visits to South Africa.

There were 72 bilateral agreements between the two nations, providing a legal framework for cooperation in several areas and this relationship was further strengthened by a Binational Commission, aimed at boosting diplomatic cooperation in foreign and security policy, migration and humanitarian assistance, economic and energy development, environmental control, science and technology, arts and culture, labour and social affairs, and vocational education and training.

The last is a particularly important area of cooperation between the two countries as Germany has for many years been helping to boost South Africa’s vocational training based on its own successful model of shared on-the-job training in which workers oscillate between educational institutions and company internships.

Schaefer also advocated another successful German economic institution in a recent column for News24, where he suggested that South African business and unions – which are most often in conflict – could take a leaf from the cooperative konfliktpartnerschaft (conflict partnership) between these two institutions in Germany which he said was responsible for Germany’s great economic success.

Ramaphosa’s office said he and Merkel would also discuss greater cooperation between the two countries on the United Nations Security Council where both are currently non-permanent members. 

“The two countries are committed to advocating for world peace and security, strengthening and reform of multilateral institutions and responding to climate change.” DM

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