Incarcerated on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela, the South African Ambassador H.E. Phumelele Stone Sizani talks about the legacy of “Madiba”, the African
DM: Excellency, 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the end of apartheid in South Africa. You yourself were a political prisoner on Robben Island from 1976 to 1982, where Nelson Mandela was also imprisoned at the same time. How has your country changed since 1994?
H.E.: South Africa has changed dramatically since 1994. We have long been a segregated country and a pariah of the world. In 1994, we then adopted one of the most wide-ranging and inclusive constitutions to safeguard the freedoms of our peoples, which sought to eliminate any form of prejudice and marginalisation premised on race, faith, gender or sexual orientation. We have embarked on several economic and social policy reforms and initiatives to address the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment. We have adopted the National Development Plan (NDP) as the country’s blueprint which envisions the country we seek to be by 2030. In his State of the Nation speech, President Cyril Ramaphosa cited just a few examples of South Africa’s progressive achievements since 1994, for example that the government’s free basic services programme currently supports more than 3.5 million indigent households. More than 17 million social grants are paid each month, benefiting nearly a third of the population. Almost one million students are currently enrolled in higher education, up from just over 500,000 in 1994.
Since February 15 this year, Cyril Ramaphosa has been in office as the new president after Jacob Zuma resigned after allegations of corruption. Under Zuma’s reign, there was weak economic growth and high unemployment for years, which currently stands at around 27 percent. What measures does your new government intend to take to improve this situation?
As South Africa enters a new era, we are determined to build on these achievements, confront the challenges we face and accelerate progress in building a more prosperous and equitable society. South Africa has taken measures to address concerns about political instability and is committed to ensuring policy certainty and coherence. The business climate among South African companies has improved and foreign investors are looking anew at opportunities in our country. With the current Parliament, our public employment programmes have created more than 3.2 million jobs. Some financial institutions have identified South Africa as one of the hot emerging markets for 2018. One of the initiatives that the government will take to create even more jobs in the future is to convene a “Jobs Summit” in the coming months to pool the efforts of all sectors and interest groups. The summit will look at what we need to do to ensure that our economy grows and becomes more productive, that companies invest on a far greater scale, workers are better equipped, and that our economic infrastructure is expanded. It is expected that this summit will seek practical solutions and initiatives that will be implemented immediately. The government has undertaken to make a major push this year to encourage significant new investments in our economy. To this end, South Africa will organise an Investment Conference, targeting both domestic and international investors, to market the compelling investment opportunities to be found in our country. We are going to address the years of decline in our production capacity, which has had a major impact on employment and exports. We will try to reindustrialise so that many millions of job seekers will quickly regain a foothold in the economy. In partnerships with companies, trade unions and community representatives, we also create opportunities for young people to immerse themselves in the world of work through internships, apprenticeships, mentoring and entrepreneurship. South Africa has also launched the Youth Employment Service initiative, which will place unemployed young people in paid internships in companies throughout the economy. Together with partners in business, one million such internships will be created in the next three years. Ultimately, the growth of the South African economy will be sustained by small businesses, as is the case in many countries. South Africa will work with social partners to build an ecosystem of small businesses that assists and promotes entrepreneurs. The government will honour its commitment to set aside at least 30 percent of public procurement to SMEs, cooperatives and urban and rural enterprises and to continue to invest in the creation of small businesses. On the 1st of May 2019, the first national minimum wage was introduced in South Africa. This historic achievement – a realisation of one of the demands of the Freedom Charter – is expected to increase the income of more than six million working South Africans and improve the living conditions of households across the country.
South African foreign policy is strongly geared towards cooperation with the BRICS states and the African Union (AU). In addition, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) plays an important role. Which are your most important partners?
South Africa’s Foreign Policy is premised on the principle that South Africa cannot be an island of prosperity in a sea of despair. We ascribe to the principles of Ubuntu, the African philosophy, which translates as “I am, because you are”. In this context, we rise by lifting others. South Africa’s future is inextricably linked to the future and fortune of our immediate neighbours – the SADC countries at regional, African and even global level. In order to achieve the objective of the National Development Plan (NDP), to increase economic growth and to achieve our developmental goals, South Africa is looking for reliable partners for cooperation and mutual benefit. At the most recent African Union Summit, President Ramaphosa signed the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, which will have a far-reaching impact on the African economies and will significantly increase intra-African trade, investment and infrastructure development. The free trade area agreement will unite Africa and create a single market with more than one billion people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of approximately 3.3 trillion US dollars, making it the world’s largest free trade area. The unity and renewal of our African continent must be pursued together with efforts to transform the global system. It is within this context that the 10th BRICS Summit – that is Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – in Sandton, Johannesburg, where, under our chairmanship, a meeting of selected heads of state and government from Africa took place. Our view is that we must continue to promote and enhance the implementation of the AU’s Agenda 2063 through the BRICS mechanisms, among other routes. In this way, we will be able to improve intra-African trade and leverage more on alternative sources of funding that the BRICS New Development Bank provides for infrastructure development and sustainable development. The continent is already benefitting in this regard, particularly in implementing the BRICSfunded AU North-South Development Corridor projects. The goal of “Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020”, as contained in Agenda 2063, will coincide with the end of South Africa’s two-year tenure on the United Nations Security Council. Our term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council will run from January 2019 to December 2020. Among the priorities South Africa will pursue in the council to achieve this goal include: addressing the inextricable link between security and development; strengthening of political solutions to conflict situations, including through preventive diplomacy, conflict prevention and management, mediation and peace-building; and strengthening cooperation between the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council in maintaining international peace and security. From a bilateral perspective, we maintain long-standing political and economic relations with Germany. Additionally, as a fellow non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the G20, Germany remains one of South Africa’s most strategic partners, our second largest trading partner after China, and counts as amongst one of the most significant investors in South Africa. Approximately, 600 German businesses are already operational in South Africa. We have just launched the South African – German Consultative Board – as a platform for continuous dialogue between highranking representatives of the German business community and the South African government on current economic and political developments and business opportunities in South Africa as well as on-going activities and challenges of German enterprises in South Africa. The integral function of this body to develop and propose strategies and solutions to improve the business environment for German companies in South Africa will further strengthen trade and investment between South Africa and Germany, resulting in a lasting, tangible and mutual benefit for the lives of the peoples of both our countries.
As the second largest economy on the African continent and the only African member of the G20, South Africa has a strong financial sector (20 percent of GDP) and substantial reserves of raw materials. What measures does your government want to take to further diversify the economy?
The South African industrial framework, underpinned by the Industrial Policy Action Plan, emphasises the need for structural change in the economy to break out of dependence on raw materials and move to a greater diversification, with priority given to increasing value addition and export intensity. This is achieved through massive industrial efforts, for example, the IPAP deploys a wide range of crosscutting policy and support instruments such as procurement; localisation, industrial financing, incentives and Special Economic Zones as levers to industrialize and diversify our economy.
In the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, South Africa ranks 82nd out of 190, well above the average for the sub-Saharan region and ahead of India and Brazil, for example. In this annual study, your country performed particularly well in protecting minority investors, but worst in terms of power supply. How can your energy sector be revived?
The government is currently finalising the review of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which is a subset of the Integrated Energy Plan. The plan aims to generate sustainable energy for the country. The Government has provided clarity on energy policy and confirmed that renewable energies are part of the energy mix as defined in the IRP. To this end, the Ministry of Energy has signed 27 projects that would attract investments worth 56 billion dollars and generate 2300 MW. The renewable energy programme has stabilised the energy situation in South Africa and has already generated a significant amount of investments exceeding 10 billion dollars.
Your country is the third largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, although that accounts for only 2.4 percent of the GDP. The best known products include the famous wine. What opportunities are there for local producers, and what incentives does your government create for foreign companies?
A significant range of opportunities exists both for new niche product and for import substitutes. These include, for example, the use of a wide range of natural and indigenous resources for food, cosmetics, flavours, oils and medicines. In addition, there are new possibilities for agricultural processing of a range of advanced materials and industrial products: flax to linen, hemp to a variety of materials and products, cassava to starch. We also develop energy crops and biofuels, but always taking into account the economic, ecological and nutritional effects of these possibilities. Through measures such as the Surplus Milk Into Milk-Powder Project, for example, we are upgrading existing agricultural raw products into high-growth dairy products. In general, we are increasingly concentrating on very versatile products such as hemp, guar and bamboo. The government has created a special incentive for processing agricultural products, managed by the Ministry of Trade and Industry. The aim is to promote food processing in South Africa, support the localisation programme and promote the export of processed food.
South Africa’s research landscape is at the forefront of all relevant indicators in Africa, such as geology, anthropology, radio astronomy or biodiversity. What measures does your government intend to take to further develop this status?
South Africa has reached an important milestone with the completion of the 64-dish radio telescope known as the MeerKAT. MeerKAT was built by our agency, the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Square Kilometre Array Project. The Department of Science and Technology (DST) of South Africa is also finalising a new White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation. The premise of the new White Paper is that science, technology and innovation are vital for shaping an inclusive and sustainable South African society. The draft White Paper seeks, among other things, to take advantage of opportunities presented by global megatrends such the emergence of new technologies, including artificial intelligence and additive manufacturing. In this regard, the DST will host the second Deep Learning Indaba conference in Cape Town this year in order to build strategic partnerships with industry and various government departments to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the opportunities it brings.
2010 the world looked to South Africa when it hosted the first World Cup on African soil. The organisation Solidar Suisse came to the conclusion that FIFA and construction consortia had benefited in particular at that time, but not South Africa itself. How do you judge this today with the appropriate distance?
South Africa was honoured to have been selected as the host country for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. This was a historic moment, since it was the first time the tournament was held on African soil. South Africa has benefitted immensely from being the host country as the eyes of the world have been on South Africa for the duration of the tournament. Thousands of tourists from many countries came to experience the Rainbow Nation. South Africa delivered a successful and memorable World Cup and leveraged this opportunity to promote our national brand identity.
Tourists from all over the world travel to South Africa to see, for example, Cape Town with the famous Table Mountain or the many national parks, such as the Kruger National Park. Which highlights would you personally recommend?
South Africa is indeed a world in one country. You will surely find the perfect vacation to adequately meet every traveller’s needs: whether it be city escapes, shopping or the fast pace of Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban, to name just a few, adventures such as hiking in the beautiful Drakensberg Mountains and the Eastern Cape’s Garden Route. We invite you to “get lost” in our forests and deserts and visit our prized national parks, including the world-renowned Kruger National Park, spanning the size of Belgium, where you can spot the “Big Five”. Or perhaps relax on our pristine beaches, go shark cage diving, follow whales on our West Coast or dolphins on our East Coast before retreating to one of the many beautiful vineyards along our coasts to enjoy some of the best wines from award-winning wineries. You will be spoilt for choice for dining and food, our cuisines are like our people: welcoming, comforting, hearty. From braais, you must try “Shisa Nyama” (a barbeque) and a “bunny chow” (it is not what you think), I also recommend curries with a distinct Indian and Malay taste. We also have the best fresh fruits and vegetables in the world.
On the occasion of the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela there was a photo exhibition in Berlin until September 9. What is offered to the visitors there?
2018 was a year of very special historical significance not only for South Africans alone, but indeed for the entire world – it marked what would have been the one-hundredth birthday of our beloved icon and history-maker, “Tata Madiba”, in whose steps we follow. South Africa and Germany together are collaborating on a number of projects to honour Tata Madiba’s life and legacy in Germany. We are indeed honoured and humbled by the tremendous amount of goodwill Germans carry in their hearts for Tata Madiba and for South Africa. The exhibition was commissioned by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and each photographic panel beautifully depicted key moments in the history of Tata Madiba and South Africa as a tribute to one of Africa’s greatest sons. It recalls Nelson Mandela as the unshakable freedom fighter and first democratic president of South Africa.
Excellency, thank you very much for the interview.
Official name: Republic of South Africa
Area: 1,221,037 km²
Population: 57.7 million
Population density: 42.4 inhabitants per km²
Official languages: 11 languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, English, Northern Soto, Tswana, Southern Soto, Tsonga, Swazi, Venda, Southern Ndebele
Government: Parliamentary Constitutional Republic
Head of state/ Head of government: President Cyril Ramaphosa
National anthem: National Anthem of South Africa