Update 11:07 a.m. CET: Press conference now included.
Economically, today’s South Africa is a sorry sight. Corruption, unemployment and other aspects have caused major problems. But during her visit to the country, Angela Merkel also needs to deal with a big mess back home.
Thirty years ago, almost to the day, on February 11th, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison. South Africa turned from an Apartheid state into a democracy in which forgiveness played a big role. Opportunity appeared at the horizon.
Important Trade Partner
But after Mandela’s era was over, things turned south. The kind of South Africa Angela Merkel is visiting right now, during what will likely be her last Africa trip as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, is economically weak. Unemployment is at 40 percent, the economy is in trouble.
The serious issues South Africa is confronted with have to do with the country’s recent past. Former Jacob Zuma looted his own country. His successor Cyril Ramaphosa, who was celebrated as South Africa’s savior two years ago, has not been able to jump-start the economy or resolve major issues so far.
Germany is one of South Africa’s most important trade partners. Hundreds of German companies are present there. The Germans who are running them are worried about the general situation, including the ongoing discussion about expropriations. Even though the Ramaphosa government keeps on repeating that kind of tool would be used in extreme cases and in the agriculture only, entrepreneurs say they need guarantees.
Mess at Home
They hope Chancellor Merkel will make clear statements on this issue, and that she will give Ramaphosa valuable advice on economical matters. The economical growth is very modest in South Africa. Since Mandela things have hardly ever looked this bad.
But Mrs. Merkel has a mess at home which she will have to deal with from Africa. In Thuringia, a federal state within Germany, her own party CDU and the liberal FDP voted with the extremist right-wing ‘AfD’ to make the FDP member Thomas Kemmerich First Minister. He is the first politician in this position who got there with votes of “Nazis”, as the CDU’s Paul Ziemiak accurately called them. Germany is waiting for Merkel’s input on the situation.
During her trip, Merkel was going to talk about South Africa instead of her own country, including the question why there has not been one single conviction since Zuma’s corruption scandals, or how the economy down there could be jump-started.
Press Conference with Cyril Ramaphosa
At a press conference with Angela Merkel, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Germany was one of South Africa’s most important strategic and developmental partners, and the second-largest trade partner. With Merkel, he had talked about issues concerning the United Nations Security Council both countries are temporary members of.
Ramaphosa said he was glad to have signed an agreement on vocational training with the German head of government. The challenge of youth unemployment was going to be met by a five.-point action plan which would reduce it substantially within five years.
“We are on a concerted drive to increase our economy”, the President said. German investors and companies had expanded their presence in South Africa’s economy. This is something the South African government sees as a helpful aspect.
Merkel on Domestic Issue
Chancellor Merkel was under pressure to make a statement on yesterday’s developments in Erfurt, where the extremist ‘AfD’, the CDU, her own party, and the FDP voted for a new First Minister. “We will not accept majorities reached with the help of the ‘AfD’. The election result at Thuringia’s ‘Landtag’, which is the federal state’s parliament, needed to be annulled. Yesterday had been a bad day for democracy in Germany.
Regarding her visit to South Africa she said it had taken a long time for her to return after her visits in 2007 and 2010. And she mentioned Mandela. “Almost 30 years ago, Mandela was released from prison. This was also the time which brought change to my life.” She meant the fall of the Berlin Wall that took place shortly before Mandela’s release.
South Africa had undergone changes since. “We have good economic relations, we have recorded growth in our bilateral trade”, Merkel stated. She said the latter had recently reached a volume of 17 billion Euro. Renewable energy had also been among the subjects she had discussed with President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was “very ambitious on this.” The youth unemployment in South Africa had been another subject of high priority.
Angela in Angola
On Friday, Merkel is scheduled to arrive in Angola. President João Lourenço is a hopeful with a difficult task. Like Ramaphosa, he is fighting corruption, but he has had a few successes even though Angola pays the bigger part of its oil proceeds to China, because of its rather big dept. Getting out of that dependence would help Angola a lot.
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