South Africa will take over the presidency of the African Union (AU) in 2020 and will build on the success that Egypt achieved during its tenure in 2019, said South Africa’s ambassador to Egypt Vusi Mavimbela.
“We’re learning a lot from Egypt. One of the things that we learned is to make South Africa the centre of AU activities as Egypt did in 2019. We will continue on the same track,” the ambassador added.
Peace, stability, the silence of the guns in the continent, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) are the priorities of South Africa next year, in addition to building of communications between Cairo, Cape Town, and Alexandria, the ambassador mentioned.
Daily News Egypt interviewed Mavimbela on the occasion of his country’s chairpersonship of the AU in 2020 and President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent visit to Egypt in December, to shed light on the future of bilateral relations in 2020 including trade, investments, tourism, and culture.
What issues were discussed between both presidents over their recent meeting?
It was important for president Ramaphosa to come to Egypt in a state visit. He came here for a special summit on Libya earlier in 2019 for a one day visit. President Al-Sisi invited his South African counterpart to come again for a state visit while Al-Sisi was Chairperson of the AU,
and he did in December 2019.
Because South Africa will take over the chairpersonship of the AU from Egypt in 2020, both presidents wanted to share notes on how Egypt’s tenure has gone to get an idea on what programmes have been implemented by Egypt to support the integration of the African continent.
Both leaders also discussed the issues of peace and stability in the African continent. Libya is very unstable, while there are some demonstrations in Algeria, and Sudan, their situation is improving.
Both presidents also discussed the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) construction and how to solve the issues between Egypt and Ethiopia in this regard.
Apart from that, both presidents had a fruitful discussion on their bilateral relations including future mechanisms of boosting trade and investment.
Ramaphosa and Al-Sisi discussed several issues including the future cooperation in the field of railways as South Africa has the largest train network in Africa.
Transnet SOC Ltd is a large South African rail, port, and pipeline company that is helping a number of countries in Southern Africa to refurbish trains and rail roads.
The Egyptian authorities requested the assistance of South Africa to develop its railway systems due to its high-level experience in the field of refurbishment of railways.
Both presidents discussed cooperation in the field of military equipment manufacturing as South Africa has a good experience in this field.
They also agreed to convene a joint committee in the first quarter of 2020 with the aim of boosting bilateral relations in the sectors of politics, economy, security, academia, culture, and tourism, according to a presidential statement on 10 December 2019 by the President’s Spokesperson Bassam Rady.
Al-Sisi expressed his appreciation for the historic and brotherly relations between Egypt and South Africa, that date back to anti-colonial endeavours and struggle for independence, the statement added.
Was president Ramaphosa accompanied by a business or governmental delegation?
The president was accompanied by four South African ministers, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Noluthando Mapisa-Nqakula, Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel, Minister of State Security Ayanda Dlodlo, and Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.
No business delegations accompanied the president. It was only governmental officials with the president.
What about the meetings that the South African ministers had in Egypt?
Ministers of State Security, Trade, and Industry met with their counterparts. The Minister of Trade and Industry visited Egypt earlier in November for the Africa Investment Forum and met with his counterpart at the New Administrative Capital.
Did the visit witness signing of any agreements?
No agreements were signed. The aim of the visit was to exchange views and discussions not to sign agreements. South Africa’s president invited president Al-Sisi to come to a state visit in 2020 and Al-Sisi promised to find a time to visit South Africa next year to follow up on the development of the bilateral relations.
What are the priorities of South Africa during its AU presidency in 2020?
We are learning a lot from Egypt. One of the things that we learned is to make South Africa the centre of the AU activities as Egypt did in 2019. Egypt made itself in the centre of all activities of the AU in order to push all the plans to be executed. We will continue on the same track.
For South Africa’s priorities, I don’t want to speak for my president, yet as an ambassador, we will continue on the success that Egypt achieved in its tenure of AU presidency.
I think that peace, stability, the silence of the guns in the continent, and the AfCFTA are the priorities in addition to building of communications between Cairo, Cape Town, and Alexandria.
How do you think of Egypt’s economic reforms and their impact on the investments relations with South Africa?
Egypt’s economic reforms toward opening up the economy are very important. The country’s cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to implement its economic reform programme was necessary and very important to encourage the foreign companies to come and invest in the Egyptian market.
The economic reforms also helped Egypt to regulate some of the areas of the economy which is key to boost the trade and investment relations with the African countries. Egypt’s opening up of its economy will help in pushing the AfCFTA to success.
What do you recommend the authorities in order to attract more investments especially from South Africa?
Egypt is doing great in the reforms of its economy and I can’t give further recommendations.
Can you please elaborate on the business relations between both countries?
The business relations are focused more on trade not investments. Egyptian companies import several goods from South Africa including fruits, beef, and mining equipment. As South Africa is an old mining country, we have very developed technologies in this field and some of other countries want to import our equipment.
On the other hand, we import a lot of Egyptian furniture as Egypt produces very good quality furniture. We also import a lot of petrochemicals because Egypt has good quality of such products.
What about the investment relations?
There is a South African company which directed oil investments in Egypt’s Sinai. We also have Egyptian companies that are investing in South Africa and others that will start business there shortly.
An Egyptian company is assembling buses in Cape Town while another Egyptian company started its business to produce packaging equipment in South Africa. I encourage more and more Egyptian companies to invest in South Africa, and also I encourage South Africans to invest here in Egypt.
Did 2019 witness any business delegations from South Africa to Egypt?
A delegation of South African businesspersons visited Egypt in December. It was a medium sized 15 –company-delegation that discussed with their Egyptian companies the opportunities o future cooperation. We will continue to organise such visits in 2020.
What is the amount of trade exchange between Egypt and South Africa?
Trade between Egypt and South Africa is at $300m annually which is very low. The integration between the African countries is very week. South Africa, Egypt, and Nigeria are the biggest economies in Africa, yet the trade exchange between those countries are still modest, because they are not well connected and transport ways aren’t sufficient.
We only have EgyptAir’s direct flights. It is not even a daily flight. Egypt and South Africa are big economies and they need to be more connected.
Egypt’s most trade exchange is historically with Europe the Middle East. This has to be changed through a political decision. South Africa’s historically trade with their neighbours too because they are nearer, but once you go up to the North of Africa, the distance became an issue.
It is important to build infrastructure to facilitate transportation and encourage trade exchange between all the African countries despite the distance.
Do you expect the same amount of trade exchange by the end of 2019?
Yes, because nothing has changed yet. The amount of trade exchange will remain low. We need something major to happen that’s why the discussions between the two leaders and the ministers were very important.
Tell us more about the tourism cooperation?
The number of tourists are low because we don’t have enough flights between both countries. Tourists from South Africa usually come to Egypt in a regional trip including Israel or Mecca. They only watch the pyramids for one day. I see them coming by buses from the airport to the pyramids.
What about the cultural activities that the embassy sponsor?
We don’t have major cultural activities. We have people to people exchange. We will work on building stronger cultural cooperation in the future.
So the main priorities of the embassy in 2020 will be focusing of boosting the cooperation in the sectors of trade, investment, tourism, and culture.