South Africa

South Africa

Last updated in October 2014

Political relations

South Africa is Germany’s most important partner in sub-Saharan Africa. The German-South African Binational Commission, which has met biennially since 1996, provides the framework for bilateral cooperation. Its eighth meeting is scheduled to take place in Pretoria on 20 and 21 November 2014.

The wide-ranging and intensive relations between the two countries are underscored by regular high-level visits in both directions. Then Federal President Wulff and Federal Chancellor Merkel met with President Zuma during their visit to South Africa in July 2010 to attend the FIFA World Cup. In December 2013, Federal President Gauck represented Germany at the state memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg.

There is also a lively exchange at parliamentary level. On the German side, a key role is played here by the German Bundestag’s Parliamentary Friendship Group for Relations with the SADC States. Several German federal states have established close contacts and partnerships with South African provinces and conduct their own development cooperation and economic cooperation projects there, e.g. Bavaria with Gauteng and Western Cape, Baden-Württemberg with KwaZulu-Natal, North Rhine-Westphalia with Mpumalanga, Saxony with the Free State and Lower Saxony with Eastern Cape.

Economic relations

South Africa remains a market offering substantial opportunities for German companies, particularly in the renewable energy, water and infrastructure sectors. Many German companies value South Africa as a gateway to other African markets in the region.

According to Federal Statistic Office figures, in 2013 bilateral trade was worth EUR 13.3 billion. South Africa exported to Germany goods worth EUR 4.7 billion and imported from there goods worth EUR 8.5 billion, making Germany South Africa’s second biggest trading partner again in 2013. Conversely, South Africa ranked 29th among Germany’s principal trading partners, ahead of Norway and Finland.

In 2013, trade between South Africa and the European Union (EU) declined slightly, to EUR 28.51 billion. The EU thus remains South Africa’s most important trading partner by far (ahead of China and the United States), accounting for 23.4 per cent of the country’s total trade. According to the South African Revenue Service, South Africa’s balance of trade deficit with the EU amounted to EUR 7.61 billion in 2013.

The approximately 600 German companies operating in South Africa have invested more than EUR 6 billion there and employ a total workforce of some 90,000. Many of them assume responsibility for their workers, providing them and their families with support in areas such as education, vocational training and health care.

German companies, which are invariably held in high regard in South Africa, are concentrated in the following sectors: the automotive and chemical industries, mechanical and electrical engineering. This means that Germany is the principal foreign investor in the country’s manufacturing sector. The Southern African-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Johannesburg and the Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI) office provide support to German businesses there.

Development cooperation

The Federal Government views South Africa as a “global development partner” with whom it seeks to closely coordinate its policies in international bodies such as the United Nations and the World Bank. Bilateral development cooperation focuses on energy and climate, governance and public administration and HIV/ AIDS prevention and control. Cooperation in the area of vocational training is being stepped up. Germany is one of South Africa’s major bilateral donors, though all international donors combined contribute less than 1 per cent to South Africa’s national budget.

Since 1994, the Federal Government has made available more than EUR 1 billion in bilateral development cooperation with South Africa. The most recent intergovernmental negotiations on development cooperation were held in Berlin in May 2012 in the framework of the Binational Commission. At this meeting, the Federal Government made new commitments worth EUR 286.9 million to South Africa for 2012 and 2013: EUR 251.4 million in Financial Cooperation and EUR 35.5 million in Technical Cooperation.

German and South African cooperation with various third countries, which began in 2006, is becoming increasingly important. In this connection, Germany also provides support to the newly established South African Development Partnership Agency (SADPA). The next intergovernmental negotiations on development cooperation are scheduled to take place in the framework of the eighth meeting of the Binational Commission.

Cultural relations

Cultural relations between Germany and South Africa are based on the 1998 agreement, which entered into force on 10 January 2000. It was supplemented in 2004 by an accord on joint audio-visual productions, which entered into force on 7 January 2005.

Cooperation focuses on the following areas: 

  • extensive cooperation in higher education, science and research (e.g. during the German-South African Year of Science 2012/2013)
  • joint cultural events and artist exchange
  • intensive cooperation in sport, especially football
  • four German Schools, in Hermannsburg, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria
  • promoting German instruction at state schools, e.g. under the Schools: Partners for the Future initiative (PASCH)
  • preserving common cultural heritage
  • events forming part of the German Weeks, held most recently in 2013, and the 2014 anniversaries (20th anniversary of democracy in South Africa and the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall in Germany)

Three of the four German Schools in South Africa offer the new secondary-level programme, a globally unique model for educating students from underprivileged sections of the population. Students at the German Schools can also obtain a combined school-leaving certificate, which is recognised as a university-entrance qualification in both countries.

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has an information office and academic teaching post at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, an academic teaching post in Cape Town, an academic teacher at Stellenbosch University, a Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria and a professorship in Port Elizabeth that is co-funded by German company Volkswagen. In addition, two DAAD Centres of Excellence were set up at the University of the Western Cape in 2009.

The Goethe Institute runs the regional institute for sub-Saharan Africa in Johannesburg and supports a Goethe Centre in Cape Town.

Science and technology

For many years, Germany has helped and supported South Africa’s ongoing transformation process in basic, vocational and higher education and is endeavouring to further step up cooperation in these important areas.

In addition to an annually issued joint call for proposals for new research projects, there are numerous bilateral, regional and even multilateral research initiatives in which German and South African researchers work together closely. In addition, a jointly funded research chair is to be established at a South African university for the first time in 2015. South Africa also maintains many international cooperation ties in various areas of research and participates in particular in a wide range of research projects as part of its strategic partnership with the EU.

The German-South African Year of Science 2012/13 further deepened and gave fresh impetus to what was already very close and wide-ranging cooperation in science and technology. For example, the German National Academy of Sciences, the Leopoldina, and its South African counterpart, the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), have further stepped up their cooperation as part of a newly formulated declaration of intent in August 2013. In addition, the two responsible ministries, Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology (DST), agreed to set up a German-South African research chair in a research area attractive to both sides. Negotiations on the specific area of research and other details are ongoing.

In September 2013, the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) and its South African equivalent, Higher Education South Africa (HESA), have issued a joint declaration of intent affirming their will to engage in cooperation. A few months earlier, a German-South African Rectors’ Forum was held for the first time in Leipzig. There are currently more than 150 registered cooperation agreements between German and South African higher education institutions.

Development cooperation

South Africa is a partner country of German development cooperation. For more information please visit the website of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development

share page:

About us

Entry & Residence

Foreign & European Policy