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South Africa in 2018 –  political transformation and the Nelson Mandela centenary  South Africa

31.05.2018 - Article

Minister of State Michelle Müntefering on her visit to South Africa 27 and 28 May 2018

Let freedom reign” – the famous quotation from Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech on 11 May 1994 would become the motto of South Africa’s new democracy in the coming years. It was important to me to travel to the home of Africa’s struggle for freedom to see where the courageous men and women of the anti-apartheid movement come from. I walked down Vilakazi Street in Soweto, Johannesburg, where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived. I then visited the Hector Pieterson Museum, which documents the history of apartheid. The tragic fate of the 12-year-old South African boy Hector Pieterson, who was shot dead by security forces at an anti-apartheid demonstration in 1976, is a symbol of the uprising by the black population against the apartheid regime.


Nelson Mandela would have turned 100 on 18 July 2018. Germany and South Africa will mark this occasion with a range of joint projects. A Nelson Mandela stamp will be issued, there will be a concert in Berlin and the German Embassy Pretoria will hold numerous events.


My visit to South Africa also gave me a chance to meet Professor Achille Mbembe, who is currently lecturing at the renowned University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. We spoke in depth about current issues in the European debate on colonialism and agreed that the conference set up by the Federal Foreign Office in Hamburg on 18 May on the colonial legacy was a very good start as regards taking a new path together. It is important that we change course and promote a culture of sharing. The future lies in cooperation and cultural co-production by European and African partners. Only in this way will we be able to explore in detail what sharing means in the 21st century and what opportunities it creates for both sides.

Background information:

Minister of State Michelle Müntefering visited South Africa on 27 and 28 May, just three months after President Cyril Ramaphosa took office and around a year before the next general election. The new South African President’s firm commitment to democracy, the rule of law and the social market economy, as well as his plans to tackle racism, corruption and mismanagement, have impressed many observers. At the same time, South Africa faces significant challenges. An unemployment rate of around 27 percent and a youth unemployment rate of up to 50 percent, massive social inequality, a slow economic growth and the effects of the rampant corruption (“state capture”) under former President Zuma mean that all the political groups in the country need to make a huge effort.

The aim of the Minister of State’s visit was to underline Germany’s support for the transformation that South Africa wants to achieve and to take the first steps as regards organising the German-South African Binational Commission in autumn 2018. The two G20 partners of Germany and South Africa have excellent economic ties. With a bilateral trade volume of some 17 billion euros, Germany is South Africa’s second-largest trading partner. Over 100,000 people are employed in the approximately 600 German companies in South Africa. Like Germany, South Africa is applying for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2019/2020 term. The elections for non-permanent members will take place at the General Assembly in New York on 8 June 2018. South Africa sees itself as the voice of Africa in many international forums and plays an important role in foreign policy in the region. Many political observers hope that the new South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, will raise the country’s profile on the international stage once again.

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