Last updated in April 2017
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 ninth meeting was held in Berlin on 15 and 16 November 2016.
The wide-ranging and intensive relations between the two countries are underscored by regular high-level visits in both directions. Then Federal President Christian Wulff and Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel met with President Jacob Zuma during their visit to South Africa in July 2010 to attend the FIFA World Cup. In December 2013, then Federal President Joachim Gauck represented Germany at the state memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. President Zuma visited Berlin on 10 November 2015, meeting with Federal Chancellor Merkel and then Federal President Gauck.
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.
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.
In 2015, bilateral trade was worth 15.5 billion euros. Germany thus remained South Africa’s second most important trading partner in 2015. The volume of bilateral trade is expected to decline slightly in 2016.
Trade with the European Union represents 24.4 percent of South Africa’s total foreign trade, making it South Africa’s largest trading partner by far, ahead of China (12.8 percent) and the United States (6.8 percent). The European Union’s trade with South Africa totalled 44.9 billion euros in 2015.
The approximately 600 German companies operating in South Africa have invested more than six billion euros there and employ a total workforce of nearly 100,000. 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 automotive and chemical industries and in the mechanical and electrical engineering sectors. In fact, Germany is the most important foreign investor in the country’s manufacturing sector. The Southern African-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Johannesburg and the Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI) office provide support to German businesses with operations in South Africa.
The German Government views South Africa as a “global development partner” with which it seeks close coordination in international bodies such as the United Nations and the World Bank. Bilateral development cooperation focuses on energy and climate change (green economy), good governance and public administration, HIV/AIDS prevention and vocational training. Germany is one of South Africa’s major bilateral donors, though all international donors combined contribute less than one percent to South Africa’s national budget.
Since 1992, the German Government has provided 1.07 billion euros for bilateral development cooperation with South Africa. At the most recent intergovernmental negotiations in November 2016, commitments worth 314.25 million euros were made for the next two years. These funds will be provided predominantly in the form of loans because of South Africa’s advanced level of development.
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 abroad, in Hermannsburg, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria
- the promotion of German instruction at state schools, e.g. under the Schools: Partners for the Future initiative (PASCH)
- the preservation of 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 abroad 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 abroad 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 lector at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, a lector in Cape Town, a lector at Stellenbosch University, a Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria and a professorship in Port Elizabeth that is co-funded by Volkswagen. In addition, two DAAD Centres of Excellence were set up at the University of the Western Cape in 2009.
The Goethe-Institut runs the regional institute for sub-Saharan Africa in Johannesburg and supports a Goethe-Zentrum 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. South Africa also maintains many international cooperation ties in various areas of research and participates in particular in a wide range of research projects with European partners as part of its strategic partnership with the European Union.
The German-South African Year of Science 2012/13 further deepened and gave fresh impetus to what was already close and wide-ranging cooperation in science and technology. For example, the German National Academy of Sciences 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 of August 2013. In addition, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) have agreed to establish a German-South African research chair in a field of research that will benefit both countries, though this decision has not yet been implemented.
In September 2013, the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) and its South African equivalent, Higher Education South Africa (now known as Universities South Africa), 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.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its contents.