Germany and South Africa: Bilateral relations

08.08.2019 - Article

Political relations

South Africa is Germany’s most important partner in sub-Saharan Africa. The German-South African Binational Commission, which has met since 1996, provides the framework for bilateral cooperation. The 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. President Ramaphosa visited Germany in late October 2018 to participate in the G20 Africa Conference held in Berlin. President Steinmeier undertook a state visit to South Africa from 19 to 21 November 2018 and met President Ramaphosa during his trip. In December 2013, then President Gauck represented Germany at the funeral ceremony for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. On 10 November 2015, then President Jacob Zuma visited Berlin, where he met Chancellor Merkel and President Gauck. Then President Christian Wulff and Chancellor Merkel met President Zuma during their visit to South Africa in July 2010 to attend the FIFA World Cup.

In addition to this, there is a lively exchange at parliamentary level. The German Bundestag’s Parliamentary Friendship Group for Relations with the Southern African States plays a key role in this and last visited South Africa (as well as Botswana and Eswatini) in June 2019. 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, for example 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. Lower Saxony has a representative office in Eastern Cape and Stephan Weil, the Minister-President of Lower Saxony, visited South Africa in May 2018.

There has been a German-South African energy partnership since 2013. It formalises and coordinates a diverse range of bilateral cooperation in this field with direct access to South Africa’s Department of Energy at state secretary level. Several ministries (Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation, Environment Ministry, Economics Ministry, Education Ministry and the Federal Foreign Office) are operating programmes. The focus lies on an energy policy dialogue aimed at helping South Africa to develop a sustainable energy policy.

Economic relations

The South African market continues to offer substantial opportunities for German companies, especially in the renewable energy, water and infrastructure sectors. Many German companies value South Africa as a gateway to other African markets in the region. South Africa is the only African member of the G20 and co-chairs the G20 African Advisory Group along with Germany.

An Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) has been in force between the EU and six states in southern Africa (including South Africa) since October 2016. It offers the countries concerned broader, tariff-free access to European markets. This could further expand trade. Around 74 percent of foreign direct investments in South Africa come from the EU (UK: 38.2 percent, the Netherlands: 21.4 percent, Germany: 4.9 percent; this compares to 4.2 percent from China). The trend is downward.

Germany was South Africa’s second biggest bilateral trading partner in 2017 (behind China and ahead of the United States); with trade worth more than 17 billion euros, South Africa was Germany’s most important partner on the African continent in 2018.

The approximately 600 German companies operating in South Africa have invested more than 5.3 billion euros there and employ a total workforce of nearly 100,000. Almost as many jobs are provided on top of this indirectly by German companies. Many of them assist their workers and their families in areas such as education, vocational training and healthcare.

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. This makes Germany the most important 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.

Development cooperation

The strategic approach of Germany’s development cooperation with South Africa is, on the one hand, to bolster South Africa’s contribution towards the protection of global public goods and, on the other, to strengthen South Africa’s own efforts to master the ongoing huge development challenges faced by a society marked by high levels of inequality. The framework for cooperation is provided by the jointly agreed bilateral strategy (2015-2020), which has four main focuses: green economy (energy and climate), vocational training, good governance and HIV prevention.

The total bilateral commitments for financial and technical cooperation have amounted to around 1.5 billion euros since 1994. Within the framework of the intergovernmental negotiations in 2018, further funding totalling 152.6 million euros was pledged. These resources will be used to strengthen cooperation in the agreed priority areas, as well as to anticipate new trends in the digital transformation and possible approaches in the nexus where energy, water and governance intersect. There is a particular focus on cooperation with the private sector, partly with a view to attracting private funding to development, as well as on jobs.

More information about German development cooperation with South Africa can be found on the website of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

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 (for example during the German-South African Year of Science 2012/2013);
  • joint cultural events and artist exchanges;
  • intensive cooperation in sport, especially football:
  • three German schools in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria as well as the school in Hermannsburg founded by German missionaries in the 19th century;
  • 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), the 2014 anniversaries (20th anniversary of democracy in South Africa and the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall in Germany) as well as the 2018 commemoration of Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013) with the issue of commemorative stamps.

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 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 annual joint call for proposals for new research projects (current focuses: bioeconomy and resource management), there are numerous bilateral, regional and even multilateral research initiatives in which German and South African researchers work together closely. The research cooperation is concentrated in the fields of environmental and healthcare research. In major – in some cases multilateral – projects, joint solutions are being developed in the fields of climate protection, sustainable energy systems and land management. The fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria are the focus of the research networks for health innovations in southern Africa.

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 South African Government is seeking close cooperation with Germany in the vocational training sector. Cooperation between Germany and South Africa on vocational training consists of, among other things, the introduction of dual vocational education training modelled on the German system, as well as basic and further training for vocational school teachers.

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