Statement by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the South African-German Binational Commission

27.06.2023 - Speech

As you said, I already wanted to be here in South Africa on Sunday, but given the situation in Russia, I had to delay my departure. We will certainly talk about this in the next two hours of our meeting.

I'm very glad to be here now. This visit has been very important to me, because I believe that our two countries share something fundamental:

Both in South Africa and in Germany, our histories have taught us how precious our freedom and our democracies are.

When I think about South Africa, one image always comes to mind. The queues of 1994. It's those images of millions of South Africans, of all skin colours, queuing up to cast their votes in South Africa's first democratic election.

And there's a wonderful image of Desmond Tutu casting his vote that day, saying: “The new South Africa has begun today.” And then he smiles and adds –: “Isn't that fabulous?”

What a fabulous moment indeed. South Africa's path to freedom has been a beacon of hope, inspiring men and women around the world.

And particularly in Germany, in my country, which has known the terror of dictatorship, these images are still present today. In a country that has also known what immense power the longing for freedom can unleash in us humans.

It was this power that led brave East Germans to bring down the Berlin Wall and to also live in freedom and democracy – finally, after the first demonstrations in 1953 were brutally put down by tanks and weapons.

In both our countries, we know how important the support of international partners was on that path towards freedom and democracy. And this is what guides, I think, both of our foreign policies today: The conviction that we do have a responsibility when others are fighting for freedom and peace for themselves.

But I also want to be very honest: West German governments failed to support the anti-apartheid struggle for far too long.

But learning from the past also shows for me why foreign policy is more than just governmental exchange between politicians. Foreign policy is also about friendship between people, friendship between societies, because humans all around the world share the same wish for themselves and their kids to live in freedom.

And therefore it was maybe no coincidence that, while the West German government stood on the wrong side of history and of freedom, many women, men and civil society actors in Germany were faster, standing on the right side, like the DAAD, the German Academic Exchange Service, which endorsed also at that time grants for black students so that black students could study during the apartheid regime. And I am very happy that we have the DAAD’s president in our delegation today.

I believe that in our cooperation we should be conscious of where we come from, also because politics is about the future. Future generations learn from the past and thereby shape the future. We cannot change our past. We can only learn from our past and bear the responsibility of shaping our future together.

Together, because the challenges to our hard-won freedom and our hard-won democracies are not unique to either Europe or Africa. On both our continents, our free societies are threatened by disinformation, populism, corruption and, crucially, by growing social inequalities that risk dividing us.

Democracies are never complete. This is what makes them vulnerable and also complicated. But the fact that democracies are never complete is also what makes them so strong: The fact that we can constantly improve, that we can constantly reflect on what we can do better in the future. And democracies can constantly learn from one another, too: how we can become better, more inclusive and stronger together.

And this is what our bilateral commission is all about: to listen, to discuss, to learn from each other, to grow stronger together. In South Africa, for example, almost half of your members of parliament are women. We Germans can learn from that because, unfortunately, our share of female parliamentarians is only one third.

You, dear Naledi, have highlighted that the inclusion of women makes the world a safer place – at every single conference I have attended with you. And I wholeheartedly agree. I am glad that together we are firmly standing up for women's rights internationally – to not only make our democracies stronger, but also to make the world a safer place.

I believe that as two strong democracies on our own respective continents, we should also talk about the role we assume in this world.

And we started our meeting with a discussion of this. It was three years ago that we last came together, as you have said, in the South African-German Binational Commission.

The world is a different place today – because of the pandemic, but also because of the wars around the world.

Russia's war of aggression has not only brought terrible suffering over the people of Ukraine, it has also slashed a wound that reaches far beyond Europe, worsening a food and energy crisis in many parts of the world, in many parts of Africa.

For this suffering to end, the war must end. For the war to end, Russia must stop the bombings and withdraw its soldiers. This war is – and we have discussed this already – an attack on the UN Charter, on the very rules that bind and protect us all.

The African delegation led by President Cyril Ramaphosa made this very clear in Saint Petersburg: This war also concerns Africa. The UN Charter must be respected. We are thankful for his clear words.

We therefore took a bit more time, because it was very important for me to hear about the trip you have made together with the other African presidents to Ukraine and also to Russia, to hear about your visit to Kyiv and Saint Petersburg, but especially to hear about your visit to Bucha – standing there, you as a mother, me as a mother a few months prior, seeing what humans can do to other humans and feeling our common responsibility to prevent that in the future.


To us, you are our key strategic partner in sub-Saharan Africa. We are really glad that we are meeting today again in person and not only virtually in this binational commission – because we cherish South Africa's engagement in trying to resolve crises and conflicts in Ethiopia, the Sudan and the DR Congo, and now even beyond Africa's shores.

That's also why we agree with you that Africa – and South Africa – should have a stronger voice on the international stage. We support the AU in its bid to join the G20. And we support African aspirations for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Because it's clear to me that we can only address our global challenges together. That concerns the fight against pandemics. But it also concerns the biggest security challenge of our time, the climate crisis. I am glad that we are working closely together on how to move from fossil energies to green energies.

And this is also the core topic of our binational commission this year. I would like to thank all those in our teams who have worked so hard over the last week to finalise so many different elements – from arts to culture, but especially cooperation in green energy. And we will have a conclusion on that in the joint declaration that will be signed – also a first – virtually between our ministries of economy and energy in the afternoon. This is a good lesson from the pandemic that we can combine in-person and virtual meetings.

And at the same time, we have to make sure that no one is left behind by this big transformation – that those working in the coal mining sector today will also be able to provide for their families in the future: through jobs in renewables, but also in other sectors, as you have mentioned, for example, in the automotive sector.

That is the goal of the Just Energy Transition Partnership, the JETP, that we are working on together.

I'm looking forward to taking all these measures forward in the next two hours.

As two partners who have learned through our history how precious strong and thriving democracies are.

And that it is up to us to strengthen them – to show that if we as democracies manage to work together for the better, for the future, that it will be nothing short of fabulous.


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