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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 17 August 2018

Strong ties with a revitalised South Africa are mutually-beneficial

Tasked with revamping Africa's most advanced economy, President Ramaphosa has found valuable friends in the Gulf

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, receives Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa at the Presidential Airport. Mohamed Al Hammadi / Crown Prince Court
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, receives Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa at the Presidential Airport. Mohamed Al Hammadi / Crown Prince Court

For nine years under Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s dynamic economy – the envy of much of the continent – was suffocated by corruption.

Mr Zuma’s removal in February after a bruising struggle within the ruling ANC, motivated as much by electoral imperatives as higher notions of right and wrong, marked a watershed moment for South Africa.

The task of revitalisation fell to his successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa – a darling of the anti-apartheid movement turned fantastically-successful businessman. Despite Mr Ramaphosa’s sincere anti-corruption drive, it has proved a challenge of significant proportions.

Indeed, in the first three months of 2018, the South African economy suffered its worst quarterly contraction in years. Declines were felt in the key sectors of mining, agriculture and manufacturing, while unemployment stands today at a disconcerting 26.7 per cent.

Faced with such an outlook, the president is looking abroad for investment in Africa’s most industrialised economy.

And last week Mr Ramaphosa completed a fruitful visit to the GCC. In Saudi Arabia, he secured $10 billion of investment with a focus on energy, as well as commitments to increase trade and joint investments.

On Friday, he visited Abu Dhabi, where bilateral talks reaffirmed a commitment to co-operation on trade, mining, culture and infrastructure development. It built on already strong ties embodied by the joint commission between the UAE and South Africa, which meets annually.

Mr Ramaphosa has embarked on a drive to entice $100bn in investments in Africa’s second largest economy over the next five years. Certainly economic collaboration with its prosperous Gulf allies is central to that effort.

But as is customary with UAE foreign policy, strong ties with a revitalised and evolving South Africa are of considerable mutual benefit. At times a beacon for its continent, South Africa is the only African nation in the G20.

As a result, it makes for a good launch-pad for wider investment on the continent, which the UAE is already pursuing with fervour.

For the UAE, peace, stability and prosperity are interdependent. South Africa, emerging from the tumultuous Zuma years, makes for an excellent strategic partner. Its renewal will not be instantaneous, but strong political and economic ties with Pretoria will stand the UAE in excellent stead in the future.

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