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"Fight against Poverty is the Priority"

An Interview with South Africa’s Ambassador Phumelele Stone Sizani in Berlin

February 13th, 2018
BerlinGlobal, News from Berlin

When Phumelele Stone Sizani arrived in Berlin in October last year it was autumn. The leaves of the trees in Tiergarten opposite his new office were changing colour already. With 13 degrees it was a mild day on the River Spree, but Sizani does feel a little chilly.

The 63-year-old came directly from the warm summerly Cape Town and is South Africa’s new Ambassador in Germany. He is not completely unfamiliar with the local temperatures. In 1994, when he did his Masters in Development Policy at the East Anglia University in Norwich, north of London, they were similarly moderate. Furthermore, there was mostly a light drizzle. The years after that the South African spent at home again in leading positions at various development aid funds. He was advisor to the Premier of the Eastern Cape in 1998, then worked at the Educational Ministry and was, until he assumed office in Germany in October 2016, Delegate and Chair of the Parliamentary Group in the South African parliament in Cape Town.

In Berlin, he finds a diplomatically “well-kept house”. “The bilateral political and economic relations between South Africa and Germany are at the highest level, which is illustrated by high-ranking visits by politicians, including the state visit of our President Jacob Zuma in November 2015 in Berlin, as well as South Africa’s participation in the G20 Summit in Hamburg in July 2017 as only African member.”

Practice makes perfect

“After my accreditation it was therefore important for me to introduce myself everywhere, e.g. at the Federal Ministries, individual delegates, the top office-holders in administration, representatives of German and South African companies in Berlin as well as the Diplomatic Corps. I also thought that it would not be a bad idea to learn German right away. I’m still working on that though,” Sizani says smilingly. Since all the aforementioned personalities including his staff members “only” speak English with him this is likely to remain a challenge. Practice makes perfect – but then again who is…?

Third biggest economy of the African continent

However, these are peanuts compared to the tasks that still need to be dealt with in a country, which is the third biggest economy of the African continent after Nigeria and Egypt. Important advantages of the location are the country’s good infrastructure, a world-class financial sector, considerable raw material reserves, excellent economic sectors and an independent legal system. On the other hand, a large part of the black population is still poor. Many do not have access to electricity, water or health care. The unemployment rate is 27 percent and according to the Gini Index the gap between rich and poor is one of the biggest worldwide.

President survives eight no-confidence votes

For this purpose, the government in Pretoria, whose President Zuma just survived the eighth no-confidence vote of the opposition, had brought the “National Development Plan (NDP)” as “all-inclusive roadmap” underway to achieve our development agenda in order not only to guarantee the people political freedom and one of the most liberal constitutions worldwide, but also to facilitate economic progress, prosperity, social security, and access to public services such as modern health care and education. For this purpose we continue to promote economic growth in the context of which German partners and their production facilities and investments play an important role. We work together with Berlin in order to learn more about the German dual vocational and training system so that our trainees will be able to benefit.”

600 German companies

All in all not an easy task in a country that – with its 1.220.000 square kilometres - is three and a half times as big as the Federal Republic. Many things depend on the further economic development. If all goes well, the government will continue to build schools, create jobs and fight poverty. The ca. 600 German companies have invested more than six billion Euros and employ nearly 100.000 people. Many of them support their employees and their families in fields like education, training and health.

More German tourists than ever

Focus sectors are automobile and engineering, the chemical industry, electrical engineering, renewable energies and infrastructure. Germany is thus a very important foreign investor in the producing sector. South Africa, in turn, is one of Germany’s most important partners in Africa south of the Sahara and is particularly appreciated as gate to other African markets in the region. With 24,4 percent, the EU also has a large share in the South African foreign trade and is thus by far South Africa’s biggest trading partner, before China (12,8 percent) and the USA (6,8 percent). Before this background the ongoing quarrels within the EU up to the Brexit might trigger some astonishment at the Cape, to put it mildly.

Excellent cooperation

“Great Britain is, just like the EU, an important partner for us. Of course, we respect the Britons’ decision to decide on their future themselves and we will therefore continue the excellent cooperation with Great Britain and the EU. Still it is desirable in this context that the negotiations will be fair and finalised as soon as possible, for both sides.”
Be that as it may, the “chemistry” between Berlin and Pretoria was and still is good. We like, appreciate and visit each other. Last year, 311.832 tourists visited the country, more than ever before. “Some people joke already that German has become the official second language in Cape Town,” says Ambassador Sizani with a twinkle in his eye.

Mountains, forests, deserts

“South Africa is a world in one country where you can find the perfect holiday: in the countryside, in the city, shopping in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, hiking in the Drakensberg, the highest mountains in Southern Africa, or on the Cape Garden Route. Worth a visit are particularly our forests, deserts and parks like the Kruger National Park, which has the size of Belgium. We have untouched beaches at the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic; you can dive in shark cages and watch whales and dolphins at the east coast. Our outstanding wines and the excellent food is available everywhere. Visit us – you are welcome.”

Become a farmer in the Eastern Cape

Last questions: With whom would Ambassador Sizani like to swap for one day? “With a bus driver who can have conversations with all the different people that he picks up.” And what does he want to do after his diplomatic service has come to an end? “Become a farmer in the Eastern Cape.” 


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