OPINION | Australia and South Africa: Working together to carve out a new normal

Australian High Commissioner to South Africa Gita Kamath with President Cyril Ramaphosa after presenting her credentials on 15 October 2019. (DIRCO)
Australian High Commissioner to South Africa Gita Kamath with President Cyril Ramaphosa after presenting her credentials on 15 October 2019. (DIRCO)
Dirco

As South Africa and Austrialia battle the Covid-19 there are several ways the two countries have been supporting each other, writes Gita Kamath. 


I have now been in South Africa for almost a year. I find myself energised by Mzansi’s vibrant society and the melting pot of cultures, languages, challenges and triumphs which fuels your beautiful country’s heartbeat.

The length and breadth of Australia and South Africa’s ties astound - and it is much more than our countries’ finest battling it out on the sports field, important though that is! Cultural, artistic and people-to-people links are equally strong, while the bilateral business and economic relationship is solid and growing.

Australia is the seventh-largest foreign country investor into South Africa. Our bilateral investment relationship increased a further 11% in 2019 to over R165 billion. The investment relationship with South Africa is more important to Australia than many would expect, outstripping countries that are geographically closer. It is also relatively balanced, with investment flows in both directions.

But these are unprecedented and uncertain times. I recognise the hardships so many South Africans are enduring as the country confronts the health and economic challenges of Covid-19, as well as the immense effort of South African health-care professionals in the front-line.

I similarly recognise the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa and his government from the very start of the pandemic. Together, we mourn the loss of lives in South Africa, Australia and around the world.

Adaption 

In a business sense, "normal" business activity no longer applies. Adaption and agility will prove key.

Despite the challenges, as is the case in South Africa, therere are numerous Australian businesses which have innovatively adjusted their operations, including assisting with the development of medical supplies. We have all become more digital savvy, whether working remotely from home, or utilising the digital economy to continue operations.

In response to the crisis, Australia’s IDEA Digital Education created a virtual school solution for government departments, including providing digital curriculums to education providers in Africa. In recent weeks it received the UN Economic Commission for Africa award for Best Innovation for Government in Response to Covid-19.

We at the High Commission in Pretoria continue to stay engaged with our network of friends and colleagues throughout the region - participating in multiple virtual discussions, including with the Trade Advisory Group at North West University (on diversification of the Australia-South Africa trade relationship) and, with the other Ambassadors and High Commissioners from Asia, with Martin Kingston, the chair of Business for South Africa (B4SA).

Facing a global pandemic that respects no borders and affects all our citizens, it’s clear our countries’ interests are more aligned than ever. This is evident in our respective foreign ministers, joint membership of the cross-regional Ministerial Coordination Group on Covid-19.

As part of this initiative, our foreign ministers have been regularly exchanging information and consulting on international efforts in the face of the pandemic, particularly to maintain supply chains, transport links and trade.

Another example is Australia and South Africa co-authoring, together with a number of other countries, of the United Nation’s cross-regional statement on global action to counter the Covid "infodemic" - namely the dangerous spread of disinformation about the virus, which reduces the effectiveness of public health responses.

Ours is a relationship based on equality, a mutual commitment to multilateralism, an international order built around rules and recognition of the importance of global trade for the prosperity of our citizens. We are both modern democratic nations, which are committed to harnessing wisely our natural wealth and talents for the prosperity of our people. And we are both proud multicultural societies.

Funding 

We value South Africa’s leadership in Africa and globally. Ensuring global security, peace and prosperity for all our citizens underpins both our countries’ foreign policy agendas. As a founding member of the UN and Commonwealth, Australia has and will continue to provide core funding to international organisations. Ensuring multilaterals have the financing  sustainably operate in Africa is critical to ensuring global security and prosperity.

Australia was proud to join South Africa in being part of a broad coalition co-sponsoring the World Health Assembly resolution on the "Covid-19 Response" in May. 

Australia has contributed the equivalent of R2 billion to global partners working on the development and deployment of vaccines, drugs and diagnostics. On May 4, our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, pledged over R4.1 billion to Covid-19 research and development.

We are long-term funders of global health emergency, preparedness and response programmes. Through our seat on the Executive Board of the World Food Programme, we helped to ensure Africa received timely allocation of resources to deal with Covid-19.  

Just as in Australia, South Africa faces the challenge of adapting to the realities of the Covid-19 world. It will take the combined efforts of our countries’ political, labour, business and civic leaders to guide us through this challenging era, as well as in the post-pandemic phase.

My goal as High Commissioner is, despite the adversity of the current moment, to build an even stronger partnership between our two countries.

- Gita Kamath, Australian High Commissioner to South Africa.


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