Merkel state visit: Germany has 'expectations' of Ramaphosa's reforms

German Chancellor Angela Merkel with President Cyril Ramaphosa before the 'Compact with Africa' conference in Berlin on October 30, 2018. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel with President Cyril Ramaphosa before the 'Compact with Africa' conference in Berlin on October 30, 2018. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)

Germany has high expectations of President Cyril Ramaphosa's economic reform drives, says the country's ambassador to South Africa, Martin Schäfer.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the world's most powerful heads of state, will arrive at Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria on Wednesday night for a two-day state visit to South Africa. Her visit comes at a time when South Africa's tepid and sluggish economy is being hamstrung by failing state-owned enterprises and an inability by the government to enact urgent policy reforms.

"The goal of the visit is to further intensify solid and vibrant ties (between the two countries). There is a lot of interest from and expectations in Germany in President Ramaphosa's economic reform drive," Schäfer told News24 on the eve of Merkel's arrival.

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Ramaphosa and the German chancellor will chair a meeting of the South Africa-Germany Bi-National Commission on Thursday and will also hold private talks. She will also engage with German companies operating in South Africa.

Schäfer said it was a "great" time for Merkel to visit South Africa.

"The ties between our countries, the biggest democracies and economies of our sister continents, are strong, politically, but also economically. South Africa is by far our most important economic partner on the African continent. More than 600 German companies are active in South Africa, creating jobs, providing training and contributing to transformation.

'Same values and interests'

The visit is one of the most important to these shores in recent times, with South Africa increasingly looking towards the East in forging a relationship with China, but still reliant on trade with Europe, where Germany is the country's biggest trading partner. According to the Presidency, South Africa is Germany's biggest trading partner in Africa, with Germans accounting for the third most tourists to this country.

"Approximately 600 German companies are represented in South Africa. Total trade reached R235bn over the 12 months to the end of November 2019, while South African exports (at R108bn) exceeded R100bn for the first time, narrowing the trade deficit," the Presidency said in a statement.

Ramaphosa is expected to discuss South Africa's role on the UN Security Council, where neither South Africa or Germany has permanent status.

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Schäfer said the two countries co-operated closely on matters of mutual international concern. "Germany and South Africa share the same values and interests in a rules-based multilateral order that we both have every reason to defend. That's why we work closely together as non-permanent members on the UN Security Council and at the G20.

"This year will be an important one for the world, and for both our countries, with South Africa taking over the AU chairmanship right after the Chancellor's visit and Germany taking over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union later this year. These come with so many important and urgent issues for the Chancellor and the President to discuss, on the African continent and beyond."

Merkel's last state visit was in 2007 at the invitation of then-president Thabo Mbeki, while she also visited the country during the FIFA World Cup in 2010. Merkel, who relinquished the leadership of her party in 2018, is set to step down next year.

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