I recently had the honour to host President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria on a state visit. Some people had thought that the visit would be tense and difficult following the attacks last month on foreign nationals living in South Africa, and the angry reaction to these events in Nigeria and some other African countries.
It turned out, as I had expected, to be an extremely successful visit, where we not only cemented the relations between our two countries but found that we are of one mind on how, as the two largest economies in Africa, South Africa and Nigeria can together play a key role in the future of the African continent. President Buhari and I both firmly believe that the prosperity and stability of our two nations – and all other countries on the continent – requires that South Africa and Nigeria have strong relations at an economic, trade, social, political, diplomatic and people-to-people level. This will result in a much more integrated and more cohesive Africa.
South Africa’s future lies in Africa. It is through our trade with the rest of the continent that we will grow our industries. The African marketplace is where our companies will increasingly find trading and investment opportunities. It is expected that over the next few decades there will be a massive increase in investment in infrastructure across Africa, which should benefit South African construction companies, manufacturers and banks.
The economies of the African continent are together growing at a rate far greater than our own, and we need to see the opportunity that such growth presents for our economy and for our people. It is for this reason that we have embraced the African Continental Free Trade Area.
The AfCFTA will be a game-changer, both for South Africa and the rest of the continent. With our relatively established manufacturing base, our developed road, rail, port and energy infrastructure, and our deep financial markets, South Africa is well-placed to make use of the opportunities a free trade area could provide.
The recent public violence targeting foreign nationals has challenged our efforts to build stronger ties with other African countries. Fueled by misinformation spread on social media, these attacks provoked much anger in different parts of the continent leading to threats against South African businesses and diplomatic missions.
I therefore welcomed the valuable and constructive discussion with President Buhari on this issue. We were both clear in our condemnation of attacks against foreign nationals in South Africa, as well as reprisal actions against South African interests in Nigeria. We emphasised the need for South Africans in Nigeria and Nigerians in South Africa to respect and obey the laws of their host countries. Importantly, we agreed to set up an ‘early warning mechanism’ through which our two countries can share information, coordinate efforts and act to prevent any recurrence.
Nigeria and South Africa are important for each other’s economies. More than 100 South African companies have investments in Nigeria and over 1 700 have active trade relations in the country. Trade between the two countries was worth around R50 billion last year, with South Africa importing a significant amount of its fuel from Nigeria. For its part, South Africa exports a wide range of products to Nigeria, including machinery and appliances, minerals and chemical products.
President Buhari and I had an opportunity also to discuss the various difficulties that South African and Nigerian businesses encounter when trying to invest and operate in each other’s countries. There was a clear message from the business forum that was held on the sidelines of the state visit that there is a great deal of business interest in both South Africa and Nigeria, and that we need to work harder to clear the blockages. We have therefore set up a Joint Ministerial Advisory Council on Industry, Trade and Investment that will meet regularly to facilitate bilateral business and, where necessary, sort out problems.
In just a few months, South Africa will be taking over chairship of the African Union. In that role, we will have a great responsibility to guide the implementation of the agreement on the Continental Free Trade Area. We will need to work to turn aspirations into action.
As the countries of Africa, we will need to put in place all the rules, regulations and mechanisms needed to make such a free trade area work. But we will also need to invest in the infrastructure that we need to move goods from one African country to another, and that we need to produce such goods in the first place. While we are undertaking a massive investment drive in South Africa, we are also encouraging investment in other parts of the continent. We do so in pursuit of the shared African vision of Agenda 2063, but also because we know that South Africa cannot prosper unless Africa as a whole prospers. South African companies already have an established presence in many other parts of the continent. Now is the time for a surge of South African investment in other markets on the continent. There are huge opportunities for expansion and development that our companies should be exploring.
The time is right for a new era of intra-African trade, where African countries no longer look abroad for the products and services they need, but to other countries on this continent. In so doing, they will be helping to establish new African industries, create African jobs, open up new markets and steadily turn Africa into a powerhouse of global production.
Our commitment to developing Africa through greater integration is not merely sentimental or ideological. It has already, and will in time to come, bring very real material benefits for this country. African integration is overwhelmingly and undeniably in our national interest. Our future is in Africa, with Africa.