1 February 2020
By Phumla Williams
The friendship between the people of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and people of South Africa goes back decades even before the formal establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations.
It is a bond that has its roots in South Africa’s struggle for liberation where Ethiopians were a staunch supporter in our fight for freedom and were at the forefront of efforts to isolate the apartheid government.
During 1962 Ethiopia provided military training for the late Nelson Mandela, our first democratically elected president and international icon of peace and reconciliation. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela reflected on his time in the country: “I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African. Meeting His Highness, Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, would be like shaking hands with history.”
“Ethiopia has always held a special place in my own imagination, and the prospect of visiting Ethiopia attracted me more strongly than a trip to France, England, and America combined,” he said.
The support we received from Ethiopia all those many years ago had led to the democracy we enjoy today. All South Africans cherish the role Ethiopians played during our struggle years.
This fraternal relations between our two nations was further strengthened during the recent State Visit by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali (PhD) to South Africa at the invitation of President Cyril Ramaphosa.
During the discussions, the two leaders laid the foundation for stronger bilateral ties with the signing of various agreements and Memoranda of Understanding.
It includes the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the field of Tourism that creates employment opportunities, especially for the youth. The Memorandum on Cooperation in the field of Health will provide quality health services, especially for the young and the elderly.
The state visit further explored new possible areas of economic, trade and investment cooperation beneficial to both countries. It was agreed to enhance bilateral investments and expand cooperation in trade and investment between business entities in South Africa and Ethiopia.
There was also agreement to strengthen cooperation in the area of mining, deep mining and mineral beneficiation. Our agricultural cooperation will enhance food security and our exchange of best practices will drive skills development in our nations.
We believe that this will take us forward together into a new era of intra-African trade, where African countries no longer look abroad for the products and services. In supporting each other we can establish new industries, create jobs and open up new markets in Africa.
The implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, supported by both Ethiopia and South Africa, will go a long way in building a united economic and trade front as it creates the world's largest free trade area once operational.
Importantly, our countries share a vision of an African continent that is prosperous, peaceful, democratic, non-sexist and united, and which contributes to a world that is just and equitable. We understand that a stable and peaceful continent is the only way to ensure prosperity for our region and the rest of Africa.
In this regard, South Africa will use its tenure as African Union Chair to intensify efforts to establish peace and stability in Africa. The African Union approved theme: “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development” will be the focus of our work.
Prime Minister Abiy and President Ramaphosa together emphasised the need for the reform of the United Nations and its multilateral organizations. They reaffirmed their commitment to enhance the representation of emerging economies in the decision-making bodies of multilateral institutions.
Thousands of Ethiopians live in South Africa and consider it home. The two leaders discussed some of the challenges the community faced including the attacks on foreign nationals last year that has been a great concern for our government.
The criminal actions by a handful of perpetrators are in no way a reflection of the true state of relations between foreign nationals living and working within our communities. South Africa is a multicultural society that promotes interaction among people of different backgrounds.
In furthering the sound relations, Prime Minister Ahmed called on our two countries to cooperate in developing the house in which Nelson Mandela stayed while undergoing his military training in Ethiopia.
He said Ethiopians continued to be inspired by Madiba’s legacy, especially his vision of dedicated service to humanity. In the spirit of Mandela let us continue to work together foster stronger ties and build a better society and Africa.
Phumla Williams is the Acting Director General of the Government Communications and Information Systems