South Africa has the strongest economy in Afica and is Germany's biggest trading partner on the continent. During a visit with South Africa's president, Gerhard Schröder focused on expanding business ties.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, left, and South African President Thabo Mbeki, right
On Thursday, Schröder met with South African President Thabo Mbeki in Pretoria, where the two discussed increasing economic and business ties between Germany and South Africa. South Africa is the latest stop on Schröder's six-day diplomatic tour to Africa, where he is focusing on positive political developments and boosting business relations.
Germany and South Africa have an intensive economic relationship. In 2002 alone, the trade volume between the countries totaled €7.6 billion. South Africans see Germany as their "goods gateway to Europe" and Berlin sees South Africa as its portal to the rest of the continent.
German products and services comprise 15 percent of South Africa’s total imports and is the country's biggest trading partner after the United States. The lion’s share of trade is in capital goods and the focus industries are the automobile, chemical, machine building and electronics sectors. Companies like DaimlerChrysler have major manufacturing facilities in South Africa and at least 450 German companies are currently represented there, with 70,000 employees.
The South African leg of the chancellor’s trip is intended to underscore economic progress that’s been made on the continent. Earlier, he visited Ethiopia and Kenya, where he emphasized the promise held by new organizations like the African Union, which are intended to help prevent regional conflicts and to make African nations more economically intertwined.
Traveling with Schröder in South Africa is a delegation of 22 executives from small- and medium-sized Germany companies seeking to make investments there. But there are also some big wigs in the pack, including Lufthansa chairman Wolfgang Mayrhuber and DaimlerChrysler chairman Jürgen Schrempp.
Schröder gets tough on Zimbabwe
The body of Zimbabwe farmer Terry Ford lies under a blanket with his Jack Russell, Squeak, beside him after he was shot dead at his homestead allegedly by a group of suspected ruling party militants in Norton, about 30km (20 miles) west of Harare, Monday, March 18, 2002.
In a more contentious area of discussion, Schröder said he raised the issue of Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe with Mbeki. Western governments have critcized Mbeki for his tolerance of the Zimbabwean president, who has been accused of massive human rights violations.
Schröder told reporters he had discussed Zimbabwe "very extensively" with Mbeki and reiterated his stance that "I hold this regime and its political practices for unacceptable." German opposition politicians have been calling on Schröder in recent days to take the issue of Mugabe up during his African visit. But Mbeki on Thursday refused to take "strong words" against Mugabe.
"Of course we’re approaching this problem in the same manner," he said. "The Zimbabweans have many problems – political and economic. We have to see what we can do to change the situation. The question is how we can do that."
AIDS activists and anti-globalization groups, protest outside the Africa Economic Summit in Durban, South Africa, Thursday, June 12, 2003 calling for affordable AIDS drugs and access to basic needs such as fresh water, educatio and food subsidies.
Separately, the chancellor also discussed the AIDS crisis that is ravaging South African and other sub-Saharan countries. The issue is also the highlight of a visit by Schröder Thursday to the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg, though the chancellor will not be meeting with the former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Increased support for Kenya
Earlier in the week, the chancellor visited Kenya, where he announced on Tuesday that Germany would double development aid to the country in the future to €25 million a year. Schröder also acknowledged and offered support for the democratic course that has been taken by Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki. It’s been one year since Kibaki beat former autocrat Daniel arap Moi in national elections. Under two decades of Moi’s leadership, Kenya had spiraled into a country plagued by corruption, xenophobia and economic misery.
The chancellor lauded the country for its success in fighting corruption and stimulating its economy, and said that German companies had become increasingly interested in investing in Kenya.
A Kenyan guard outside the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.
He also discussed two of the most important points on Germany’s Africa agenda: the battle against crime and terrorism. Kenya was the site of the 1998 of a U.S. embassy bombing that resulted in numerous deaths and there have been subsequent attacks on tourists, including a failed attempt to shoot an Israeli charter jet down. But Schröder said Tuesday the country is taking the problem very seriously and praised the steps it has taken to stamp out organized crime and terror.
Critic: ‘Africa is unimportant for Germany’
Despite the positive message of Schröder’s Africa trip, he has also been the subject of criticism. Writing in the South African newspaper This Day, journalist Bartholomäus Grill, the Africa correspondent for the German weekly Die Zeit, took Schröder to task for failing to deliver a serious Africa policy.
"Africa is strategically and economically unimportant for Germany," he wrote. "That was the case under Helmut Kohl and that is the case under Schröder. The leitmotiv of Germany’s Africa policy is led by the idea of being a ‘good Samaritan,’ and for Germany Africa means poverty. But back at home, there’s not much to report on Germany’s development aid. Its budget for African aid has been cut by 20 percent since 1990. And in the face of Germany’s recession, further cuts are in sight. If more cuts come, then more embassies and Goethe Institutes will be closed – as if Africa has just disappeared."
On Friday, Schröder plans to visit the township of Mamelodi, where he will honor the fight against apartheid, which came to a peaceful and successful end nearly a decade ago. He will then travel on to the final destination on his Africa sojourn, Ghana, before traveling back to Berlin.